“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

Friday, April 23, 2004

Bollettino

On December 14 of last year, after the capture of Saddam, LI “played the combinations”. That is, we looked at the effects that could ensue from the capture as combinations of possible worlds, as Leibnitz might have put it.

This is what we said:

“With Saddam rendered irrelevant, the third factor in Iraqi politics can now come into play - and come into play in such a way as to disturb Wolfowitz’s dream of Pax Chile on the Euphrates. That third factor is the Shiite demand for elections. Americans have been blocking this demand, because the American backplan is to somehow thrust a Chalabi or Chalabi like figure on Iraq. This thrusting was to be called democracy, not rape. So far, with Chalabi, it has pretty much failed …

In our opinion, the combinations now at work in Iraq are about to tumble to a new configuration. And this is not going to make the Pentagon happy. Our bet, right now, is that the following will emerge as the combination of forces in Iraq in the next, oh, two or three months:

The resistance will continue. It is a headless resistance. Whether it gets a brain will make a lot of difference, here. Our bet is that it won’t.

The Council is going to have to over-reach or dissolve. They’ve been put in an impossible middle position by the Americans. The question of who and how and for what Saddam H. is tried is going to be a point around which the Council will have to concentrate, for good or ill. We think that the Council, which is as brainless as the resistance, will try to over-reach and submit at the same time, and that it just won’t work any more. Alienating its patron, and alienated from its land, the Council will change radically.

Southern Iraq, assured by Saddam’s capture, will finally show a restiveness that America can ill afford. This, we think, will shape whatever happens next in Iraq. As to what that shape will be --- we have no idea. In truth, the Bushies have been so blinded to what is happening in Iran that they don’t realize that the conservative mullahs are, ideologically, their best friends. We think the clerical Shia elite, which has obtained a considerable amount of capital, is eager to find an excuse to privatize, and to inject its capital into the global monetary flows. Whether that influences the Shia elite in Iraq is something we don’t know enough about to predict.

Montesquieu, in the Considerations, makes a very shrewd remark: Ce qui gate presque toutes les affaires, c’est qu’ordinairement ceux qui les entreprennent, outre la reussite principale, cherchent encore de certains petits succes particuliers, qui flattent leur amour-propre et les rendent contents d�eux.

(What spoils almost all affairs is that ordinarily, those who undertake them seek, outside of the principle goal, certain small particular successes, which flatter their amour-propre and make them satisfied with themselves).

This is the history of the last six months of the occupation of Iraq.”

Time, now, to play the combinations again with the upcoming June 30 handover of power to the Iraqis. First, though, we should recognize that the handover is a complete sham. Iraq will have “limited sovereignty,” as the Bush people put it this morning in the NYT, meaning the new government will neither be able to make laws, nor have any control whatsoever over American forces operating in their own territory. If its legs are made of cloth, there’s a hole in the back for a hand, and its jaws are operated by moving your fingers, it is properly a puppet.

The Bush policy, which has consistently been a mad real life version of what the King's Counselors advice in the Anderson tale of the King and the Invisible Clothes, will be to stridently insist that the puppet is a man. Although it will also draw a wink wink advantage from the puppet being a puppet.

In order to understand the context of the handover, one has to draw the major lesson of this long, terrible two week stretch: – Bush faces practically no domestic opposition. This has truly shocked LI. Kerry’s campaign is justly wounded, perhaps fatally, by the incompetence, wretchedness, and cynicism of the candidate during the last month. Kerry has broadcast, in pretty clear terms, the following message to the voters: under President Kerry, the best we can hope for is the dispatch of even more American troops to be killed in Iraq. To sweeten the thought, he does want to put a UNESCO sticker on every green helmet. Shall we put our hands in the air now, ladies and gents?

If that is an opposition, I say to hell with it. LI, the perpetual naïf, has been stunned that Kerry’s mind meld with Joe Lieberman has not evoked a whimper even from the supposedly independent left side. The Atrioses and the American Prospects don’t care what Kerry says – they simply want him to win. It is a replay of the far fetched scenario of Gore’s campaign – diss your most likely voters, and then try to bully them into not voting for a third party candidate who represents exactly what they believe. So we have the spectacle of Kerry applauding Sharon’s policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders (never mind that the policy will certainly be paid for in American blood in Iraq), a man who has yet to suggest how we could exit from Iraq, a man who so evidently disrespects the people of Iraq that it has not yet occurred to him that the solution, in Iraq, is to return Iraq to the Iraqis – we have this man, and we, Lefties all, are supposed to queue up to vote for him.

Kerry seems to have quickly jettisoned the Democrat persona he was forced to bear against Howard Dean, and arrayed himself as a Daschle moderate. Daschle’s strategy is to stand very firmly against privatizing Social Security, unless it is done under a Democratic administration. That is about it, in terms of principle and policy, the height and breadth of the Democratic commitment to anything like justice. Consequently, the Dems lose and lose elections. And they cling ever more tightly to their strategy. They do like to indulge in a rhetoric of indignation, but their acts breathe the corrupt air of complete submission. How could they not? These people go to the same country clubs as the Bush people, employ the same DC wonks, play the same trivial games of gotcha. It is painful to see how Kerry’s sex change of a campaign is being coddled on the left side. Very painful. Kerry needed Howard Dean, in the same way the Grandmother, in ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find,” needed the Misfit: ‘She would have been a good woman,” said the Misfit, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

So: Here is one given: the lack of any real opposition to Bush (and supposing, as I am beginning to, that he wins the presidential election, his upcoming victory becoming more and more evident over the next couple of months). And here is an event: the June 30th “handover”. What scenarios can we spin out of that?

The strong signal this week is the ‘appointment’ of Chalabi’s nephew, Salam to head the prosecutorial team against Saddam Hussein. Our December combinations were way too hasty about the trial, and very wrong about the modification of the Bush policy of pushing an autocracy on the Latin American model on Iraq. As has been well publicized, the U.S. has supplied Chalabi and his death squad with all of the records of Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Trials are well known instruments for legitimating the usurpation of power. Until recently, LI thought that the Chalabi plan was never going to come off – that the CPA itself, as well as the White House, was too riven by doubts about Chalabi to unite behind him. But things are beginning to take on that familiar, Rumsfeldian cast. Rumsfeld likes nothing better than a fait accompli. The apparent bumbling of the question, who are we turning Iraq over to? – dodged by both Bremer and Bush – might not really be bumbling at all. The full effect of the fait accompli is wrung out of an initial period of uncertainty. This has all the hallmarks of the classic Rumsfeldian M.O. Given the nonexistent state of the opposition to Bush, it is hard to imagine the anointing of Chalabi – as head of some puppet organization – will provoke an outcry among the Dems. His appointment, of course, will be conditioned by just that reference to “limited sovereignty.” Surely, the reasoning will go, Chalabi will not be able to do too much harm, given the limited extent of his power.

If Chalabi is given executive power in Iraq by the Americans, the combinations become very interesting.

On the one hand – Chalabi has been wooing Sistani intensely. On the other hand, Sistani knows that his own legitimacy could be endangered by embracing a man so disliked by Iraqis that in the admittedly imperfect ORI poll conducted in February, Chalabi was the most distrusted politician in Iraq – ranking well over Saddam Hussein himself.

Our guess is that if the Rumsfeldians put their little Mussolini in play, there will be: minimal opposition in this country; and fear and loathing in an Iraq squeezed between the bullying ur-Saddamist remnant and the Americans. Chalabi is no doubt combing the secret police files for things he can hold over Sistani or his associates. No doubt, he will find something. But we wonder if it will really count. So far, Chalabi has demonstrated a masterly understanding of Americans. But he seems genuinely puzzled by Iraqis.

The last time we played the combinations, we were more optimistic. We believed that the CPA’s battle with the Resistance would make the June 30th handover more important than the CPA knew. Imagine the CPA as Wiley the Coyote, and the June 30th date as a big black circle he’d painted on a rock, in the likeness of a railroad tunnel. Image Wiley hearing a whistle sound, and looking at his work in puzzlement, and then being run over by a train that comes through it. This, we thought, loomed as a real possibility, There is a budding civil society in Iraq. We know vaguely of its outline through the imperfect polls and the dumb sociology of newspaper and magazine articles, with their insistence on interviews with the man in the street. This is the movement that the Bush people will have to oppress if they are going to complete their dream of Iraq. Chalabi is the perfect instrument to do the Bush’s dirty work here. To avert that, LI’s hope is that those who were prepared to do organizational work for Kerry desert the sorry man, and organize for a long term anti-war campaign. Because this is going to be a very long and ugly war.

PS -- for a more optimistic view of the 'new' policy in Iraq, read David Ignatius' column in today's WP. LI once interviewed Ignatius, and came away with a very favorable impression. The man worked as a correspondent in Lebanon through the eighties, and has a pretty clear grasp of Middle Eastern reality, unlike his WP op ed colleagues.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Bollettino

Two sites to go to today.

One is Juan Cole’s excellent analysis of the current state of play in the Pentagon operation to make Chalabi our Somoza in Iraq. Cole encountered point man for Chalabi -- Perle -- at a Senate hearing, yesterday. As Cole points out, that Perle was testifying there at all is bizarre, since Perle's ignorance of Iraqi culture -- and Middle Eastern culture in general -- should surely bar him from testifying in a forum meant for expert testimony.

Yesterday, on NPR, they interviewed the man’s nephew, Salam, who is to be, in a bizarre and self-discrediting move, the official prosecutor of Saddam, and not one question was asked about his background. Also, LI was heartened to read Cole’s note because Cole takes the same position LI took since last year about Sisteni’s insistence on elections, and why they should have been held by now.

Second, the IWPR site publishes an excellent battlefield report on Falluja from an Iraqi perspective.


We particularly liked the visit to the sniper -- or the kidnapping to visit the sniper. The whole scene is like something from one hundred fifty years ago, in the Caucasus:

“In front of him, Aqil [one of the journalists] sees a man dressed in loose pyjama pants and a button-down shirt. Only his eyes are visible through his yishmagh.
Beside him is propped a Dragunov, a Russian-made sniper rifle issued only to the elite of the Iraqi military. Everything about the man, the room, and his weapon is spotlessly clean.
In a slow, deep voice, Abu Walid told Aqil that he had been brought here to "let American forces know about our power".
The American casualty figures – 70 soldiers killed throughout Iraq since April – are a lie, he says, "I myself killed maybe 100 soldiers. Every day we destroy at least three vehicles, just in the gateway to Fallujah, in Gurma. Americans are liars."

There is no ideological ax ground in the reportage, by the way. It is simply a narrative from a perspective that has been ridiculously neglected in the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Bollettino

Charming little site, crammed with old, rare texts and illustrations. I got this little anecdote from Taine’s The Life and Philosophical opinions of a cat. I thought, somehow, it applied to Iraq. Since we are all applying analogies to that happy country nowadays, I thought I’d apply one of my own. Although I’m still not sure what it means.
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“My paws having become solid, I ventured out into the world and soon became fast friends with a goose, an estimable beast, for she had a warm belly. I loved to crush myself under it , and while I was doing so, its philosophic discourses educated me. She said that the fore-court was a republic of allies, and that the most industrious, man, had been chosen for the leader, while even the dogs, although turbulent, were our faithful guards. I cried with tenderness under the belly of my good friend.

One morning the cook approached us with a benevolent air, stuck out her hand, and exhibited a whole handful of grain. The goose stuck out its neck, which the cook proceeded to grab, grabbing hold at the same time of a big knife. My uncle, an alert philosopher, hurried to the scene and commenced to exhort the goose, who was carrying on most indecorously: ‘dear sister,’ he said, the farmer, after having eaten your flesh, will be that much smarter and will watch that much better over our well being; and the dogs, being nourished on your bones, will be that much more capable of defending us. Under this torrent of words, the goose fell silent, for its head was totally cut off, and a sort of red pipe stuck out of the neck, which bled. My unclue hurried to the head and carried it away quickly; for me, a little taken aback, I approached the puddle of blood. Without reflecting, I dipped my tongue in it It was good blood, and I hurried to the kitchen to see if I could find any more.

“Mes pattes étant devenues solides, je sortis et fis bientôt amitié avec une oie, bête estimable, car elle avait le ventre tiède ; je me blotissais dessous, et pendant ce temps ses discours philosophiques me formaient. Elle disait que la basse-cour était une république d’alliés ; que le plus industrieux, l’homme, avait été choisi pour chef, et que les chiens, quoique turbulents, étaient nos gardiens. Je pleurais d’attendrissement sous le ventre de ma bonne amie

Un matin la cuisinière approcha d’un air bonasse, montrant dans la main une poignée d’orge. L’oie tendit le cou, que la cuisinière empoigna, tirant un grand couteau. Mon oncle, philosophe alerte, accourut et commença à exhorter l’oie, qui poussait des cris inconvenants : "Chère soeur, disait-il, le fermier, ayant mangé votre chair, aura l’intelligence plus nette et veillera mieux notre bien-être ; et les chiens, s’étant nourris de vos os, seront plus capables de vous défendre." Là-dessus l’oie se tut, car sa tête était coupée, et une sorte de tuyau rouge s’avança hors du cou qui saignait. Mon oncle courut à la tête et l’emporta prestement ; pour moi, un peu effarouché, j’approchai de la mare de sang, et sans réfléchir, j’y trempai ma langue ; ce sang était bien bon, et j’allai à la cuisine pour voir si je n’en aurais pas davantage.’
Bollettino

LI’s friend, R., recently got a job telemarketing a medical software designed to accelerate patientflow to various medical facilities in the Southwest. You can imagine how fun this is. The pay was great too – seven bucks per. Since R. had recently totaled his car, while experiencing an extensive stint of unemployment, he had to peddle to reach his well appointed office – which was a computer on the same table as the community fax machine, and a phone with a cord that didn’t quite reach all the way to his desk (meaning he had to leave the phone on the floor and wheel back in his chair and bend over and press the buttons on the phone to make the calls from the numbers listed on the Excel spread sheets with those same numbers listed before him). Since the bike ride was seven miles – downhill getting there, uphill getting back, R. would get tired going home, so he was always looking for shortcuts. Last Friday, he decided he would peddle to the nearest bus stop and go on the bus to the center of Austin, and from thence he’d peddle home, stopping on the way for a tall one. He took several buses that all ended up not going to the center of Austin, but that gave him much bus experience. So, he told me, “I’m sitting there and a guy comes in and he has a reddish, rather squashed face under a filthy gimme cap, and the bus is crowded. The squashed face guy sits down and looks across at this kid, a boy wearing a soft convenience store robbery type cap slouched in his seat in the inimitably insolent slouch of a teenage boy, and in a loud voice he says, how are you today kid? The kid doesn’t respond, so he says, that bad, eh? Then he looks around for people who might want to converse with him. Seeing nobody up to the task, he decided to utter loud aphorisms that we could all learn from, like: what goes around comes around; and (more obscurely) the terminator terminated.

“After a while, he got off the bus – although one had the impression that he got off at some randomly selected stop. He didn’t look like a man who had business to attend to. The man I was sitting next to kept watching him in fascination, and when he got off the bus he leaned forward and said to the large black man with the gold chain around his thick neck who was sitting there in front of us, did you hear that? The black man said, I heard it. The man said, he said, the terminator terminated. The black man said, I don’t believe that man was packing.”

R. told me this to impress me that the juice of life and the glory of literature was on the bus. He said, “I wouldn’t have been surprised if Van Gogh’s ear had raced down the aisle of that bus at that very moment, like a scared mouse. If you are looking for the very epicenter of American abjection, you will find it on the bus.”
I said, ‘am I looking for the very epicenter of American abjection? I thought I was writing a crime novel.”

These things have reminded LI of two recent reading experiences. Which we will get into in the next post.