Monday, April 30, 2007

Suffering Contests

Susan Estrich, the Rangel-voiced member of Fox News' cast of Democrats you love to hate, comes right out and says what people with more grace have only been strongly hinting at: Barack Obama could be in trouble because of his failure to appropriately genuflect to Israel as one of the U.S.'s BFF's in last week's Democratic primary debate.
Asked about America's best friends in the world, Obama waxed on about NATO and our European allies before looking east to Japan. I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I've been around debates for decades and it was clear that Obama didn't get that this was the Israel question.

He didn't get that people like me, voters and donors, were waiting to hear the word "Israel" in a way that Japanese Americans were not. Japan doesn't live under constant threats; Israel does. Japanese Americans don't worry about Japan's survival in the way Jewish Americans worry about Israel. Obama's answer, in my book, was the biggest mistake of the debate.

Even when prompted by Brian Williams, who followed up by pointing out that Obama had neglected to mention Israel, and reminded him of his comment that "no one had suffered more than the Palestinian people," Obama still didn't get it right.

Sure, he said that Israel is an important ally, but his clarification of his "poor Palestinians" comment only left him further in the hole. His point, he emphasized, was that no one had suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failures in Palestinian leadership.

That’s not exactly how I see it, or how many Jewish Americans see it. I don’t think suffering is a contest in which special recognition goes to those who have paid the highest price. The right answer is that there has been plenty of suffering on both sides.

The Palestinians may be suffering more in the sense that their standard of living is lower, but whose fault is that? Talk to any Israeli family who has lost a friend or family member to Palestinian terror –- and that means any family in Israel –- and, believe me, they won't cede the prize for the most suffering to the Palestinians.

And they will point out, rightly, I think, that it is the Palestinians and not the Jews who have chosen these terrible leaders and remained loyal to them. Doesn't that count for something?

Understand that Esrtich simply takes Israel's value as an ally as a given, unaware, and probably unconcerned, that the next person to actually demonstrate Israel's strategic value to the United States will be the first. Her comment about a "suffering contest" is darkly humorous, as it's rare to encounter a debate with a hardline pro-Israel type in which the Holocaust is not, at some point, deployed as a justification for the disposession and immiseration of the Palestinians by the Israelis. In simple point of fact, suffering in the Israel-Palestine conflict has not been spread around equally. Such a claim is, at best, a cheap and offensive liberal dodge. The moral blindess and historical ignorance shown by Estrich here is sadly typical, but no less disturbing for it.

As to Estrich's last question regarding whose fault it is that Palestinians have often supported terrible leaders, the Palestinians have been living under a brutal and illegal military occupation for forty years, one which is specifically designed by Israel to humiliate and demoralize its subjects, to frustrate the development of viable Palestinian political institution, and to facilitate the takeover of Palestinian land by Jewish Israelis, including the ongoing de-Arabization of East Jerusalem, which has been for centuries the center of Palestinian cultural and economic life. The harassment, imprisonment, and assassination of moderate Palestinian leaders has been an integral part of this program. Doesn't that count for something? Is there a single regular commentator on any of the news channels who would ever think to ask?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Bellowing, Bigoted Plank in the GOP's Eye

I'd just like to add my voice to Digby's and Scott's, and point out that the Republican embrace of Rush Limbaugh, the prominent place which he continues to occupy in conservative discourse, and American politics, despite years of daily spewing the foulest racism, bigotry, and misogyny, conclusively discredits any and all appeals by Republicans to any sort of standard of civility. That this sick clown is constantly defended and patronized by the most prominent conservatives is, frankly, scandalous. This should be pointed out at every possible opportunity.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Marc Ribot.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Return of the Son of Stabbed in the Back

We knew it was coming. From today's Wall Street Journal editorial:
Gen. David Petraeus is in Washington this week, where on Monday he briefed President Bush on the progress of the new military strategy in Iraq. Today he will give similar briefings on Capitol Hill, but maybe he should save his breath. As fellow four-star Harry Reid recently informed America, the war Gen. Petraeus is fighting and trying to win is already "lost."

Mr. Reid has since tried to "clarify" that remark, and in a speech Monday he laid out his own strategy for Iraq. But perhaps we ought to be grateful for his earlier candor in laying out the strategic judgment--and nakedly political rationale--that underlies the latest Congressional bid to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq starting this fall. By doing so, he and the Democrats are taking ownership of whatever ugly outcome follows a U.S. defeat in Iraq.

We can now expect variations on this to be repeated ad nauseum on cable news, with the O'ReillyBeckHannityKristols insisting that those traitorous Democrats "never gave the surge a chance," and, decades from now, AEI and Heritage fellows churning out pseudo-histories of the Iraq war in which victory was within our grasp up until the moment the spineless Democrats retook Congress.

To state the obvious, the idea that the the failure of George W. Bush's Iraq policy can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party would have to be substantially more plausible to even be considered preposterous. Many liberals and Democrats do share in the blame for getting us into this war, but for four years it was waged, and countless irreparable blunders made, with the acquiescence of a rubber-stamp Republican Congress. Non-conservatives with expertise in the region were studiously ignored by the administration. Trying to blame the Democrats for the suck we're in now is more than just wrong, more than just mendacious, it's genuinely insane.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Turning the Corner. Again.

I guess it's Fred Kagan's bad luck to have his optimistic "The surge looks like it could be working if you spin around several times, do twenty push-ups, then squint real hard, tilt your head just right, and peek through your fingers!" op-ed published the day after one of the most violent since the start of the Iraq war. But, then, I guess it's all of our bad luck that the President chose to listen to one of the small handfull of scholars in this country who still think that the President's original aims for the war are remotely achievable, rather than the overwhelming majority of Americans who think that it's long past time for a drastic change in policy. A couple comments.
This burgeoning sense of Iraqness can be seen beyond central government. Pictures of the recent Sadrist demonstration in Najaf showed many people carrying Iraqi flags and few carrying pictures of Sadr. The movement's strategists clearly felt a need to show they are Iraqis rather than followers of a particular leader.

The Sadr movement has always been the most stridently nationalistic of Shi'i tendencies in Iraq, and the presence of Iraqi flags at their demonstrations is nothing new. It would be reasonable to expect one of the primary architects of the Surge Strategy to know this.
Americans have been subjected to too much hyperbole about this war from the outset. Excessively rosy scenarios have destroyed the credibility of the administration. The exaggerated certainty of leading war opponents that the conflict is already lost is every bit as misplaced. Too much optimism and pessimism has prevented Americans from accurately evaluating a complex, fluid situation.

Sorry, there is simply no equivalence to be had between the war's advocates and its critics here. At every step, Bush and his water carriers have chosen to believe the rosiest scenarios, and constantly denigrated their fellow Americans who pointed out that those scenarios were completely at odds with observable reality.

Leaving aside that having Kagan review the success of a plan devised by himself, and upon which his credibility rests, (not that he'll lose a dollar of income if it continues to nosedive) is a bit like having Kenny G take to the pages of Downbeat to tout the improvisational fireworks contained within his new album of Hootie and the Blowfish covers, this corner that Kagan claims we may be turning would be about the fiftieth or so corner we've turned, and that's twelve laps, and I'm very tired.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Few Things

As I've been in the midst of a move from Seattle to Virginia, I haven't been able to write much about the events of the past couple weeks. I'm hoping to return within a few days, but until then, a few thoughts.

Kurt Vonnegut. My friend Dave G. gave me a copy of 'Welcome to the Monkey House' when we were in 11th grade, I remember the physical sensation I had reading him for the first time, having been totally unaware that that sort of writing, and the expression of those kinds of ideas, was out there, was even possible. In 1993 I saw Vonnegut speak at UMass-Amherst, he walked out in a brown suit and shiny white patent leather shoes, no notes, and held forth for about an hour, ending with "Okay, that's my speech." Then he took four questions and left. 'Mother Night' was the book I gave to my future wife in the first days of our courtship. (She gave me Roahld Dahl's 'My Uncle Oswald.') I got choked up listening to Vonnegut's obituary on NPR as my brother and I sped through Kansas. There are better novelists, but none who did as much to point me toward the kind of person that I want to be. Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut.

Sadr and Sistani. Dilip Hiro writes that they've formed an effective alliance. While his would represent a significant reversal for Sadr, as he has made his own Arab ethnicity, and, by implication, Sistani's Persian background, a big part of his nationalist program, it makes sense for him, now that he's a much more established figure in Iraqi politics, to come to an accomodation with the much more senior cleric. I'll have to keep watching this development, but at the very least, a Sadr-Sistani rapprochement indicates that we could see a wthdrawal of U.S. troops much sooner than later, as both leaders have been very critical from the start of U.S. troops' presence in Iraq. Also interesting will be to see how Sadr positions himself in relation to Sistani's acceptance of popular sovereignty for Iraq, which is one of the more significant recent developments in Shi'i jurisprudence, unfortunately lost beneath the waves of continuing violence.

Finally, I'd just like to say that Kansas cops are exceedingly polite, even when they're making you wait around for a canine unit to come and sniff your car.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Joe Pass.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Frontiers in Dumb

Given that his previous guest was a psychic discussing the latest Anna Nicole Smith paternity test, I would have been more than justified in ignoring what came next, but it so perfectly captured the defiant, blockheaded dumbness of Glenn Beck that I just have to share. Speaking with NY Rep Peter King about proposed legislation giving legal protection to people who report on "suspicious behaviour", Beck dropped this gem:
Between the domestic Muslim lobbying groups that fund political campaigns and wield massive amounts of power in America, to the ultimate killer of anything good, political correctness, this amendment will probably never reach the president`s desk.

A few things about this. First, the fact that these domestic Muslim lobbying groups have managed to parlay the massive amount of power which they supposedly wield into a total of one (1) Muslim representatives in Congress suggests that they are extremely crafty indeed. Second, I'm reasonably sure that the combined budgets of every Muslim lobbying group in this country probably comes to less than AIPAC's mail bill.

As for political correctness being "the ultimate killer of anything good," this about perfectly encapsulates what Beck has to offer, night after night: White guy ressentiment stripped of even the flimsiest pretext of journalism. "Political correctness" in the way in which Beck uses it simply indicates his frustration that he can no longer openly refer to women as bitches, blacks as niggers, and Arabs as towel-heads and terrorists without it being pointed out to him that he is an asshole, and his longing for a simpler time when women and minorities knew their place, and politics was the exclusive domain of people who looked like him.