Saturday, March 15, 2003


Not funny, LI. Not original. Not eccentric. Not arty. Obsessive. One-noted. One- fingered. Over and over again.

Yes, we admit it. The war has sucked our very soul into the maelstrom. We see the war as more than simply the attack on Iraq -- we see it as a structure of rule. We see it as a sort of re-coding, a way of transferring and overwriting cellular codes for parasitic ends, for zombie purposes. How it is dead, and deadly, how it is leaden, how it trickles roach powder through the veins, how it perverts the fountains of inspiration and prophecy, how it pursues a cancerous course in the very ore under us and marrow within us, how it is a poison in our eyes, a narrowing of our breath, a sugar substitute in our sex. We see it as a return to deadly habits, a corpse like masturbation, churning with numb fingers the numb blind rod of no sensation whatsoever, De Sade's hoped for end, channeling a gray, waste seed into test-tubes, a sign of some essential deviation at the root, all paste and viagra and winey old men, breathed over by corruption, rich with fraud, succulent with beef fat stolen from every honest table. We see it as Gravity's Rainbow all over again.

How appropriate, as we heard on NPR today, that Stan Brakhage died this week.

Here's a quote from a Brakhage interview:

For me vision is what you see, to the least extent related to picture. It is just seeing -- it is a very simple word -- and to be a visionary is to be a seer. The problem is that most people can't see. Children can -- they have a much wider range of visual awareness -- because their eyes haven't been tutored to death by man-made laws of perspective or compositional logic. Every semester I start out by telling my students that they have to see in order to experience film and that seeing is not just looking at pictures. This simple idea seems to be the hardest to get through to people.
The War will not be subsidized.

In the dark months of 2001, as the U.S. was starting to campaign against the ever collapsable Taliban, D.C. rang with stories about post-Taliban Afghanistan. Of course, we knew that post-Taliban Afghanistan would be a paradise. US aid money flowing in. Reconstruction everywhere. Unveiled women, everywhere. Peasants and donkeys and chickens, all of them setting up little businesses, or... or franchises, on the American model, as you see it in Florida or one of those Southwest states. And when the war was won -- or when, at least, the Taliban had done its leaking act in Kabul -- the pledges became official. On April 18, 2002, Bush spoke at VMI and said:

"Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan develop its own stable government. Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan train and develop its own national army. And peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls, which works."

In order to achieve these aims, the Bush administration pledged $0.00 in its current budget. That's a little short of a Marshall Plan. That's, in fact, exactly the amount of money an absconding john leaves the whore who's in the bathroom. James Dobbins, who was Bush's envoy to Afghanistan, said about two months after Bush's statement that Afghanistan needs about 500 million dollars per year for the next few years in order to re-build. The Congress looks like it might cough up 250 million dollars this year.

One thing that should be noted about Bush's $0.00 pledge. It did not make headlines. It did not provoke controversy. It did not take up the newsspace taken up by, say, who was going to marry Joe Millionaire. It was noted by Jonathan Alter. It was noted by Josh Marshall. It might have been noted by a few more talking heads. But the country, on the whole, ignored it.

Whether that is a good or a bad thing is irrelevant. The fact is, there is no constituency for giving aid to Afghanistan. And there will not be one for giving Iraq, over the next two years, fifty to one hundred billion dollars.

Given this, here is the primer for the upcoming catastrophe:

1. Occupation is not peace. The media has defined the war as having a beginning -- when Bush declares it -- and an end -- when Saddam Hussein is dissolved. Now, the beginning, as we all know by now, has not been clear. In fact, it is unclear what Bush will declare, if we are actually engaged in warlike hostilities now, and who will be responsible for the war -- as in, you know, the marquis. Is it the UN vs. Saddam, the U.S. vs Saddam, or the Coalition of the Willing vs. Saddam? Similarily, the dissolution of Saddam ends only one phase of the war. The next phase, if the post-Saddam history of Northern Iraq is relevant, begins with squabbling between hostile factions that soon escalates into shooting. Plus, of course, with a soldiery strung out in Iraq and no central authority besides that army, the terrain and disposition of forces is ideally suited for suicide bombers.

2.You can't give what you take. As we've pointed out before, Paul Wolfowitz has testified that we intend to pay for the war with Iraq's money. At the same time, we intend to reconstruct Iraq. Those are mutually cancelling propositions. This is when the lesson of Afghanistan kicks in. There is no constituency in this country willing to see a transfer of about one hundred billion dollars to Iraq. And if the economy continues to suck, the pressure will be overwhelming to subsidize this war with the spoils.

3.A democratic government won't last if its strips the country of its wealth. Stripping, here, is pretty direct. We aren't talking fancy Swiss bank accounts. We are talking oil money going out in ways that everybody sees. If this is the American strategy, be prepared for a guerilla war.

4 The current civil society in Northern Iraq is endangered by American adventurism. Northern Iraq, and the Kurds, have become the stuff of propaganda lately. That there was no outpouring of admiration for their civil ways before 9/11 had a simple cause: for the first five years of the No Fly Zone, Kurdish factions killed each other. They also gave shelter to the PKK, a guerrilla group in Turkey that was as dirty as they come. This isn't to say that Northern Iraq hasn't made progress -- they have. They've done it in the way that progress is made -- it is a grassroots effort, and it takes security, money, and time. If the U.S. expects to 'integrate' Northern Iraq, by force, into its idea of Iraq, all of that progress will be undone.

The NPR interviewed Gordon Adams about the cost of the war a while back. Gordon Adams is some defense analyst. Here is his comment: "In Gulf War I, we paid $60 billion to fight the war. Our allies gave us back all but about $10 billion of that money. So it was--you know, Gulf War I was subsidized. Gulf War II will not be subsidized."

Friday, March 14, 2003


Comrades one and all....

There's a rather genteel exchange between Doug Ireland and Christopher Hitchens in this week's LA Weekly. It begins, unpromisingly enough, with Ireland writing: "My old friend Christopher Hitchens will be in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 15, for a debate at the Wiltern Theater." The phrase "old friend" pops up with distressing frequency whenever anti-war media people start writing about Hitchens. It's the friendship that blinds them, perhaps, to the kind of figure he is. This kind of transplant from the left to the right is a familiar figure in times of violent reaction. In France in the thirties, Drieu de la Rochelle moved from a radical branch of the Communist party to Nazi sympathizer, leaving behind a similar trail of "old friends." In Drieu's case, his politics had an echo on the national level in Doriot. The political fault lines aren't as hyper-charged at present, but the phenomenon Hitchens could prefigure some similar authoritarian politician -- somebody like McCain.

Ireland is 'shocked' to read that Hitchens gave an interview in which he remarks, casually, that he would have voted for Bush. No surprise there. Ireland, though, finds this all too upsetting, and sets down at his computer and mails his old friend some woolgathering emails that are pallid even by the low standards of the baby boomer New Left. Here, for example, is Ireland arguing that Bush, being against condoms, is for AIDS, and thus for "millions" of more deaths than can possibly be contrived by evil old Saddam.

"The effects of denying people access to condoms and science-based sex ed, not to mention the continuing efforts by the U.S. to blackmail countries on access to AIDS drugs and sabotage the WTO agreement at Doha that public-health crises take precedence over patents, means that millions and millions more will become infected and die between now and 2050, the earliest possible date by which � the scientists now tell us � we might reasonably begin to hope for an AIDS cure.These are not just people who�ve had sex, but their many children. That�s more than Saddam Hussein has killed, more than will be killed in the coming war (unless Dubya starts chucking around the nukes he has now authorized). There would be a huge difference on this issue between Bush and the likely (from here) Democratic nominee, Kerry. Just in terms of sheer numbers of dead, Kerry trumps Bush (and Saddam) on that one. Yes, I have been a sharp critic of the Democratic leadership, and will continue to be. But to go from that to supporting Bush in �04 and publicly urging others to do likewise seems to me to be a rather dangerous excursion into full-blown Stephen Spenderism, and very shortsighted to boot. So I�d ask you a further question: Since you suggest your commitment to social justice is undiminished, from what I have seen of your public expressions, how do you square that with this undiluted support for Bush�s re-election? Do you no longer believe in creating a democratic social-justice movement to work for change (however hopelessly)?I remain your affectionate friend, Doug (for regime change and revolution abroad and at home)"

The lather, the lather. Plus the revolution remark, in perfectly comic juxtaposition with the support for that old Jacobin, Senator Kerry -- an enemy of capitalism if there ever was one! Eventually, Ireland gets over the rubbers issue and down to the war, and Hitchens fills in the blanks with his usual debased rhetoric, which is all about Bush fighting a war against theocracy. Which prompts this kind of reply on the part of the hapless Ireland, always trying to figure out if Hitchens is just making some super-clever Marxist chessboard move:

"I still have trouble discerning a coherent politics of a progressive hue behind your support for the re-conduction of Bush in �04, as you claim."

Well, that's because there IS no progressive hue. There is, however, a huge amount of dishonesty. Hitchens simply substitutes one war for another. This is Hitchens' role. Like a lot of the DC commentariat, his propagandist function consists of putting a consistently moral interpretation on a consistently immoral policy. Because such a policy requires a maximum of secrecy, Hitchens is just as happy to discuss and debate the war as if it were his war. He is not tied to the reality of the war -- to the war that is supposedly going to cost two hundred billion dollars, to the war that is going to use up the blood of American soldiers, to the war that is going to be crowned, according to the administration, with the appointment of Jay Garner as crown prince of Iraq -- and so can defend the war of his fantasies.Slowly those fantasies will converge with reality -- the collapse of an ideological position usually involves some transition period in which you defend a radically different politics by claiming that your only real sin is a rigid consistency. Because Ireland is much too highminded to mention things like the cost of the war, the national interest of the U.S., and other technicalities -- because he wants his wars and his protests against them to be conducted on the purest ethical plane -- he's rather flummoxed by Hitchens. It is pretty easy to convince Ireland that roosters lay eggs. But, after searching high and low for Hitchen's subtle ultra left theory that would make even Vladimir Lenin's head spin (and we know he, too, was forever signing his emails "for regime change and revolution abroad and at home" -- what a fierce change agent that Vladimir turned out to be!), even Ireland is forced to face the fact that his buddy is a reactionary not that different from Charles Krauthammer or Karl Rove.

"Well, Hitch, I shall always love my friend, but I mourn the loss of my comrade. To see such talent as yours put at the service of a truly repugnant crowd like the Bushistas makes me weep. No doubt we�ll have occasion to continue this debate, even if we�ll soon be squabbling about whether all those coming deaths in Iraq have helped shape a better and more secure world."

Let's hope that debate never comes off.

Thursday, March 13, 2003


LI recommends our long suffering readers turn to Carlos Fuentes piece in the LA Times today. It is as clear as baby's breath: Mexico has always followed the policy of opposing unilateral, unprovoked intervention by the U.S. in Latin America, and it should continue to follow that policy in the Middle East. In other words, gently but firmly dissent from the Bush juggernaut.

"Mexico actively opposed U.S. aggression and intervention in Guatemala in the 1950s; in Cuba and the Dominican Republic in the 1960s; and in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Granada in the 1980s. During the Central American wars, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda Sr. built, with French minister Claude Cheysson, the Franco-Mexican accord that gave political status to the Salvadoran guerrillas over the objections of the United States. Then-Foreign Minister Bernardo Sepulveda was the engine behind the Contadora Group -- Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela -- that sought solutions for peace. In these last two cases, Mexico's opposition to the U.S. was riskier than a U.N. vote on Saddam Hussein.

In the face of open aggression and intervention by the Reagan administration against Central America, Mexico worked for a peaceful solution that took the initiative away from Washington and placed it in the hands of the Central Americans. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias' Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 is a testament to that. In all those instances when Mexico has shown its independence, Washington signaled its anger but did nothing against Mexico. It didn't do anything because it couldn't. In the name of what?"

Of course, the below the surface story here is probably intriguing. Fuentes was as shaped and honed by the old PRI system as the widespread graft and one party elections of yore. He was the son of an ambassador, and went to school in D.C. His politics, fashionably soixante-huitarde at one time, have gravitated well to the right. On wonders how much of what Fuentes is writing is a signal sent, discretely, across the border by Bush's friends below it. Even Fuentes, however, sees what the current dust-up is all about:

"Mexico's political independence in the case of Iraq will contribute forcefully to what the world most needs: a counterpoint to U.S. power. The real danger in our time is not the miserable Hussein. It is a unipolar world dominated by Washington. Creating that counterbalance is a political necessity. Future governments, but especially the democratic government of the United States, will end up thanking France, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Russia and China for their efforts to create a counterpoint to the United States."

The counterpoint to the U.S., in truth, will come not in the shape of a diplomatic hybrid of varied nations -- it will come in the form of the natural, internal brake exerted by 400 billion dollar deficits, plus 800 billion dollar giveaways. The structure will buckle under that much weight. As usual, it will be the population that doesn't make as much in a year as Dick Cheney will get back in tax refunds that will bear the insupportable costs of foreign policy adventurism. And so disaster shadows us, the flood tide just beyond the horizon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


The response to 9/11 -- that Magna Carta for a heady dose imperialism with the riding whip, according to the Bushies -- is most interesting in the refusal to, well, see 9/11. How many articles begin just like this one, from John Lloyd, in March 7's Financial Times:

"Violence," says Joseph Nye, former US assistant secretary of defence, now dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard, "is democratised. War has been privatised. The price of entering a communications network is very low. Terrorists can operate much more easily, do much more damage, than at any time since terrorism began." That technological advances have put mass destruction in the hands of small groups or individuals has become a familiar concern. The mobilisation of tanks and army units around London's main international airport at Heathrow recently was assumed to be against such a threat: several newspapers sketched a lone rocketeer peeking out, SAM missile-launcher on shoulder, from behind bushes on the flight path."

In fact, the technology for what the 19 hijackers did has been available for the last fifty years. The main difference, perhaps, between a 9/11 in 1955 and a 9/11 in 2001 was the size of the plane, and the size of the buildings it brought down. But Nye's comment about terrorists operating "much more easily, do [ing] much more damage, than at any time since terrorism began..." is driven more by a theory that requires this to be the case than what the case is. What we know about Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is -- the leadership escaped on horseback. What we also know is that Afghanistan and Sudan were the headquarters -- not Silicon Valley. We know that that this terrorism wasn't state sponsored -- rather, states' paid off Al Qaeda, the way the Byzantine empire paid off wandering Bulgars. And, in the two years since the Al Qaeda operation, not once have I seen, in any major U.S. newspaper or magazine, the merest hint about what, exactly, the charity networks traversing the Middle East are all about. The assumption that Middle Eastern states and Islamic charities exist in the same kind of relation as the Red Cross and Switzerland has never been penetrated -- but from the little LI can gather about the subject, Islamic charity has a much richer history than that, is much more connected to the way people get by in, say, Somalia or Yemen or Egypt, and have gotten by since the Ottomans. Decimating those networks, as we are intent on doing, means replacing them with more state sponsored networks at a time when the revenue of the states is going more into paying past debts than into creating safety nets.

So why do we get people like Nye spouting obvious nonsense, and newspapers like the Financial Times publishing it? Because the idea that it ISN'T necessary to acquire a lot of technology to attack the U.S. -- that you can do as much damage with a passenger airliner as you can do with the most advanced bomb --hurts the self-image of the U.S. We have a vested interest -- we vest 300 billion dollars in it per annum -- that the more James Bondian our weaponry, the more overwhelming our successes. The idea, so far, that you have merely to strap a gasoline tank to you and set fire to it in a crowded bus is one that hasn't sunk into the official U.S. mindset -- so much so that no one draws the connection between the suicide bombings in Israel/Palestine and the potential for same in a U.S. occupied Iraq. Discussion is always getting detoured about how the natives, after we greet them lovingly with our 3 000 smart bombs, will be rushing to the Baghdad florists and candyshops to buy our GIs flowers and candies. It is almost enough to make the smart investor want to invest in some Iraqi Lady Godiva Chocolatier before the fete is over. But hey -- what if the natives are less than appreciative of our smart bombs? What if they grow restless being bossed about, for two years, by Donald Rumsfeld's old senile friend, Jay Garner, the apparent heir to the Iraq satrapy?

We are headed into a situation that is perfect for the kind of fighting that the Spanish did with Napoleon's troops, two hundred years ago -- stringing out 60 to 100 thousand U.S. soldiers over a territory bigger than Yugoslavia, and expecting them to stay there for two years.

Amazing. There's a very nicely turned phrase about a man who overshoots his mark in P.G. Wodehouse's Heavy Weather, where Wodehouse comments that he had the look that Samson must have had when he heard the pillars crack. LI definitely thinks we are heading for a Samson moment.

Monday, March 10, 2003


�I have no hope that things will go right or that men will think reasonably until they have exhausted every mode of human folly�.
-- James Froude

The Salisbury Review is a hugely enjoyable enterprise. Every quarter it is filled with weepy forebodings about the future, imprecations of the present, and misty yearning towards the past. The past as scripted by Walter Scott, we believe. The quote from Froude is taken from an article about him in the Winter, 2000 issue. One gets a whiff, here, of a sort of Bertie Wooster Toryism that is relieved, marginally, by the sex appeal of Margaret Thatcher, but reverts to a pottering melancholia as instinctively as the groundhog reverts to his burrow:

"The race to which Victorian England was committing itself in his day � which I suppose is what ordinary people now refer to as the �rat race� � has provided the Labour Party and the Liberals (in all their varieties) with the opportunity to recover every item of clothing stolen from them by the Conservatives over the last 150 years. This competitive society has spawned an education system which is seen by most parents as a means of enabling their children to rise in the volatile social scheme of things. It is the very reverse of the older order which said �Like father, like son�. John Ruskin described it unforgettably in Sesame and Lilies:

But, an education �which shall keep a good coat on my son�s back; - which shall enable him to ring with confidence the visitors� bell at double-belled doors; which shall result ultimately in the establishment of a double-belled door to his own house; in a word, which shall lead to advancement in life; - this we pray for on bent knees � and this is all we pray for.�

That's the spirit! A John Coleman wrote the Froude article. An Alfred Sherman writes a paen to the S.R. as a voice crying in the wilderness, which wilderness has overtaken civilization for some time -- 200 years at least. British conservatives are so much more advanced than American ones -- while Americans pine for Victorian virtues, the Brits realize that everything was lost around 1688. Here, let's pour on some prose:

"Conservatism restored is a construct unlike natural conservatism, which in its day entailed hallowing the status quo because it was the status quo, �all that is is right.� By 1982, very little of that was left. The Labour victory of 1945 had changed not only the face of Britain but also the Conservative Party. It had become Butler's party in all but name, a variant of socialism.
In 1982, when the Review was founded, was a time of hope, Margaret Thatcher reigned with bold Conservative rhetoric. But decades of disappointment continued to follow. During the following twenty years our awareness of the rigours, of deception grew pari passu with the oppositional stance of the Review, which has of necessity become a voice crying in the wilderness. Margaret Thatcher remains a key figure in British politics of the last quarter of the century, subject to continuous reinterpretation. That she towered above our narrow world like a colossus is beyond argument..."

Change and decay in all I see, cried one of Evelyn Waugh's characters.

In another article, the questionis posed: Is the European Union the new Soviet Union?
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. Vladimir Bukovsky, the author of this article, is amazed at the allowance of democratic elections in such places as Poland, and the inexplicable bombing of Milosovic, a good anti-communist if there ever was one. Bukovsky's ramblings were vocalized, according to the article, in the House of Commons, where no doubt they did everybody a lot of good.

Sometimes we need a shot of the real rightwing stuff -- it is so far out that it is sort of hippie-like. This is politics of. by, and for hobbits

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...