Gotta keep bars on all our windows

27 07 2014

Israel is us or, shall I say, US, as told by Jon Snow:

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

It is accentuated by suddenly being within sumptuously appointed Israel. Accentuated by the absolute absence of anything that indicates that this bloody war rages a few miles away. A war that the UN stated yesterday has reduced 55 per cent of  Gaza’s diminutive land to a no-go area.

Go tell that to the children playing in the dusty streets or the families forced out of  shelters like the UN school compound, to forage for food beneath shells and missiles.

In and out of an Israeli transit hotel for a few hours in Ashkelon, an hour from the steel crossing-point from Gaza, there were three half-hearted air raid warnings. Some people run, but most just get on with what they are doing.

They are relatively safe today because  Israel is the most heavily fortified country on earth. The brilliant Israeli-invented, American-financed shield is all but fool-proof; the border fortifications, the intelligence, beyond anything else anywhere.

This brilliant people is devoting itself to a permanent and ever-intensifying expenditure to secure a circumstance in which there will never be a deal with the Palestinians. That’s what it looks like, that is what you see. It may not be true.

The pressure not to go on this way is both internationally and domestically a minority pursuit.

He notes the security demands and commands from behind windows and walls, disembodied voices demonstrating control over voiceless bodies:

“Feet apart!” they said. “Turn! No, not that way – the other!” Then, in the next of five steel security rooms I passed through – each with a red or green light to tell me to stop or go – a male security guard up in the same complex above me shouted “Take your shirt off – right off. Now throw it on the floor… Pick it up, now ring it like it was wet” (it was wet, soaked in sweat).

From entering the steel complex until I reach the final steel clearing room where I held the baby, I was never spoken to face to face, nor did I see another human beyond those who barked the commands through the bullet-proof windows high above me.

Is this not how we in the US approach the rest of the world? We send drones over deserts and bombs into buildings and we sit in our sumptuously appointed country pointedly ignoring what we do and how we are.





Give peace a chance

24 11 2013

A preliminary deal to pause, and eventually reverse, Iran’s nuclear weapons program: good.

Good for the US, good for Iran, good for the world—and yes, when I write “good for the world”, I include Israel in that calculation.

Benjamin Netanyahu, and his various supporters in the US, would disagree. They consider this a “disaster” and, generally, bad for Israel. Former UN Ambassador Wilford Brimley John Bolton goes so far as to urge Israel to bomb away anyway, but as he’d likely suggest bombing someone who cut in front of him at Starbucks, I don’t how seriously anyone should take his analysis.

If the Israelis do bomb Iran (for presumably their own reasons), I don’t know how much cover they could expect from the US. There are many members of Congress who are, as the phrase goes, “staunch allies of Irael”, but I don’t know how staunch the rest of the American populace is. Yes, polls regularly show high levels of support for Israel, but it’s not at all clear that that support would hold if Israel were seen to be drawing the US into yet another Mideast war.

Would such a backlash be driven by anti-semitism? Some of it, yeah—there’s a fair amount of anti-Jewish sentiment in the US—but mostly by a sense of ENOUGH, the same sense of ENOUGH that lead to a backlash against a possible US strike on Syria.

Not going to war is a good thing. Kerry isn’t Chamberlain, Rouhani isn’t Hitler, and the P5+1 group and the UN aren’t the League of Nations. It’s possible this could all go sideways, but it’s also possible that this might, just might, lead us away from war and toward peace.

A good thing, yes?





Looking for a moment that’ll never happen

22 03 2013

I have to stop before I start screaming.

This is my last post on support for/dissent from the Iraq war—not because there’s nothing left to say, but because I could bang on and on about this, digging out every last awful pro-war piece  by allegedly thoughtful conservatives and liberals (to say nothing about the bilge which burbled out of the pits of (neo-)conservatism).

And then I could howl some more about the backhand given toward those who were right and the shrug toward those who were wrong.

No, I have to let it go because otherwise I will never let it go.

Two last things. One, presidents matter. Two, protests don’t matter.

On the first point: It was a bit of a toss-off point I made the other night, that if the president decides to go to war, then nothing will stop him, but upon reflection, I think that I nailed it.

Are there any cases in which a president wanted publicly to wage war and was prevented from doing so by the Congress or the citizenry?

It’s possible that there were instances in which a president privately mulled war with his advisers but pulled up before going public, and it is possible that in those instances it was the prospect of public push-back which [were among the variables which] stalled him. But has a president ever decided publicly to commit troops to battle and not gotten his way?

I can’t think of any.

Which leads to the second point: Once the decision has been made to go public with the case for war, it’s too late for protests.

This doesn’t make protest any less necessary, but (we) dissenters have to be aware that we are protesting to save our own minds, to make ourselves visible to one another and to reassure one another that, in fact, we haven’t lost our minds.

As regards the path to war, however, we are as ants to a tank.

If we want to matter, then, the best we may be able to do is to mitigate the worst effects of the war, to aid veterans, to send money to civic and humanitarian organizations working in-country. To make public one’s own dissent, if only to remind one’s fellow citizens that it is possible to dissent.

Maybe it will matter, next time, behind the closed doors, as the president and his (or her) advisers ponder breaking into another country. Maybe.

Is there anything more than maybe? Probably not.

What, then, is to be done? If we want to stop war and protests won’t stop war, what is to be done?

This brings me back to the first point: Don’t elect presidents who want war, who hire advisers who want war, who  can’t be bothered to think about the agonies of war.

It’s not much; it’s all we’ve got.

~~~

h/t & general fuck-yeahs to Conor Friedersdorf; Scott Lemieux at LGM, Matt Yglesias, Charlie  Pierce, James Fallows (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), and everyone else who’s sunk her teeth into the backsides of the warmongers and won’t let go. [Removed link to MY because it was a mistake to have included him: he might now be truly sorry, but he was among the mongers.]





Rage against the machine

20 03 2013

*Update* Check out Conor Friedersdorf’s review of anti-anti-war commentary.

I don’t even remember why I was against the war.

It’s easy, now, after the lies and mess and blood and money and vengeance and torture and horror and exodus, to say What a monstrous disaster.

Did I see all of this coming? I don’t know. I was skeptical, fearful of the what-ifs, but did I foresee the monster we would become, the disaster we would inflict on ourselves and the people of Iraq?

I doubt it. I doubt it.

I don’t feel vindicated for having been right. I didn’t have to argue myself into skepticism, didn’t have to fight my way past the shiny objects dangled in front of the American people in order to arrive at the summit of wisdom.

There was no summit, and I claim no wisdom. Is it really that hard to be skeptical of unnecessary war?

This is why I rage and despair in equal measure at those pundits who say “I was wrong, but I could have been right, so. . . .” They couldn’t be bothered to perform the most basic act of citizenship: to think, to think beyond one’s desires and sorrows and glee—and you betcher ass there was glee at the prospect of war—about what we were, truly about to do. Could they not be bothered to wonder at their own anticipation?

I am ungenerous in my interpretation of the commentators who supported the war, ungenerous in my reception to their ex post facto “soul-searching”; I read their apologies as justifications.

This is unfair (at least to John Cole), but I don’t care. They lost nothing by being wrong, suffered no consequences for whooping it up as the Congress and the Bush administration led us into destruction. They are sorry only that the destruction was inglorious, rather than shockingly awesome.

Again, this is unfair, I know, I know.

And it puts too much on the sideliners, not enough on the Congress and the Bush administration. I vent my rage at the pundits because I despair of influencing the politicians.

Once a president decides to go to war, that’s it, we’re going to war.

Pundits make the pitch easier; protesters are, if not ignored, a useful foil. But, truly, nothing any of us says, matters. We don’t matter, except, perhaps, to ourselves.

If a president wants war, war is what we get.





Ten years after

19 03 2013

You know what this is about, right?

~~~

March 19, 2003-March 19, 2013.

Financial cost: $812,067, 323,000—and counting.

Cost to to US soldiers: 4487 killed, 32,223 seriously wounded, 30 percent of all who served developed serious mental problems shortly after returning home

Costs to Iraqi civilians: estimates of numbers killed range from over 100,000 to over 600,000

(And much more here)

Removal of murderous dictator: done

Democracy established: ???

Number of nuclear weapons found: 0

Evidence of links to Al Qaeda found: none

Former Vice President Dick Cheney thinks it was all worth it.

~~~

I marched against the first Gulf War in 1990, unsure whether it was necessary, worried about the fight I was sure the Iraqi army would give to the US. We’d win, I remember musing to my friends T & S, but it could be bad.

It was bad, but not in the way I thought it would be.

So endeth my venture into confident predictions about complex events.

~~~

I was in Montreal when the planes were hijacked, crashed. I got into an argument either that afternoon or the next morning with a colleague’s girlfriend over the innocence of the US, over ‘who started it’, how it would end.

At least, I think that’s what we argued about; I could be wrong. I do remember the director of my program murmuring that it was perhaps too soon to be voicing such opinions.

I don’t remember if I responded that it would be too late it if I waited, or if I just thought that.

~~~

The US wouldn’t attack Iraq, would it? Really? Isn’t it obvious this whole thing is ginned up? What the hell is in the water down there? Has everyone gone mad?

~~~

January is not the best month in Montreal in which to march around outdoors for hours, and then stand and listen to speeches for awhile longer.

But hundreds of thousands of us did, more than once. If you looked through the side streets from Ste. Catherine you could see the people streaming past in the other direction up boulevard René-Lévesque.

Some of us carried signs, some of us carried children, some, candles. We shouted and sang and chanted in French and English and Spanish and Arabic and Hebrew and we could all hear one another, but none of it mattered.

We froze our asses off for peace and none of it mattered.

~~~

Why didn’t more people listen to the skeptics, the peace-mongerers, the critics?

They didn’t like our puppets. We said mean things about Bush. We were leftists. We were anti-American. We were against all wars. We were nobodies. We were rude. And smelly. And played drums.

I mean, if the people against war play drums, that’s certainly a good reason to support war, isn’t it?

~~~

Those who were right about the war were dismissed for having been right.

Who was against the war? cry those who were for the war. How could we have known? We were too emotional, too caught up in war fever.

Why did no one speak?

What else did you expect?

So we were wrong, but we were right for having been wrong.

And those who were right? Well, they could have been wrong.

~~~

Lessons?

There are no lessons—no, wait, too many lessons, none of which will be learned.

The wrong have “moved on”. Those who admit they were wrong are cleansed by the admission; those who don’t, blame those who were right.

Lessons? There are no lessons.

There’s only next time.





Letting the days go by

10 09 2011

I wasn’t there.

But I still have a story, so here it is:

I was in Montreal, and many mornings I rode my bike up Mont Royal before showering at the nearby medical building and heading to my office on Peel Street. The Biomedical Ethics Unit was still in the old red mansion on the west side of the street, and my office was on the ground floor, separated from the main office on the third floor. I had just walked in, maybe turned the computer on, when the phone rang.

I heard my mom, not recognizing me, asking to speak to me. She and my dad were scheduled to leave for their first-ever trip to Europe (I had long pestered them to go), so I wondered if something had happened with their plans.

The trip was cancelled, she said. All the trips are cancelled. What? I said, why? Are you rescheduling?

I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but something about planes, multiple planes crashing in New York, in DC, no one knows what’s going on, we might be at war, haven’t you heard?

Haven’t you heard?

I do remember standing in my office, one hand on my forehead, not comprehending what was being told to me. Not comprehending at all.

Then D., my fellow post-doc, filled my door-frame. Did you hear, he might have said. Something about planes, multiple planes, crashing in the US, A. has the t.v. on up in the office.

At some point I got off the phone and headed up. There it was. I don’t know how long I stayed, watching, before heading over to the Shatner (the student union) for coffee. The t.v. was on there. Students were crying. People were crying. I don’t know if they were Canadian or American. I don’t remember if I cried.

At some point I heard the borders were closed. Closed! I was locked out! I knew, not forever, but I started to know I was on the outside.

Later I was at lunch with the director of my unit (a dual citizen), a colleague, and that colleague’s girlfriend. The girlfriend got into it, I don’t remember over exactly what, but probably over the question of war. I do remember that I took an immediate stance against any immediate action. Let’s wait, let’s not make things worse. Something like that, probably something like that.

Oh, and probably something about how this probably connected to something the US had done. Yes, this was terrorism, and no, the people killed didn’t deserve it, but given how the US acts in the world, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the world reacts. Something like that, probably something like that, is probably what set off the girlfriend. Or something the girlfriend said set this off in me. I don’t remember the specifics, “who started it”, just that we got into it.

Later, not much time later, the director said to me, quietly, that perhaps it was too soon. And I thought, even if I didn’t say it (tho’ I might have said it), that we have to speak now, before everything hardens, and further thought isn’t possible.

Later, maybe later that day, maybe the next day, I rode back up Mont Royal, stood at the terrace near the top and looked toward what I guessed was New York. Could I see the smoke? Could it reach Montreal? Were we all now breathing in the dead?

Melodramatic, I knew, even as I thought it. Besides, everyone would breathe the dead, they would soar around the world and we’d all breathe in everyone’s dead, the way we always had, the way we never thought we had.

A week later I was at the border, a black strip of fabric hanging from my rearview mirror, on my way to see M. & E. in Vermont. I thought it might take hours; it took minutes. No problems, no problems at all.

M. was still working, so E. and I tooled around, running errands, before picking her up (or maybe we ran the errands after we picked her up; I don’t remember). We had to stop at a store E. hated, thought was terrible. “I wish a plane had crashed into that store,” he muttered, and then we both sputtered with laughter. We were terrible, laughing at a terrible joke about a terrible event.

Later, over a year later, hundreds of thousands of us marched down St. Catherine and Rene Levesque; millions around the world marched against the march to war. For naught. I watched the CBC in disbelief as the President led the Congress, and the nation, into war in Iraq. I couldn’t believe it: it was all so transparently false, so obviously wrong, they couldn’t actually pull this off, could they? Yes. And no.

There’s more, of course; ten years, after all. And while I’m in New York now, having not been then, my memories are of the outsider, still.

Which is why I told my story today; let tomorrow be the day for the stories of those who were there.





Osama bin Laden is dead; and. . . ?

2 05 2011

A few thoughts on the death of a murderous fanatic:

1. I am opposed to the death penalty, in every case. Thus, as I noted in a comment at TNC’s joint, I may be parsing matters to consider bin Laden not the subject of a criminal trial, but a casualty of war.

2. I don’t like facile comparisons of bin Laden to Hitler or Al Qaeda to the Nazis; whatever the totalitarian similarities, the differences, I think, are are even greater.

Nonetheless, this quote from Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem came to mind:

[J]ust as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang. [emph. added]

To want to cleanse the world of its inhabitants makes you an enemy of the world and its inhabitants and gives us license to treat you as such.

I don’t celebrate his death—“grim satisfaction” seems the appropriate cliche—but I do think a kind of rough justice was done.

3. There are concerns that this action will give the US cover to leave Afghanistan sooner rather than later. Would that this would be so.

4. The death of bin Laden matters. I say this not as an expert on terrorism but more generally as a political scientists: Even if the death were only symbolic—his operational role was said to have diminished greatly in the past few years—the symbolism still matters. In both war and politics, symbolism matters.

As to whether this will lead to a retrenchment or fracturing of Al Qaeda, well, either is a possibility. Bin Laden was apparently a charismatic figure, and his former number two (now presumptive leader) Ayman Al-Zawahri is not; that could matter in terms of holding together a far-flung criminal operation.

Or not: The cell structure of Al Qaeda may mean that those freelancers gathered under the Al Qaeda banner have long since left the base of The Base behind.

We’ll find out.

5. Some are concerned at what happens next.

As a general matter, I’m not concerned; something always happens next.

As for specifics,  I (somewhat surprisingly) again agree with Jeffrey Goldberg:

Television-based analysts are already asking if the killing of Bin Laden will provoke revenge attacks by al Qaeda. Is there a stupider question in the world? The implication, of course, is that now, al Qaeda will truly be pissed off at the U.S. Unlike in 2001, when al Qaeda was only marginally angry at the U.S.

He backs off that somewhat in later posts—yes, some terrorists may be moved to strike out in rage or grief—but as Al Qaeda was not much a political organization, that is, it was not an organization with which one could negotiate, any acts around it or in reference to it or against it would lead to a reaction.

That there are reactions does not mean there should be no actions.

6. There are domestic political implications of all this, but it seems small, today, to consider them.

7. To circle back around to the Arendt quote: Yes, I think she got it right.

There are a lot of reconsiderations of her work in light of a new book on Eichmann (The Eichmann Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt), but I don’t know that any of the old or new criticisms can erode the acuity of that judgment, which deserves repeating:

[J]ust as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations. . . we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you.








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