Political MoJo

Waiting for Diplomacy

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 2:43 PM EDT

I can't imagine anyone who reads this blog hasn't been following the front pages, but apparently the Bush administration's plan for the Middle East is to let Israel bomb Lebanon for another week or so in order to weaken Hezbollah—despite the fact that Israel has been bombing targets wholly unrelated to this purpose—and then bring in an international force to create a "buffer zone" in the South. David Ignatius has a good analysis:

Bush's slow-motion diplomacy is partly an effort to allow Israel time to destroy as much of Hezbollah's arsenal of missiles as it can. But what comes next? Israeli officials talk of accomplishing what the Lebanese government would do itself if it had the power: break the Shiite militia. That's a worthy goal -- Hezbollah has it coming -- but one that is almost certain to fail.

Lebanon is as thankless a battlefield as Iraq, as the Israelis well remember. They were initially welcomed as liberators by the Shiites when they invaded in 1982 -- only to be pinned down by Hezbollah's resistance movement and forced to retreat. Only a compulsive gambler would think the odds are any better this time.Right. If Israel doesn't actually succeed in weakening Hezbollah significantly—and it's not clear that they can through an air campaign alone (that hasn't exactly worked for the United States in Iraq, recall)—then they've just killed scores of civilians and incurred a series of rocket attacks on Israeli cities for nothing. Worse, the air war could well provoke a Shiite backlash against the United States in Iraq—Muqtada al-Sadr's already making noises toward this end—which would mean things could get truly horrific.

At the moment, the Bush administration seems to believe that Israel can accomplish just about anything through the use of force, and are acting accordingly. But when have they ever been right about that? Why should we think they're right now?

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Civilian Suffering in Lebanon

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 2:37 PM EDT

Via Juan Cole, Israel's bombing campaign now encompasses strikes on Greek Orthodox churches and milk factories far from Shiite areas, suggesting that crippling Hezbollah is only part of the plan. He writes, "These strikes are war crimes and part of a continuing Israeli campaign to ensure that Lebanon is economically poor and weak for decades to come." Late Tuesday the Lebanese death toll stood at more than 200, only a handful of them military. Eric Umansky, reading the Post, notes that Israel is targeting gas stations, and asks, "How long can you keep people without the ability to travel and get food?"

Flying the flag upside down

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 10:32 PM EDT

Flying the American flag upside down is a symbol of a nation in distress, and since the war in Iraq began, more and more people have adopted this custom. One of those people is Iowan Terri Jones. Her son, Jason, returned from Iraq with full-blown posttraumatic stress disorder. Among other things, he saw an insurgent execute a child. He did not go to the VA for help because he was worried about being perceived as weak. Jason killed himself just over a year ago, and since that time, Jones has flown the flag upside down.

In March of this year, someone turned Jones's flag right side up. Jones lives on five acres and has a long driveway, so someone must have been keeping a close eye, she says, and waiting for her to leave so he or she could rearrange the flag. The person who turned it right side up left a note:

I've noticed for quite some time now that you fly your American flag upside down. . . . Please don't disrespect those who have fought and died on our soil preserving your very freedom and mine. . . . Let's rally behind our troops and if they don't believe in what they're doing, let them voice it. Every single person in the armed forces today signed on the dotted line. . . . I know your flag is sending out a message that you might not have though it was sending. So I felt compelled to tell you what I thought.

The note was was signed, "An extremely sincere fellow American citizen and proud of it."

Jones then wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, in which she explained that flying the flag upside down is not a sign of disrespect for the country, but rather, a sign of distress. In the letter, she talked about her son's PTSD and his suicide.

...our country is in distress for the way it has failed its vets. When you drive by my house and see my flag flying I challenge you to help me turn it right side up. Show me that you are willing to do what it takes to help those that protect our rights and freedoms. And when I see that no soldier has been left behind, then that will be a day of joy for me to fly her right side up.

After Jones's letter appeared in the newspaper, someone stole her American flag, pole and all. She bought another flag and hung it upside down.

The Smelly Fish That Built America

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 9:38 PM EDT

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Nobody will ever write a Moby-Dick about that humble and foul-smelling fish, the menhaden, but PBS will run a segment on it. The NOW program this Friday night features a co-production based on H. Bruce Franklin's article in Mother Jones about how a football tycoon took George H.W. Bush's oil company and used it to declare war on the fish that built America. Check here for your local station and time.

"Yo, Bush! Start Treating Our Prime Minister With Respect"

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 9:22 PM EDT

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I don't quite get how the Bush-Blair-buttered-roll exchange shows the British PM to be the president's "poodle," but the British press has decided it does. "Yo, Bush! Start treating our prime minister with respect," screamed the Daily Mirror, while the Guardian sniffs that Blair "all but offers to carry [Condoleezza Rice's] bags." Looking over the transcript, I don't see it. (Not that it matters all that much; there's a war on after all.) This isn't to deny that Blair has made a fool of himself in relation to Bush over the past five years, all the while disregarding the plain will of the British people. But what shows Blair to be Bush's poodle isn't this particular exchange; it's the relationship itself.

"About that pig..."

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 9:12 PM EDT

This post says it all. Right now is really, really not a good time to have a slack-jawed moron in charge of the most powerful country on earth.

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Afghanistan: A Comeback for the Ministry of Vice and Virtues?

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 8:34 PM EDT

The Afghan government is moving to bring back some version of the notorious Vice and Virtues Ministry, which terrorized Afghanistan under the Taliban. In those years busybodies from the ultra-puritan agency went around making sure women were barred from the workplace and schools and remained encased in head-to-toe burkas, and attacking men whose beards were too short. Those failing to meet the ministry's exacting standards--women, say, wearing socks not sufficiently opaque--were publicly beaten, and many "offenders" were imprisoned.

The Karzai government says the new ministry won't be like that at all but will focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. Human rights activists are skeptical, not least because the existing criminal justice system already has a handle on that stuff. Human Rights Watch just put out a statement saying the plan, to be submitted for parliament later this summer, "raises serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and vulnerable groups." HRW also recently released a report identifying a lack of access to education, especially for girls, as jeopardizing Afghanistan's future.

Smells Like Apocalypse

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 5:36 PM EDT

There's no shortage of news these days suggesting that the world is more or less imploding. We've got Rush Limbaugh saying that Israel's invasion of Lebanon is a gift to the world and a lot of insane fundamentalist-types primed for rapture. Gory massacres in Iraq have become so commonplace that they barely make the headlines. And here's yet another cheerful item: The Taliban has just taken over two towns in southern Afghanistan. Obviously the liberal media's to blame for all of this.

Middle East Body Count Rising

Tue Jul. 18, 2006 4:33 PM EDT

According to a New York Times article published today:

An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations reported today…
This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been powerless to stop it.
The article also noted that 14,338 civilians died violently in Iraq in the first half of the 2006. Iraq Body Count, meanwhile, estimates the war's total Iraqi death toll at 43,575. The 230 Lebanese or 60 Palestinians killed in recent Israeli bombings—not to mention 500,000 displaced—may seem small by comparison. But taken on the whole, it's not a good time to be Arab.

US to Citizens: Pay Up to Escape Lebanon

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 4:04 PM EDT

You'd think we'd have gotten better at evacuating Americans in disaster's way after Katrina totalled New Orleans, but apparently not. The Los Angeles Times reports that hundreds of US citizens trying to escape Lebanon are still stranded there, while other countries have already scooted their nationals to safety on hired ferries and buses. The Pentagon has apparently contracted a private cruise ship to pick up some 750 people today - and has told evacuees they will have to reimburse the government for the cost of their own rescues. Any reason they're not sending one of the several US Navy ships stationed in the Meditteranean and nearby Red Sea that were paid for with those would-be evacuees tax dollars?