Saturday, September 04, 2004


From the Figaro:

“The story resembles a bad film, but it happened, and it is disquieting for the fate of Russian journalism. Wednesday, attempting to go to North Ossetia by airplane, two famous reporters who have continued to cover the fighting against Chechnya independently could not land. This was because of an “aggression’ organized against them by alien muscovite forces. The first, Anna Politkovskaia, is well known for her courage and her pleas against the war in Chechnya.
She has served before as a meditator in the hostage taking in Moscov, October 2002. However this time, this was not possible. For Anna Politkovskaia was poined in the airplane that took her to the North Caucasus, after having drunk some tea. Falling violently ill, she was hospitalized at Rostov, then repatriated to Moscow. The form of the intoxication alerted her paper – the editor in chief of said paper, the Chekotchikhine journal, having been killed by a poison.

The fate of Andrei Babitski is also unclear. This Radio Liberty journalist was stopped by the police at the airport under the pretext that dogs had smelt a suspect odor in his baggage. As he tried, nevertheless, to board the plane, he was attacked by two individuals while a guardsman intervened. With the result that Babitski was accused of hooliganism and is now under provisional arrest. Yesterday, a court condemned him to five days of imprisonment. Why?”

Anna Politkovskaia's book of reportages from Chechnya was one of the best LI has read so far. One wonders: what is happening?

Friday, September 03, 2004


After I wrote the post below, lamenting the lack of attention paid to the connections between the Chechen guerillas and Al Qaeda, I read this dispatch in Liberation:

“Selon l'une des sources d'Itar-Tass, la prise d'otages de Beslan aurait pu être financée par un dignitaire wahhabite, Abou Omar as Seïf, émissaire d'Al Qaïda en Tchétchénie.”

“According to one of Itar-Tass’s sources, the hostage taking in Beslan might have been financed by a wahabi dignitary, Abu Omar as Saif, emissary of Al Qaeda in Chechnya.”

This is the organization that Bush claims to have mightily defeated. Claims, when he can be bothered to speak about the topic at all, to have directed such successful operations against the group that 2/3rds of the leadership has been disabled.

Funny, for a defeated group, they seem to have had a successful week – 2 planes down in Russia, one subway bombing, and now the massacre in Beslan. Further information on the connection between Al Qaida and the Chechen guerillas can be found in this interview Jacques Sapir in Humanite:

“You are talking about people who come from the exterior. Who are they?
Jacques Sapir: There has existed since the beginning of the 20th century a Chechen diaspora in the Middle East. A certain number of the members of this diaspora have been influenced by extremist groups linked to the Al Qaeda network. The disapora Chechens were present at the end of the first Chechen war in the territory of Chechnya. There role, which was then rather feeble up to 1997, has progressively acquired an influence which, while still remaining in the minority, has not stopped growing. The links between these militants and the Jordanian cadre of the Al Qaida leadership could explain the radicalization and the mode of operation of the last terrorist actions.”
(Vous parlez de gens qui viendraient de l’extérieur, qui sont-ils ?
Jacques Sapir. Il existe depuis le début du XXe siècle une diaspora tchétchène au Moyen-Orient. Un certain nombre de membres de cette diaspora ont été influencés par les groupes extrémistes liés à ce qu’on appelle la nébuleuse d’al Qaeda. Ces Tchétchènes diasporiques ont été présents dès la fin de la première guerre de Tchétchénie sur le territoire même de la Tchétchénie. Leur rôle était faible jusqu’en 1997, mais ces groupes ont acquis progressivement une influence qui, tout en restant minoritaire, ne cesse de s’accroître. Le lien entre ces militants et un certain nombres de responsables d’origine jordanienne d’al Qaeda pourraient expliquer la radicalisation et le mode opératoire des dernières actions terroristes.)


Perhaps there is something grimly apposite about the fact that the day the Republican Rapture winds down, hundreds of children apparently die in the storming of a school in Ossetia by Russian troops. There’s an odd parallel between Russian and American history – bombs go off in Moscow, in 99, and planes are driven into the WTC in 2001; Chechnya is made a living grave for political reasons in 95, and again in 99, and Iraq is being made into a democracy without democracy in 2004 with the U.S. using Grozny tactics in Falluja and Najaf.

So is this the future?

According to the Post story, the militia group that took the school was a mix of Chechens and others – including Chechen women with the bombs strapped to their body. We know these tactics, since they preceded the other Chechen wars. In 95 and 99, there was a sinister convergence between the interests of the Yeltsen and Putin cliques and the Chechen 'warriors'. Russia's political oligarchy, pursuing policies of self-enrichment and legalized banditry, was as unpopular as any government in Russia's history. So they took a leaf from Stalin's book, re the Patriotic War of 1941-1945, and made themselves a mini-Patriotic war.

That convergence has now been broken. The pieces from those other Devil's pacts are now running free. Chechnya was the original victim -- and now any area can be the victim, any group.

The close connection between the war in Chechnya and Al Qaeda’s operation, first in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan, still seems to escape most American commentators. A Chechen faction that saw itself as performing two tasks: destroying the Sufi heresy that predominated in Chechnya, and destroying Russian hegemony in Chechnya, has consistently innovated strategies that are taken up elsewhere by Al Qaeda and its associate groups. The Russians, meanwhile, have reverted, in their war against Chechnya, to the standard of military operation perfected by the Nazis. The destruction of Grozny, unprotested by the world, has left a deep impression on certain groups in the Moslem world.

As for a counter-strategy? How about this?

“I have been insulted! I have been hurt! I have been beaten! I have been robbed! Anger does not cease in those who harbour this sort of thought. 3

I have been insulted! I have been hurt! I have been beaten! I have been robbed! Anger ceases in those who do not harbour this sort of thought. 4

Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Must recommend an op ed piece in the Asia Times this morning. The intro graf of Ehsan Ahrari’s piece poses the question:

“If national-security issues are driving the US presidential race - and they certainly are - then why is President George W Bush not doing worse than his numbers currently show? …

The security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is worsening; however, the focus of presidential debate is not whether Bush misled the United States into invading Iraq - by harping on the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or that he should have stayed in Afghanistan and finished the task of eradicating al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. Bush's misinformation about Iraq and his faux pas regarding Afghanistan have been taken as facts. Yet the voters don't seem to want to punish him. At least that is not the case when one looks at these numbers. Perhaps the fault lies with Kerry.”

You think so? Why, Kerry, as all the Dem blogs assure us, is with us – in his heart. Sure, he would have voted to invade Iraq all over again – but that is a nuanced position! Sure, he has no plan to withdraw American troops – but watch him get French troops in there! Sure, his comments about what is happening in Iraq are undistinguishable, for the most part, from Dick Cheney’s – no support for elections, no comment on the American attempt to change, by invader’s force, Iraq’s whole economy in the face of overwhelming opposition, no grappling with the fact that, according to polls sponsored by the CPA itself before its self-administered euthanasia, the most unpopular force in Iraq right now is the U.S. Army – but he isn’t connected to Halliburton! Kerry’s margarine approach is astonishing – by this point he should have figured out that we actually want to hear about the larger problems posed by Iraq – namely, how to get along in a Middle East that is ruled by elites that are having a hard time holding a pro-U.S. line in the face of mass anger at this country. Kerry’s every instinct, when meeting a crisis, seems to be to form a committee. Surely, though, he can’t be that brain dead. And then there is the record on Israel, which it is just as well we don’t examine – it is too depressing.

Kerry’s me-too-ism has had one advantage over Bush – one’ s impression is that he is a more competent man. Even if Bush’s plans and goals are terribly wrong, the wrong is compounded by the way those plans are carried out – with awful and stupid negligence. Kerry has so far given the impression that he isn’t the type to allow an obvious idiot like Paul Wolfowitz to go around chewing out the Commander in Chief over a purely military question. This image of competence, though, is being damaged by Kerry’s response to the Swift Boat nonsense. If he can’t deal with a little dirty campaigning, voters rightly are going to think, the guy isn’t so competent after all.

This is where Ahrari’s piece gets interesting:

“The preceding are some of the reasons Kerry could not establish himself as a distinct and a different leader. But an additional factor should also be considered. The real problem with Kerry's candidacy is that he is a politician whose comfort zone has always been close to the center of a political spectrum. Consequently, he has gotten used to responding to his natural instincts, proclivities and impulses for moderation. In the post-September 11 era, such a politician cannot impress the voters, even when the record of the sitting president on the awesome issues of wars - to be precise, on the post-military campaign performance - in Iraq and Afghanistan is mediocre. The best Kerry seems to be offering to the voters right now is the Democratic Party's version of a mediocre presidential leadership. Why should the American voters defeat the sitting president with a mediocre record on national security and elect a senator who has thus far proved himself to be very much at home with playing it safe, remaining at the center, but never demonstrating courage as a politician to damn the torpedoes and moving full speed ahead on issues of national security? It may still not be too late for Kerry to do just that, accentuate his bold measures, especially regarding Iraq. A 2-5% lead for Bush is entirely spurious; it might dissipate almost instantly, but only if Kerry can imminently articulate the difference between him and his opponent. What should be the specifics of his bold approach? Well, only Kerry can articulate that approach, if he is serious about convincing the voters that there is indeed a Kerry difference that should be in White House for the next four years, instead of George Bush. “

Much better than all the bs that has been emanating, lately, from the lefty cheerleader blogs.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Lately, we’ve been reading the collection of Italo Calvino’s bric a brac published this spring as A Hermit in Paris. The book contains some essays, some autobiographical musings, and a journal of Calvino’s first journey to the U.S., in 1959, under the auspices of a Ford Foundation grant. We were fascinated to learn that the Ford Foundation, no doubt doing its cold war duty to advertise the culture of the free world, brought four European writers to America that year: Calvino, Hugo Claus, Arrabal, and Claude Ollier. Gunter Grass was supposed to be part of this merry band, but couldn’t make it. Calvino is nicely bitchy about his comrades -- Claus he doesn’t know and takes for granted is a minor from a minor country, Ollier – the nouveau romaniste -- he considers to be an ignoramus, and Arrabal the anarchist amuses him with his ceaseless complaints (for instance, Arrabal accuses Goytisolo of blocking his career in Francist Spain because he doesn’t write in the socialist realist strain and isn’t anti-Franco enough), in addition to which Calvino relishes the fact that, once the four land in New York, Arrabal is almost physically frightened of the beatniks he meets (like Alan Ginsburg, who comes to a party with a ‘disgusting black straggly beard, mistakes Arrabal for a kindred soul, since Arrabal also boasts a beard, and makes some moves on him): “Ginsburg lives with another bearded man as man and wife and would like Arrabal to be present at their bearded couplings. When I get back to the hotel, I find Arrabal looking frightened and scandalized because they wanted to seduce him.” Arrabal, Calvino claims, reveals that his set of beatniks in Paris are very clean, live in beautifully appointed houses with refrigerators and televisions, and “only dress up in dirty clothes to go out.”

Cold War culture, o saisons! o chateaux! Calvino loves New York. Nevertheless, he pulls himself out of it to travel around the country in 1960. Some of his comments have that visitor from another planet air about them, especially for an American. For instance, Calvino is a communist at this time. So he takes an interest in the 1960 presidential election. It is, he assures people in letters he sends back home, pretty much given that the Republican will win. This is good, because his opponent is a conservative Catholic. Calvino has seen enough conservative Catholics back in Italy. So much for the international charm of JFK.

One of Calvino’s autobiographical essays, Portraits of Duce, was published in the New Yorker last year. It is a catalogue of the images of Mussolini that Calvino remembers from childhood. And of how Mussolini’s face figured as more than an image of fascist power – it infiltrated the space of all faces in Italy in the fascist years.

Here is a graf::

“The other salient feature of these first official images of the dictator was the pensive pose, the prominent forehead seeming to underline his capacity for thought. In one of the affectionate games that people used to play at the time with children of one or two years, the adult would say, "Do Mussolini's face," and the child would furrow his brow and stick out angry lips. In a word, Italians of my generation carried the portrait of Mussolini within themselves, even before they were of an age to recognize it on the walls, and this reveals that there was (also) something infantile in that image, that look of concentration which small children can have, and which does not actually mean that they are thinking intensely about anything.”

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Sunday, August 29, 2004


A friend of mine who is pretty far to the right sent me an email about Swift Boat Veterans about a month ago. I thought, at the time: you gotta be kidding me. Bush, with an incredibly bad military record, can’t afford to open this little can of worms up.

I was wrong. The Bush campaign correctly gauged Kerry’s weakness – a massive, senatorial vanity that makes Oedipus’ hubris look like the shrinking modesty of a closet virgin. Kerry’s response has been, throughout, a comic exercise in hauteur. It is as if Kerry feels that we will all feel his pain that he, John Kerry, a senator, a presidential candidate, is being unfairly attacked in a tv ad. Wow – a presidential candidate attacked in a slimy way! That he has made this into an issue of Bush condemning or not the ads shows …. well, a pretty bad instinct in Kerry. Hardball does not consist of insisting that your opponent dominate the game. Surely even in the incubator of egocentricity and bad but expensive hair that is D.C., surely someone around Kerry could have gently said: get over it. But no: this utterly boring and irrelevant issue is bearing beautiful fruit for the Bush campaign. Kerry’s partisans are all in a lather – all of them amplifying the vanity response, all of them insisting on the utterly godlike heroism of the young Kerry, deigning to become a grunt from his position of privilege in the Ivies – we all should be so honored! I'm weeping in my whiskey! All of them determined to stick with the story of Kerry the hero unworthily blemished to the very end.

If, instead, Kerry had accepted being attacked, and attacked back – if he hadn’t sanctimoniously “condemned” moveon’s quite mild ads on Bush – he’d be in much better shape. Liberals have a tendency to confuse their arrogance with decency – they love that word decency – when, in reality, their niceness is all context dependent. I say: bring on the dirty campaigning. If I had inherited a million bucks, I could afford to be decent too. Or indecent. The truth is, most of us don’t have any choice about it – that’s what a restricted income does for ya. So we plug up the interstices with a few moral acts, gorge on superstitions in response to our dim awareness that we are vulnerable to everything in this universe and are going to die without having eaten enough, fucked enough, thought enough, or enjoyed any one moment enough, and plug along from one besotted moment to another thinking about sex, if we are lucky and our libido hasn’t been broken by our exhaustion. I really believe that the Dem establishment doesn’t have a clue. Hence, a small town Babbitt like Rove can look like a genius just for acting like a redneck drunk, since this provokes the most maddening, and unintentionally hilarious, responses from Dems. Their noses immediately go in the air. They act sullied. They begin talking about honor, by which they mean – I, me, my ego, my preciousness, was actually INSULTED by that lout. Can you imagine? This righteous indignation plays out as a particularly nauseating blend of petulance. The mask comes down. The hoi polloi insult and are insulted all of the time. It is our art form. And if you can’t deal with that, how are you going to deal with things like, uh, war?

It has still not resonated with the Dems that they are no longer the default party. Incredible as that seems, they still respond to these things as though they were still number one. This happens. Many American manufacturers, faced with competition from the Japanese in the seventies, folded not because the Japanese could make stuff cheaper, but because the Americans were arthritic about service, produced crap, had an executive structure that was stuck in cement, crushed innovation, and had so constituted themselves around a Pavlovian routine – put out crap, get back money – that they were unable to understand the changed circumstances.

This would be extremely funny if we had some other opposition party we could go to. Alas, the Dems are it, and their screw ups are threatening to land Bush, once again, in an office he so richly does not deserve.

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Lawrence's Etruscans

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