Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Unrelated Mideast Items

Two clusters of links about current events in the Mideast. I'm not saying there's any connection between the two, because that would be wrong. Please note I've even put a big HR tag between the two lists, so that we're all clear on this. [Note for the irony-impaired... oh, never mind...]

First, some items about the current controversy about that recent "Israel Lobby" article. I'm far too chicken to even think of publicly offering an opinion of my own about any of this stuff, but here are a few links I came across, which I'm also not going to offer an opinion about either way:

  • The original article, at the London Review of Books.
  • Two articles about the resulting controversy.
  • Comments by Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member.
  • A recent Molly Ivins column.
  • I'm not usually a big Robert Fisk fan, but he has a current piece about the controversy as well. Which, again, I'm not, not, not going to offer any opinion about whatsoever.
  • A long-ish analysis of the article by Gabriel Ash.
  • A piece at Salon also analyzing the paper.
  • Jeff Weintraub has compiled an extensive list of critiques and rebuttals of the article.

Updated: I would like to go out on a limb a little, and suggest that in this ongoing debate the word "Israel" could often be usefully replaced with the more specific "Likud", as in "Likud lobby", so as not to smear an entire country for the behavior or ideas of a small minority of highly vocal wingnuts. It's also worth pointing out that Likud and its ideas were decisively rejected by the Israeli voters in the recent election, something that doesn't seem to have sunk in yet on this side of the Atlantic. If I was Israeli, I would've probably voted for Meretz in the recent election. I also think the separation barrier is a fantastic idea, and furthermore, construction ought to have started the day after the 1948 war wrapped up.

For what it's worth, in general I just shrug in resignation when it comes to political lobbying. By anyone. Money and influence are what DC is all about, sadly, and everyone plays the same game. So long as the goal behind all that lobbying is harmless, or at least reasonably benign, I don't get worked up about it. If it's a matter of financial aid, or genuinely defensive military assistance, that's fine by me. And quite honestly, the $3B a year that M&W get all heated up over is just a tiny drop in the bucket so far as the Federal budget is concerned. But when the goal being lobbied for is an obvious national disaster waiting to happen, I have to at least say a few unkind words about it, no matter who's pushing the agenda: Beltway neocons, Big Oil, apocalyptic fundies, or anyone else. Nobody deserves a free pass here.

All of that would bring us to the second half of this post, if I was asserting there was a connection between the parts, which I'm not.

So here we have a roundup of articles and opinion pieces about the (maybe) coming war in Iran:

  • RNC chair Ken Mehlman recently shilled for war with Iran in front of what he assumed was a very sympathetic audience. And he got booed! If I was offering opinions right now, I'd say this was a highly positive development, but I'm not, so never mind about that.
  • An article asserting the CIA is getting pressured to fudge intelligence about Iran, but this time they're pushing back, at least so far. Real neocons have never trusted the CIA, seeing them as a bunch of closet-liberal Ivy Leaguers, just a step or two away from the hated State Department. If they push back too much, it may be time to do another personnel shakeup and transfer in some more political cronies.
  • Larry Wilkerson speaks out again. Wow. Someday, when we have a normal, sane guy in the White House again, this guy deserves a medal.
  • Juan Cole takes on Christopher Hitchens, and rips him a new one. Some people remain perplexed at Hitchens' metamorphosis into neocon attack dog. It's not all that surprising, really. Many of the original neocons started out as militant Trotskyites (which Hitchens was at one time, and may still be in his own mind, as far as I know). Once you've accepted the idea that the Absolute Truth must be imposed on the entire world, by any means necessary, the exact nature of the purported Truth can apparently wander from pole to pole without anyone seeing a contradiction or thinking anything's amiss. Hitchens has simply gone south on us, just like old Leo Strauss back in the day.
  • An editorial from the Boise Weekly
  • A piece at the Decatur Daily Democrat titled
    Not every crisis equals World War II.
  • A recent column by Justin Raimondo. The paleocons don't like the war any more than anyone else does. Actually maybe he's more of a libertarian than a paleocon. I'm not 100% clear on that point, but he's certainly not your typical lefty.
  • An article titled "Drumbeat against Iran sounds awfully familiar". It's from a Farrakhan media outlet, so set your expectations accordingly, but it's less illucid than you might expect.

I don't want a war in Iran. It's a terrible idea. Inherently terrible. And even if it wasn't, Rummy and friends would just bungle the war and find a way to lose anyway. Everyone knows this. Everyone also ought to realize by now that Iran's just the next item on a long list of wars the neocons are itching to get us into. We're supposed to go to the far corners of the earth and expend unlimited blood and treasure, fighting people who never did anything to us, and whom we have no quarrel with. That's just too much to ask of anyone.

There used to be a comment thread to this post, where a visitor was angered by some of my comments. I felt personally attacked and sort of blew a gasket in response, and he responded back, and then I responded again, and then I decided it was an unproductive debate and turned on comment moderation temporarily. I'm not proud about doing that, and I also wasn't proud of some of the things I said in the heat of the moment. Blogspot doesn't let you edit your comments, as far as I can tell, so I decided to blow the whole thread away. There were a few tidbits in the thread where I tried to clarify or expand on points from the original post, and I thought some of those were worth keeping. I've tried to stick to the relevant opinion parts and get rid of the arguing parts and off-topic stuff, and rearrange what's left to be a bit more coherent, but please bear in mind that what you see here was originally part of a heated argument, and in some spots the prose suffers for it.

Part of my interest in the Walt-Mearsheimer paper is sociological, concerned not so much about what it says, as about why it's being said now. There appears to be a growing sense among the general public that US foreign policy is out of control, and our place in the world isn't what it should be. People want to know why, and whose fault it is. On the disenchanted right, we're starting to see the meme that the Iraq war's going badly because of wimpy liberals undermining our national resolve (see my later article "M is for Meltdown"). On the left, you primarily hear the same talk about big oil and corporate interests that we've all heard since, oh, at least 1973, and probably much earlier. There's also a lot of talk about Christian fundamentalists and their Armageddon fixation. Neocons tend to look outward to assign blame, and provide a laundry list of additional countries we need to do something about, suggesting that things will improve once we've checked off everyone on the list. This paper is just the latest contribution in the ongoing, muddled search for answers. I personally don't think there's any one party that ought to be singled out and made the scapegoat, but that's not an answer that's likely to satisfy a lot of people. It should be blindingly obvious that it's not in Israel's best interest to be singled out by the public as a reason behind America's woes in the world. Some people realize this already, for example see the link about Ken Mehlman being booed recently.

As for the content of the paper, many reviewers have noted that its arguments are often simplistic and it draws overly broad conclusions, which I think is an accurate assessment. Whatever the paper's imperfections, though, the public discussion it invites is long overdue. I categorically reject the notion that there ought to be taboo subjects people should be afraid to talk about. For example, I published one of those Mohammed cartoons here. Healthy public debate serves as a check on ill-considered ideas, like the current headlong rush to war with Iran.

This morning my local newspaper ran an op-ed piece by Charles Krauthammer, one of the same neocons who got us into Iraq. He's now arguing that Iran's Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler, and 2006 is 1938 all over again, implying that any solution other than war is Munich all over again. Which is the same argument that we were fed about Saddam, and which I've also seen made about Syria, Libya, even Venezuela, believe it or not. This kind of talk closes off the possibility of having a rational debate over what to do about Iran, and furthermore I'm convinced that was the whole intent of the article.

In the coming months I expect to see a lot of talk about how many American lives were saved by nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so that the identical course of action will appear to be a reasonable and moderate solution to the "Iran problem", and anyone who opposes it will be smeared as a wimpy Chamberlain-style appeaser. It worked with Iraq, and I don't see any reason to doubt it'll work again.

And due to the lack of public debate, again nobody will consider what happens next after the big "Mission Accomplished" speech. And while we're still bogged down in the aftermath of Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Iran, the war drums will inevitably start beating again.

After 9/11, it turns out that the neocons had signed this country up for an endless series of wars in the Middle East and beyond, against a long list of countries America has no quarrel with, with no public debate of any kind whatsoever. We started out with Afghanistan (which again, I supported at the time), and then Iraq (which I didn't and still don't). And now we're ramping up to nuke Iran, and so become an international pariah for the next few hundred years or so. But that won't stop us; after Iran we have to attack Sudan, and Syria, and then Saudi Arabia, Libya, maybe Indonesia or Pakistan or Nigeria after that, and on and on. As far as I can tell, we're expected to eventually wage war against every single Muslim country on the planet. And after that, who knows? Do we nuke Pluto next, just in case? I just don't see any end to it. And what's worse, neither do the strategy's advocates.

This strategy results in a lot of domestic "collateral damage". An eternity of war means an eternity of terrorist attacks against ordinary Americans, at home and abroad. Cheney & Co. are snug as bugs in their bunkers in undisclosed locations, but the rest of us aren't so lucky. And terror attacks in turn mean a hardcore national security state here at home, with a permanent loss of our most basic Constitutional rights, and a creeping, vicious, joyously ignorant Christian fundamentalist theocracy rapidly dragging us back into the Dark Ages. Yet again, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that might be, well, sub-optimal for this country.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad is clearly a wingnut, but I have no personal quarrel with the country of Iran. Every Iranian I've ever met has been a really wonderful person, and they have a rich, ancient culture with amazing art, music, and poetry, but apparently our country's job now is to kill everyone and nuke the whole place into a radioactive cinder, just in case. Going out on a limb again, let me say I think that would be sort of immoral.

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