Iraq is not Vietnam. So why does the rhetoric sound so hideously familiar?
Senate Republicans see a brave new energy future for America. It’s radioactive.
A Man of Peace?
Does Ariel Sharon really want peace? Even mainstream Israelis are beginning to wonder.
The Feds’ Last Round-Up
Having been taken to task for its prior treatment of Arab immigrants, Washington goes for broke.
Same-Sex, Same Sanctity?
For gay couples in Canada, the long engagement may soon be over.
Do you remember when, in the wake of Gulf War I, our then president, Bush the Father, exulted that we had finally kicked the “Vietnam thing,” that heinous “Vietnam syndrome,” that seemed to be all that was left of America’s staggering defeat? Well, here’s the strange thing — now, we’ve supposedly kicked it all over again in the wake of Gulf War II. You know, quick war, low casualties, no quagmire, stupid critics who predicted otherwise (although most didn’t) disarmed, the press well embedded, and so on, and so forth.
But “Vietnam,” which like some deadly virus morphs and morphs, seems unwilling to perform the disappearing act our leaders have long prepared for it. And there are reasons for that. I’ve been carefully watching recent coverage of the upsurge of fighting in Iraq, and the Vietnam analogy is buried deep not just in the reportorial mind, but in the military and governmental mind as well.
On Saturday, for instance, Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times wrote a think piece that had these all-too-familiar, if slightly shocked, lines: “Unlike the rush to Baghdad, this fight will not be measured in days, but in months, if not years… For the Americans, this is a campaign of raids, bombing strikes and dragnets, as American commanders try to isolate and destroy remnants of the old older. It is more like a counterinsurgency than an invasion.”
I mark that as the first appearance of “counterinsurgency” in the recent record. Here then are a few other startling appearances:
Vietnam had its “triangles.” (Remember the “Iron Triangle”?) Now Iraq has its own “Sunni Triangle,” as our military are calling it. Remember the various military statements in Gulf Wars I and II that we weren’t about to count the enemy dead? (One post-Vietnam no-no was reviving the feared “body count” which became the way the military measured the Vietnam War and then a target of critics.) Well, this week, in operations in that “Sunni Triangle,” the body count was revived, along with the weapons count. There were a series of official US military announcements of how many enemy (often identified as Ba’athist “remnants” or “Arab” fighters) our troops had killed in various operations, the numbers in some cases exceedingly precise, all clearly meant to provide concrete indicators of success in a not-quite-war in which taking territory has no particular meaning. Along with the body count came another old classic of Vietnam, the weapons count (how many we captured), and on the heels of these, another classic Vietnam tradition, the revised body count. See, for instance, the front-page Washington Post piece by William Booth, which begins:
- “An attack on Iraqis here by U.S. troops after an American tank patrol was ambushed Friday morning killed seven people, not 27 as initially reported, U.S. military officials said today, and Iraqi witnesses said five of the dead were not involved in the ambush.”
Another phrase to make a remarkably early appearance in coverage, again attributed to the military, is “hearts and minds,” a notorious Vietnam-era phrase. I found it in a Saturday Los Angeles Times piece by Paul Richter and Michael Slackman:
- “The peninsula operation was over by Tuesday, and U.S. Army officers at the scene two days later said the Army was trying to shift into a hearts-and-minds campaign to win over local support. But it was fighting rumors that it had killed two civilians. The Army denied any responsibility for the deaths, attributing both to heart attacks, but there was a lot of skepticism among residents.”
The piece also had passages of a sort appearing more frequently these days that rang with a familiar Vietnam-era conundrum — how do you carry out brutal assaults on hard to find guerrilla forces in civilian areas without knowing the language, area or culture without alienating that population when some of them die, others are mistreated, and many are humiliated?
- “Yet while the use of massive force — 4,000 soldiers participated in one operation this week alone — might achieve military goals, it risks alienating many Iraqis upon whose support the U.S. reconstruction of the country depends.”
Or this from a Reuters report appended to that LA Times piece:
- “At the same time, analysts say, it’s important for U.S. commanders to lose no time quelling the resistance because of the way mass arrests, and intrusions into homes and businesses, are alienating the people they hope to win over.”
The Washington Post journalist Anthony Shadid, whose reportage through this period has been of the highest level (and who has the advantage of knowing Arabic), writes on Sunday of a raid on a Sunni town, so blunt-edged that it turned local opinion.
- “A chubby 15-year-old with a mop of curly black hair and a face still rounded by adolescence, he was quiet, painfully shy. Awkward might be the better word, his family said. For hours every day, outside a house perched near the riverbank, the youngest of six children languidly watched his four canaries and nightingale. Even in silence, they said, the birds were his closest companions.
On Monday morning, after a harrowing raid into this town by U.S. troops that deployed gunships, armored vehicles and soldiers edgy with anticipation, the family found Aani’s body, two gunshots to his stomach, next to a bale of hay and a rusted can of vegetable oil.”
Two other key lines in the piece that have a familiar ring to them: “The Americans were shouting in English, and we didn’t know what they were saying.” And of the situation of those detained for a time and then released: “U.S. soldiers tossed military meals and bottles of water to the crowd. ‘They treated us like monkeys — who’s the first one who can jump up and catch the food,’ said Mohammed, who was captured by Iran in the Iran-Iraq war and kept as a prisoner for 11 years.”
Finally, here’s another word that implicitly or explicitly can’t keep itself out of the news: Quagmire. It just comes to mind. It features in a recent Agence France-Presse headline, but the word’s been poking up, explicitly or implicitly everywhere.
I know, I know, Iraq’s not Vietnam. Quite right in so many ways. But the essential problem may in some ways be worse today than in the Vietnam era. The Bush administration has decided to run its imperial policy based almost solely on the military (and various military-related defense industries) and in an explosive situation like Iraq — where we don’t even have a Ngo Dinh Diem or a population of supportive Catholics — the military is a painfully blunt instrument with which to create a new state. Every act of mass and messy act of suppression is bound to be an act of creation as well — the creation of opposition.
Now, let me turn to a different matter — those weapons of mass destruction. By the end of last week, it seemed, the White House/Pentagon may have been counterattacking within the bureaucracy. Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times had a fascinating report on the fates of two key CIA analysts who had been in charge of the Agency’s assessments of Iraqi WMD intelligence. These reassignments were, of course, presented as simply well-deserved changes. But an unnamed Agency source told Miller that the two analysts had “essentially been sent into deep exile.” The moment was described aptly as “a time when top officials have been alarmed by anonymous complaints showing up in the press.” The whole matter has officially been turned over to CIA director Tenet, a leading candidate, if things get worse, to be hung out to dry. “‘They handed the whole ball to George,’ said one intelligence source familiar with the details of the assignment. He said the message being sent to Tenet seemed clear: ‘You said [the banned weapons] were there. You go find them.'”
And there’s another Vietnam-era oldie-but-goodie to be found in Miller’s piece: “They’ll be hard-pressed to find any kind of smoking gun, a case of somebody coming in and saying, ‘I wrote it this way and it came back from the 7th floor telling me to write it another way,'” the official said, referring to the location at CIA headquarters where Director George J. Tenet and other top officials have offices.
Now, none of this is likely to have an immediate effect here. After all, according to recent polls, large numbers of Americans believe we already found WMD in Iraq. (“Poll shows errors in beliefs on Iraq. Still, Nancy Pelosi and other Senate Democrats are now fighting for open hearings in Congress. This is one to stay tuned to.
Finally, David Wise, who has been writing about the intelligence community since perhaps Neolithic times, reviews the recent WMD record in The Washington Post‘s Outlook section. Wise considers the striking on-the-record statements of this administration on the subject, and a far longer record of lying in Washington, and then reminds us of another Vietnam-era phrase, “credibility gap.” And Eric Margolis, in his weekly column in the Toronto Sun, coins a new phrase based on an older one that might soon gain traction, “Weaponsgate,” as he considers why Americans seem to care so little about administration lies.
Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.
In 1979, a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant failed, triggering a meltdown and the worst nuclear accident in American history. Since then, not one new nuclear power plant has gone on-line.
That’s set to change if Senate Republicans get their way. As part of its proposed energy bill, the Senate voted to give massive subsidies to the nuclear power industry last week — despite its spotty safety record and chronic inability to operate in the black. Among the bill’s many handouts, the San Jose Mercury News‘ Seth Borenstein reports, are federal loans that would cover half of all new nuclear R&D costs, and a governmental commitment to buy the lion’s share of power once it’s produced. Even with such official generosity, however, nuclear power doesn’t look like much of deal.
“The Congressional Budget Office in May estimated ‘the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high — well above 50 percent.’
A report June 4 from Standard and Poor’s said: ‘The industry’s legacy of cost growth, technology problems, cumbersome political and regulatory oversight and the newer risks brought about by competition and terrorism concerns may keep credit risk too high for even the Senate bill to overcome.'”
In other words, safety concerns notwithstanding, reviving the nuclear power insustry doesn’t make sense financially. So why is the government pressing for these breaks? As the editors of the Atlanta Journal Constitution note, nuclear power is just getting the same red-carpet treatment afforded other big industries, from Enron-style electricity traders to the White House’s buddies in the oil and gas business.
“This week, a slim Senate majority voted to grant the industry $16 billion in taxpayer-funded handouts, loan guarantees and other goodies, producing one of the sweetest sweetheart deals in recent history.
The nuclear power industry argues that other industries also get subsidies, and they do. Bills in both houses of Congress include handouts for other mature industries that are equally undeserved.
But their ‘me too’ defense neither explains nor excuses the Senate’s efforts to use taxpayers’ money as a crutch for an industry that’s been around long enough to stand on its own.”
A Man of Peace?
As the “roadmap” deteriorates under a hail of missiles and bus bombings, questions are mounting about Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s commitment to the peace process.
On Friday, the widely-read Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot published a reader’s poll. The results showed that a surprising 67 percent opposed the intensified resumption of targeted killings in the past week. Out of the 67, 58 percent support a temporary end to military attacks in order to give Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas a chance to control the militant Islamic fringe groups. Another nine percent oppose all targeted killings of Palestinians.
In addition to the Yediot poll, the editorial pages of Israel’s newspapers were filled with critiques of Sharon’s recent attacks in Gaza. Friday’s editorial in Ha’aretz calls for Sharon to stop the children’s games — he has taken to calling Abbas a crybaby — and give the man a chance to control Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et al.
“A poor decision by Sharon, to attack a leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, contributed to the escalation. The timing and method of the operation, shooting from helicopters into the heart of a populated urban area, reinvigorated doubts regarding Sharon’s sincerity and commitment to Bush’s vision for the Middle East and its implementation. Sharon brought onto himself this question mark, and therefore on all of Israel. He can act positively only if he moves with extreme zeal to prevent further escalation and grants time for Abu Mazen to harness his political and security forces.
During this period, Israel must show as much restraint as possible and opt for defensive, rather than offensive, operations.”
But is Sharon interested in showing restraint? As Israeli columnist Tanya Reinhart tells us, the Israeli press has been deeply involved in debating Sharon’s psyche. Despite all the back-and-forth, the question remains: “[H]as Sharon really changed his heart and mind or is it just the US pressure talking?”
Clearly not all Israelis felt that the IDFs attack on the Hamas chief was a mistake. The Jerusalem Post shared Bush’s “ troubled” feelings, but the paper’s editorial board saw a different culprit.
“Like Bush, we too are deeply troubled by yesterday’s attempt to take out a mass murderer of our fellow citizens. We are troubled because Rantisi has lived to murder another day. We wish the air force better luck in the future in carrying out its mission of safeguarding the lives of Israeli citizens from the murderous likes of Rantisi.”
Not surprisingly, Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada doesn’t think Sharon has mended his Hawkish ways.
“What made Sharon’s strategy so transparent — and therefore so infuriating to the US — was that it came after Hamas had put out a statement declaring: ‘We will study Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas) call for a dialogue while bearing in mind the interests of our nation, its rights, the strengthening of national unity, and first and foremost the question of the prisoners, the right of return, Jerusalem and an end to the occupation.’ With the attacks on the soldiers, Hamas had lethally made the point that it would never accept Abbas’ Aqaba concession equating attacks on the occupying army with ‘terrorism’ against Israeli civilians. Having done so, a wise Hamas would have quickly agreed with Abbas to immediately stop attacks. This, it appears, is what Sharon feared most. With an effective cease-fire, he would no longer have any excuse to delay implementing the road map, most notably the required freeze on all colony construction.
But unfortunately there is no evidence that Hamas is capable of acting wisely or restraining itself. If Sharon set out to provoke Hamas, one has to wonder why Hamas — stupidly and criminally — handed Sharon the ladder he needed to get out of his hole, with the reprehensible suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem. As Arab-American activist Hussein Ibish stated on Fox News in a debate with the Israeli consul-general in New York, ‘Sharon and Hamas have developed a strategic partnership against peace.'”
Somehow, the analysts agree, the extremist bandits have made off with Bush’s roadmap. As Ha’aretz‘s Gideon Samet suggests, “ As they sow, so shall we weep.” Sharon, he writes, needs to acknowledge that the Palestinians are fighting to end Israeli occupation — not because they want to push the Jews into the sea.
“Those who reject the road map, both in Israel and in the territories, chalked up an impressive victory this week, as if in a conspiracy. In the territories, the dissident organizations continued to sow death and to undermine the government of the Palestinian state-to-be.
As if just waiting for the inevitable mass terror attack, Sharon unsheathed his claws from the thin film of moderation. The victims, he said, were killed only because they were Jews. This was a supra-lie that covered the thicket of contradictions and fuzziness in his approach to the road map. People were killed and wounded in Jerusalem because there is a prolonged conflict here (not much less violent than the struggle for Jewish independence) between two peoples. Not Jewish and Muslim, but Israeli and Palestinian.”
Sadly, it already looks like Yediot Ahronot‘s June 5 headline was a little off: “In Akaba, the State of Palestine was founded.” At the moment, Israelis and Palestinians are burying their latest victims and wondering if they are travelling down the same old tear-stained road.
The Feds’ Last Round-Up
In another ham-handed attempt to combat terrorism, the Bush Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have launched the National Security Entry Exit System — a program designed to rid America of “high-risk” illegal (read: unwanted) immigrants. Critics charge, however, that the program’s only real effect will be to wrench Arab and Muslim men from their families and livelihoods.
The program requires non-citizen men from 25 Arab and Muslim countries to register with US immigration services by the end of this year. So far, nearly 16 percent of those who complied with the mandatory registration now face deportation. And of the 13,000 that face deportation, only 11 have alleged “terrorist ties” — whatever that means.
So, while Bush and Co. tout family values, their policies are wreaking havoc on thousands of families. The reason for all of these deportation orders? According to the Associated Press, many of the men simply overstayed their visas — and in many cases, they had already applied for permanent residency.
“Most of the men have overstayed their visas or are otherwise in the country illegally, although many have applications pending to legalize their status. They mistakenly thought their decision to come forward would be rewarded with leniency in their immigration cases, advocates said.
‘Thousands of children will be separated from their fathers because of misguided and discriminatory policies,’ said Emira Habiby Browne, director of the Arab-American Family Support Center.
‘My family is all that matters to me,’ Abdel Hakim Ben Bader said while cradling his infant son at a news conference in Brooklyn called by immigration advocates. ‘I hope I can stay here and live my life.'”
Civil rights activists are furious. As an ACLU spokesman noted, the round-up appears not only to be an outright assault on Muslim and Arabic men living in the US, but also an attack on the most fundamental civil liberties in America.
“‘What the government is doing is very aggressively targeting particular nationalities for enforcement of immigration law … The identical violation committed by, say, a Mexican immigrant is not enforced in the same way.'”
Moreover, as Agence France-Presse points out, due to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s neglect to distinguish between actual terrorism suspects and mere non-citizens, the latter are being held by the INS until they are deported — meaning that thousands of innocent men convicted of no crime could face months in a detention center bunking down with hard-nosed criminals.
Same-Sex, Same Sanctity?
Three Divisional Court Judges in Canada rocked the “sanctity” of marriage boat by ruling the country’s current definition of marriage unconstitutional. According to Tracy Huffman of the Toronto Star, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that laws and benefits that serve “one man and one woman,” as the constitution now reads, should instead benefit “two persons” — giving the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-gendered community the same protections married heterosexual couples receive.
One of the many barriers to validating same-sex marriage was the argument that the purpose of a marriage was to procreate and support a family. But Canadian Justice Robert Blair explained that the current institution of marriage does not support that mentality:
“There is much more to marriage as a societal institution, in my view, than the act of heterosexual intercourse leading to the birth of children,” Mr. Justice Robert Blair wrote in his reasons for the ruling. “Moreover,the authorities are clear that marriage is not dependent upon the presence of children.”
The court’s ruling is seen as a victory for Canada’s GLBT community, but its practical and legal actuality still has far to go. In order for a gay marriage to be recognized like a heterosexual marriage, both the provincial and federal governments must accept the Ontario verdict. Acccording to the Canadian Press, some of Canada’s federal legislators support the ruling, while some others are pushing for an appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
States within the US may not be far behind the Canadian verdict, according to the Associated Press. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court is considering whether the state’s constitution allows same-sex marriage. While the state’s Catholic Bishops have issued a statement staunchly opposing same-sex union, a coalition of clergy from other religious denominations have stepped forward in defense of gay civil unions, asserting that “the right of gay and lesbian couples is a matter of civil, and not religious law,” as the co-chairwoman of the Religions Coalition for Freedom to Marry put it. E.J Graff of the Boston Globe reports that the Netherlands and Belgium both recognize gay marriages as equal to straight marriages, and many other Western countries recognize at least some same-sex couples’ rights:
“Same-sex marriage is also imminent in Canada and South Africa, where the law already grants lesbian and gay couples rights to just about everything except the M-word. Meanwhile, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, Germany, Hungary, France, New Zealand, Portugal, most of Australia, half the provinces in Spain, and two Argentinian states give gay couples many to most of marriage’s legal rights and responsibilities.”