Rumsfeld is crafting a victory in the geopolitical realm which may be divorced from reality on the ground. The Russians are giving us information that helps us see the difference. I have recently discovered a couple of very interesting sites that are giving me the kind of detailed information that I crave, but don't tell Ashcroft.
The first and foremost is Venik's Aviation. He's blogging the best he can and boy does he come up with the details.
American troops continue massing near Karabela. As was mentioned in the previous update, the US group of forces in this area numbers up to 30,000 troops, up to 200 tanks and up to 230 helicopters. Latest photos of this area suggest that the [US] troops are busy servicing and repairing their equipment and setting up the support infrastructure.
According to radio intercepts, the coalition commander Gen. Tommy Franks has visited the US forces near Karabela. He personally inspected the troops and had a meeting with the unit commanders. Currently no information is available about the topics discussed during the meeting. However, it is believed that the [coalition] commander listened to the reports prepared by the field commanders and formulated the main objectives for the next 2-3 days.
The current technical shape of the coalition forces was discussed during the meeting at the coalition central headquarters. During a personal phone conversation with another serviceman in the US one participant of this meeting called this technical state "depressing". According to him "...a third of our equipment can be dragged to a junk yard right now. We are holding up only thanks to the round-the-clock maintenance. The real heroes on the front lines are not the Marines but the "ants" from the repair units. If it wasn't for them we'd be riding camels by now..." [Reverse-translated from Russian]
I've seen nothing like that to date. But Venik isn't the only site that provides some interesting analysis in English. There is also the specially built warblog War In Iraq. The transalation is not quite as good, but the message gets through. What I find especially useful at this site in its efforts to spin against the Allies, is that the perspective is a bit more elevated than the mendacity of the pacifists' poster children. Here you have actual military analysts with a bit more credibility than American ex-military with political axes to grind.
I seem to have lost the story in which some authorities of some sort commented on the oft-quoted failure of the seige of Leningrad, but also of Bagdad itself. Apparently it has never been taken in all of human history.
Now here's a new word. History. We haven't been looking at history much here in the US outside of Vietnam and GW1. Reading Russian websites brings Chechnya immediately to mind. No doubt there are ugly memories in Russian military minds about their own conflicts with muslim militants. Surely the Russians have not bothered to be as meticulous as we are attempting in their battles, but why should American generals listen to Russians who crashed and burned in Afghanistan where we made quick work of the Taliban in our demi-war?
Here's a story I won't soon forget.
I wanted to join the human shields in Baghdad because it was direct action which had a chance of bringing the anti-war movement to the forefront of world attention. It was inspiring: the human shield volunteers were making a sacrifice for their political views - much more of a personal investment than going to a demonstration in Washington or London. It was simple - you get on the bus and you represent yourself.
So he learns first hand from an Iraqi that he's been a naive dupe, or better yet
I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad - a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was American and said, as we shields always did, "Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good". He looked at me with an expression of incredulity.
As he realised I was serious, he slowed down and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam's regime. Until then I had only heard the President spoken of with respect, but now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq's oil money went into Saddam's pocket and that if you opposed him politically he would kill your whole family.
It scared the hell out of me. First I was thinking that maybe it was the secret police trying to trick me but later I got the impression that he wanted me to help him escape. I felt so bad. I told him: "Listen, I am just a schmuck from the United States, I am not with the UN, I'm not with the CIA - I just can't help you."
"There is no end to what a man can accomplish so long as he does not care who gets the credit."
--Robert W. Woodruff
The problem is timing, you see. Everyone agrees with our direction. Many quarrel with our degree of severity. A few just don't like that it's us, of all people. But almost everyone disagrees with the Bush timetable. Let's forget for the moment, that GW and company are more arrogant than a pack of hyenas and somewhat less diplomatic. How about a schedule?
I propose that every 7 years, the United Nations and anybody else who cares about the state of the planet, elect a least favored nation. Halfway into the cycle, the international community wallops the dictator chosen last go round, or celebrates the triumph of reform. Just like the Olympics. The problem is dictatorships, this should be obvious.
I'm clearly not the first person to suggest that dictators can be ranked. Nor does it take any great intelligence to know one when you see one. The trick is how do you get the world to sidle alongside so one isn't percieved as unilateral. Easy. Schedule the hostilies 7 years in advance. Most dictators hang around too long, and they don't listen up. Chances are when they are elected by the International Dictator's Tribunal, if they are ruthless enough, they'll still be around when the world's patience is officially scheduled to end.
Ganging up on poor defenseless dictators can be a wonderful sport. I think everyone will try to outdo each other to send troops of liberation. It could transform war as we know it. Who would dare stand in defiance of the considered opinion of the world, when they are willing to unleash the big, bad Americans on them with all diplomatic bona fides? This is the way to keep the Empire.
Since I have a little extra scratch, I dropped some off at Amazon and picked up one of my favorite films of all times. The world has changed little and much since 1983 when this masterwork was first released.
Viewing Koyaanisqatsi is a reminder of how narrowly tailored our visual diets have become. There is so much that can be done with music and images that we rarely see. Even though many of the sequences in this film have become staples of the tv and film industry, they remain striking in their original form.
The opening scenes still try one's patience. I sat through the first 15 minutes wishing my television were larger and my speakers more powerful. The aerial photos of the American Southwest just don't pack the wallop they did in the theatre. Or has it been copied so many times that I have become immune? Yet sitting through it forced me to check the pace of my thinking, slow it down and allow the film to take my mind.
I would like to think that this blog proves that thematically, Reggio's choice of the ultimate dehumanizer, the computer proved to be wrong. While he made an excellent visual statement that cities are organized much like computer chips, I guess I know too much about both to fall for the analogy. Aside from that, computers have increased liberties and privileges for most people. Yet the utter frustration of the poor woman fiddling with a punched card on her Hollerith machine was a perfect snapshot in time.
Koyaanisqatsi has aged well. No matter that people don't work on assembly lines welding automobiles, And the most powerful bits of the film remain his portraits of ordinary and hapless humans. I cannot think of a filmmaker in the past 20 years who would bother shooting 30 seconds of a completely anonymous face in a crowd. Reggio feels for average people, despite his charicatures of speeding them through the mazes of modern life, in a way no other has since. He puts them in focus, full face, full frame. As his subjects turned to eye the camera, it was so striking that my young daughters covered their faces. "They see us", she said.
There is much building collapsing going on in Koyaanisqatsi. I have been playing one of Phillip Glass' songs from the soundtrack "Pruitt Igoe" since the season of nine-eleven. Pruitt Igoe was a legendarily forlorn housing project that was designed by the same man who designed the World Trade Center. The destruction was reminiscent, but not shockingly so. Rather, it is the devastated blight and pathos engendered by that combination of Reggio's aerials of the abandoned project and Glass' haunting music that remain.
I suspect that I will be going back to this classic work as well as its successor, Powaqqatsi. That is all for now.
The thing that libertarians don't understand is that their economic rationality depends upon usage of a system, government, that licenses the engines of production and that others are rational for resisting that system in the cause of freedom.
Furthermore they are unwilling to recognize the tacit approval their enterprises give to that system through taxation and their complicity in empowerment of that system.
They are also loathe to admit that they enjoy privileges and conflate them with freedom. Is the person who drives a Mercedes is more free than he who drives an old Ford pickup? To the libertarian, this is true, and it is for this reason that they are attached to a utopian vision of technological meritocracy. The technically superior, faster, more fuel efficient Mercedes embodies their concept of 'greater freedom'. They require an ever expanding domain of wealth to enable their 'freedoms', they are graspers of a unique sort but graspers nonetheless.
Anything that requires them to sacrifice their privileges quickly spoils a libertarians appetite? They are not willing to admit that one can only be free to a certain degree. Indeed liberty is freedom under the law, not maximized 'freedom'. Anything that requires them to maintain the commons, indeed taxation, increases in them the desire to flee into some yuppified enterprize zone with special dispensations and exemptions from social responsibility. In that, they are not virtuous, simply greedy. Herein lies the crux of their dilemma.
Those who are subject to a false, commercialized vision of culture in America also conflate material prosperity and privilege with freedom. They are the people libertarians propose to be lifted by the rising economic tides of their techno-utopia. Yet they cannot participate directly because of the libertarian stridency on strict competition, non-intervention in markets and intellectual meritocracy. These are the privileges of the educated elite. Would you like to have a computerized database with your utopia? Well if you cannot compete with Mr. Bill Gates or Mr. Larry Ellison then you're out of luck. There is no room for you in the computer database industry, that is economic rationality. But it is the same rationality ordinary people reject, because they understand that mastery of technology doesn't make you more free. Even the Unabomber knew that, in his twisted way. People understand that when you buy a Mercedes, you also buy a Mercedes mechanic, and a Mercedes-sized insurance policy. This conflict can only be overcome by having more than enough money to satisfy material desires; Puff Daddy Money. This is the libertarian and materialist hope, but only the elite have the opportunity to enable or participate equally in this fantasy.
Libertarians are thus left with nothing to offer the common man but high-falutin' rhetoric and third-rate opportunity. They are like Wall Street stockbrokers who advertise on television. They lift ordinary folks hopes slightly but only offer them C-class loaded mutual funds which are undersubscribed or abandoned by the real money players.
Libertarians would be wise to learn to slink under the economic radar and abandon their pretense to commercial utopia. That's the duty of cynical Republicans. There is more than enough science and technology in the world to lift the poor and average. DDT where there's malaria, for example. Libertarians should be more organic, and less modernistic. They should recognize that freedom begins in the belly and is expressed by the heart, not in the bling.
In the matter of civilian casualties, OxBlog gives us a number of figures to consider. Those of you who read up in Cobb, know that I've set the radar at 1 lynch factor which equals 3,000 lives, the approximate number of African Americans lynched between the failure of Reconstruction and the triumph of justice. That's also approximately the number dead on both sides from the intifada since 1968 as we keep counting them off, busload by busload in the census of inexorable human butchery.
I cannot recall any figures for heart disease, but here are some for women. I'm not sure how many people die of drowning every year, but here's a great page on mortality due to bizzare twists of fate. So according to these statistics, even if I was a Kosovar during Clinton's bombing or an Afghan during GWBush's bombing, I'd be more at risk drowning by accident than being a casualty of American Aggression. Small comfort if you own a swimming pool.
But let's leave aside the freak accidents and stare down the barrel of hostility. In 2000, there were 16,765 homicides in these great United States. That's a right fat number. As much as we fear muggers and crooks, most Americans don't worry too much about being murdered, yet a good number of us are murdered. So what of this character Saddam and his Ba'ath party? Even though OxBlog cites 'em I want to go directly to Human Rights Watch's numbers. How about killing off 190,000 folks in a decade? This is the kind of stuff that is difficult to read through, especially if you don't want to know. I don't want to know, and I don't want to be responsible. But now that I know.. well, now I know.
Several weeks ago, I asked the rhetorical question whether or not the world will accept this imperial show. I wondered out loud if Saddam, of all the nasty bastards on the planet, and Iraq of all the gawdawful spots in the world, were the right targets for our first venture. Perhaps I am waiting for the right person to do the right thing in consideration of the fact the GWBush is wrong for just about everything which calls for an intelligent command of the oratory worthy of free world leadership. I want my emperor to be kingly, and why oh why did I get GW? Do you hear me pissing and moaning?
Yet if I could stop for a minute and start dealing with the hideous facts of the matter on the ground in Iraq (and probably a half dozen other horrible places), I wonder if I would mind so much if my president is Shrek instead of a Handsome Prince. I'm a policy snob in the face of Saddam's clear and present danger. Not to me, to Iraqis. It's not about me.
Since it is not about me, and a busybody neighbor is better than an abusive parent, I have to concede the fact that an ugly rescue is better than benign neglect. I feel that our geopolitical snobbery and posing are pretty worthless right about now, and the fact that we have to wheedle our way around the diplomatic chicanery of the UN and everyplace else is only necessitated by a failure of brotherhood and an ignoble squeamishness which is not rescued by our well-meant outrage at Bush's mendacity. I do believe in class warfare.That means noblesse on our part and revolt by the Shi'a.
The focus of the world is on Saddam Hussein. WMD or no, Iraqis are hopeless without our intervention. Now is the time for action, political snobs be damned. No matter how physically wreckless we may be, and I have a strong feeling that we won't be, this war is better happening than not. No matter how diplomatically wreckless we have been, and I know for damned sure that we have been, those are only words and hard feelings, but they're not lives. Lives are more important than words.
Let's go kick some ass and not worry so much about collateral damage.
People love all kinds of music, they tell me. They love it all except for Country and Rap.
Rap and County music are the only true forms of American music left. They are the only two remaining that have anything to say that speaks to the soul. They both hit you squarely in the gut. They have messages. They have weight. The elicit an emotional response. They ain't cute.
Tonight I am listening to DMX and Patsy Cline, and I love this fucking country!
Do it. Force yourself. Listen. Hear it. Feel it. Take a deep breath of this before you go traipsing off to Bali or rock climbing or challenging maitres D in Manhattan. Grit your teeth, strip to your underwear and savor an alcoholic beverage to this true American music. You'll thank me.
I can recall the brilliant part of Powell's book, or something I read of his reflections, that explained why Clinton was so wrong about Bosnia simply because he was so late. Drezner drudges up that vague memory this early morning, and bucks me up a bit.
These "conservative hawks" supported the [Clinton] administration even though they also -- justifiably -- disagreed about process and planning matters. If you read, Richard Holbrooke, David Halberstam, or Samantha Power, it's clear that the Clinton foreign policy team took far too long to act in Bosnia. When they did act, it was in a largely ad hoc manner to avoid the shame of deploying U.S. forces to cover a withdrawal of French and British peacekeepers. In the case of Kosovo, there was such a lack of consensus about the means that Clinton decided on his pledge not to use ground troops a few hours before his televised speech in response to an offhand comment from an ex-NSC staffer. Altruism and democracy promotion were not high up on the priority list.
I dredge all of this up not to argue that the Bush team is better than the Clinton team, but rather to point out that crafting foreign policy is like making a sausage -- you really don't want to know exactly how they do it, but the end result is usually pretty tasty. The interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo were not the result of carefully crafted decisions in line with an overarching philosophy of foreign relations -- they were messy and clumsy and, in the end, did much more good than harm.
Yes, yes but they were late. We would all do well to remember Srebernica, the city under seige that the UN security guards with Americans on the scene did nothing to save. 8,000 is 2.5 nine-elevens. We stood by and watched, and this was what got under Powell's fingernails.
I am somewhat beyond bashing GW Bush. It's not that I can't stand him so much, but that he may be destroying the Empire for the sake of Iraq. We might be fortunate and find some other corner of the globe in need of assistance, South America or West Africa for example, if we completely flub Iraq and North Korea. But GW doesn't have the strategic view, and never has, and a White House running on the egos of Rumsfeld et al is unbecoming. GW Bush cannot perform the Reagan trick. The world won't fall for it again, not after Clinton's rhetorical brilliance. Bush cannot play cowboy and be emperor at the same time; even if it were a good idea, he's incapable. That leaves us with dozens of foreign leaders who cannot be seduced, Colin Powell overburdened, and GW left with only the blunt weapons money and guns to achieve global diplomacy. It's a weakness that we cannot prolong no matter which direction the war goes.
Diplomacy may be sausage-making, and we may be looking too closely at GW. Saddam is a bad-guy who is one of the most appealing bullseyes in the world. Everyone would like his head on a plate, yet GW is making a hash of that order.
Drezner may be right. When Mandela was finally freed, the celebration was so great that many folks forgot how controversial was America's policy of 'Constructive Engagement' in the midst of a world of boycotts. The Administration would do well to keep up the pressure and allow more water to pass under the bridge. Sooner or later, the world will come around, but not if we anger them too much now for the sake of expediency.
Teeka and Bunny liked the cars that go boom. Most folks dig fireworks. Almost everyone is fascinated by fire. Put it all together and what do you get? Big Bada Boom. Apparently, the folks at Dynetics have caught the fever, learned from the Russkies and built us a brand spanking new super weapon. You gotta love being an American. Why? Because we have such excellent values.
While I have never been willing to follow GW into battle, I have given my tacit support to the decapitation of Saddam. But as time passes by and more and more things go wrong, it's getting to the point at which I can't see this being a good thing at all. Not because the goal is not admirable, but because the players on our team are so wreckless.
We are fast approaching the point at which a great deal is at risk with repercussions far beyond the battlefield, and the Bush administration is isolating itself for the sake of a goal which is slowly slipping beyond its grasp. To establish the world beating military hegemony administration wonks desire at the cost of great amounts of diplomatic goodwill is not worth it. We can be pinpricked to death, and a living hell of American life can very well be accomplished. Anyone with a memory of the days when Americans made films about bad guys on motorcycles should recall what it was like to feel the kind of paranoia we may be subjecting ourselves to. The entire national psyche can revert to the days of malaise.
There are any number of scenarios in which too many American soldiers get the bad end of a bad war. If we don't win with overwhelming decisiveness, the entire Mexican Bus strategy will fail, that is unless we are immediately ready to take on Korea. Even if we did take on Korea, is that really what we ought to be doing, so soon? GW is making us look like a petulant nation, one that cannot absorb any downside and one that won't take any downtime.
There seems to be no subtlety left here, nor anyone left to impress except the Iraqi people themselves. That's pathetic.
Is this any way to run an Empire? For what? 3,000 lives? It's preposterous. Somebody needs to slow this train down. We're headed in the right direction, but too fast and on a dangerous track.