American television loves natural disasters. The Burmese cyclones that may have carried off as many as 200,000 people offered the cameras high drama.
The floods in Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri along the Mississippi River, which have wiped out thousands of homes, have been carefully detailed hour by hour.
But American television is little interested in the massive disaster blithely visited upon Iraq by Washington. Oh, there is the occasional human interest story. Angelina Jolie's visit sparked a headline or two. Briefly.
By now, summer of 2008, excess deaths from violence in Iraq since March of 2003 must be at least a million. This conclusion can be reached more than one way. There is not much controversy about it in the scientific community. Some 310,000 of those were probably killed by US troops or by the US Air Force, with the bulk dying in bombing raids by US fighter jets and helicopter gunships on densely populated city and town quarters.
In absolute numbers, that would be like bombing to death everyone in Pittsburgh, Pa. Or Cincinnati, Oh.
Only, the US is 11 times more populous than Iraq, so 310,000 Iraqi corpses would equal 3.4 million dead Americans. So proportionally it would be like firebombing to death everyone in Chicago.
The one million number includes not just war-related deaths but all killings beyond what you would have expected from the 2000-2002 baseline. That is, if tribal feuds got out of hand and killed a lot of people because the Baath police were demobilized or disarmed and so no longer intervened, those deaths go into the mix. All the Sunnis killed in the north of Hilla Province (the 'triangle of death') when Shiite clans displaced from the area by Saddam came back up to reclaim their farms would be included. The kidnap victims killed when the ransom did not arrive in time would be included. And, of course, the sectarian, ethnic and militia violence, even if Iraqi on Iraqi, would count. And it hasn't been just hot spots like Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk. The rate of excess violent death has been pretty standard across Arab Iraq.
It's very easy to see what's up in Iraq right now -- if you're willing to face it. The trouble is, most "experts" aren't willing. That has been the pattern right from the beginning. We didn't want to admit there even was an insurgency, and even now, nobody misses a chance to declare that "the surge worked," as if that translates to "we win, it's over, let's go home."
Fact number one about guerrilla wars: They're not over until the guerrillas win. Mao set out the guerrilla's viewpoint 80 years ago: "The enemy wants to fight a short war, but we simply will not let him." The longer the guerrillas stay in the game, the sicker the occupying army gets. Sooner or later, they'll go home -- because they can. It's that simple, and it works. So anyone who tells you it's over is just plain ignorant. That's one thing you can rule out instantly.
But people keep saying it. The most recent and ridiculous take is that "Moqtada al Sadr is renouncing violence." Talk about naive! What led these geniuses to that conclusion is that on June 13, Moqtada al Sadr, leader of the biggest and toughest Shia militia, the Mahdi Army, sent out a big announcement: "From now on, the resistance will be exclusively conducted by only one group. ... The weapons will be held exclusively by this group." In other words, he's switching from a big, sloppy, amateur force to a select group of professional guerrillas.
In the TV gameshow bubble that substitutes for foreign policy discussion on the U.S. presidential campaign trial, there’s a lot of talk these days about how the U.S. is “winning” in Iraq. The evidence to back this claim is a comparative lull in the death rate in recent months, and the fact that Iraqi government forces are taking more casualties than the Americans. Those proclaiming “victory,” of course, are invariably the same crowd that enthusiastically backed the invasion of Iraq in the first place, and their desire for vindication for their part in authoring what all serious analysts agree has been the most catastrophic strategic blunder in America’s history is all too understandable. (Less understandable is the echo of this position by the Washington Post, which claims the U.S. and the Iraq government are “winning the war” and gaining full control of the country from al-Qaeda and rival militias.)
But the suggestion that a shift or fall in the pattern of violence indicates that the U.S. is “winning” in Iraq betrays the same lack of understanding of dynamics in that country as was so evident in the original decision to invade and occupy Iraq.
War, as Clausewitz always told us, is the continuation of politics by other means, and its outcomes are ultimately measured in political terms rather than by body counts. All of those waging war in Iraq — from al-Qaeda to the U.S. and everyone in between — are doing so in pursuit of political objectives. None is fighting just for the sake of fighting, or out of blind hatred. Moreover, in a conflict where one party has massive conventional forces at its disposal while others are combinations of militia and guerrilla units, the rate of tactical engagements doesn’t necessarily signify the balance of forces: If conventional forces are massed in particular areas, guerrilla units will likely lie low or disperse to keep their capability intact for later engagements. Claiming victory on the basis of the number of firefights and body counts is more than a little ridiculous, as anyone remotely familiar with the Vietnam war would attest.
Thursday Zoe and I made the trek down to Tacoma to visit her mom at Western State Hospital. We left a little early so that we could visit my mom on the way home. Gerry was doing well. It's always hard to understand what she is trying to say, since she speaks in random words because of the Alzheimer's, but once in a while she will put together a sentence or two that is clear. Zoe was telling Gerry that we were going to visit my mom who is in a hospital. Gerry's response was "I'm in a hospital, too!" That was the first time we heard her verbalize that she knew where she was. My mom isn't really in a hospital. She is in a nursing home and it's probable that she won't be moving out of it. We were concerned because my mom hadn't been eating. She has been depressed. My brother Terry has been taking care of her. He only lives about 5 minutes away from her. He has been doing what he could. We brought some fresh fruit and cheesy poofs. You can always get her to eat cheesy poofs. Zoe brought a book for her and I read to her from it. We got her to laugh. We made the midnight boat back to the Island. It's a long day visiting both moms but they both need it. I go down tomorrow to pick up some stuff from where she had been living. She won't be going back there.
The headline of Gideon Levy's article today is even more provocative than mine: "Quiet is muck" is how it reads in the English translation. He leads off with this:
A great disaster has suddenly come upon Israel: The cease-fire has gone into effect. Cease-fire, cease-Qassams, cease-assassiations, at least for now. This good, hopeful news was received in Israel dourly, gloomily, even with hostility. As usual, politicians, the military brass and pundits went hand in hand to market the cease-fire as a negative, threatening and disastrous development.
Even from the people who forged the agreement - the prime minister and defense minister - you heard not a word about hope; just covering their backsides in case of failure. No one spoke of the opportunity, everyone spoke of the risk, which is fundamentally unfounded. Hamas will arm? Why of all times during the cease-fire? Will only Hamas arm? We won't? Perhaps it will arm, and perhaps it will realize that it should not use armed force because of calm's benefits.
It is hard to believe: The outbreak of war is received here with a great deal more sympathy and understanding, not to say enthusiasm, than a cease-fire...
So maybe this is the obverse side of the "bellophilia" (love of war) that Meron Benvenisti diagnosed sweeping the Israeli public in 2002. We could call the present phenomenon eirenophobia, the fear or hatred of peace.
In 1895 Theodor Herzl, Zionism’s chief prophet, confided in his diary that he did not favour sharing Palestine with the natives. Better, he wrote, to “try to spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by denying it any employment in our own country … Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
He was proposing a programme of Palestinian emigration enforced through a policy of strict separation between Jewish immigrants and the indigenous population. In simple terms, he hoped that, once Zionist organisations had bought up large areas of Palestine and owned the main sectors of the economy, Palestinians could be made to leave by denying them rights to work the land or labour in the Jewish-run economy. His vision was one of transfer, or ethnic cleansing, through ethnic separation.
Herzl was suggesting that two possible Zionist solutions to the problem of a Palestinian majority living in Palestine -- separation and transfer -- were not necessarily alternatives but rather could be mutually reinforcing. Not only that: he believed, if they were used together, the process of ethnic cleansing could be made to appear voluntary, the choice of the victims. It may be that this was both his most enduring legacy and his major innovation to settler colonialism.
In recent years, with the Palestinian population under Israeli rule about to reach parity with the Jewish population, the threat of a Palestinian majority has loomed large again for the Zionists. Not suprisingly, debates about which of these two Zionist solutions to pursue, separation or transfer, have resurfaced.
Today these solutions are ostensibly promoted by two ideological camps loosely associated with Israel’s centre-left (Labor and Kadima) and right (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu). The modern political arguments between them turn on differing visions of the nature of a Jewish state orginally put forward by Labor and Revisionist Zionists.
To make sense of the current political debates, and the events taking place inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, let us first examine the history of these two principles in Zionist thinking.
Question: Between May 7 to May 10, Hezbollah took over Beirut, shut down the city's TV and communications facilities, blocked the main highways, closed the airport, and surrounded the homes of the leading political leaders with armed gunman. The action was taken in response to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's decision to outlaw Hezbollah's telecommunication network and sack the head of security at Beirut airport. Although the incident has been downplayed in the western media, it appears that Hezbollah achieved a total victory and is now recognized as the strongest group operating within Lebanon. What affect will Hezbollah's victory have on the political dynamic within Lebanon?
Franklin Lamb: I don't believe Hezbollah achieved a 'total victory' as the question suggests, but its achievements were certainly strategic and that sets outs the future in many respects. As you rightly imply, Hezbollah's emphatic statement by its quick move into the March 14 areas was aimed at Israel, the Bush Administration and their agents and allies in Lebanon and the Middle East.
What provoked the precise timing of the action was the fact as Sheik Naim Qassim, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General told this observer and a former American Ambassador and other US citizens who met with him on Monday May 10 in Dahiyeh was a 10 hour "series of conference calls" from the Welch Club to the Serail (Government House) that immediately preceded the Siniora government decision to move against Hezbollah, its vital optic fiber phone system and the Airport security office. According to Hezbollah sources there were other US planned assaults on the Opposition which have not been made public.
According to Qassim during this frenetic series of conference calls involving several countries, the decision was made in Washington to move against Hezbollah. Hezbollah believes the Lebanese government is virtually occupied by the Bush Administration and all substantive decisions now announced in Beirut come from Washington.
The outcome of the May events as you implied in your question was devastating for the Bush administration and its allies. It not only led to withdrawal of the two government decisions against Hezbollah, it led to the Dora agreement and the current serious efforts to form a unity government and share power. For nearly two years the Opposition tried to achieve a unity government for Lebanon and may now have done so with its counterstrike against the Welch club move against it.
The May events led to agreement on holding a democratic election next year and the veto power of the opposition over US initiatives sent to the 'majority'.
Hezbollah's Sheik Naim Qassim stated to a US Delegation two days ago that the party and its allies expect to win 64 of the 128 seats in next years election. Others think the current opposition may win as many as 70 seats in the new Parliament. In either case Hezbollah and their allies will effectively be the next government of Lebanon.
Philip Taubman's June 24 article the New York Times and International Herald Tribune is another stellar example of uncritical reportage on national defense. Such stories help sustain a failing status quo by appealing to authority of establishment apparatchiks from an earlier era who are probably trying to worm their way back into the game, perhaps in an Obama Administration.
Cries about a defense brain drain and calls for better systems management have been heard from time to time since at least the 1960s, yet Paul Kaminiski and others interviewed by Taubman talk about loss of expertise and the Pentagon's grotesque acquisition management problems as if they are recent developments. Looking back, did not the F-111 and C-5 cost overrun scandals occur in the 1960s, even though both programs were sold at that time as examples of better systems management in just the same way that the problem plagued, cost overrun infected $200+ billion Joint Strike Fighter program was sold by Mr. Kaminski and his cohorts to the President and Congress in the early 1990s?
All that is new in 2008 is that Pentagon's excesses are occurring without a superpower adversary that would justify bloated budgets, an adversary comparable to the Soviet Union... yet the Pentagon still spends more than the rest of the world's military spending combined. To be sure, the scale of the current excesses is due in part to the monumental incompetence of the Bush Administration, but there is nothing really new going on as Taubman seems to suggest.
The truth is, as I and others have repeatedly documented over the last thrity years, the management/technology/economic pathologies that brought the Pentagon, and by extension the United States, to the current catastrophic state of affairs have been in the works at least since the mid 1950s.
It is also true that management and technical skills have declined as the weapons procurement game became more politicized over time, but as political skills — which are what count in the budget game — have increased, so has the wealth of the apparatchiks who move back and forth through the well-greased revolving door between the defense industry and the Pentagon. Indeed, the decline in technical and management skills was apparent to me as a young Air Force engineer in the early 1970s, though it took a little longer for me to understand the underlying but more crucial evolution of politicization, which shapes the hidden DNA of the emergent Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex or MICC.
I've been pounding the table about an energy crisis for quite some time. As a loyal reader of my Money and Markets column, you might think I've been proven right by gasoline soaring over $4 a gallon in 32 states and oil hitting new record highs.
But most of what I've been talking about is simply the long-term supply/demand squeeze that will transform our oil-addicted civilization in the future.
It appears, however, that the future is happening now. My fundamental and technical indicators are ALL sounding alarm bells.
Today, I'm going to give you an uncensored, no-holds-barred look at the consequences of the energy crisis. First, let's talk about why Peak Oil poses such an extreme economic threat to both Wall Street and Main Street.
The oil crisis is upon us. I hope to convince you that sharply curtailing our oil demand is the only and best way for Americans to negotiate the coming decade (2008-2018). To that end, I will construct three scenarios for you to consider in contemplating your future energy consumption.
High oil prices are starting to work the way economists think they should. A recent CERA report argues that U.S. gasoline demand peaked in 2007. It appears that vehicle miles traveled has also peaked. Despite these welcome trends, changes forced upon us by the unavoidable workings of the dismal science are likely to be inadequate to the task ahead. The Econ 101 solution becomes harsher as time goes on as the phrase "demand destruction" implies.
The simple scenarios laid out below might persuade you that taking the initiative to reduce your liquid fuels use will be necessary to maintain our collective prosperity. Early adapters of measures that reduce their oil consumption will be rewarded, for the race is to the swift. Vulnerable Americans who do nothing will pay the piper as the coming decade unfolds. (See NPR's More Workers Telecommuting, Seeking Closer Jobs, June 18, 2008).