Political MoJo

Peacekeepers in Lebanon

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 7:28 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times has a good piece on the wholly ineffective 2,000-strong UN peacekeeping force that has been in southern Lebanon for a long while. Most notable, the peacekeepers currently have to worry about Hezbollah fighters who sidle up beside UN bases and fire off rockets towards Haifa and Nahariya in the hopes that Israel will retaliate and blow up some peacekeepers, as happened on Tuesday. But this part, explaining why the existing UN force never reined in Hezbollah in the first place, seems important:

The U.N. observers sat by while an unchecked Hezbollah consolidated political control over the south, built up its arsenal and girded itself to do battle once again with the nemesis across the border.

They had no choice, they say: Hezbollah could be tamed only with the use of force, which is not part of their mandate.

"You have to be able to impose international will," Pellegrini said. "You need heavy weapons and strong rules of engagement."

But this is the bind that will face any military that tries to tangle with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon: The organization will fight fiercely to keep its guns, and its widespread grass-roots popularity makes the militia capable of mounting a fierce insurgency.

The peacekeepers couldn't be here, U.N. officials acknowledge, if Hezbollah didn't tolerate them. And if they were cracking heads, they would no longer be tolerated.That seems believable. These days, everyone seems to be calling for a more effective international force to come in and stabilize southern Lebanon. But a "more effective" force that tried to tame Hezbollah could well mean war against the group's militia—and if the United States can't defeat an insurgency in Iraq, what makes anyone think that, say, European troops can pacify Hezbollah in southern Lebanon? Some sort of negotiated peace will likely be the only way forward, but that possibility seems quite distant at the moment.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Military Purging Its Arabic Linguists

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 5:49 PM EDT

This makes a lot of sense: "A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified." Right, because the Army has way too many Arabic language specialists just sitting around. Oh, wait.

This isn't the first time either; a report in 2005 found that the Army has discharged 26 Arabic and Farsi linguists for being gay. Whether any of them actually had the privilege of facing their accusers is unclear.

GOP Plays Games with Minimum Wage Bill

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 5:31 PM EDT

Ezra Klein notes that Senate Republicans are now trying to put Democrats in a corner by putting forward a bill that would both raise the minimum wage and repeal the estate tax on multimillion dollar estates. That way, the thinking goes, Republicans can inoculate themselves against charges that they're opposed to raising the wage floor for low-income workers.

At any rate, it's a cheap gambit, and hopefully the Democrats will oppose it (repealing the estate tax would be, as we've pointed out before, disastrous for the poor, by putting programs such as Medicaid and Social Security under risk). But I also want to point out the paucity of the minimum-wage increase under discussion here. The current proposal would hike the minimum from $5.15 an hour, the level set in 1997, to $7.25 an hour by 2007.

That sounds like a big hike, but it's really not. As Dean Baker notes, due to inflation, $7.25 an hour in 2007 is equivalent to about $5.30 back in 1997. So this "hike" will really just ensure that the minimum wage goes back up to its inflation-adjusted 1997 level. It's not much of an increase, in real dollar terms, at all.

Media Dropping the Ball on Lebanon, Afghanistan

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 4:59 PM EDT

From the annals of media criticism. Greg Mitchell says that the U.S. media has been shamefully silent on the United States' deep involvement in the Israel-Lebanon war, its role as arms merchant to Israel, or the possible consequences of this alliance. "Fox News, for example, seems to be more concerned about Hezbollah agents sneaking over the Mexican or Canadian borders into the U.S."

Meanwhile, Sherry Ricchiardi of the American Journalism Review notes that Afghanistan has now become "The Forgotten War" in the U.S. press, despite the fact that the Taliban is dangerously resurgent there and conditions are becoming worse and worse in the country. Few news organizations maintain a constant presence there anymore, with the exception of the New York Times and some of the wire services. One can only imagine that the same thing may inevitably happen to Iraq, as the media turns its short-attention span to the next war-of-the-hour and ignores everything else.

On a related note—and this isn't necessarily criticism of the press, although it could be—Paul McLeary has an interesting post on how Hezbollah has been cultivating relationships with reporters as part of its broader media strategy. See also this piece about Israel's "cyber-soldiers," who are flooding chat rooms and online forums to counter anti-Israeli sentiment on the internet.

Who's Committing War Crimes?

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 3:44 PM EDT

Over at Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies takes up the question of what war crimes Hezbollah and Israel might be committing in the current war. For Hezbollah's part, firing rockets into Israeli cities seems to be the chief war crime (unless, of course, one believes Hassan Nasrallah that they're being aimed at military targets); rightly or wrongly, it's unlikely that the group would ever be indicted for crimes of "aggression," and it's not always clear whether Hezbollah fighters are committing the crime of "sheltering" by mixing among civilians. In some places, they appear to be doing so, in others, it's more ambiguous.

On that point, I'd note Mitch Prothrero's report in Salon arguing that it is extremely unlikely that Hezbollah fighters are actually mixing in with civilians in Lebanon—partly because they fear they'll be betrayed by the general population—in which case Israel is certainly committing a war crime by bombing civilian neighborhoods without any clear military targets. Moreover, Human Rights Watch has condemned Israel's use of cluster bombs, which are "unacceptably inaccurate," in civilian areas. At this point, the legal questions hare are probably moot, since it seems that neither side will ever see a day in court, but it's still worth pointing out.

Update: See also the New York Times yesterday, in which Israel's Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, announced that "all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are in some way related to Hezbollah." "In some way related"? Hezbollah, of course, is more than a militia, and employs some 250,000 Lebanese in various capacities, including schools, grocery stores, and orphanages.

More: More background from Human Rights Watch.

Bush Administration Goes After Suicide Hotline

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 3:13 PM EDT

Score one more for "compassionate" conservatism. 1-800-SUICIDE, a suicide-prevention hotline that over 2 million teenagers have called over the past three years, is now having its funding cut by the Bush administration. The hotline is being folded into the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Protection Agency (SAMHSA), a federal agency which "would have direct access to confidential data on individuals in crisis."

The problem, as Pam Spaulding points out, is that a lot of gay and lesbian youths use the suicide hotline—seeing as how they're two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. But the Bush administration and SAMHSA, for their part, have actively sought to dissuade research on suicide prevention among GLBT youths, going so far as to try to squelch a conference on the subject. SAMHSA has also suggested wholly ineffective "faith-based" methods for suicide prevention, backing down only after an outcry from mental health experts. So the fact that this agency, and this administration, will now run the hotline and collect data on the individuals who call is very upsetting. Here's a website with more information.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Update: New Bush Lebanon Plan

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 2:44 PM EDT

Another Bush Flip Flop?

The big question in the Bush-Blair scenario-- announced Friday morning -- for setting up an international force to augment the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border is what countries would be involved. Recently Condi Rice had floated a scheme involving military units from Egypt and Turkey. The French, long involved with Lebanon, could provide members, even taking the lead. Chirac, in an interview in LeMonde yesterday, made it clear that any NATO presence in an international force would be widely viewed as an "armed wing of the West", and hence not acceptable. Putting US soldiers between the two combatants would risk a devastating political fallout at home. The very thought of a GI getting shot by Hezbollah, let alone by the Israelis, would plunge the already confused Bush government into a nightmare.

Anyhow, in typical Bush fashion, there is a loophole in the plan. "Prime Minister Blair and I believe that this approach gives the best hope to end the violence and create lasting peace and stability in Lebanon," Bush said this morning. Then the president added he was sending Rice, who previously put herself on record against a ceasefire, to the region with "instructions to work with Israel and Lebanon to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week." The word "acceptable" gives the president plenty of wiggle room.

South Dakota Back in Execution Business

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 2:31 PM EDT

Next month, South Dakota is slated to carry out its first execution in almost 60 years. The victim, Elijah Page, was convicted along with two other men of an especially ugly murder. Still, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, he has some pretty heavy mitigating circumstances in his background: "his mother often would allow drug dealers to molest Page in exchange for drugs and his step-father once used him as a human shield in a drug-related shoot out. Warren Johnson, the judge who presided over Page's punishment trial, stated, 'Most parents treated their pets better than your parents treated you.'"

But don't get the idea that South Dakotans don't respect human life. This is the state, don't forget, that will soon vote on whether to uphold a ban on all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. If that ban is upheld, doctors performing abortions might be open to murder charges.

Army Morale: "It sucks."

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 2:02 PM EDT

Washington Post:

"Think of what you hate most about your job. Then think of doing what you hate most for five straight hours, every single day, sometimes twice a day, in 120-degree heat," [said Army Staff Sgt. Jose Sixtos in Baghdad]. "Then ask how morale is."

Frustrated? "You have no idea." [...]

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up. That's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio.

Interestingly, though, a recent Stars and Stripes survey found that two-thirds of U.S. troops serving in Iraq say they believe the cause they're fighting for is worthwhile. But: "Responses appeared to track with military rank. Eight-eight percent of senior officers, for example, ranked both unit and personal morale as high or very high. Among junior enlisted servicemembers, 49 percent rated unit morale as high or very high and 66 percent gave that same rating to their own personal morale."

Oddly, fifty-five percent called the mission in Iraq "very clear." Perhaps they could fill us in...?

The Essential Barbarism of War from the Air

| Fri Jul. 28, 2006 1:17 PM EDT

Just posted at Mother Jones (via Tomdispatch): Tom Engelhardt, in a terrific essay, takes up the subject of war from the air, setting the Israeli campaign against Lebanon in the context of history. He traces the rise of air power and notes its tendency, always, to concentrate its destruction on the civilian structure of a society. It's an essentially barbaric form of warfare, he writes, and no less so for having become real-time TV entertainment.

He concludes:

"As air wars go, the one in Lebanon may seem strikingly directed against the civilian infrastructure and against society; in that, however, it is historically anything but unique. It might even be said that war from the air, since first launched in Europe's colonies early in the last century, has always been essentially directed against civilians. As in World War II, air power -- no matter its stated targets -- almost invariably turns out to be worst for civilians and, in the end, to be aimed at society itself. In that way, its damage is anything but 'collateral,' never truly 'surgical,' and never in its overall effect 'precise.' Even when it doesn't start that way, the frustration of not working as planned, of not breaking the 'will,' invariably leads, as with the Israelis, to ever wider, ever fiercer versions of the same, which, if allowed to proceed to their logical conclusion, will bring down not society's will, but society itself.

"For the Lebanese prime minister what Israel has been doing to his country may be 'barbaric destruction'; but, in our world, air power has long been robbed of its barbarism (suicide air missions excepted). For us, air war involves dumb hits by smart bombs, collateral damage, and surgery that may do in the patient, but it's not barbaric. For that you need to personally cut off a head.

Read the piece in full here.