Randy's Corner Deli Library

29 August 2006

Plame Out - The Ridiculous End to the Scandal that Distracted Washington

If anything, this story goes to show how disfunctional the entire Bush administration was and is. Where one branch of the administration can abuse another branch of the administration, that's a bad thing, and the only real losers are the American people.


Plame Out: The ridiculous end to the scandal that distracted Washington.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006, at 1:02 PM ET

I had a feeling that I might slightly regret the title ("Case Closed") of my July 25 column on the Niger uranium story. I have now presented thousands of words of evidence and argument to the effect that, yes, the Saddam Hussein regime did send an important Iraqi nuclear diplomat to Niger in early 1999. And I have not so far received any rebuttal from any source on this crucial point of contention. But there was always another layer to the Joseph Wilson fantasy. Easy enough as it was to prove that he had completely missed the West African evidence that was staring him in the face, there remained the charge that his nonreport on a real threat had led to a government-sponsored vendetta against him and his wife, Valerie Plame.

In his July 12 column in the Washington Post, Robert Novak had already partly exposed this paranoid myth by stating plainly that nobody had leaked anything, or outed anyone, to him. On the contrary, it was he who approached sources within the administration and the CIA and not the other way around. But now we have the final word on who did disclose the name and occupation of Valerie Plame, and it turns out to be someone whose opposition to the Bush policy in Iraq has—like Robert Novak's—long been a byword in Washington. It is particularly satisfying that this admission comes from two of the journalists—Michael Isikoff and David Corn—who did the most to get the story wrong in the first place and the most to keep it going long beyond the span of its natural life.

As most of us have long suspected, the man who told Novak about Valerie Plame was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department and, with his boss, an assiduous underminer of the president's war policy. (His and Powell's—and George Tenet's—fingerprints are all over Bob Woodward's "insider" accounts of post-9/11 policy planning, which helps clear up another nonmystery: Woodward's revelation several months ago that he had known all along about the Wilson-Plame connection and considered it to be no big deal.) The Isikoff-Corn book, which is amusingly titled Hubris, solves this impossible problem of its authors' original "theory" by restating it in a passive voice:

The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone.

In the stylistic world where disclosures are gleaned and ironies underscored, the nullity of the prose obscures the fact that any irony here is only at the authors' expense. It was Corn in particular who asserted—in a July 16, 2003, blog post credited with starting the entire distraction—that:

The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.

After you have noted that the Niger uranium connection was in fact based on intelligence that has turned out to be sound, you may also note that this heated moral tone ("thuggish," "gang") is now quite absent from the story. It turns out that the person who put Valerie Plame's identity into circulation was a staunch foe of regime change in Iraq. Oh, that's all right, then. But you have to laugh at the way Corn now so neutrally describes his own initial delusion as one that was "seized on by administration critics."

What does emerge from Hubris is further confirmation of what we knew all along: the extraordinary venom of the interdepartmental rivalry that has characterized this administration. In particular, the bureaucracy at the State Department and the CIA appear to have used the indiscretion of Armitage to revenge themselves on the "neoconservatives" who had been advocating the removal of Saddam Hussein. Armitage identified himself to Colin Powell as Novak's source before the Fitzgerald inquiry had even been set on foot. The whole thing could—and should—have ended right there. But now read this and rub your eyes: William Howard Taft, the State Department's lawyer who had been told about Armitage (and who had passed on the name to the Justice Department)
also felt obligated to inform White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. But Powell and his aides feared the White House would then leak that Armitage had been Novak's source—possibly to embarrass State Department officials who had been unenthusiastic about Bush's Iraq policy. So Taft told Gonzales the bare minimum: that the State Department had passed some information about the case to Justice. He didn't mention Armitage. Taft asked if Gonzales wanted to know the details. The president's lawyer, playing the case by the book, said no, and Taft told him nothing more.

"[P]laying the case by the book" is, to phrase it mildly, not the way in which Isikoff and Corn customarily describe the conduct of the White House. In this instance, however, the evidence allows them no other choice. But there is more than one way in which a case can be played by the book. Under the terms of the appalling and unconstitutional Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see "A Nutty Little Law," my Slate column of July 26, 2005), the CIA can, in theory, "refer" any mention of itself to the Justice Department to see if the statute—denounced by The Nation and the New York Times when it was passed—has been broken. The bar here is quite high. Perhaps for that reason, Justice sat on the referral for two months after Novak's original column. But then, rather late in the day, at the end of September 2003, then-CIA Director George Tenet himself sent a letter demanding to know whether the law had been broken.

The answer to that question, as Patrick Fitzgerald has since determined, is "no." But there were plenty of senior people who had known that all along. And can one imagine anybody with a stronger motive to change the subject from CIA incompetence and to present a widely discredited agency as, instead, a victim, than Tenet himself? The man who kept the knowledge of the Minnesota flight schools to himself and who was facing every kind of investigation and obloquy finally saw a chance to change the subject. If there is any "irony" in the absurd and expensive and pointless brouhaha that followed, it is that he was abetted in this by so many who consider themselves "radical."

28 August 2006

Bush's dilemma over Iran - and his final option

Bush's dilemma over Iran - and his final option By Laszlo Trankovits

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Monday August 28, 2006

By Laszlo Trankovits, Washington-

While US President George W Bush is still betting on sanctions by the UN Security Council to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, a moment of truth is drawing ever closer. Many in Bush's Republican party have long been sceptical of the effectiveness of economic and political sanctions that could be brought in the UN - or of efforts by European allies to negotiate a halt to uranium enrichment.

Those worries could soon prove justified, as the looming August 31 deadline set by the Security Council for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment could lead to an impasse among the council's members.

If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintains his nuclear course, and if the international community Bush has so far committed to does not react harshly enough, conservative hawks in Washington could once again gain the upper hand. US diplomats making overtures to the UN Security Council have privately doubted whether the organ can really deliver the kind of tough sanctions and the US administration is seeking. Many hawkish right wing commentators and politicians are waiting with baited breath for the ineffectiveness of diplomatic efforts pushed by Europeans to be borne out. "If violence is necessary to defeat the terrorists, the Iranians and the North Koreans, then it is regrettably necessary," said Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.

"Realistically speaking, the point of this multilateral exercise cannot be to stop Iran's nuclear programme by diplomacy. That has always been a fantasy. It will take military action," writes Charles Krauthammer, a proponent of the "neoconservative" philosophy many believe has long had the ear of the Bush administration. "There would be terrible consequences from such an attack. These must be weighed against the terrible consequences of allowing an openly apocalyptic Iranian leadership from acquiring nuclear weapons," Krauthammer continues.

But right wing politicians and pundits are not the only ones floating the military option. Democrats such as Hillary Clinton have also made clear that Teheran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, by military force if necessary. The dispute with Iran is now threatening to leave Bush in an intractable position, as he has regularly insisted that the world cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. With the Islamic nation refusing to halt enrichment, conservatives in the US - and in Israel - are hoping concrete action will soon accompany the clear rhetoric. But the ongoing Iraq war has taken a heavy toll on the US military and finances.

As a result, suggestions of a military option against Iran have been met with scepticism in the US and Europe. A recent letter from 22 former US generals and government officials warned of the "disastrous consequences of an attack on Iran." The recent month-long Israeli offensive against Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah has also proven a reminder for Washington of the difficulties even a vastly superior military force can encounter against militants that are well-educated, highly motivated and hidden among a civilian population. Those lessons have led military experts to ponder just what a war with Iran - with a population of 68 million and a military force not to be taken lightly - might look like.

But there is a so far unheralded third option for Bush - next to sanctions-laden diplomacy at the UN and a painful military engagement. Democrats in particular - including former secretary of state Henry Kissinger - believe the US administration should give up on the idea of regime change in Iran, and instead offer the security guarantees and economic incentives that might tempt the Islamic nation out of isolation.

The major powers in June offered Iran economic incentives, including delivery of a light-water reactor and the long-term provision of nuclear fuel, in return for suspension of uranium enrichment. But the package lacked "a clear US commitment to live with the government in Tehran, even as we compete with it politically and morally," writes George Perkovich in the Wall Street Journal. Such an overture would at least give the international community a chance to gleam whether the Mullahs might heed their nation's interests after all, and put aside their conflict with the "Great Satan" and "Little Satan - the US and Israel respectively - the Wall Street Journal writes. But for a president that counts Iran as part of an "axis of evil," that option is one of the least desirable.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur

Thoughts on 9/11: Bat Ye'or, the Euro-Arab Dialogue and Dhimmitude: Five Years On, What Will America Choose To Do?

Last night, about 10:30p.m., while I was reading -- intently focused -- on Bat Ye'or's _Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis_ , I got a call. Answering, I was told to turn on the TV and watch the National Geographic documentary on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I put the book down and began to watch the program. Along with the gruesome disasters at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia, it also told the story of the brave Americans on board flight 93 that was crashed into the ground near Shankstown, PA, killing all on board. It was apparently headed for the US Capitol building where, had it not been for some very brave people, I am sure it would have destroyed that building as well. After about a half-hour, I set the DVR to record, turned the TV off and went back to my book intending to go to sleep. (More on the book later.) But it called me. I stayed up into the wee hours watching the TV and watching my own reactions to what I was watching again. I couldn't help the pull to live those moments again. I couldn't. They were different feelings than those I remember five years ago. The feelings I had were more intense, bolstered by the knowledge that I had obtained in the interim on the attacks, the people, their ideology and the constant drumbeat of President Bush's "War on Terror". Some time ago, I realized that it was indeed a war, but I have never felt that there has been a coherent story behind what it is that the Western world is facing from radical Islam or "Islamofascism". That term, as I have concluded, is somewhat of a misnomer as the battle is against the Islamic requirement of jihad against the "unbelievers" -- infidels like me.

I remember every scene that they played back � the video and the audio. Except the particular video of the exact moment that the steel in the South Tower began to bend as the result of the raging fire which reached in excess of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The bend did not last. At that exact moment, the South Tower � camera panning out � began to collapse. Quickly. The debris roaring out on Vesey Street visible from W. Broadway was utterly hellacious to watch as was the utter darkness into which lower Manhattan descended. But five years on, I was honestly overwhelmed. Each of us has been inundated with information about the causes of those terrorist attacks in particular and the cause for Arab terrorism in general. There had been a Congressional investigation � insufficient of course�; a realignment of our governmental intelligence agencies to make interagency communication about potential future terrorist easier to transmit and act upon, and an enormous number of books about nearly every conceivable topic related to the attacks in New York, Washington and elsewhere. We invaded Afghanistan to try to root out Osama bin Laden, who had been lifted to the level of a demi-God amongst much of the Arab world for having poked the big, bad United States in the eye. There had been an invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Ba�aathist regime of Saddam Hussein. There has been a great deal of soul-searching here and abroad about how to combat this nearly invisible, yet implacable enemy which only exists to�what? What is their ultimate goal? What can we in the West honestly do to turn the minds of the Arab �street� against their violent anti-Western attitudes? Regardless of your views as to how the coordinated attacks on September 11, 2001 related to Iraq is at this point not important. The US has committed to a new Iraq with the blood of over 2700 servicemen and women. Many civilians have died in the process and we now find ourselves trying not to get killed while the Sunni minority tries to hold its place against the Shi�ite majority which is being aided by Iran and Syria. To leave now will be to hand Iraq over to Iran.

Many people have sought to bury their heads, choosing to not know. Or have chosen politically correct viewpoints and explanations for the battles that we have fought and have yet to fight. Five years on, the replay of the horrors that so many people directly experienced on September 11-- imagining those who lost loved ones and friends and the tremendous, seemingly inexplicable losses they live with now -- and which all Americans live with and remember to one extent or another -- triggered more profound feelings than I actually had the day the attacks were carried out.

Are we destined to live lives in a country that is just waiting to react to the next terrorist idea? Are we a body politic comprised of sheep? Why do we accept, without question, the TSA�s mandate that we must ALL live as if we were all terrorists? Why are they so focused on �things� and not the actual people who would actually commit a terrorist attack? Before anyone can answer any of these seemingly reasonable questions, the first thing that is necessary is to really identify the problem. And I believe that the answer is in front of us. All we have to do is look. And read. And act accordingly in the spirit of Winston Churchill at the outset of WWII � to gather our righteous rage against and utterly destroy those who would take from us our most precious, fundamental rights as free people. We have to understand that the people and ideologies that we are pitched against are not going to tolerate us. They will use every available means to destroy our way of life. And I do not say this cynically. I mean that these people would have us as slaves as they have in the past. And I do not mean to sound alarmist or reactionary. I, too, thought those people who used to say that we were really in the throes of the first battles of WWIII were overstating their cases. They are not. This is real.

If you read nothing else on the subject of why Europe is, well, no longer �Europe�, you will want to spend some time with the attached article which was written a few years ago by Bat Ye�or.It is located here: http://www.dhimmitude.org/archive/by_eurabia_122002_eng.doc

In order to understand the problem that we face, we must get used to the notion of reading and understanding concepts that take more than a paragraph or two to understand. Sound bites are insufficient for true comprehension. That said, I am asking you, for your own sake, to read this article. Carefully. It will not make you happy, but it will make you feel like you have stumbled across something that totally feels right and is moreover supported by history and facts. From there, it's not a long jump to imagining that something can be done to attempt to rectify the situation. When you read this article, you will feel as if a weight -- the weight of helplessness-- has been lifted from your eyes. From this, we can develop a plan to take back our world.

I was interrupted by the 9/11 documentary from my current reading: Bat Ye'Or's latest book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Farleigh Dickenson University Press, 2005) which discusses many of the themes contained in the attached paper.

Unbeknownst to me before I bought the book, Martin Gilbert, who is probably the most respected and prolific historian on the planet, has lent his name and imprimatur of accuracy and relevance to the book. The expression of the reasons for his admiration for the book is found on the inside front flap. It is an amazing historical, economic, political and sociological analysis that the leaders of the remaining free world would be wise to study. After spending some time with Ms. Ye�or�s book, I cannot say that Western Europe is really any longer free, as that term used to be defined before 1967 or so. Most of those countries exist only as a civilization of dhimmitude under Shar�ia law, not as truly free countries for reasons that you will understand after reading this article.

Her book was reviewed last year in the National Review and can be seen here for free: http://www.benadorassociates.com/article/14174 courtesy of the author�s publicist.

If you take this as a call to engage, it's because, I guess, it is. Bat Ye'Or's articles and her books are the synthesis of the perfect storm that is waiting for us. It is time to understand the reality and impact of the Euro-Arab Dialogue and dhimmitude. And once understood, it's time to act based on that understanding. What will we in America do? We cannot continue down the path we've started down, that's for sure.

The party is over for Europe. Its status as dhimmitude is secure. The same may be ttrue here in the US if we don�t collectively wake up and smell the fire that is starting to burn our own house down.

24 August 2006

Schadenfreude and Suspicion After Nobel Laureate Reveals SS Past

For those who would jump to castrate Gunter Grass, I would recommend reading this extraordinarily thoughtful piece from Joshua Cohen. I concur wholeheartedly with his assessment of the situation and would hope that some reflection take place before the knives land.


Schadenfreude and Suspicion After Nobel Laureate Reveals SS Past
Joshua Cohen Fri. August 25, 2006

Last week, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in advance of his new autobiography, “Beim Häuten der Zwiebel” (“Peeling the Onion”), Günter Grass — Nobel laureate, public intellectual and arguably the greatest modern novelist in German — revealed his membership in the Waffen-SS, saying that he had been inducted into the ranks of Nazism’s most vicious paramilitary unit during the waning days of World War II.

After the admission, Grass retreated into silence, leaving a void soon filled with reams of screeds and apologias — most of the former directed not at the writer’s past but at the silence he’s maintained for decades. These have been delivered with a significant degree of Schadenfreude, especially in light of Grass’s decades-long career as Germany’s professional conscience, and his reputation for having held so many — politicians, artists and thinkers — to the highest moral standards that he himself now appears to have publicly failed.

According to the interview account, in August 1944, Grass, at the age of 17, had volunteered for submarine service but was instead routed to the SS, which at that late date was becoming desperate for new blood. Heinrich Himmler’s brainchild, the Waffen SS was not an Army unit but rather an elite enforcement squad of the Nazi Party and, later, its government; known as one of the most ruthless organizations of modernity, it was responsible for the management of both concentration and extermination camps and for carrying out assassinations and other acts of state terrorism. Grass’s was the 10th SS tank division, and with it he saw action at Lausitz in March and April of 1945, until he was wounded then taken prisoner.

In many ways, his confession is the last great scandal of a generation that necessitated a figure as moral as Grass once positioned himself to be in order to expose its own vital deceptions.

Grass’s “Frundsberg” tank division’s last mission, which was left unfulfilled because of American capture, was to have been to spirit Hitler out of Berlin. Grass’s late admission now seems like a similar backdoor “escape,” a maneuver whose desperation is typical of many of Grass’s generation — Germans who would seek postwar identity under the rubric of the Flakhelfer (literally “flak helper”, designating child combatants who typically served in anti-aircraft), whose complicity was said to be unwilling, a matter of being conditioned from a young age to an evil that no child could hope to understand. Today, distance is still being measured, most visibly in a rallying toward Grass’s public punishment. Polish President and former Solidarity dissident Lech Walesa now regrets granting Grass the Freedom of Danzig, Grass’s hometown (now the Polish city of Gdansk); German politician Wolfgang Boerson has been demanding that the Nobel committee rescind its prize, to which the Swedes have responded with polite refusal.

It’s nearly impossible for Americans to understand Grass’s former role in German life, at least among those of his own generation. Grass had been a Nationaldichter, a position to which our poet laureate is mere paperwork, the mediocre mark of officialdom. If Philip Roth, Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon (the three Americans most mentioned as Nobel contenders) would publicly accuse President Bush of certain indiscretions, or even crimes, hardly any of our newspapers would hand over significant space; the American public has been historically mistrustful of art’s encroachment on politics — especially now, in a world in which art has been depoliticized into mere entertainment. A close political companion of Willy Brandt, later a cynical critic of Helmut Kohl and the so-called German Economic Miracle that boomed the bombed-out nation into today’s unified, stable prosperity, Grass always has been shrilly profound, intellectually adrift in the Niemandsland between fact and fiction, practical politics and stunt provocation; a stooped, mustachioed figure smoking his pipe when not speaking his mind; an agitator equal parts peacock and priest. Nothing quite like him can exist in a country that hasn’t had Germany’s past, and so the public’s current demand for an American-style atonement, with all the trappings of a talk-show confessional, belittles the tradition that Grass until now has embodied, and it furthers, too, the destruction of all sensitive, subtle critique.

To be sure, Grass’s detractors are right, but it doesn’t much matter. Anyone who intends to totally discredit Grass should first take a year and read his wondrous novels (again, if not for the first time). From “The Tin Drum” to his most recent, “Crabwalk,” they’re works of the most naked genius and now can be read as atonements in advance, pre-emptive aesthetic strikes against their maker’s darkest truth. Even the most appalled cannot deny the books’ brilliance; they deserve every prize we ever could embarrass them with, and despite any revelation they should continue to be read, and widely. Of course, Grass’s present unbinding comes with curious timing: The interview in which he let fall the shadow of his record was actually a junket for the release of his “Peeling the Onion,” which at this very moment is being maniacally translated into English for the edification of all who would seek to read and think before accusing.

And that’s what might be truly distressing, that indiscretions can become co-opted for sales. It might be that yesterday’s mistakes can become tomorrow’s opportunities for self-exploitation, but it would be kinder, and much more inspiring of thought, to regard this whole fiasco as a type of Warholian campaign — that Grass is engaging in a late-model manipulation of our culture.
Unfortunately, one can’t help but note that Grass seems neither iconoclastic nor unburdened, but rather like a writer dutifully undergoing the publicity gauntlet, taking his knocks while getting the word out. His autobiography already has sold in the tens of thousands of copies and is on its third printing within a week of release.

Of course, there’s publicity and there’s public. As reported by Der Spiegel, Grass’s SS service has been a matter of record ever since his American capture. (Why has no one attacked any of Grass’s biographers? This lacuna has been their lapse nearly as much as it has been his.) That magazine has reprinted Grass’s American prison records, in which his SS unit and serial number are given.

As a teenager, Grass studied firsthand the horrors that mankind can perpetrate; his life demands respect for its trauma. Anyone who condemns Grass for his silence must not know what it means to have shame, or to feel regret, or to allow those feelings to inform a life’s reinvention. It should suffice to say that had Grass never served in the SS, he might never have written the novels that made him Günter Grass, the novels whose humanity allows us to feel so betrayed by their author’s unfortunate deception.

Fri. August 25, 2006

On Gunter Grass and the SS

A great deal of loud pomposity has been made of Gunter Grass' recent revelation, made during a tour for his latest release "Peeling the Onion", that he was a member of the Waffen SS during the final months of the war.

The Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pa�s, called the negative reaction to Mr. Grass's confession"hypocritical from many people who are not probing their ownconsciences." He added: "He was 17 years old. Does the rest of hislife not count?" The 150,000 copies of "Peeling Onions" in print are nearly sold out.

Saramago is overstating what might otherwise be a good argument. That a big deal is being made out of G�nter Grass� failure to disclose his SS service has nothing to do with other people. However, the extent of the reaction needs to be more carefully measured in light of the circumstances facing Grass at the time he joined the SS as well as what I think is normal human behavior. Saramago has been quoted several times as being anti-Israel and anti-Jew.

Grass was 17 when he joined up with the SS. I think that he never grew out of the 17 year-old�s view of himself at least with respect to his SS membership. I think that someplace in his psyche he knew that what he did was wrong, even evil. Instead of facing it as a youth, young man, in middle age or even well into his later years, he kept it the secret it had been when he decided on his own, as a 17 year old, that it was something that he could never reveal. As his mortality comes into clearer focus at the age of 78, Grass has probably figured out that it really doesn�t matter to him any more and that his life will be judged on some other bases than his brief but emotionally scarring service in the SS. After the war ended, the Allies separated out the members of the Waffen SS for �special handling� as they were presumed (rightly so) to be the fiercest of Nazi believers and fighters. Those that were in US Prison camps for example, here in the US, were sent to �reeducation camps� after the war�s end and were held, in some cases, for nearly a year and a half after the war�s formal end on May 8, 1945. This was in stark contrast to most members of the Wermacht who were treated as �ordinary soldiers� and released into the community. The Nuremberg trials after the war (as well as those lesser-remembered trials held by France, Britain and Russia) brought out the ghastly, comprehensive actions of the SS. They were the ones who were held up as the personification of evil. Perhaps as a 17 year old, he knew of the killings of Slavs in Russia by Einsatzgruppen after Operation Barbarossa: he would have been 13 or 14 between June 1941- December 1941 when Barbarossa was underway. Perhaps he didn�t. It is sure that in 1945 he, like many young men were deathly afraid of the Russians. That front during most of 1945 was closing in from the East while at the same time the Western allies closed in on Berlin from the West. The RAF and USAAF were bombing German cities every day and night � the equivalent of the terror bombings that people have accused Israel of perpetrating recently (though the parallel is not there � the Allied Air Forces deliberately bombed German cities with the aim of terrorizing their populations in order to kill civilian morale as well as people. Israel bombed Southern Beirut and other areas where Hezb�Allah were launching rockets and then hiding amongst civilians for cover. Israel has never had the intent to deliberately kill civilians.) Grass was watching his country be totally and utterly destroyed and undoubtedly wanted to try to save it. I find it difficult to believe that Grass would have stopped to ask whether the SS was involved in mass extermination. I don�t know if it would have made a difference to him. He saw Deutschland being destroyed in front of his eyes and perhaps wanted to be in the �elite� corps of men whch, at the end of the war, was accepting children like him as cannon fodder to throw against the approaching Russians on the East and other allied powers on the West. They were accepted at such a young age precisely because they would follow orders and not ask questions. Grass was apparently one of them.

Not having read his autobiography, I can�t say what Grass� experiences were after the war. We have his writings to look at. It is clear from his hiding of his SS experience that he knew that it was something that would not have been acceptable to very many people, especially in the US and Western Europe who would have been his main readers and supporters when he began his writing career. And instead of �confessing� his past, he elected to hide it, in my view never outgrowing the mental abilities of a 17 year old to come to terms with belonging to an organization whose leaders and members committed in the most horrific crime against humanity ever perpetrated.

If anything, his failure to disclose this piece of his past will serve to color his past writings if only to the extent that they can be reinterpreted in light of his emotional incapacity to face the moral and ethical consequences of the choices he made during the war, in particular his election to join the SS.

20 August 2006

The Answer to Every Dad's Prayers

This morning, I got a telephone call from my son Mitch. It's always good to talk to him, especially on Sunday mornings but we talk all the time, any time, anyway. It's my number one goal to stay in his life regardless of the physical distance. Long before Tom Friedman wrote The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, I realized that if I was going to have a relationship with my son that meant anything in his life (unlike the relationship that I had with my own father, from whom I learned how NOT to be a father), I would need to use all the mechanisms at my disposal to facilitate it. That and it was going to take that much more work on the part of both of us. That was a conversation that we had back in 2001 when his mother pulled up stakes and moved back to Milwaukee over my vehement but sadly -- devastatingly so-- legally unsustainable objections.

Since then we have developed an amazing relationship that has been helped by the fact that we DO spend so much good time together and have a bond that no-one will ever break. He is more precious to me than my own life. Real heart-to-heart talks on everything from favorite popsicle flavors to the goings-on in Israel to the latest in Jazz, a love of which we both share but which he is doing something about are experiences that are irreplaceable and are what life is all about. It gives meaning to us both, but he will only understand that when he becomes a father himself. And what a great father he will be. But I digress.

Since he is able to to truly understand and at times when the topic of "the future" comes up, I have inculcated the idea -- which I believe in my heart with all my power -- that he should do things that make him happy, including what he selects for a profession. Unlike my parents who were products of the Great Depression (fearful of having everything taken away), I was not going to tell him that unless he went to Med School, Law School or Business School to get an MBA he was in any way unsuccessful. I have learned through my life thus far that success isn't measured FIRST by money. I have told Mitch again and again that success is really defined as being able to get up every morning and going off to do something that you LOVE and for which you are getting paid. "Mitch", I told him, "do what it is that you love, and the money will come." To do something that you are passionate about and get paid for it is everybody's idea of, well, paradise on earth, since that is the key to a happy life. And most people, as most of us know, do not get the opportunity to be truly happy, at least for very long, though everybody is chasing it. Trying to experience happiness. Even fleetingly, momentarily.

If you know me, you know Mitch. And you know that Mitch, though he is 'only' 14 years old, is an accomplished drummer. A Jazz drummer. I am working on the DVDs with my new Sony Vegas 6 program in order to show the world just what "great" means to me at 14. Last night, he had a gig at somebody's house--I am, as I write this, still not clear what it was for -- I think it was a benefit for something or other -- but he told me that after the gig was done, the woman who owned the house and who sponsored the party handed him a check for $280, to be split seven ways -- $40 for each member of the band. And then the answer to my prayers was uttered by my son:

"Dad, I totally didn't expect to get paid. I'd have done that for FREE!"

"What did it feel like?", I said.

"It felt awesome!"

"Mitch, I want you to remember how that felt, to get handed a check for doing something that you love. And keep that up. I'm so proud of you, you have no idea."

Somehow, I think he understood what I was talking about. Our trip to New York in April when we went to five clubs on five different nights, got a lesson from Joe Morello, the 87 year old former drummer for Dave Brubeck (among others), wandered around Mid-Town Manhattan at 3 a.m. looking for figs (for me), was a life-changing experience for him and for me. He began to envision himself in college at the Manhattan School of Music, or the New School in Greenwich Village and gigging at the Vanguard in another 5 or 6 years. (Why wait? I ask...Willie Jones loved him, Chas. McPherson says he's "a natural" -- calm down, Randy, OK?) And I could easily see it coming to be true. No problem. Whatever he does, as long as he loves it, will be exactly what I want for him. And he knows, now, what it feels like to get handed a check for something that we would have done for free. I have lived 45 years and I have never experienced that feeling. He's passed me already. As I hope he will in so many ways in the years to come and that I'll be there to watch and experience those times with him.

It sounds like I am bragging or that I lack humility when there are so many kids who are getting into drugs, carted off to Juvenile Hall, or who are altogether lost in this complicated, very strange world and I can say: my son is a wonderful answer to life's eternal question: "What will the future hold?" I know, I know: there is a long way to go, but the direction seems like it is a good one. Today, I have cause for muted celebration and more importantly, for hope for his future. All he needs to do is be happy. Easy.

19 August 2006

John Burdett: The Quiet Farang

August 19, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
The Quiet Farang


THE story of the cute white girl in the red tartan bonnet who had been dead 10 years burst into the Thai news media just as another equally harrowing local story was breaking: allegations, vigorously denied, of the systematic serial rape of five 8-year-old girls by two highly respected Thai teachers with decades of experience as educators.

In Thailand, only monks are revered more than teachers. But this local news, which surely touches the lives of Thais more deeply than John Mark Karr’s confession to the murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey a decade ago, was knocked off the front page even as doubts began piling up about Mr. Karr’s reliability.

Since her death, JonBenet has become a multimillion-dollar American industry, whereas the allegations at Prachanukul School in Bangkok’s Sai Mai district are just another Bangkok crime story. Or are they?

As of now, it seems possible that Mr. Karr did not commit the murder, but is an attention-seeking farang kee-nok — “Western drifter.” Like other members of that group, he tried to make ends meet by taking on teaching jobs, made regular visa runs to Malaysia, lived in a budget hotel, drifted around Southeast Asia with no apparent direction.

Yet it is exactly his familiarity as a type that has concentrated the attention of those Thais most familiar with it. Nit Dandin, a veteran teacher of the Thai language to Westerners, put it to me this way: “Why do farang come to Thailand after they kill or rape somebody in their own country?”

Why indeed?

I decided to ask Pong Arjpong, a local educator who is familiar with the West, having graduated with a degree in international communications from the University of Washington. “There is no access to overseas criminal databases at immigration points,” he said. “And once fugitives are in the country, it is not difficult for them to obtain forged passports, teaching certificates, etc. Every backpacker knows how to get false documents.”

It is true that plenty of Westerners run to Southeast Asia these days when life becomes too hot for them at home, evading law enforcement by moving around Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, using Thailand as a hub. Mr. Karr, too, it seems, was on the run from an arrest warrant issued in Sonoma County, Calif., in December 2001.

But there is another reason Mr. Karr might raise local hackles, regardless of whether he killed JonBenet. Like so many other farang kee-nok, he is apparently obsessed with sex. It isn’t known whether he indulged that obsession here, legally or illegally, but in a sense that does not matter.

Ms. Dandin said: “Farang who love skiing go to Switzerland or Canada. If they love climbing mountains, they go to Nepal. If they love sex, they come here.” She screws up her nose comically — she is aware of the irony. After all, she generally has a good relationship with her students, many of whom are technically kee-nok ne’er-do-wells themselves; not a few disappear inexplicably for periods of time. I remind her that in the 1980’s, before H.I.V. and AIDS forever altered perceptions of sex, promiscuity and prostitution, there was no doubt as to how Thailand intended to claim its share of tourist money. Reputations like that are not easy to shake.

Ms. Dandin nods her head. “The Indians brought prostitution to this country 300 years ago, but we can’t blame them,” she says. “We took to it like ducks to water.”

She looks at me in that helpless way Thais sometimes have when they are aware of the cultural divide. “But you see,” she said, “it’s not a sickness with us. It’s just something some of us do. The sickness comes from elsewhere.”

I have been here long enough to know what she means. The pale pageant queen dancing too perfectly in the video clip. The equally pale, preppy-looking Mr. Karr on the front page of all the newspapers. The books, the documentaries, and the astronomical fees paid to lawyers and investigators. The reputations cynically buffed or damaged. And the terrible manner of JonBenet’s death. In the old days, all of this would have pointed to something alien, monstrous, sick and irrelevant to Thai life.

But times have changed. John Mark Karr chose Bangkok for a reason. And then there were those other allegations of abuse, the ones on page 2, that will affect Thais long after the hype from the other side of the world has subsided.

Today, Thailand woke up to stories of innocence betrayed, regardless of what page of the newspaper, what television news program or what part of the world we focused on. Globalism, it seems, has many faces.

John Burdett is the author of “Bangkok 8” and “Bangkok Tattoo.”

17 August 2006

Talking Points for August 17, 2006

Talking points:

1) Western Civilization is going to need some more generals in the coming years to fight Islamofascists. The war is a'comin'! All my goy friends will have the chance to relive the Crusades of Yore when the Caliphate comes 'round asking for donations. Good luck. Don't blame the Jews for trying to warn everybody. Pity everybody's listening to the French.

2) Party-time in So. Lebanon for Hezb'Allah and the Lebanese Army!! Not much more going to happen there. Aside from more rocket attacks, though things have been (thankfully and) strangely quiet the past few days. Did they fix the runway at Beirut Int'l? I haven't checked the schedule for BA, but they've had their hands full these days, haven't they?

3) Mazel-tov to President Bush on the appointment of Jay Hein to the post of Director of the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Done while the Jews were looking hard at Israel and the war. Just goes to show you can't always base your faith on initiative. So we Jews have to pick: do we like Bush because he "supported" Israel during the recent war -- or do we hate him for what he is doing to the fabric of this country? I'm confused. Help!

4) Oh, Floyd Landis' father in law killed himself. My guess is that he was the one who slipped Floyd the extra epitestosterone. I DID wonder how he came back from the pits to win that 18th stage in the Tour de France. Doped? Naw, not Floyd! C'mon!

5) I am so glad that they FINALLY got Jon-Benet Ramsey's killer. Caught in, gasp! Bangkok, while being held on other "unrelated" sex charges. Well, my, my: fancy that, a guy who likes to shtup kids caught in -- gasp again! Bangkok! Yes, BKK is a place where the child-sex trade is alive and kicking and it's known the world over as a place where anything goes. Sick or not. For me, my two visits there have been overnights on the way South to Krabi (2001) and then to Phi-Phi Island (2003) It's a pretty city, except for the choking smog and seemingly non-existent auto-emissions limitations. Pick a Rama Road, and you could hack yourself till you cough blood if you're not careful. But the people generally are very kind; you don't want to mess with the legal system, though. They will lock you up and throw away the keys. Unless you know the local General. As to Jon-Benet Ramsey, I am really glad they got this guy though the only connection I had was the nonstop media frenzy that we had back 10 years ago when she was killed. It bothered me that the parents were still under suspicion all this time; even the mother, who died this past June of ovarian cancer, was a target. Gives me faith in parents all over the world that they didn't do it; and the converse is true when I read about people who harm their kids -- tossing 'em out windows, leaving them in 130 degree cars while they go into Nordstrom for a minute or an hour and so on. At least the bastard that (allegedly) confessed to both loving her and killing her was in the "right" place to be with children, if that's what he was into. Out of the public eye here in the US, where sex with kids is generally frowned upon, with the exception of certain Catholic priests and other degenerates. Now the guy gets a ride back to Colorado and a life sentence courtesy of the taxpayers of the state of Colorado instead of living out his life in relative anonymity in BKK. (I guess he was weird there, too, having been arrested on some kind of sex charges. You have to do something pretty f'in weird to get arrested THERE on sex charges, trust me!)

That's all I can think about right now. Wake me when it's over. A tout a l'heure...

Why Israelis believe they're right

Why Israelis believe they're right

Much of the world sees the Israeli attacks on Lebanon as disproportionate. But for the vast majority of Israelis, including some former doves, the war against Hezbollah is deterrence in self-defense.

By Samuel G. Freedman

July 25, 2006 | In the current issue of its Tel Aviv edition, the magazine TimeOut offers the latest variation on Saul Steinberg's famous cartoon of a New Yorker's view of the world. The foreground on the Israeli illustration shows the cafes of the Shenkin district, Tel Aviv's equivalent to SoHo, and the tree-lined expanse of Rothschild Boulevard. Just past the Yarkon River, the city's northern boundary, these delights give way to a landscape marked by Patriot missile batteries, exploding bombs and incoming rockets, some launched from Tehran, Iran.

As so often in Israel, gallows humor explains something essential about the national temperament. In the case of TimeOut's cover, the relevant temperament is Israel's unity in supporting the war against Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in south Lebanon. Anyone who finds it surprising that 95 percent of Israelis endorse the aerial bombardment of Lebanon with its hundreds of civilian casualties, as a recent poll by the newspaper Maariv found, should consider the implicit punch line of TimeOut's visual joke. The battlefront in this war comprises a good deal of sovereign Israel. What might look to much of the outside world like "disproportionate" military action seems to the vast majority of Israelis like deterrence in the cause of self-defense.

All the violence that Israelis have endured since the collapse of the peace process in September 2000 has given them quite an acute understanding of how seriously to take any given attack. One of the mordant jokes created during the al-Aksa intifada was a drawing of a "ruler of attention and shock" with calibrations showing the psychic impact of various Palestinian acts. Throwing a rock at a settler's car rated a mere 1.5 on a scale of 10. A suicide bomber blowing up a bus scored 8.5. The idea of a rocket hitting Haifa, much less 800 of them falling all over northern Israel, did not even occur to the satirist.

Now that precisely such an onslaught has occurred, many Israelis have begun likening the war with Hezbollah, which is really a war with Iran, to the nation's 1948 war of independence. It is being fought not in the occupied territories, as were the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and both intifadas; it is not being fought outside the country, as were the Six Day War in 1967 and the Lebanon war in 1982. The kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on Israeli land was merely a prelude to the larger agenda. Haifa, Safed, Nahariya, Tiberias, Nazareth, Rosh Pina, Kiryat Shmona -- Hezbollah's targets are all inside the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel.

It doesn't take a right-winger to view the stakes as existential. "This is a different kind of war, and an old kind of war," rabbi and author Daniel Gordis, a peace activist during the Oslo period, wrote last week. "Rage has given way to sadness. Disbelief has given way to recognition. Because we've been here before. Because we'd once believed we wouldn't be back here again. And because we know why this war is happening."

Orna Shimoni, whose son was killed during Israel's occupation of south Lebanon after the 1982 invasion, was one of the founders of the "Four Mothers" campaign that called for withdrawal. Even she, in a commentary for the Israeli Web site Ynet News, endorsed the current attacks. "It is clear that we were attacked inside our own sovereign territory, with no provocation at all," she wrote. "There is no question that we must now strengthen both the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and our political echelon to allow them to obtain two main objectives: Bringing our kidnapped soldiers home and disarming Hezbollah, and pushing that organization away from the Israel-Lebanon border."

Why would longtime Israeli doves such as Gordis and Shimoni adopt such seemingly hawkish positions? One way of answering the question is to say that the old templates for analyzing the Israeli-Arab conflict no longer apply. In the traditional view, the warring parties were locked into a "cycle of violence" caused by the competition of two national movements for the same finite piece of land. Compromising on the territory, releasing the West Bank and Gaza from Israeli occupation, would finally terminate the cycle.

Compromise might have worked had the conflict indeed remained one that, like the Cold War, pitted two rational, secular adversaries against each other. But in Hezbollah, as well as in Hamas, Israel now faces an opponent that holds to the absolutism of religious doctrine, specifically the messianic martyrdom of jihadist Islam. The assaults by Hamas from Gaza and Hezbollah from Lebanon both came after Israeli withdrawals to borders accepted by the United Nations. For six years in south Lebanon and one year in Gaza, there has been no occupation, and Ehud Olmert built a centrist governing coalition in Israel on the promise of pulling out from most of the West Bank.

Maybe the people so ready to assail Israel now should have been watching more closely a few months ago when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran convened a conference devoted to the exterminatory premise of a "world without Zionism." Maybe they should have been listening more closely when Ahmadinejad declared his desire to "wipe Israel off the map." Instead the conference was pooh-poohed as the same old demagogy, a populist giving the red meat to his base, and the translation of the speech was dissected by Iran apologists as if the only relevant question was whether the president's Farsi phraseology meant altering the map with a gum eraser or white-out.

Plainly, Ahmadinejad took himself seriously, as seriously as one presumes Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah took his own reference to attacking "occupied Palestine." By which he meant not the West Bank and Golan Heights but, well, Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The reality of such a threat, backed up by 12,000 missiles and rockets, makes for a certain sort of consensus in Israeli society. Yes, dissident notes have been struck by the politician Yossi Sarid and the historian Tom Segev, and, yes, about 2,000 Jewish and Arab Israelis took part in a peace march on Saturday in Tel Aviv. Supporters of Israel's overall strategy have been vigorously debating the effectiveness of its aerial bombing tactics. No thinking person would welcome the destruction and carnage in Lebanon.

But decisions to go to war do not get made blithely in Israel. It has no death cult. It has an army of conscripts, not volunteers. When even one soldier dies, those six degrees of separation touch a vast share of a small nation's population. And somebody comes up with yet another astringent joke to ward off the dread. One of the latest, recounted by Gordis in his recent essay, was a skit on a television newscast. It had one Israeli telling another, "Mi-po ani lo zaz," this is the only place where Jews can be safe. When the camera pulled back from the men, it showed they were standing in London.

14 August 2006

Seymour Hersh - Watching Lebanon: Washington’s interests in Israel’s war

I will take this as the closest thing to the truth about what is happening in and to the Middle East and the U.S. Some of the conclusions of people "in the know" should not warm the cockles of anyone's heart. This is a MUST READ for anyone who is following the war in Lebanon against Hezb'Allah, which is to say, everyone.


Washington’s interests in Israel’s war.
Issue of 2006-08-21
Posted 2006-08-14

In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s a moment of clarification,” President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why we don’t have peace in the Middle East.” He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the “root causes of instability,” and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until “the conditions are conducive.”

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country’s immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, “We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it.”

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat—a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, “The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.”

Administration officials denied that they knew of Israel’s plan for the air war. The White House did not respond to a detailed list of questions. In response to a separate request, a National Security Council spokesman said, “Prior to Hezbollah’s attack on Israel, the Israeli government gave no official in Washington any reason to believe that Israel was planning to attack. Even after the July 12th attack, we did not know what the Israeli plans were.” A Pentagon spokesman said, “The United States government remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program,” and denied the story, as did a State Department spokesman.

The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military coöperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

“The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,” the former senior intelligence official said. “Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not Congo—it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’ ” The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.” (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”—Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East told me that Israel viewed the soldiers’ kidnapping as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hezbollah. “Hezbollah, like clockwork, was instigating something small every month or two,” the U.S. government consultant with ties to Israel said. Two weeks earlier, in late June, members of Hamas, the Palestinian group, had tunnelled under the barrier separating southern Gaza from Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. Hamas also had lobbed a series of rockets at Israeli towns near the border with Gaza. In response, Israel had initiated an extensive bombing campaign and reoccupied parts of Gaza.

The Pentagon consultant noted that there had also been cross-border incidents involving Israel and Hezbollah, in both directions, for some time. “They’ve been sniping at each other,” he said. “Either side could have pointed to some incident and said ‘We have to go to war with these guys’—because they were already at war.”

David Siegel, the spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said that the Israeli Air Force had not been seeking a reason to attack Hezbollah. “We did not plan the campaign. That decision was forced on us.” There were ongoing alerts that Hezbollah “was pressing to go on the attack,” Siegel said. “Hezbollah attacks every two or three months,” but the kidnapping of the soldiers raised the stakes.

In interviews, several Israeli academics, journalists, and retired military and intelligence officers all made one point: they believed that the Israeli leadership, and not Washington, had decided that it would go to war with Hezbollah. Opinion polls showed that a broad spectrum of Israelis supported that choice. “The neocons in Washington may be happy, but Israel did not need to be pushed, because Israel has been wanting to get rid of Hezbollah,” Yossi Melman, a journalist for the newspaper Ha’aretz, who has written several books about the Israeli intelligence community, said. “By provoking Israel, Hezbollah provided that opportunity.”

“We were facing a dilemma,” an Israeli official said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “had to decide whether to go for a local response, which we always do, or for a comprehensive response—to really take on Hezbollah once and for all.” Olmert made his decision, the official said, only after a series of Israeli rescue efforts failed.

The U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel told me, however, that, from Israel’s perspective, the decision to take strong action had become inevitable weeks earlier, after the Israeli Army’s signals intelligence group, known as Unit 8200, picked up bellicose intercepts in late spring and early summer, involving Hamas, Hezbollah, and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader now living in Damascus.

One intercept was of a meeting in late May of the Hamas political and military leadership, with Meshal participating by telephone. “Hamas believed the call from Damascus was scrambled, but Israel had broken the code,” the consultant said. For almost a year before its victory in the Palestinian elections in January, Hamas had curtailed its terrorist activities. In the late May intercepted conversation, the consultant told me, the Hamas leadership said that “they got no benefit from it, and were losing standing among the Palestinian population.” The conclusion, he said, was “ ‘Let’s go back into the terror business and then try and wrestle concessions from the Israeli government.’ ” The consultant told me that the U.S. and Israel agreed that if the Hamas leadership did so, and if Nasrallah backed them up, there should be “a full-scale response.” In the next several weeks, when Hamas began digging the tunnel into Israel, the consultant said, Unit 8200 “picked up signals intelligence involving Hamas, Syria, and Hezbollah, saying, in essence, that they wanted Hezbollah to ‘warm up’ the north.” In one intercept, the consultant said, Nasrallah referred to Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz “as seeming to be weak,” in comparison with the former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, who had extensive military experience, and said “he thought Israel would respond in a small-scale, local way, as they had in the past.”

Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, “to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear.” The consultant added, “Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council.” After that, “persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board,” the consultant said.

The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week. (David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that Israel had targeted only sites connected to Hezbollah; the bombing of bridges and roads was meant to prevent the transport of weapons.)

The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was “the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran.” (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.)

Uzi Arad, who served for more than two decades in the Mossad, told me that to the best of his knowledge the contacts between the Israeli and U.S. governments were routine, and that, “in all my meetings and conversations with government officials, never once did I hear anyone refer to prior coördination with the United States.” He was troubled by one issue—the speed with which the Olmert government went to war. “For the life of me, I’ve never seen a decision to go to war taken so speedily,” he said. “We usually go through long analyses.”

The key military planner was Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the I.D.F. chief of staff, who, during a career in the Israeli Air Force, worked on contingency planning for an air war with Iran. Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, and Peretz, a former labor leader, could not match his experience and expertise.

In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. “Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model,” the government consultant said. “The Israelis told Condi Rice, ‘You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that—thirty-five days.’ ”

There are, of course, vast differences between Lebanon and Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the military in 2000 and unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took issue with the analogy: “If it’s true that the Israeli campaign is based on the American approach in Kosovo, then it missed the point. Ours was to use force to obtain a diplomatic objective—it was not about killing people.” Clark noted in a 2001 book, “Waging Modern War,” that it was the threat of a possible ground invasion as well as the bombing that forced the Serbs to end the war. He told me, “In my experience, air campaigns have to be backed, ultimately, by the will and capability to finish the job on the ground.”

Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli officials and journalists since the war began. On August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding to European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese civilians, said, “Where do they get the right to preach to Israel? European countries attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single rocket. I’m not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But please: don’t preach to us about the treatment of civilians.” (Human Rights Watch estimated the number of civilians killed in the NATO bombing to be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the number between twelve hundred and five thousand.)

Cheney’s office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials. (A spokesman for the N.S.C. denied that Abrams had done so.) They believed that Israel should move quickly in its air war against Hezbollah. A former intelligence officer said, “We told Israel, ‘Look, if you guys have to go, we’re behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later—the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.’ ”

Cheney’s point, the former senior intelligence official said, was “What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it’s really successful? It’d be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon.”

The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”

The long-term Administration goal was to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition—including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran. “But the thought behind that plan was that Israel would defeat Hezbollah, not lose to it,” the consultant with close ties to Israel said. Some officials in Cheney’s office and at the N.S.C. had become convinced, on the basis of private talks, that those nations would moderate their public criticism of Israel and blame Hezbollah for creating the crisis that led to war. Although they did so at first, they shifted their position in the wake of public protests in their countries about the Israeli bombing. The White House was clearly disappointed when, late last month, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, came to Washington and, at a meeting with Bush, called for the President to intervene immediately to end the war. The Washington Post reported that Washington had hoped to enlist moderate Arab states “in an effort to pressure Syria and Iran to rein in Hezbollah, but the Saudi move . . . seemed to cloud that initiative.”

The surprising strength of Hezbollah’s resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, “is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back.”

Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. “There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this,” he said. “When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.”

In the White House, especially in the Vice-President’s office, many officials believe that the military campaign against Hezbollah is working and should be carried forward. At the same time, the government consultant said, some policymakers in the Administration have concluded that the cost of the bombing to Lebanese society is too high. “They are telling Israel that it’s time to wind down the attacks on infrastructure.”

Similar divisions are emerging in Israel. David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that his country’s leadership believed, as of early August, that the air war had been successful, and had destroyed more than seventy per cent of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range-missile launching capacity. “The problem is short-range missiles, without launchers, that can be shot from civilian areas and homes,” Siegel told me. “The only way to resolve this is ground operations—which is why Israel would be forced to expand ground operations if the latest round of diplomacy doesn’t work.” Last week, however, there was evidence that the Israeli government was troubled by the progress of the war. In an unusual move, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, Halutz’s deputy, was put in charge of the operation, supplanting Major General Udi Adam. The worry in Israel is that Nasrallah might escalate the crisis by firing missiles at Tel Aviv. “There is a big debate over how much damage Israel should inflict to prevent it,” the consultant said. “If Nasrallah hits Tel Aviv, what should Israel do? Its goal is to deter more attacks by telling Nasrallah that it will destroy his country if he doesn’t stop, and to remind the Arab world that Israel can set it back twenty years. We’re no longer playing by the same rules.”

A European intelligence officer told me, “The Israelis have been caught in a psychological trap. In earlier years, they had the belief that they could solve their problems with toughness. But now, with Islamic martyrdom, things have changed, and they need different answers. How do you scare people who love martyrdom?” The problem with trying to eliminate Hezbollah, the intelligence officer said, is the group’s ties to the Shiite population in southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and Beirut’s southern suburbs, where it operates schools, hospitals, a radio station, and various charities.

A high-level American military planner told me, “We have a lot of vulnerability in the region, and we’ve talked about some of the effects of an Iranian or Hezbollah attack on the Saudi regime and on the oil infrastructure.” There is special concern inside the Pentagon, he added, about the oil-producing nations north of the Strait of Hormuz. “We have to anticipate the unintended consequences,” he told me. “Will we be able to absorb a barrel of oil at one hundred dollars? There is this almost comical thinking that you can do it all from the air, even when you’re up against an irregular enemy with a dug-in capability. You’re not going to be successful unless you have a ground presence, but the political leadership never considers the worst case. These guys only want to hear the best case.”

There is evidence that the Iranians were expecting the war against Hezbollah. Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiite Muslims and Iran, who is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and also teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, said, “Every negative American move against Hezbollah was seen by Iran as part of a larger campaign against it. And Iran began to prepare for the showdown by supplying more sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah—anti-ship and anti-tank missiles—and training its fighters in their use. And now Hezbollah is testing Iran’s new weapons. Iran sees the Bush Administration as trying to marginalize its regional role, so it fomented trouble.”

Nasr, an Iranian-American who recently published a study of the Sunni-Shiite divide, entitled “The Shia Revival,” also said that the Iranian leadership believes that Washington’s ultimate political goal is to get some international force to act as a buffer—to physically separate Syria and Lebanon in an effort to isolate and disarm Hezbollah, whose main supply route is through Syria. “Military action cannot bring about the desired political result,” Nasr said. The popularity of Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a virulent critic of Israel, is greatest in his own country. If the U.S. were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Nasr said, “you may end up turning Ahmadinejad into another Nasrallah—the rock star of the Arab street.”

Donald Rumsfeld, who is one of the Bush Administration’s most outspoken, and powerful, officials, has said very little publicly about the crisis in Lebanon. His relative quiet, compared to his aggressive visibility in the run-up to the Iraq war, has prompted a debate in Washington about where he stands on the issue.

Some current and former intelligence officials who were interviewed for this article believe that Rumsfeld disagrees with Bush and Cheney about the American role in the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said that “there was a feeling that Rumsfeld was jaded in his approach to the Israeli war.” He added, “Air power and the use of a few Special Forces had worked in Afghanistan, and he tried to do it again in Iraq. It was the same idea, but it didn’t work. He thought that Hezbollah was too dug in and the Israeli attack plan would not work, and the last thing he wanted was another war on his shift that would put the American forces in Iraq in greater jeopardy.”

A Western diplomat said that he understood that Rumsfeld did not know all the intricacies of the war plan. “He is angry and worried about his troops” in Iraq, the diplomat said. Rumsfeld served in the White House during the last year of the war in Vietnam, from which American troops withdrew in 1975, “and he did not want to see something like this having an impact in Iraq.” Rumsfeld’s concern, the diplomat added, was that an expansion of the war into Iran could put the American troops in Iraq at greater risk of attacks by pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on August 3rd, Rumsfeld was less than enthusiastic about the war’s implications for the American troops in Iraq. Asked whether the Administration was mindful of the war’s impact on Iraq, he testified that, in his meetings with Bush and Condoleezza Rice, “there is a sensitivity to the desire to not have our country or our interests or our forces put at greater risk as a result of what’s taking place between Israel and Hezbollah. . . . There are a variety of risks that we face in that region, and it’s a difficult and delicate situation.”

The Pentagon consultant dismissed talk of a split at the top of the Administration, however, and said simply, “Rummy is on the team. He’d love to see Hezbollah degraded, but he also is a voice for less bombing and more innovative Israeli ground operations.” The former senior intelligence official similarly depicted Rumsfeld as being “delighted that Israel is our stalking horse.”

There are also questions about the status of Condoleezza Rice. Her initial support for the Israeli air war against Hezbollah has reportedly been tempered by dismay at the effects of the attacks on Lebanon. The Pentagon consultant said that in early August she began privately “agitating” inside the Administration for permission to begin direct diplomatic talks with Syria—so far, without much success. Last week, the Times reported that Rice had directed an Embassy official in Damascus to meet with the Syrian foreign minister, though the meeting apparently yielded no results. The Times also reported that Rice viewed herself as “trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties” within the Administration. The article pointed to a divide between career diplomats in the State Department and “conservatives in the government,” including Cheney and Abrams, “who were pushing for strong American support for Israel.”

The Western diplomat told me his embassy believes that Abrams has emerged as a key policymaker on Iran, and on the current Hezbollah-Israeli crisis, and that Rice’s role has been relatively diminished. Rice did not want to make her most recent diplomatic trip to the Middle East, the diplomat said. “She only wanted to go if she thought there was a real chance to get a ceasefire.”

Bush’s strongest supporter in Europe continues to be British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but many in Blair’s own Foreign Office, as a former diplomat said, believe that he has “gone out on a particular limb on this”—especially by accepting Bush’s refusal to seek an immediate and total ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. “Blair stands alone on this,” the former diplomat said. “He knows he’s a lame duck who’s on the way out, but he buys it”—the Bush policy. “He drinks the White House Kool-Aid as much as anybody in Washington.” The crisis will really start at the end of August, the diplomat added, “when the Iranians”—under a United Nations deadline to stop uranium enrichment—“will say no.”

Even those who continue to support Israel’s war against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals—to rally the Lebanese against Hezbollah. “Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it,” John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights terrorism. “The warfare of today is not mass on mass,” he said. “You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.”

12 August 2006

The state as a rootless transient

The State As a Rootless Transient



One of my favorite all-but-unknown books is The Heart Of Princess Osra, written by Anthony Hope in 1896. Hope hit the big time with The Prisoner Of Zenda and its boffo sequel Rupert Of Hentzau, two rip-roaring yarns in which an English dilettante twice contrives to save from usurpers the throne of Ruritania.

The Heart Of Princess Osra is also set in Hope's fictional Mitteleuropean kingdom, but this time a century and a half earlier - the 1730s - and it's not a rollicking adventure but a series of ill-starred romantic vignettes featuring King Rudolf III's younger sister and various unsuitable suitors. Yet it does make you appreciate how fully the author conceived his fictional landscape: Ruritania wasn't merely the setting of a thriller, so why just use it as such? Hope knew its history, its rulers and its laws long before the events of The Prisoner took place. As evidence of that, look no further than chapter one, page one of Princess Osra:

"Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!"

The impatient cry was heard through all the narrow gloomy street, where the old richly-carved house-fronts bowed to meet one another and left for the eye's comfort only a bare glimpse of blue. It was, men said, the oldest street in Strelsau, even as the sign of the "Silver Ship" was the oldest sign known to exist in the city. For when Aaron Lazarus the Jew came there, seventy years before, he had been the tenth man in unbroken line that took up the business; and now Stephen Nados, his apprentice and successor, was the eleventh.

Old Lazarus had made a great business of it, and had spent his savings in buying up the better part of the street; but since Jews then might hold no property in Strelsau, he had taken all the deeds in the name of Stephen Nados; and when he came to die, being unable to carry his houses or his money with him, having no kindred, and caring not a straw for any man or woman alive save Stephen, he bade Stephen let the deeds be, and, with a last curse against the Christians (of whom Stephen was one, and a devout one), he kissed the young man, and turned his face to the wall and died.

Therefore Stephen was a rich man, and had no need to carry on the business, though it never entered his mind to do anything else...

THAT'S PRETTY darn good. There's not another single reference to Ruritanian Jewry in any of Hope's writing, but he's thorough enough in the conception of his fairytale kingdom even to know what the anti-Semitic property restrictions are. The author located Ruritania somewhere between Saxony and Bohemia, though, thanks to the movie versions of Zenda, we tend to think of it as being in the Balkans. But it doesn't matter where you put it, the likes of Lazarus the Jew are long gone from Strelsau's bustling streets. In Roumanian Journey, Sacheverell Sitwell recounted his visit in 1937 to the Bukovina, formerly the easternmost province of the Habsburg Empire, then part of Romania, now in the Ukraine. Its capital, Czernowitz, was a melange of Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles, Germans, Armenians and Swabians, but, as Sitwell couldn't help noticing, you'd never know that from a stroll down Main Street:

"There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows. The entire commerce of the place is in the hands of the Jews. Yiddish is spoken here more than German."

Not anymore. The Jews of Czernowitz are dead or fled, as they are from a thousand other cities across Europe. For centuries, the rap against the Hebrews was that they were sinister rootless cosmopolitan types unbound by allegiance to whichever polity they happened to be residing in. So, after the Second World War, the ones who were left became a more or less conventional nation state, and now they're hated for that.

But all the hoo-ha about Holocaust denial (and granted, from President Ahmadinejad to Mel Gibson's dad, there's a lot of it about) has obscured the fact that the world has re-embraced, with little objection, an older form of anti-Semitism. Israel is, in effect, subject to a geopolitical version of the same conditions endured by Lazarus the Jew in Anthony Hope's Strelsau.

The Zionist Entity is for the moment permitted to remain in business but, like Aaron Lazarus, it's not entitled to the enforceable property rights of every other nation state. No other country - not Canada, not Slovenia, not Thailand - would be expected to forego the traditional rights of nations subjected to kidnappings of its citizens, random rocket attacks into residential areas, and other infringements of its sovereignty. This isn't about who's right and who's wrong: there are regional flare-ups all over the map and, regardless of the rights and wrongs, for the most part the world just sits back and lets them get on with it. There are big population displacements - as there were, contemporaneous to the founding of Israel, in Europe and the Indian sub-continent - but one side wins and the other makes do with what it can get and the dust settles.

The energy expended by the world in denying this particular regional crisis the traditional settlement is unique and perverse, except insofar as by ensuring that the "Palestinian question" is never resolved one is also ensuring that Israel's sovereignty is also never really settled: it, too, is conditional - and, to judge from recent columns in The Washington Post and The Times of London, it's increasingly seen that way in influential circles - the Jew is tolerated as a current leaseholder but, as in Anthony Hope's Ruritania, he can never truly own the land. Once again the Jews are rootless transients, though, in one of history's blacker jests, they're now bemoaned in the salons of London and Paris as an outrageous imposition of an alien European population on the Middle East.

Which would have given Aaron Lazarus a laugh. The Jews spent millennia on the Continent without ever being accepted as European. But no sooner are the Continent's Jewry all but extinct than suddenly every Jew left on the planet is a European.

In her Impressions From The Road, With Historical Essays (1903), Elizaveta de Vitte witnessed the same phenomenon in the Bukovina Sacheverell Sitwell later noted, but blamed the success of the Jews for the poverty of the Russians: "Out of the 600 students in the Chernowitz University, only 50 are Russian! It is true that admission to the University is open to everyone, but the actual enrollment happens in the following way: on a set day, Jews block the doors of the University..."

The Zionists' "disproportionate" response in Lebanon is merely the latest version of the famous Jewish pushiness.

With hindsight, even the artful invention of the hitherto unknown ethnicity of "Palestinian" can be seen as the need to demonstrate that where there is a Jew there is the Jew's victim.

It's a very strange feeling to read 19th century novels and travelogues and recognize the old psychoses currently reemerging in even more preposterous forms. These are dark times for the world: we are on the brink of the nuclearization of ancient pathologies.

The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.



This article can also be read at

10 August 2006

The Secret Government

It aired on PBS in 1987 and is as good as anything on the tape (must see). Moyers is a very respected TV journalist who also worked for Lyndon B. Johnson and has a very professional approach. He interviews many different people involved with the CIA and other government agencies. His documentary gives quite an overview of what has actually happened in the last 50 years regarding the CIA and the cold war (including Iran, Guatamala, Cuba, Viet Nam and Chile). He features such people as Ralph McGeehee and Phil Retinger (both former CIA agents), Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque (Ret. U.S.N.), Theodore Bissell (active in the CIA at the time), Sen. Frank Church and many others. Moyers is so very credible. The full video "The Secret Government" is 90 minutes - this segment is edited by Frank Dorrel to 20 minutes.

Watching the W's Language After the Terrorist Arrests in London

In discussing today’s events in the UK, President Bush said this (in part):

"President Bush said the arrests were yet another reminder that the United States “is at war with Islamic fascists,” and that while the United States is safer than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, dangers remain."

It seems clear to me that the President and/or his counselors and advisors are actively using the term "Islamofascists" - finally. We have been using for some time to describe that element of Islamic fundamentalists who are bent on the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews, and, when they are finished with the Jews, the rest of the world's infidels. Language can tell us lots about a person's mindset. The use of the term "Islamic Fascist" out of the lips of the man who can't properly say "nuclear" -- remember "nuculur" -- tells me that he likes "Islamofascist" a lot and what that term represents. For a man who loves shorthand, that term really sums up who they are in one relatively easy-to-say word. His use of the term indicates to me that he and the administration are finally on board with the notion that fighting Hamas, Hoaxbullah and the rest is no less important than the war on the Japanese militaristic imperialists and German Nazi fascists in WWII.

That aside, this news, as sad as it is to contemplate actually happening will be a good thing for the propaganda war on Hezb'Allah er, um, Hoaxb'Allah. The notion that 10 aircraft could have been brought down by Arab Islamofascists will give renewed life to the notion that Israel needs to really kill as many of the Hezb'Allah as they can while they are still confined to Lebanon. We see what they are capable of doing when they are spread throughout the world. Thank God that the authorities caught as many of them as they did. Apparently five are still at large in London.

08 August 2006

The Culture Crusade of Kansas

Guest Columnist
The Culture Crusade of Kansas
Published: August 8, 2006
The nation breathed a sigh of relief last week after the conservative majority on the Kansas school board, world famous for its war on the theory of evolution, went down to defeat in Republican primary elections. Conservative candidates for several state government posts foundered as well (but others won). It seemed as though moderation had finally returned to this middlemost of American places. Even better: perhaps the country itself had turned the corner in its long and frustrating war over culture.

I was as pleased as anyone else to hear the news. Could the conservative uprising in my home state finally have run its course? Fourteen years ago, the armies of the right came pouring out of Kansas’ evangelical churches to protest abortion and all the other liberal plagues upon the culture, and they’ve had a big role in the state’s Republican Party ever since. But it must be difficult to stay angry that long, especially when the crusade you signed up for is now a hairsplitting fight that your leaders have picked with the biology professors of the entire world. Could the faction’s rank and file simply have given up, grown disgusted with the absurdity that their grand cause has become?

Perhaps, but I think it is far too soon to write the obituary for the godly radicals. Their faction may have chosen lousy candidates this time around, and their public appeal may have dissipated thanks to the preposterous issues (evolution, stem-cell research) against which their leaders have lately been hurling themselves, but the movement is deeply ingrained in Kansas culture. The conservatives will undoubtedly be back.

The culture war will remain with us, both in Kansas and in the nation, because it is larger than any of its leaders, larger than its legions of citizen activists, larger even than the particular causes in which these forces are enlisted. Seen from the streets of Wichita, the rightist rebellion of Kansas seems to fulfill that most romantic of American political traditions: the uprising of the little guy.

To the faithful, theirs is a war against “elites,” and, with striking regularity, that means a war against the professions. The anti-abortion movement, for example, dwells obsessively on the villainy of the medical establishment. The uproar over the liberal media, a popular delusion going on 40, is a veiled reaction to the professionalization of journalism. The war on judges, now enjoying a new vogue, is a response to an imagined “grab for legislative power” (as one current Kansas campaign mailing puts it) by unelected representatives of the legal profession. And the attack on evolution, the most ill-conceived thrust of them all, is a direct shot at the authority of science and, by extension, at the education system, the very foundation of professional expertise.

Sometimes this is right out in the open. At one point in Kansas’ endless slugfest over curriculum, the conservative-dominated school board appointed a state schools chief with virtually no experience in education. Moderates erupted in fury. Returning their fire, one member of the Kansas Senate declared that the mere fact that “the elitists in Kansas today” — meaning, apparently, “education insiders” and prominent suburban lawyers — opposed this fellow made him “the perfect man for this job.”

When I caught up with the various Republican personalities, at a candidate forum in Independence, what struck me was the feebleness of the moderate response to this kind of onslaught. Again and again I saw Cons play the populist card — railing against the National Education Association, suggesting their opponents belonged in the wealthy suburbs of Kansas City, alleging epic voter fraud right here in Kansas — and then heard the Mods, dressed in neat professional attire, simply dismiss the criticism out of hand. C’mon, you know me. Now, let’s get out there and put up some yard signs.

That the moderate Republicans succeeded this time around is testimony more to the sheer fatuity of the conservative issues than to the strength of their own message. But the pseudo-populist offensive is hardly going to cease. It is, after all, the prevailing rhetorical mode of the national Republican Party, from the commander in chief down to the lowliest Internet troll. They talk this way because it works. Since its opening shots in the 1960’s, the culture war has turned the politics of this country upside down — and with distinctly unpopulist results.

That it has now gone far enough to discomfit Bob Dole Republicans in Kansas as well as liberal Democrats from Massachusetts is merely the price of success. Until the day its opponents learn to confront it directly, we will all bleed with Kansas.

Thomas Frank is the author, most recently, of "What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America." He will be a guest columnist during August.

Next Article in Opinion (7 of 13) »