Monday, March 31, 2003

Pax Americana
Long before the war began, a number of sources were discussing the question: "What is this war really about?" All of these efforts had two things in common. None of them accepted the administration’s laughable reasons of the week, and all of them though the Bushevik’s motivation was far more complicated than the bumper-sticker explanation of we want to steal their oil.

My own shot at an explanation is here. Roughly, I felt that the war is one step of an effort to free the U.S. from the constraints of the system of international law and alliances that evolved in the twentieth century (after all, fundamentalists don’t believe in evolution). I based my thesis on the administration’s unilateralism in repudiating treaties and their defense doctrine statement to congress.

Over the last week, I have been made aware of a number of people discussing the war as the first step in a drive toward an American empire. Here are just a few:

Richard Dreyfuss, Just the Beginning, in this week’s American Prospect:

Bush administration's hawks, especially the neoconservatives who provide the driving force for war, see the conflict with Iraq as much more than that. It is a signal event, designed to create cataclysmic shock waves throughout the region and around the world, ushering in a new era of American imperial power.

Joshua Micah Marshall, Practice to Deceive, in this month’s Washington Monthly.

In short, the administration is trying to roll the table--to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it, to reform or topple virtually every regime in the region, from foes like Syria to friends like Egypt, on the theory that it is the undemocratic nature of these regimes that ultimately breeds terrorism. So events that may seem negative--Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria--while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments--or, failing that, U.S. troops--rule the entire Middle East.

Jay Bookman, The president's real goal in Iraq, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last September (pointed out by Atrios):

This war, should it come, is intended to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman. It would be the culmination of a plan 10 years or more in the making, carried out by those who believe the United States must seize the opportunity for global domination, even if it means becoming the "American imperialists" that our enemies always claimed we were.

Bookman’s article links to some documents that are good candidates for the smoking gun I wanted in my first post.

I don’t see any of this as contradicting my end-of-the-international-order theory, but rather carrying it a step or two forward. While I felt that the case for the administration wanting to kill the UN and NATO was fairly solid, I still had trouble coming up with a better motive than: "Nobody tells the U S of A what to do; we own this damn planet." These authors describe a far more complete program. And while making the case more believable than I did, they show our "leaders" to be a far more dangerous and frightening crowd than even I was ready to admit.

I’ll have more to say about this later.
Echoes of past spin, part 1
By March 1932 Soviet agriculture was in chaos. Forced collectivization and de-kulakization had thoroughly disrupted the federation's black earth heartland. Successful peasants, denounced as kulak enemies-of-the-people, were the first to be subjected to the new policies. Many responded by destroying their grain and animals and fleeing to the woods. The party responded by encouraging pogroms and by deporting whole villages to Siberia. Enraged at the resistance, Stalin ordered the rate of collectivization speeded up. While the leaders in Moscow warned that there was not enough machinery to equip the new collective farms local party leaders herded all peasants, regardless of their official class status, into collectives. Ten million families were uprooted in six weeks, often a bayonet point. Another million were deported. Most never returned. Two thirds of the sheep and goats in the country were killed and half of the cattle, pigs, and horses. The last was especially tragic as their loss deprived many of the surviving farmers of their only means to plow the fields. The violence and chaos fell especially hard on the non-Russian areas in the south: the Ukrainians and Kazhaks. Eventually around fourteen million would die from famine, labor camp abuses, or execution (the exact number is unknown and highly debated). In March, through the medium of a letter to Pravda, Stalin called a halt to collectivization. He shifted the blame for problems to overzealous local officials. Still, his overall tone was positive about collectivization. The letter was entitled, "Dizzy with Success."

Last week it became apparent that the administration had seriously underestimated the Iraqi government and people. The war was not going to be the "cakewalk" we were assured it would be. The happily liberated crowds failed to turn up. The Republican Guard hung on to Basra. Guerrillas began to harass our extended supply lines. Generals began to murmur about the lack of heavy infantry and cite civilian meddling in the planning process for their beginning the invasion with insufficient numbers. The lack of a second front in the North began to look like a major problem, not the it-would-be-nice-to-have but ultimately expendable detail we were assured it was. But yesterday and today, everyone in the administration is back on the same page in their hymnals. Everything is going just dandy, they assure us. General Franks says what we have accomplished so far is "remarkable." Sec. Rumsfeld, while denying responsibility for the problems the army isn't having, says they are "doing a really, truly outstanding job." The leader of the free world says we are "moving closer to victory."

What made me think of "Dizzy with Success" this morning? I dunno, it was just one of those things.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Do the black helicopter people know about this
I'm an independent contractor in the high tech industry (read: temp worker). Each week when I get my paycheck, I also get a timecard to use for the next week. The agency just had some new timecards printed. The space that used to read "Social Security Number" now reads "National ID (SS#)."
My yard
This week the yard season began at my house with the traditional harvesting of the crabgrass. My yard is about fifty percent crabgrass, with the rest being made up of a mixture of moss, dandelions, California poppies, little tiny white flowers, clover, and a small amount of actual lawn grass. Because I live in the Pacific Northwest, with warm rainy winters, the crabgrass begins growing each year sometime around the winter solstice. By March I'm the bad neighbor whose yard is so overgrown that the house looks abandoned. Late February is the beginning of the race between the lawn and the weather to see if I can get a few consecutive clear days that will dry the lawn out enough for me to give it its first cutting.

This year I lost. With the crabgrass nearing knee-deep I had to go rent a manly gas powered weed whacker. Normally, I consider two-stoke engines to be the devil's spawn: loud, smelly, unnecessary monsters. I passionately hate leaf blowers, snowmobiles, recreational ATVs, and jet skis. And yet I rather enjoyed it. Sometimes, loud sweaty activity is the healthiest thing there is. Within minutes, I had lost my embarrassment and was attacking each shaggy patch with a cathartic battle cry: "Arrgh! Cheney! Rumsfeld! Wolfowitz! Ash-friggen-croft!!" Singly and in groups the despoilers of American values went down before me, spaying my ankles with their green viscera. Then I cleaned the whacker, refilled its gas tank, and returned it on time.

Now comes phase two. With the top of the crabgrass bludgeoned down to a reasonable level I can get the mower out and act like the genteel suburbanite that I vaguely resemble. I have an electric mower and I love it dearly. I'm always surprised at how well it works. On the face of it, I can't think of anything that cries "bad idea" more than an electric mower. "Hmmm. Fast spinning metal blades. Wet grass. How can we make this more challenging? I know, a fifty foot electric cord!" And yet it works. In all my years using it, I have not cut the cord any more than I have with any other power tool.

I am, what a friend once generously called, tool-challenged. I'm uncoordinated, nearsighted, and absent minded. I have long hair and several rings that won't come off. Most home improvement projects end in bloodshed or back injuries. Hardware store people recognize me and speak very slowly and use short words when explaining how to do things. Sometimes, I think the tool-challenged should organize to demand greater respect. I think we could make signs and have a protest. Then I realize that that many of the tool-challenged trying to make signs would result in someone taking their eye out. I can't have that on my conscience.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

More on Rumsfeld's hypocrisy
This is from a new Amnesty International report entitled "International standards for all":

On 23 March 2003, following the news that US soldiers had been captured by Iraqi forces during the US-led attack on Iraq, President George Bush said that "we expect them to be treated humanely, just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely... If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld added that "the Geneva Convention indicates that it's not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war, and if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated." His statement came after interviews with five captured US soldiers had been broadcast on Iraqi television.

On the same day, about 30 more detainees were flown from Afghanistan to the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. This brought to about 660 the number of foreign nationals held in the base. They come from more than 40 countries. Most were taken into custody during the international armed conflict in Afghanistan. Some have been held in Guantánamo, without charge or trial, and without access to lawyers, relatives or the courts, for more than a year. Their treatment has flouted international standards.

Read the whole report. Get indignant. Write angry letters to your Congresspersons.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Rush and fascism
My friend David Niewert over at Orcinus is finishing up his series on fascism this week. If you have not yet read it, do so now. While you're doing that, I'll go work on some rather obvious comments about the whole series.

Go on, read it now. I'll still be here when you get back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Rumsfeld's hypocrisy
It appears that I am not the only one struck by the irony of Rumsfeld insisting on a strict observation of international law.

History News Network
Daily Kos
Both Kos and TalkLeft draw on an article in The Guardian.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I'm still working on the color. Expect the page to continue to change till the cats and I agree on an appearance.
Random thought on international law
One of the things that most bothers me about this war is the problem of explaining means and ends. That is, so many of my fellow citizens accept the ends of the administrations actions as justifying the means while I hold out for pure means. To whit: the war itself. When the administration points out that Saddam is bad, I agree. That he wants to possess weapons that will destabilize the region and should be stopped, I agree. He is a murderous thug, I agree. He must go, I agree. Saddam should be dragged before an international tribunal in boxer shorts and a tiara, I agree. We should castrate the UN and NATO to do it whenever and however we damn well feel like it, I do not agree. The means matter. The context matters. Thus, while I agree with the goal, I hate the means.

This brings me our good friend Secretary Rumsfeld. Today he announced that we wil hold the Iraqis to a strict enforcement of the Geneva Convention with regard to the treatment of US POWs. How can I disagree with that? I’m a big fan of the Geneva Convention and international law in general. And yet it makes my teeth hurt to hear a serial violator of that same convention piously demand its application. As Professor Joan Fitzpatrick pointed out, this administration is in serious violation of that same convention for mistreatment of prisoners. Rumsfeld is a war criminal demanding that his enemies not violate the same laws he and his boss have been violating. Is it any wonder I can't watch the news at night without damaging my TV?
Coming soon
Why archie
Thoughts on anti-fascist tactics
Some jokes
A picture of my cats
Other stuff
August 1, 1914
I hope we all had a chance to look around last Wednesday and etch the world, as it existed then, into our collective memory. There is a very good chance that Wednesday was the last day of the world we grew up in. For the last week or so I have had a quote banging around in my head. As the British Parliment votes to go to war in 1914, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, is supposed to have commented to a friend, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." I know how he felt.

I usually hate that kind of hyperbole. But I think that in a historical sense, Wednesday really will go down as one of those days when the old world was so badly fractured that no amount of policy-reversal, counter-revolution, good will, healing, or forceful reaction will ever bring it back. It was possibly the August 1, 1914 or the July 14, 1789 of the twenty-first century. Wednesday was certainly more of an irreversible moment than 9/11 or the Supreme Court electing Bush, Jr. president. When Bush got to have his war on his terms, the diplomatic and international order of the last half of the twentieth century died. It is not the war itself that did the damage; it is the course by which the Busheviks brought us to the war that did the damage.

When Bush first came to power I was puzzled by some of his foreign policy actions. They went so far beyond anything I expected. Sure, some of the individual actions made a sort of sense. I expected them to scuttle Kyoto. I knew they would reverse some of Clinton's policies, even those that were successful, more from spite than from any real conviction on the issues (as they did by ending our dialog with North Korea). I even expected some isolationist leanings (as when they withdrew from the peace process in Israel/Palestine).

But by the end of the spring, as the number of repudiated and withdrawn treaties mounted, I began to get the uneasy feeling that somehow they objected to the very idea of treaties and this puzzled me. I had no idea where such an idea could have come from. The only even close strain of conservative thought I was aware of was the "get US out of the UN" Bircher crowd from the sixties. The party of Kissinger, Schultz, and Baker couldn't be giving those loonies a hearing. Could they?

They could.

It appears that the Bush administration wants to establish as a global doctrine that no one and nothing will be allowed to limit US freedom of action in any sphere. The US is withdrawing from the complex system of treaties, agreements, and international organizations that kept Europe from having a major war in the second half of the twentieth century and kept the international anarchy from being much worse than it was. This is bad enough. The international system minus the planet's largest power would have enough trouble functioning, but the administration seems to want to kick it a few times while it's down and make sure it dies. They want to replace the UN and NATO with brute force and intimidation.

I say "appears" and "seems" above because this sort of might-makes-right philosophy is not the sort of thing that one says up front. I doubt as if anyone will be good enough to leave a nice smoking gun for future historians, something like a position paper that says "hey guys, lets kill the UN and make sure everyone knows we own this damn planet." And even if there is such a document lying around, Executive Order 13233, which hides presidential papers for the lifetime of the ex-president, will make it almost impossible to find.

In spite of that they occasionally slip up and tip their hand. The administration proclaimed preemption as its strategic doctrine in a terrifying document that it sent to congress last September. They have several times in the last few months hinted that they will consider the use of a nuclear first strike to pursue their goals. Most amazingly, in an article in last week's Guardian(reprinted from the Spectator) Bush advisor Richard Perle gloats over the death of the UN. Under the title "Thank God for the Death of the UN" Perle states: "...the whole UN [won't die]. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions." While this isn't exactly a confession that the Busheviks set out to kill the UN and the idea of collective security, it does show that they were aware their actions would have that result and approved of it.

The Bush administration put on a bit of public theater to demonstrate their contempt for international bodies, to make those bodies look and feel powerless, and for the lesson to be complete, they had to have a real war. They had to use that force to show that their doctrine was real. Except for psychological reasons of Bush himself, it didn"t need to be Iraq; any country would have done.

This is why the all of the recent statements about "the failure of diplomacy" are so ludicrous. For diplomacy to have failed, they have to have tried diplomacy. There has been nothing resembling sincere effort at diplomacy in the Iraq affair (unless you count their attempt to recruit allies). There has been none. They clearly wanted--needed--a military solution from the very beginning.

Let me say it again: The old system served us well. The new international Darwinism will not. The world has just become a very uncertain and scary place.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

I think I'll blog
There is too much going on in the world this week for me to stay on the sidelines and watch (though I do like to watch). As long as I'm spending my time writing letters to blogs, I may as well gather all my opinions together in one place where my friends, family, and cats can conveniently find them. Besides, this blogging stuff looks fun.

If you have discovered me on my first day of blogging, Saturday the 22rd, the site might look like hell. I'll be experimenting with the template and colors for a while. When I can stand my own apperance, I'll start the real blog. Till then, glad to meet you.