“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, June 03, 2005

the good news just keeps pouring in...

“The Bush administration tried this week to counter the impression that Mr. Zarqawi and other insurgents were derailing the nascent Iraqi political process. Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that American and Iraqi forces over the past few months had killed about 250 members of Mr. Zarqawi's network, including some top lieutenants, and captured more than 400.

General Myers, appearing Wednesday with Mr. Rumsfeld, said the number of attacks against American forces was down 20 percent from peaks last November, during the battle of Falluja, and in January, before the elections. But he did not mention that attacks had doubled, to about 70 a day now, from early April.”
NY Times


Thirty members of the Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve died in the Iraq war in May, matching the highest toll for any month of the war, according to Pentagon figures…

The Guard and Reserve, which make up nearly half the force in Iraq, have generally had fewer than 20 deaths per month during the war, and it's not clear why their losses spiked to 30 in May. That matched the 30 deaths among the Guard and Reserve in January, and it compared with 11 in April, 13 in March and 16 in February.
-- USA today

war, what is it good for -- let me count the ways

Harry has an interesting and almost irony free post here which makes the very good point that those who toss around the chickenhawk label when it comes to the pro-Iraq war set aren’t exactly besieging the military recruitment offices to serve in Afghanistan and Kosovo. The larger point is that chickenhawk-hood is a status that crosses the ideological line between liberal and conservative.

That’s an important point. In fact, it was Clinton’s own shifty ways of getting out of fighting in Vietnam that made it hard to countenance his own use of military force in Kosovo. Clinton is a very clever man – he knew this was true. But to be president of the United States is to be president of a country that routinely spends about a trillion dollars every four or five years on the military. That spending is to war like the civit musk is to perfume – it is the pure essence. One simply has to find the right solution to dilute it in. Orwell was right: we live in a society that is perpetually at war.

What infuriates liberals is that Bush has escaped the shadow of non-service that haunted Clinton. How did this happen? LI suspects that, after 9/11, Bush was inoculated from all the damning old questions. But, unlike Harry, we don’t think that the liberals are wrong to push this agenda, even if they are hypocrites to do so. Hypocrisy is just another name for checks and balances – one opposes those forms one used to support when they turn against you. Short term memory loss is a politicians stock in trade. One of the symbolic checks on turning our in vitro wars into the real bloody thing is that there is a scale of responsibility, such that nobody can escape some participation. This was true after the civil war – it was one of the reasons that the Robber Barons achieved political power by supporting politicians instead of becoming politicians, since the J.P. Morgan set profited hugely from the Civil War by renting succedanea to serve for them – and it seems to have been true all the way up to 1992. That the last two presidents have defied that rule is not good – it shows a crack in the structure of symbolic equality that used to support the democratic culture in this country. It is as much a symptom of a country heading down the path of castes as is the salaries of CEOs.

A deeper mistake, we think, of the anti-war side is one we commit all the time – the reliance on the rebarbative horror of war. Lee was right – it is good that war is so horrible, lest we enjoy it too much. War is fun. There is no way around that. For proof, you can look no further than a five year old boy with a plastic soldier and some acorns to throw. Or the fifteen year old with the interactive game. War has always been fun. We need a whole structure of symbolic prohibitions – call it civilization – to keep the war of all against all from breaking out. Or to sublimate it. When the symbolic code that shames the person who supports a war from making some sacrifice for it – joining it, having his or her kids join it, paying for it – breaks down, that is bad news beyond the lesser question of whether liberals or conservative, little enders or big enders, are being coherent.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

LI was planning on springing a grand sounding post on our readers entitled the Crisis of the Liberal Order – sweet, eh? Alas, our schedule is a bit too crowded today for the erecting of such monuments (or tombstones). We’ve been rather surprised by the commentary that followed the French no. The crowd at Crooked Timber became apoplectic about the whole thing. Ourselves, we think that the comment made by John Rentoul in the Independent is on the mark:

“French voters have given all sorts of reasons for voting No, many of them contradictory, but there can be little doubt that in the longer perspective of history, it will be seen as a vote that said: 'So far and no farther.' I would not characterise the mood of European peoples as being satisfied with the state of the Union, but the French referendum suggests that the balance between the powers of the nation state and the centre is regarded as being about right. The expansion from 15 to 25 members last year was a huge change not just in the size but in the nature of the Union, which many in France did not like because it diminished their influence. They did not want to take the risk that the constitution would set the seal on that diminution.”

On the other hand, like most English and American commentators, Rentoul follows this with the usual fallacious economic analysis:

“For some time, the argument has been moving in Britain's favour towards labour market flexibility and against counterproductive social protection. Franco-German attempts to 'protect' people's welfare by loading costs on employers and by protection against imports has resulted in high unemployment at home and poverty abroad.”

This is, firstly, an analysis with which LI vigorously disagrees. The French and German malaise is only partly due to rigid labour markets – it is mostly a typical Keynesian crisis, too much savings, not enough demand. To jigger with the labour markets (and even LI can concede that some tradeoffs may be necessary) before doing something about the tendency of the French and Germans to save instead of consume (because – of course – they are afraid of what happens when labour market flexibility means sinking wages and more unemployment – as they should be) is typical Thatcherite nuttiness.

In any case, the effort to achieve a scale that will preserve the will of the people, however attenuated the echo, within governable unity, is viewed, by some soi disant lefty-libs, as a sin as mortal as smoking at the non-smoking table. Serge July, in his editorial in Liberation (the message of which was so mangled by Jefferson Morley in the Washington Post roundup of media reaction to the Non that it provides prima facie evidence for our suspicion that American papers are only correct about a third of the time when it comes to reporting events that happen in non-English) reacted like a typical Euro-zombie:

“Referendum on the enlargement. Between the specter of Turkey which unambiguously points to the Moslems and the unfortunate Polish plumber, foreigners have been invited to stay home. Le Pen xenophobe, you can bank on that, but letting the leaders of the left make a campaign on this terrain, as Chirac in 2002 did on crime, one believed that xenophobia unthinkable…”

The collapse of distinctions, here, is the basis of the somnambulism. The enlargement was not a triumph of cosmopolitanism, but a disaster created by a very old politics – the politics of the Cold war. Poland and Central Europe were engulfed en masse even though their economies are not a natural fit for the older economies of Europe – far from it. Just as France began the European project by making the move to ally with (and limit) its old enemy, Germany, thus cementing sixty years of unparalleled prosperity and peace, so, too, the natural thing for Poland and Hungary to do would be to ally with Russia. The very thought gives the Americans the willies. Hence, the pressure to do what the EU did – in the process, screwing the populations of Germany and France. Turkey, we think, should certainly be a target of massive EU aid – as Greece was in the sixties. But the EU shouldn’t be a monster clone. Blind to this, the political class has decided that protests against it should be met with moral shaming. July is typical, here.

The best response we’ve read was Neal Ascherson’s in the Independent.

“As a British citizen, I signed an open letter begging the French to vote 'Oui'. But if I had been a French citizen, I would have voted 'Non'. I signed because the impact of the French 'Non' in Britain could only be dire. It gives heart to Europhobes of right and left who want to dismantle the supranational structures of the European Union. It will close more windows in Little England, leaving it an even smaller, darker, more asphyxiating place.

For France, though, Sunday's vote was a much-needed explosion of liberty. Many passions burst through, some of them rational and others ugly. There was loathing of the Chirac government. There was fear for jobs as industry relocates in cheaper lands, and foreign workers ('the Polish plumber') compete to provide services. There was dislike of the neo-liberal, 'American' social model, seen by many French as a betrayal of the old 'social' caring principles of partnership around which the European project was built.
But above all, there was a sense that the constitution was an insult to French intelligence " all the more painful because it was prepared by complacent French statesmen. One of my French nephews told me: 'I voted No because this is such a bad text. This is not a constitution at all, which should be drawn up by a democratically-elected assembly. This is just a treaty.'”

Alas, the July response – symptomatic of the petrification of intelligence in the PS – still seems dominant among the left's European leaders. The anger that Fabius ‘betrayed” the left by moving to the popular no side is one of the great and peculiar things about the affair, with Jack Lang’s comments (all the old corrupt Mitterardians) particularly offensive. Fabius saved the credibility of the party. It is that simple. That the militants voted to support something that was total anathema to the constituency is viewed, from the July heights, as a betrayal – by the constituency! Yes, get rid of this people and get me another one -- which is, effectively, what the enlargement means. The problem with the PS is the problem of all liberal parties in the West – the Democrats, the SPD, the Labour party – a misalignment between leadership and constituency. Frankly, the rich, white male leadership of the Democratic party would like to be leading another sector of the population than the one most loyal to them – that old and unexciting one of the unions, the blacks, the divorced women, etc. How much groovier to cherry pick among the Republican constituency – those Chablis drinking urban professionals with the fabulous apartments who understand the need for flexible labor markets. That the glass ceiling for blacks in the Democratic party is harder than it is in the Republican party says a lot about the demoralized state of the former. In France, however, there is a mobilized and active left that can simply reorganize – and might – outside the holy precincts of the PS. If the Socialist leaders continue to think of themselves as the secret Tony Blair party in Europe, they are doomed.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

war for the fans

The month began with great, obsequious stories in the NYT about how the war is now over (except for getting the native guards armed and trained) in Iraq. It ends with more than twice the number of Americans killed than were killed in March, with the latest being the four that went down in a single engine plane – bizarrely, the U.S. has apparently decided to outfit the Iraqi airforce with planes that you can also rent for birthdays and holiday travel. Must mean, according to the wondrous pretzel logic of the Pentagon, that we are winning. This logic has two sides. When casualties go down, it is obvious that we are winning. And when casualties go up, it is obvious the other side is desperate.

This logic is also used by six year olds to explain why they don’t want to eat the vegetables.

In fact, this has penetrated the Times enough that they are starting to question their own ludicrous headlines of last week. Remember that 40,000 Iraqi troops were supposed to be sweeping Baghdad this week. A week later, the wakeup is setting in – hey, they don’t have 40, 000 troops. Well, gee, that was hard to figure out.

In other post Memorial military news – there is a fascinating story in the Globe about Col. David Hackworth. He’s being buried at Arlington. One of the most decorated American soldiers, and one of the most hated by the Pentagon. He’s the guy who appeared on Dick Cavett in 1971, in full dress uniform, and said, hey, we should get out of Vietnam. We’ve lost. He’s also the guy who pulled the plug on the wearing of fake medals by chief of naval operations, Admiral Jeremy M. ''Mike" Boorda. Boorda committed suicide over the charge, showing – to put it delicately – that this was not a man one wanted in command of a unit that could come under fire.

“He earned a a chestful of medals, including two Distinguished Service Medals, 10 Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and eight Purple Hearts. His adversary became the US military bureaucracy, which he railed against for 30 years on grounds that it failed to put the troops first. He also opposed military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, and especially Iraq.But while the military leadership may be absent from the funeral, hundreds -- and probably thousands -- are expected to attend. The numbers would be larger, except that many who consider him a hero aren't in Washington. Hackworth became a touchstone for soldiers in the Middle East who questioned the Pentagon but didn't feel comfortable raising complaints with superiors.''He had an incredible communication line to the barracks and the trenches," said Roger Charles, president of Soldiers for the Truth, Hackworth's organization, which has a website that averages about 1 million hits a day.

''He answered all the e-mails."

Soldiers for Truth is an interesting site. It is written in that Military Speech so popular in paperback romances about Navy Seals and such –yes, there is a whole genre out there. And, of course, it bristles with conservative biases. But it is also informative. This article about deserters, for instance, is well worth reading. The author can’t understand why the army and marines aren’t going after deserters. LI can. This is an unpopular war already. Its continuation is built on what might be called the Memento premise. Assuming that America is subject to short term memory loss, the Bush agenda is to exploit the diminishing attenting span for maximum gain. Thus, the planned program of non-sacrifice – as long as the American population can be insulated enough to neither feel nor think about Iraq, it will begrudge the Neocon adventure. That means no draft, and no going after deserters in such a way that it would make the news. It means no pictures of coffins or the wounded. The whole point of the Bush administration is to coddle its constituency, which will ultimately be the victim of Bush policies, by moving the impact of those policies forward into the future. The IOUs for the tax giveaway to the rich and the abuse of the national and state guard are products of a unified political logic. In a sense, the Bush administration wants to make the war like a specialized cable channel – an ESPN war. In America, the war is only supposed to be for its fans.

Monday, May 30, 2005

the national imaginary

LI wrote a friend last night that we were proud of France. And indeed, we are. From the U.S. perspective, it might seem that the oui vote was a sad necessity. Creating a counter-balance to the mad, bad power of the U.S. seems like a good idea, if you live in a place where they broadcast excerpts of speeches by Bush on the radio. I was vaguely of that opinion. But a less heated perspective is in order. The peculiar U.S. move for a harsher and more direct hegemony is meeting its natural limits already. It isn’t just the fact that the U.S. economy is fueled by an unsustainable explosion of private and public debt – there is also the very real regionalisation of America’s natural peripheral economy, Latin America, with its tendency to turn its back on the U.S. and its face towards China – it is the fatal overstretch of military power, rapidly coming to the point at which Bush will have to decide whether to pull back or destroy his popularity by asking for (gasp!) such sacrifices as a draft would entail. And there is the silent, spreading collapse of pension plans, from the 300 billion dollar deficit for public employees in the states to the crisis in GMFordDaimlerChrysler. Plus, what does it mean to “create” a counter-balance? This is the kind of things elites jump on. So – the non campaign in France, as one sifts through the data, seems to have localized in the old left.

When the Left’s incubus, France’s answer to Tony Blair, Lionel Jospin, jumped in to support Chirac, it was a sign that the constitution was doomed. But the dooming of the constitution was merely a sign of a much deeper discontent with the dirigiste class. In truth, the consensus among Left and Right policymakers since around 1985 has been that Europe must adopt Thatcher lite policies. Which is why you could put in your input – vote – for either party, and you’d get the same output – liberalization. That nobody wanted it didn’t matter – the elites, who will benefit the most from it, decided that it was good for you. The Left honchos decided to disguise their adoption of the economics of Thatcher by annexing the ideology of a charity. In this way, not only could they destructure working class culture and destroy its economy, but they could also shame them for being racist. A moral two-fer! And thus was born that curious bird, the upper middle class liberal – absolutely passionate about preserving, say, Aborigine cultures in Australia, while at the same time profiting hugely from the destruction of manufacturing culture here at home.

While LI is on board with the civilization project – the destruction of racism, homophobia, sexism and the rest of the Unbehagen in our culture – we are maximally suspicious of the emigration of liberating rhetoric to support liberalizing (read – anti social insurance) projects. The winner in France could be the Fabius wing of the PS. It was Fabius (a sort of PS John McCain) who said the obvious about the constitution last year – what kind of constitution goes to five hundred pages? If only the PS can break with the essential defeatism of its leadership – who still dream of being the Third Way, Blair’s partners in an Anglo-Saxon Europe – they can fill the vacuum between Sarkozy (France’s scariest politician) and Le Pen (an old clown whose moment of prominence in the last election disguised the fact that he received pretty much the vote he always received – it was the Socialist collapse that made it appear new and startling). The two English analyses we liked best were by Larry Elliott and Will Hutton.

However, as a sample of elite opinion, we recommend, for those of you who read French, this article that first appeared in Liberation last year. “Derriere la social, la nation” by Francois Dubet is a perfect expression of elite contempt for the working class – time to liquidate the rednecks – in the form of a diagnosis of the ‘non’ mentality. For the elite, labor mobility is an essential and non-problematic part of capitalism. LI actually thinks that this is probably true – but we also think that it is a truth from which the elite is comfortably insulated, since, somehow, French companies don’t look for cheaper CEOs among Algerian immigrants. That the sector of society most insulated from competition is always urging the sector most exposed to it to just get over it somehow, gosh, gets the peons mad. Imagine that! The keynote of Dubet’s analysis is struck, here: “Everywhere [in Europe’ things seem “normal” save in France, where there is installed a no of the left identified with resistance to savage liberalism, the defense of public services and social attainments uprooted from the thread of its history and its struggles. In France, the claims and social worries traditionally borne by the left tip towards the defense of a national identity: the social becomes national. One could think that French particularity is enough to understand and justify this weirdness. [I can’t translate the full, rich flavor of that last sentence. In the French it is “On peut penser que la « spécificité française » suffit à comprendre et à justifier cette bizarrerie.”]

Having embraced the jet and been to New York, how are you gonna keep em down on the farm in Poitiers? seems to be the underlying message. The weird idea that you should defend a – shudder – nation, of all things, percolates through Dubet’s sociologue’s soul like a laxative. Everything is here. Professor Dubet would, himself, definitely be throwing caution to the wind and climbing the barricades himself, but alas, the ‘revolutionary project’ is dead. Rather convenient, actually. It means that the defense of the left’s successes, the social democratic state, can only be undertaken by a mutton headed left that doesn’t understand this central point and is obviously latently racist. The proof? Why, the incomprehensible idea that the scale of governance should be at the level of the traditional nation:

“Beyond the critique of liberalism, of which a constitution could always protect us more than an accumulation of free exchange treaties, the no of the left expresses the defense of a national republican model anchored in the heart of our “imaginaire politique.”” Actually, the first clause of that sentence is absolutely bogus. But the main thing, here, is the socio-psychoanalysis a la Lacan’s imaginaire – a handy scalpel suddenly appears in Dr. Frankenstein’s hand, and now he can go to work. “

"The sage alternativist appeals to international economic regulation don’t resist a radical anti-capitalism that is not even associated to a revolutionary project. Under the pretext of refusing ultraliberalism, all the “others”, from within or without, appear as potential enemies. The cultural claims are rejected from the outset into the hell of communitarianism, even if we become, us too, more and more communitarian, as a good part of the left finds itself silent in the face of demonstrations against “anti-white” racism or the banal xenophobia against the entry of Turkey.”

Never has the appeal to one’s virtuous adherence to the “revolutionary project” served a more abject goal as the shoring up of the constitution of Valery Giscard D’estaing. It is, depressingly, but not surprising, that this stuff was reprinted in Multitudes, the on-line outlet for the Badiou-wing of radical philosophy. This is Rawlsism with a Che Guevara face. And it stinks.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Memorial Day

H.R. 1815 SEC. 1223. WITHDRAWAL OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES FROM IRAQ. It is the sense of Congress that the President should-- (1) develop a plan as soon as practicable after the date of the enactment of this Act to provide for the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq; and (2) transmit to the congressional defense committees a report that contains the plan described in paragraph

LI got this from Scratchings. The resolution was defeated, 128 to 300. However, it is the first time this kind of resolution reached the floor. Plus, the Republican who is most famous for having French fried renamed Freedom Fries not only voted for it, but he spoke for it. This is from Truthout:

Perhaps the most important speech in favor of an exit strategy came from Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). His district in North Carolina is one that is very supportive of the military. His opposition to the continuation of the war is of interest because he had been a supporter of the war, a point he highlighted in his opening: "This is about a policy, that I believed when I voted 2 years ago to commit the troops that I was making my decision on facts. Since that time I have been very disappointed in what I have learned about the justification for going into Iraq." He explained:
" . . . all this amendment does is just say that it is time for the Congress to meet its responsibility. The responsibility of Congress is to make decisions whether we should send our men and women to war or not send them to war. What we are saying here tonight is we think it is time for the Congress to begin, to start the debate and discussion of what the exit strategy is of this government . . ."

If the antiwar movement – what there is of it – could just overcome its delusion that it should be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party and work for, well, the end of the American involvement in the war – work, that is, to create an anti-war wing in both parties, which we believe would be relatively easy to do – who knows, we might be able to save a ten thousand plus American lives, plus God knows how many Iraqi ones.