“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Bollettino

Casualty counts: LI recommends the WashPost article about lost Iraqi limbs and other matters that, in the post-conflict world, we can perceive to be as utterly trivial as finding the ghostly weapons of mass destruction (which, it turns out, were about to be manufactured en masse in the back of a horse trailor, and in a doghouse in a Basra suburb). Here's a nice three grafs:
To many who lost livelihoods and limbs in the process, a U.S. reconstruction effort in its seventh week should be as much about recompense as restarting electrical grids, pumping stations and a flattened economy. But U.S. officials have made clear to Iraqis that they do not intend to conduct a complete accounting of war damages, nor compensate those who say the occupying army owes them something. While sympathetic to individual hardships suffered as a result of war, U.S. officials say they are wary of beginning a legal process that could entail millions of claims against them.

U.S. officials have approached the issue in much the way they did in Afghanistan, presenting Washington's multibillion-dollar commitment to rebuilding Iraq as compensation enough. But international relief organizations, including the Islamic Red Crescent Society, say the conventions of war hold the United States responsible for paying out such claims.

"The other thing that makes this difficult is the endemic fraud that would creep into this," said John Kincannon, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance that is overseeing the civilian part of the postwar occupation. "How do you ascertain facts three months after the incident, for example? And once word gets out that the Americans are paying people for damages, where does it stop?"

Where indeed, with these Iraqis? Well, let's serve em up some private enterprise, as Donald Rumsfeld has suggested. Man, among Saddam's other crimes was that heinous one of socializing medecine! Imagine the horror. Imagine the corruption of the work ethic. This, as a former President Bush once said, will not stand -- and neither will the majority of Iraqi casualties, it looks like.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Bollettino

Casualty count today, 21 days after Bush proclaimed that the Iraq conflict was officially ended: a "... sixth soldier was killed today, military officials said, when "hostile fire" was directed at a convoy on the main supply route from Kuwait near the town of Anaconda. The unidentified soldier was pronounced dead at the 21st Combat Support Hospital, a military statement said.

Late Wednesday, American troops opened fire on an Iraqi civilian vehicle in Samarra, killing two people and wounding two others. Military officials said the vehicle had failed to stop at a roadblock."

David Corn's column in the Nation surveys the current domestic politics about Iraq. According to a poll conducted by the Washington Post, Americans are by and large "unconcerned" about the failure to come up with the stockpiles of anthrax, or the cans of Raid, or the flyswatters supposedly hidden by the nefarious Saddam and available, according to Tony Blair, for use in 45 minutes. Perhaps the anthrax was hidden in the disappearing bunker where Saddam and his sons were supposedly conferring on the first night of the war. Or, this being Baghdad, perhaps they were all loaded onto flying carpets.


As Corn reports, the outline of Bush's planned reconstruction effort in Iraq is as mysterious as the whereabouts of the WMD. Lugar, the senator from Indiana who periodically surfaces in the op ed pages to represent "moderate" Republicanism (he's been seen in public without a knife between his teeth or lighted sparklers in his beard -- another treasured proof that he is near the American middle) has said that the reconstruction will cost 100 billion dollars over the next five years.

The anti-war movement exhausted itself prematurely, and since the war is over -- in the same way that it began, on the President's word -- it is not re-assembling; but it should. In fact, Iraq is going to have to be occupied by multi-national forces; it is going to have to be ruled by Iraqis; it is going to have to be preserved from corporate looting; and it is going to need an infusion of aid from the U.S. that will amount to at least 50 billion dollars in the next year. This is a four point program of extreme unpopularity in the U.S. -- but it needs to be represented. The alternative is slow death for U.S. forces, mass misery for Iraqis, and more and more bombs going off in more and more places outside of Iraq. The anti-war movement was ultimately re-active -- and, at the time, necessarily so. However, the time has come for something more than the barbaric yawp of a NO!

Patrick Cockburn, the author of Out of the Ashes and the most trustworthy commentator on Iraq working in the press, has a piece in the Independent today on Blair's comic opera re-enactment, in Basra, of Henry V at Agincourt. Here are some grafs:

"There was a brief moment at the time of the fall of Baghdad on 9 April when the US and Britain could have persuaded Iraqis that they were not facing a foreign occupation. But in the weeks since, looting has continued, plans for a representative government have been put on the back burner and the US has tried to rule by fiat. The result is that any political capital gained by the Anglo-American alliance in the war has ebbed away in the eyes of Iraqis.

At the beginning of war, Britain and America dropped leaflets on the Iraqi regular army saying that they were not the target and the war was only against Saddam in Baghdad. But last week Paul Bremer, the American envoy, simply dissolved the Iraqi armed forces which means that hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and above all the largely Sunni-Muslim officer corps, are now out of a job so long as the occupation continues. It is an ominous development if Iraq is ever to return to civil peace. After all, the political and military reasoning behind the invasion was that was the regime could be decapitated because its real support among Iraqis was limited. But the US and Britain have stood by as the Iraqi state machinery - traditionally quite efficient - dissolved. Or they have actively closed it down."

The ending graf is a forecast that is coming true before our eyes:

"Mr Bremer's decision on dissolving the army means that Iraq will be full of soldiers who have every interest in fighting the occupation. Given the unpopularity of the previous regime, the US and Britain today have astonishingly few friends. If they are going to stay, they are going to have to fight."

The great press J-Lo Bremer is getting in the U.S. has to do with the fact that he is authoritarian -- the Press loves that CEO like command, the ukases, the whole we are in charge here bit, and they figure the Gunga Dins over there will love it too. But the chop chop thing seems to LI to be grotesquely miscalculated. Smilin' Jay was a disaster; Bremer is worse, he's the Alexander Haig of Iraq.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Bollettino

Al Jazeera has reported that a U.S. helicopter was shot down, and four soldiers killed, around Hit. The military is saying that a helicopter was damaged, but not by any hostile fire.

Hitchens. LI has an unfortunate bug up our ass about the man. We don't want this site to be another nitpicking place where a lefty guy rants about the multiple sins of right wing media types -- which is why we sprinkle rebarbative posts about micro-history among posts in which a lefty guy rants about the multiple sins of right wing media types.

In any case, there's been a rise in the level of discomfort in Hitchens columns over the last month. Having made a career move as a lefty who moved right to defend western values, he is having to calibrate with the evident contempt for western values, except those associated with the quick buck, by the administration he so fervently supports. In his latest Slate piece, there is, obviously, the fact that a Kissinger associate is now ruling Iraq, that life seems to have turned shitty for your run of the mill Iraqi, and that his favorite multi-millionaire felon, Chalabi, is being shunted aside as the Americans finally have got it through there head that there is no advantage in setting up a figure head if that figure head has no support in the country -- since American muscle will still have to crack Iraqi heads.


Astonishingly, however, Hitchens still construes the anti-war crowd in the image of his polemical fantasy. One of the great arguments against the war was that we simply don't do "post-conflict" situations: we don't pay for cleaning our messes, and we don't distribute tiny driblets of our enormous wealth to areas like Afghanistan and Iraq. We have no sense that there are unrecoverable costs, here -- we want to be paid back, right away. This is the real Vietnam syndrome. This isn't an ideological accusation -- its a summary of historical patterns that reach deeply into American history. Here's Hitchens take on the the state of play among casus belli:

"To some extent, every faction in this debate has been looking down the barrel of a rifle that might backfire. If no weapons of mass destruction are ever unearthed, for example, that still doesn't mean that Iraq even attempted to comply with the terms of U.N. Resolution 1441 and it still makes nonsense of those who prophesied an apocalyptic outcome to any invasion. (This self-canceling propaganda has occurred before: Those who argued that the "real" reason for the removal of the Taliban was the building of a Unocal pipeline have yet to present any hard empirical evidence of such a sinister pipeline being laid, or even planned. Meanwhile, previous opponents of a U.S.-led presence in Afghanistan send me gloating e-mails every day, showing that the state of affairs in that country is far from ideal and that Washington's interest in it is lapsing. Unless this means that they prefer Afghanistan the way it was, as some of them doubtless do, I hope they realize that they seem to be arguing for more and better intervention there, not for less.)

Wow -- how many people were arguing an apocalyptic outcome to an invasion due to WMD? The argument was about fighting in Baghdad -- although the argument was, at no time, that Saddam was going to roll the coalition. The Baghdad fear was reasonable, since urban warfare is messy. However, Saddam 's forces folded, and Baghdad was taken with less casualties that it took to take Nasiryah. So fears there were wrong. Once again, the casualties were all on the Iraqi side. As for the argument about more and better intervention ... ah, finally logic is beginning, oh just beginning, to creep into Hitchens mental processes. A project that is frontloaded by a military display, which can arouse immediate popularity, but devolves into an endless stalemate that slowly lets the situation worsen, and is barely supported, is not a project one supports. To paraphrase Bush's favorite philosopher, no man builds his house on hot air balloons. I supported the war (these kind of "I support" statements strike me as so pompous -- it wasn't like I was building the jet fighters. I said I thought it was a good idea in varfious conversations) in Afghanistan; it is the amazing incompetence of this administration since Tora Bora that should have made anybody wary of invading Iraq. The figures didn't add up before the war -- either in manpower, or in the will to finace the project. Now we are slowly feeling the consequence. If there is an apocalypse there, it will be a slow one. An ambush here, a suicide bomber there. Meanwhile, although Hitchens doesn't talk about it, Rumsfeld (his guy) assures us, from the Wall Street Journal, that we are going to implement "free enterprise" in Iraq. Is that a beautiful thing or what? Maybe we'll even get a few Iraqis to support it, not that we need em.

In other words, the mess is getting messier. Hitchens apparently thinks he can retain his belligerent stance by retroactively attributing to the anti-war party positions that they never held, or by treating claims that have been borne out -- such as the lack of WMD - as so much dross. So let's spell it out: if you go to war for faked reasons and win, you will have all the more problem, politically, garnering support for the kind of costly intervention that will make the nation you have conquered secure -- to say nothing of free and prosperous.

For a man who claims to have studied Marxist dialectics at Oxford, Hitchens is a curiously dull blade about this kind of thing.
Bollettino

Casualty count: 20 American soldiers killed by hostile fire, since Bush proclaimed the end of the Iraq war.


Like UFO Abductions and Elvis sightings, the fiercesome Iraqi WMD have a mock ontology that is the more humorous in that the former are pursued by tabloids like the National Enquirer, while the latter is pursued, gravely, by papers like the Washington Post, which fervently believes, now, that the WMD were spirited away and given to terrorists. That all this WMD might be an exaggeration -- that the shelf life on Saddam's germs might have expired -- that the nuclear materials we should be worried about are in Pakistan -- none of this matters.

Here's a WP report on the latest status of the the Great WMD hoax:


"Pressed in recent congressional hearings and public appearances to explain why the United States has been unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials have begun to lay the groundwork for the possibility that it may take a long time, if ever, before they are able to prove the expansive case they made to justify the war."

Richard Cohen, the WP columnist, is sure that the WMD are out there just beyond the perimeter. So he issues Rumsfeld a dressing down today:

"So where are these weapons? Rumsfeld was asked that question after he spoke here to the Council on Foreign Relations. He said they might have been destroyed in advance of the war. He was then asked how it was possible that the hapless Iraqi army, so inept in everything it did, was able to destroy all its chemical or biological weapons so that not a trace could be found -- and the United States never noticed. Rumsfeld ducked the question. Iraq is a big country, he said. As large as California, he said. Blah, blah.

The war in Iraq is usually portrayed as a splendid victory -- and I'm sure it's just a matter of time until some congressman proposes a monument to it on the Mall. But the war was fought -- remember -- to make the world safe from weapons of mass destruction. Yet the Pentagon, which cannot praise its own planning enough, did not allot sufficient troops to secure suspected WMD sites after the war was won.If these weapons existed, where are they? Possibly looted. Possibly in the hands of terrorists. It just could be that instead of containing the problem we have spread it. This is not great planning."

Those terrorists are pretty deft. You would think, in a country as chaotic as the euphemistically named "post-conflict" Iraq, a country that hasn't yet got its oil on-line, that it might be hard to spirit all that WMD out of the country - through our enemies, of course, Syria and Iran, who have no qualms about groups with which they've been in intense conflict lugging around barrels of anthrax. That the WMD might not exist -- that they might be as fictitious, in this war, as the accuracy of the Patriot missile was in the last Gulf war -- is slowly being digested by the press. The press has a responsibility in this case, since it promoted the hoax. The press has to save its ass. Thus, we're guessing that the Washington Post will run a thorough series about the hoaxing of America in, say, 2006. Within the limits prescribed by this and such other minor time lags, we can proudly still maintain that we are the best informed country on earth.

And talking about series -- the Guardian sent a clever chap, John Henley, to whisk around Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Afghanistan, the sites that constitute so many trophies in Tony Blair's career of higher morality -- higher that is than the rest of us. The series is entitled, did we make it better? Here's an interesting couple of grafs from the intro article that frame Henley's journey:


"Since British troops have now also seen action in Iraq - and are likely to find themselves in a few more unhappy spots before peace breaks out on earth - it seemed a good idea to have a closer look at those claims. How much have the people of Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan really benefited from military intervention?

What are their chances for a peaceful, prosperous future? Four years, two-and-a-half years and 18 months on, is life there really safer and better? At first glance, that looks like a decidedly glib question. Of course your life is safer if you're not being shot at. A better question might be: what would life be like in these places if our boys hadn't gone in? But that's one which we can only guess at. So we're left to sift the facts. Facts such as these: if you live to be 38 in Sierra Leone, you've done better than most. If you have a job, even a part-time one, in Kosovo, you're one of only 30% who do. If you can safely drink the water in Afghanistan, you're part of the lucky 9%. Could this be better than it was before?

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Bollettino

Social history has, to a great extent, failed in its proclaimed and relatively simple task of writing history �from the bottom up,� according to historian Sigurdur Magnusson in the Spring, 03�s issue of Social History. LI recommends his article, The Singularization of History, which examines the proliferation of micro-histories and the collapse of the radical impulse that generated them. According to Magnusson, the social history in the seventies and eighties underwent a crisis of confidence in the Annales theory that underlay it. The old school, building on sociology, and Marx, counseled the historian to find episodes demonstrating time, to find these episodes on a significant scale, to subject his matter to categories that could be quantified, and to look for causal explanations that could link up to grander schemes. In the late eighties, under the assault of deconstruction and Foucaultian archaeology, the macro view could no longer be supported. But Magnusson thinks that this only has meant that discredited categories have been imported into microhistories, where one finds, compulsively, the same patterns that used to be adduced in macrohistory. Of course, the Italian historians like Ginzburg who pioneered microhistory were after something different � developing the local according to its own autonomous rules. Which meant a sort of Hegelian immersion in the mindset of the local.

Magnusson is distressed by a general retreat from the assertion of microhistorical autonomy � from, in fact, the vanguard attack of the parts against the whole � to the conservative contemporary atmosphere, which silent accedes to the positivistic values of showing a progress, measuring it with those measures that are generated from thinking of the now as that towards which history moves, and imposing upon the internal structure of microhistory those connections to macro-history that make it comprehensible to us. In other words, the steam has gone out of the left historicist project. Magnusson places himself in the camp of those who view micro-history as requiring other techniques � such as the techniques of the novelist. And he sadly surveys the comrades who have moved on, like Lynn Hunt. At one time Lynn Hunt was a Foucauldian � or a feminist version of one � and now she has become a mild positivist. �Modern,� he quotes her as saying, �is better.� And in a recent essay on gender history, she admonishes feminists to hook up to the macro train about tying �the stories [of women] into much more general narratives of long term social changes�� The fragments are glued together; the urn is as good as new.

Under the influence of our friend, S., we�ve been reading about complex adaptation theory. In particular, we�ve just been perusing a very interesting tome by Frank T. Vertosick, The Genius Within, which argues for a broader conception of intelligence than that which centers intelligence on the brain. Vertosick is arguing for an idea that was entertained by Spinoza and Diderot, and that has a lot of attraction for LI.

There�s a passage on the genotype and phenotype which, I think, might serve as a model for how macro-history and micro-history can be separated and at the same time connected. I�m not sure Magnusson would approve of an organic metaphor. Still, here it is. After talking about what it means that an organism can be cloned from a cell and an ovum, Vertosick makes this comment: �These findings prove beyond all doubt that the mammoth differences between a muscle cell and a neuron are neither genetic nor permanent. Muscle cells and nerve cells are, quite literally, simply the same cell, each temporarily portraying a different role in that elaborate stage production known as the body. The chromosomal makeup of a cell defines its genotype, while the actual appearance and function of a cell defines its phenotype. A cardiac muscle cell and a nerve cell taken from my body are of one genotype, but express very different phenotypes. Differentiation is a quantum thing. In the mature organism, a cell can be a muscle cell or a bone cell, but not something in between. Differentiation has no shades of gray. Moreover, once a cell commits to being a muscle cell, it usually stays a muscle cell forever.�

Of course, the analogy is imperfect, but it seems to me that the autonomy of the local is not an autonomy that is compounded from gender, class, race, etc., but is phenotypic � it expresses the macro-historical genotype in such a differentiated way as to justify the idea that it is an immersive whole, without justifying a nihilistic attitude towards higher, emergent historical structures.
Bollettino

We have not bathed Paul Bremer in our usual appellations, because we can't think what to call him. Alan kidded us about our Smilin' Jay phrase -- he noted that it had not spread over the Internet. In fact, we not only originated it, we were its sole adopters. By some accident, the phrase did fit -- as courtiers in the State and Pentagon continue their gladiatorial leaking contests, we are learning that Garner, with what one report describes as a 'backslapping' style , was as alien to the Iraqi expectation of leadership as Bambi would have been,

J.Paul, however, is more of a Reaganaut. We are assured that his authoritarian style is more to the liking of the masses. While Smilin' Jay imitated Saddam by essentially vanishing into the presidential palaces, Bremer seems intent on imitating Saddam's press secretary, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, by subordinating the standard of veracity to the enthusiasm of the pronouncement. Thus he has dissolved the Iraqi army, suggested that the interim government start on smaller things -- like judging quilting contests or something -- and is continually elaborating the every day in every way, life is getting better and better message. In today's Washington Post, he allows himself the standard rhetorical wallow in the joys of free enterprise. Joys that are being experienced on the street corners of Baghdad, apparently, where looted goods and weaponry are being sold with the kind of pedlar's vigor that once made the Yankee a proverbial figure of fun. There's something a little heart sick about this eloge of commerce among the smoking ruins of the country. The American media has decided to finesse the evident disaster in Iraq by resorting to schizophrenia; they issue one article from their embeds that consists pretty much of occupation p.r. -- then they issue color pieces that are more in the tone of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. No attempt is made to make these p-s.o.v. cohere.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Bollettino

LI has hammered home a theme for a long time on this site. The theme is that talk about U.S. foreign policy has to take into account, firstly, what kind of country the U.S. is. Usually such discussions go on and on about democracy. Well, democracy is important, but it is subordinate to one great constant in U.S. history: the vast indifference of Americans to the rest of the world.

There are subgroups who are very involved with one or another country. The Irish in the last century were ardent about Ireland, the Germans before WWII were ardent about Germany, and the Jews, now, are ardent about Israel. But these are exceptions to the rule. Americans like to think of themselves as generous donors -- but that stopped long ago, by general consent. The Marshall plan was fifty years ago; the last really big flow of foreign aid petered out around the end of the Vietnam war. Both of those generous moments were connected to domestic politics: the Marshall Plan is inconceivable without the Roosevelt's New Deal, which preceded it and established the idea of government spending for big projects; and the foreign aid of the Vietnam era was connected just as intimately to the Great Society.

Those eras are deader than Uncle Sam's generosity to the poor.

This is the essential paralogism of Bush's foreign policy. It aims at establishing American imperial hegemony; but it only funds American military contractors. Contra leftists and rightists, that isn't the same thing. Nor has Bush shown any inclination to spend his political capital by trying to really effect a "Marshall plan" for Afghanistan; Afghanistan is the last thing on his agenda. It's been crossed out.

Meanwhile, the plan for Iraq depends, crucially, on taking money from Iraq and recirculating it back to Iraq. It depends, in other words, on magic. Voodoo economics is rational compared to the American dream of both exploiting and enriching Iraq. It's a pyramid scheme for retards.

What this means, in terms of security, is that the U.S., after much bombing, is reverting to the pre-9/11 situation with regard to such places as Afghanistan; and is going to be tied down, in such places as Iraq, until we decide to blink and go away.

Afghanistan is one of the more interesting studies in how an empire is not built. After the war was canceled on tv (since it was, supposedly, won), it was lost to American vision in the subsequent blackout. Nobody protested. We went elsewhere; the Afghanis, naturally, stayed. There's a very lengthy piece about the aftermath in Afghanistan in the Guardian this Sunday by Peter Oborn. Here's a middle graf that gets into the magical intersection of money and amnesia:

"We interviewed the interim President on the day Baghdad fell. Karzai is tall, good-looking and articulate. He dresses in immaculately pressed shalwar kameez and waistcoat - sheer Afghan chic. The awesome task of creating a modern, democratic Afghan state - and in the process turning 3,000 years of historical development on its head - devolves on him. He is a friend of the West, and that is what makes his criticisms, when they come, so much more devastating. I ask him whether the $5 billion pledged to Afghanistan at the Tokyo donors' conference of 2002 was enough to rebuild his country. 'Definitely not,' says Karzai. 'We believe Afghanistan needs $15-20bn to reach the stage we were in 1979.'

He complains, too, that the money has gone to the wrong places. Rather than make over funds to Karzai's central government, Western donors have preferred to act through outside agencies. 'Last year,' says Karzai, 'we had no control over how this money was spent.' He warns that this lack of trust 'does weaken the presence of the central government in the provinces of Afghanistan'. It is hard to disagree. Even the niggardly World Bank accepts that Afghan reconstruction requires $10bn rather than the $5bn made available at Tokyo, while US Senator Joseph Biden argues that $20bn would be nearer the mark. Earlier this year the aid organization Care International produced a devastating study which contrasted Afghanistan to other post-conflict zones. In a table of aid per person donated by the West, Bosnia came up top, receiving $326 per head. Kosovans received an average $288 while citizens of East Timor got $195 each. Afghans are scheduled to receive just $42 per head over the next five years. This is despite the fact that Afghanistan is almost, as Karzai says, 'the poorest country in the world' and in a far worse state than either Bosnia or Kosovo."

There is something truly curious about the current American situation. Has any empire of comparable military superiority wasted its time more thoroughly than the U.S. has, in the last year? The firefight about connecting Al qaeda to Saddam is typical. Whether you think there is a connection or not -- and we don't think there is -- it is not an important connection, as everybody on both sides knows.

We know quite a bit now about how A-Q operated. We know they moved East after Sudan. We know that Malaysia was a much more important meeting ground for the redoubtable A-Q than Iraq. And yet, I'd guess that not one American in one thousand knows that Malaysia even figures in A-Q's timeline.

Anyway, what Oborn doesn't say is that one of the unexpected results of collapsing the Taliban has been a bumper crop of poppies. The hills are alive with them. And if you want to fund guerrilla activity, nothing is finer than a bumper crop of poppies, or of coca leaf. We figure that money will be reinvigorate A-Q next year, much more than the reaction to the occupation of Iraq.