Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Old Hickory's Weblog has moved to Blogger/Blogspot!!!

I've switched Old Hickory's Weblog's location from AOL Journals to Blogger (Blogspot).

Please come over to the new spot and check out the new version, still called
Old Hickory's Weblog.

I'm still working on the template, like adding a mail-notification feature. So the template will be changing its appearance some over the next few weeks.

I feel a tad nostalgic about the AOL location since I've been posting here for almost four years now.

AOL has improved their features a lot. But after two years posting at the group blog The Blue Voice, I find that Blogspot is more user-friendly overall. In particular, it's easier to leave comments without having to go get an AIM ID through AOL.

I'm not taking down the AOL version. I'll leave it hear as long as AOL allows. I am putting copies of the old posts at the Blogspot location - being able to designate the date of the post is another advantage at Blogspot - but it will be a while before I get the full archive copied there. But all the AOL posts from 2007 are already there.

I thought it would be nice to let
my last post in this location (except for this one) be a fun one, on the Zorro telenovela in this case.

For my goobye-to-AOL-Journals link, check out this YouTube video of
Bring'em Home Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Zorro: Capítulos 88-92 (June 18-22): Amazons and witches and poisons, oh my!

"Machala, Esmeralda": Vanya and Asalaya, Los Angeles hippies Amazons, circa 1810

Zorro moved along briskly during this week's segments. By the end of the week, Esmeralda had gone from months confined in a basement to almost being murdered to being sold to slave traders to being in a ship that sinks to discovering buried treasure in what looks like a tropical jungle at a spot a few feet away from what looks like a swamp to joining up with a ferocious tribe of Amazon warriors in the jungle. All of it taking place with in a few miles of Los Angeles.

You didn't realize there were swampy jungles near Los Angeles? That's why you need to be watching Zorro.

Esmeralda Sanchez de Xena has apparently become queen of the Amazons and is intent on revenge against everybody who's hurt her

Altogether, it was an exceptionally exciting week for Esmeralda. At orders from el Comandante Montero, Capitán Pizarro took her out into the woods to kill her, but Sargento García saved her, as I related in
my last Zorro post. Olmos then showed up with two pistols and persuaded Pizarro to leave Esmeralda and García with him. He promptly sold them to slave-traders, while Kamba back at the gitano camp got captured by his former fight promoters and sold to the slave-traders, too.

They were all put on a boat, where the crew leered menacingly at Esmeralda. The boat capital was name Gluck,played by Falvio Peniche, the brother of Arturo Peniche, the actor who plays el Governador Fernando. Esmeralda's amulet that her mother Sara Kalí had given her got a lot of attention this week, too. El Comandante ripped it off her neck just before he sent her out into the woods to be murdered. But Pizarro, who has faint remnants of a heart, gave it to her to comfort her in the minutes before he was going to shoot her.

Ouch, that's gotta hurt! Esmeralda's hand is branded with the map to her grandmother's royal treasure

On the boat, one of the crew ripped it off her neck, too, which kick-started Kamba's demon and so Kamba ripped off his steel manacles and starting strangling the crewman with the amulet. While doing this, he started a fire - to complicate matters on what's still a dark and stormy night - and the ship sank. But before they swam for their lives, Esmeralda grabbed the amulet, which had been heated by the fire and it branded its image into her palm but the burn caused her to drop it. When the ship sank, one of the crew saw it clinging to a piece of driftwood as he was swimming for his life in the stormy waters at night, and grabbed it. When he staggered into town, Diego was there and recognized the amulet. Diego took the amulet.

Back on shore that same morning, Esmeralda wakes up amidst the driftwood and finds García and Kamba still alive, as well. Thus they set off for a jungle adventure that is part Nancy Drew, part Blue Lagoon, part Treasure Island and part Xena the Warrior Princess. They plan to go find the gitanos but Esmeralda discovers Capitán Gluck, also still alive but immobile because of a broken leg and assorted other injuries. He was apparently washed or blown way out into the jungle.

Esmeralda nurses him a bit and he tells her a sob story about how he's not really a slave trader, he just needed a job and that's the only ship where he could get hired. He sees the brand in her palm and recognizes it as a star map. He offers to lead our jungle heroes to the spot. So Kamba and García carry him through the jungle, where he leads them to the indicated spot and they dig up a chest full of treasure. It's not pirates' treasure, it's Sara Kalí's mother's treasure, but it's buried treasure all the same. Esmeralda vows she's going to use it to avenge herself on everyone who's hurt her: el Comandante, Pizarro, el Gobernador her beloved stepfather, and, of course, Mariángel (Mangle).

In the jungle, no one can see you when your top falls down. At least that's what Esmeralda must have hoped when one of his biggest struggles in the jungle was to remain fully clothed

The captain gasps out his last breath to Esmeralda, who's staying with him while Kamba and García go to stash the treasure and get a cart to bring back the unfortunate captain, who warns Esmeralda that this part of the forest is muy peligroso beause Amazons live there. I thought when I heard this, it was too good to be true.

But, sure enough, Esmeralda soon spies a loin-cloth-clad woman being assaulted by a couple of Spanish low-lifes. Determined not to take any crap from anyone any more, she grabs a log and clobbers one guy in the head. The Amazon then escaptes the other guy, who then wrestles Esmeralda to the ground and tries to rape her. But the one Amazon has quickly been joined by several of her tribal sisters who promptly kill the assailant with several well-deserved arrows in the back.

I'm not sure if the Amazons are supposed to be Indians, or whether they are directly descended from Greek Amazons. Or maybe they are descended from refugees fleeing Carthage after Rome destroyed it, or possibly one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In any case, they all have the remarkably healthy bodies one might expect from the air in pre-industrial Los Angeles and the presumed abundance of food and other good things in the tropical jungle that apparently was there around 1810. Or so it looks on the show, anyway.

One of the Amazons introduces herself as Asalaya. She summons another one, Vanya, to the front and puts her arm around her and says, "Machala". Then Vanya says to our heroine, "Machala, Esmeralda". I'm guessing this means "sister" in ancient Carthaginian. Then the Amazons bow deeply to her, and Esmeralda does the same in return. Apparently this cleavage-exposing gesture is a polite greeting ritual among the Los Angeles Amazons. At the end of Friday's episode, Esmeralda seems to have become their queen, or something, because she seems to be leading a hunting party that comes upon Kamba and García. Esmeralda looks at them with an enigmatic smile, perhaps hinting that the two of them are destined to become breeding stock for her newfound friends.

I have to say, this whole jungle adventure culminating with Esmeralda hooking up with the jungle Amazon tribe has been the coolest thing they've done in the whole telenovela so far. (That is, aside from introducing Valentina Acosta's the One the Only the Great Selenia, who as far as I'm concerned instantly became one of the top TV witches of all time.) With the Amazons on board, I'm thinking Zorro is going to be high on my list of Quality TV standards, along with such classics as
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The way this is going, we could wind up with a final showdown, with General Alejandro's army facing off against Montero and Pizarro and they regular and hired-thug forces, with Zorro fighting on Alejandro's side at the head of an army of peasants, Indians, gitanos, the secret brotherhood of cowled democratic revolutionaries, and Amazons. Heck, Zorro might even persude those cannibals who almost made a human sacrifice out of Esmeralda in an early episode to join in!

"Loco por Olmos": Mangle only has eyes for him (until they do the Wild Thang, that is)

First, though, General Alejandro will have to smooth things out on the home front, where his Big Love arrangement has hit a  snag. Almudena was down with the bigamy arrangement, even grooming Yumalai/Guadalupe to move into the wife #1 role after Almudena dies. But she had to process it in Spanish-lady style as Alejandro having an affair, which means he was supposed to be discreet about it. But Alejandro forgot that in telenovelas there's always someone hiding around the corner to evesdrop, and he talked to Yumalai about their little trist on his and Almudena's wedding night, and Almudena heard.

Now she has to be an outraged wife for a while. And she demands that Alejandro kick Yumalai off the hacienda. To complicate matters, Mangle has been putting small amounts of arsenic into the medicine Yumalai has been giving Almudena, and now Agapito the doctor/dentist/undertaker has found that out and told Almudena. Almudena thinks it's Yumalai and/or Alejandro that is poisoning her. Quite a sticky situation for all involved.

Even more exciting than Esmerada's adventures was the fact that Mangle now has the hots for Olmos thanks to Selenia's love potion and/or her hypnosis. Mangle is obsessed with with the little guy now. What Olmos doesn't know is that the spell is temporary. After Mangle makes love to him the first time, the hypnosis will wear off immediately.

Selenia is planning to leave town because after Olmos threatened to kill her. Olmos blames her for cursing him in his mother's womb and making him a hunchback. We learn from a conversation Selenia has with her magic dwarf Tasisio that it was Selenia's mother that cursed Olmos. Aha! Selenia's not on the Elixir of Eternal Youth. And to carry on the family tradition, she needs to have a baby. And Aaron the Exorcist may just be ready for a new gig ...

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who the coolest witch of all? Selenia visits Mangle's mirror (that's Mangle's red hair on the left)

On Friday, Selenia showed up in Mangle's mirror, telling Mangle how Olmos is just the right guy for her and looking pretty spooky, but also giving Valentina Acosta  the chance to show off her talent for facial expression. Seriously, some actors just have a special ability to convey a lot with facial expression and motions alone. Clint Eastwood is one. Lena Olin on Alias is another. From what I've seen so far, Valentina Acosta also has a special gift for that.

Speaking of my man Aaron, he showed up just in the nick of time to save el Governador Fernando after Fernando hung himself.

Aaron the Exorcist earnestly strives to save Fernando's life and his soul

Sometimes having an exorcist stalking you comes in handy. Fernando was depressed because Don Alfonso proposed to María Pía and she accepted. This was after Fernando beat Alfonso to within an inch of his life. Even with the remarkable recuperative powers of everyone in this show - except poor Miguel the gitano after Pizarro beheaded him - Alfonso still had a bruise and a scratch on his face for two days or so, though it seemed to be completely healed by Friday. The fight scene where Fernando won but María Pía was even more committed to Alfonso afterward reminded me of a song from the Eagles' one album that rose about the level of catchy pop, Desperado. In the song, "Saturday Night", the lyrics say:

Whatever happened to Saturday night?
Finding a sweetheart and losing a fight
She'd say, "Tell me, oh tell me, are you all right?
Whatever happened to Saturday night?

After rescusing Fernando, Aaron the Exorcist persuaded Fernando to put on a white robe and let Aaron baptize him in a pond. When they came out of the water, Aaron put a brown robe and cowl onto Fernando, and we don't see Fernando's face. This could be the makeover Fernando mentioned once before. Probably he figures María Pía would really go for him in a monk's robe.

There was plenty of action on the political front this week, too. Zorro returned to the Queen's bedchamber to visit with her. El Duque Jacobo was there and el Comandante Montero charged in with his sword and a bunchofsoldiers. Zorro knocked a dozen or so soldiers unconscious and escaped, with a little help from Padre Tomás. Tomás set a wagon full of straw on fire and then hid behind a building and laughed in delight. He really enjoyed getting in on the Zorro action.

Padre Tomás conspires with the Queen under cover of the confessional

It turns out that the Queen already suspected that some funny business was going on, which is why she wanted to come to Los Angeles. Thanks to intercepting a confidential letter of the Queen's, el Duque knows that she's close to discovering his plot, which includes having murdered her husband the king. On Friday, the Queen goes to confession with Padre Tomás, who then lets her in on what he knows about the conspiracy and promises to help her. He also lets her know that he's in league with Zorro.

On the gitano front, Sara Kalí is unable to reconstruct the amulet map from memory. So they plan to attend a citywide masquerade ball that the Queen is putting on in order to talk to the Queen. Zorro is also planning to attend for the same purpose. Plus, Diego and Bernardo have also deciphered the map. Will Esmeralda's Amazon sisters be as impressed with him as she is? Inquiring minds want to know.

Also, on the gitano front, Ana Camila/Sor Suplicios and cute-but-useless Renzo become officially engaged. This makes everyone happy but eternally-brooding Laisha, who's always had a thing for Renzo.

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Robert Fisk on the idea of Tony Blair as special envoy for the Middle East

British journalist Robert Fisk gives his caustic view of President Bush's suggestion that outgoing British premier Tony Blair be appointed the Quartet envoy to work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement: How can Blair possibly be given this job? Independent 06/23/07. Fisk consistently refers to Blair sarcastically as "Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara", referring to a city in eastern Iraq where British forces were defeated and 10,000 British soldiers compelled to surrender to the Ottoman army during the First World War. Blair hasn't actually been knighted yet, though it's customary for former prime ministers to receive knighthood soon after they leave office, so he probably will be knighted in the near future.
I suppose that astonishment is not the word for it. Stupefaction comes to mind. I simply could not believe my ears in Beirut when a phone call told me that Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara was going to create "Palestine". I checked the date - no, it was not 1 April - but I remain overwhelmed that this vain, deceitful man, this proven liar, a trumped-up lawyer who has the blood of thousands of Arab men, women and children on his hands is really contemplating being "our" Middle East envoy.

Can this really be true? I had always assumed that Balfour, Sykes and Picot were the epitome of Middle Eastern hubris. But Blair? That this ex-prime minister, this man who took his country into the sands of Iraq, should actually believe that he has a role in the region - he whose own preposterous envoy, Lord Levy, made so many secret trips there to absolutely no avail - is now going to sully his hands (and, I fear, our lives) in the world's last colonial war is simply overwhelming.
By "the world's last colonial war", Fisk means the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the conflict over them now entering its fifth decade.

The Independent also has an article on three Catholics on Blair's Downing Street staff who left their posts because of their religious objections to the Iraq War:
PM's Iraq war 'helped drive Catholics out of Downing Street' by Andrew Grice and Andy McSmith 06/23/07.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Soldiers and strategy

One thing that the Congress needs to avoid is to simply add more troops based simply on the reality that troop shortages quickly developed in the Iraq War. The armed forces should be "right-sized" (to use a corporate clichee of a few years back) based on a long-term strategy of what kind of conflicts are expected. We already see how both parties can agree on "more" without any decision - or even discussion - on the longer-term assumptions.

Andrew Bacevich recently addressed this issue in
More troops, more troubles Los Angeles Times 06/18/07. Citing the broad bipartisan support for increasing the number of active-duty Army and Marine soldiers, he writes:
In fact, this enthusiasm for putting more Americans in uniform (and for increasing overall military spending) reflects the persistence of a second consensus to which leading Democrats and Republicans alike stubbornly subscribe.

This second consensus consists of two elements. According to the first element, the only way to win the so-called global war on terrorism, thereby precluding another 9/11, is to "fix" whatever ails the Islamic world. According to the second element, the United States possesses the wherewithal to effect just such a transformation. In essence, by employing American power, beginning with military power, to ameliorate the ills afflicting Islam, we will ensure our own safety.
Increasing the number of troops is not right or wrong in itself. But it should be based on clear strategic decisions about the role the United States intends to play in the world. And continuing to pursue the neocon-inspired Bush Doctrine is not an acceptable option. Certainly Bacevich does not think it is:
The underlying problem is that the basic orientation of U.S. policy since 9/11 has been flat wrong. Bush's conception of waging an open-ended global "war" to eliminate terrorism has failed, disastrously and irredeemably. Simply trying harder — no matter how many more soldiers we recruit and no matter how many more Muslim countries we invade and "liberate" — will not reverse that failure.
Robert Dreyfuss recently wrote (Financing the Imperial Armed Forces TomDispatch.com 06/05/07):
[P]residential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, at present, competing with each other in their calls for the expansion of the Armed Forces. Both are supporting manpower increases in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 troops, mostly for the Army and the Marines. (The current, Bush-backed authorization for fiscal year 2008 calls for the addition of 65,000 more Army recruits and 27,000 Marines by 2012.)
The armed forces in 2001 were optimized for conventional warfare with heavy reliance on high-tech airpower. Rumsfeld's goal for military "transformation" was to continue and increase such reliance, further minimizing the number of troops required for wars.

If that's the direction the Congress and the country want to continue, it may not make much sense to be expanding the size of the Army and Marines. But if the direction needs to change to optimize the services for expected counterinsurgency operations, then the need for the current level of investment in aircraft and missiles is too high. (The Star Wars "missile defense" program is a question of a different order; only if the goal is to optimize the military for boondoggle projects does that system make sense.)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

When hippies trash the military

Here's another dang dirty hippie attacking the Defense Department (DOD), accusing it failure in The Surge, saying that the Iraqi don't have any security or sound infrastructure, that they could be there fighting 10 years or more at the current rate and of lacking integrity in their reporting! He even says we likely to lose in Iraq and that our worst enemy in the war has been ourselves.

This particular dirty hippie would be Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the countries most respected independent military analysts who specializes in Middle Eastern issues.

He's evaluating the Pentagon's official June report on conditions in Iraq in his paper, Still Losing? The June 2007 Edition of "Measuring Stability in Iraq" 06/20/07. Check it out. Cordesman's analysis is 12 pages of mostly grim accounts of how bad the current military, political and economic situation in Iraq is.

I don't want to give a wrong impression of Cordesman's argument in the paper. Cordesman supports the war but, unlike so many frivolous war boosters, he has consistently tried to be realistic about the challenges - and even then he may be over-optimistic. He even echoes Republican rhetoric in the following passage when he suggests that Congress could accelerate defeat by forcing a withdrawal. Yet he also says what Republicans consider heresy, that we are losing in Iraq - although it could be debated whether the transitive form "are losing" or the present perfect form "have lost" or the simple past tense "lost" is more accurate. Cordesman writes:

Finally, the June 2007 report may not openly say so, or try to deny the fact, but the US is now losing in Iraq. The pace of this defeat can easily be accelerated over the next six months by continued Iraqi failures at conciliation and growing unwillingness to sustain the war by the US Congress and American people. The facts on the ground can change to the point where the US may be forced into a rushed withdrawal, have to try to ameliorate displacement and separation and/or sectarian and ethnic cleansing, or deal with a level of humanitarian disaster it can now say it will ignore but not be able to ignore if it actually occurs. (my emphasis)
But there seems to be little hope that the Cheney-Bush administration is going to take seriously Cordesman's optimistic-but-hard-headed-realist approach seriously. Cordesman says of the DOD report:

The latest Department of Defense report on "Measuring Stability in Iraq" attempts to put a bad situation in a favorable light. It does not disguise many of the problems involved, but it does attempt to defend the strategy presented by President Bush in January 2007 in ways that sometimes present serious problems. More broadly, it reveals that the President’s strategy is not working in any critical dimension. (my emphasis)
He calls attention to an increasingly troubled area, one which is likely to become much more so as this year goes on, the city of Kirkuk:

A Kurdish struggle for autonomy and control of the north, displacing Iraqi Arabs, Turcomans, and other minorities, and seeking control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s northern oil resources, and the territory along the ethnic fault line in the north extending westward towards Mosul. Increased violence by displaced Sunni insurgents – including Al Qaeda - against Iraqi Kurdish civilians and politicians, concentrated in Mosul.
He doesn't expand on it here. But in this paper, he argues that "counterinsurgency" is the wrong approach, and that what is needed instead is "armed nation-building":

Victory [sic] in Iraq requires success in armed nation-buildinga process that can extend over a decade or more – not simply the defeat of the most violent elements in an insurgency. In fact, efforts to bring local security in a narrow area like Baghdad have almost certainly done more harm than good. They have focused toomany resources on one limited task and created a "center of gravity" that cannot have major importance without a far more effective national government and progress towards national conciliation. (my emphasis)
He harshes on the administration for bad reporting. In the world of Serious Military Analysis, this is really a strong criticism:

The US is often the first to call for transparency and integrity in the reporting of other governments. It has never provided transparency or integrity in its reporting on the war in Iraq. It has downplayed the growth of the insurgency and other civil conflicts. It exaggerated progress in the development of Iraqi forces, and has reported meaningless macroecomic figures claiming "progress" in the face of steadily deteriorating economic conditions for most Iraqis outside the Kurdish security zone, and does so in the face of almost incredible incompetence by USAID and the Corps of Engineers.

Perhaps most significantly, the US government has never openly discussed or analyzed its failures in not planning for stability operations or conflict termination, in creating an electoral process that polarized Iraqi politics around inexperienced sectarian and ethnic leaders and parties, and in creating a constitution that helped divide the nation without resolving any of the key issues it attempted to address. The same is true of US actions that blocked local and regional elections, allowed de-Ba’athification to remove many of the nation’s most competent secular and nationalist leaders and professionals from power, and failed to act on plans to disband the militias before transferring power from the CPA. (my emphasis)
Cordesman argues that this dishonest reporting in effect eleveated short-term public-relations/propaganda considerations above long- and medium-term effectiveness:

It seems likely that, in retrospect, this lack of transparency and integrity will come back to haunt the US. More honesty, objective self-criticism, serious effort to develop credible strategies and operational plans might well have prevented all of Iraq’s current civil conflicts and problems from reaching anything like their current scale. In fact, if the US loses in Iraq – as seems all too possible – its primary enemy will not have been Al Qa’ida, but the US government. (my emphasis)
The fact that some of the most serious criticism of the Cheney-Bush administration's Iraq War policies, and some of the strongest, is appearing in military journals and Web sites and is coming from military-oriented consulting groups like CSIS shouldn't be surprising. Debate over results and a self-critical attitude are necessary elements of getting things right. And its a good thing we're seeing such work from sources like this.

But not so much of this information seeps through to our mainstream press. They're too busy pursuing John Edwards' haircuts. Cordesman does get quoted a fair amount in the press. But CSIS is providing a large volume of material like this, easily accessible on their Web site and each normally containing far more meaningful information than ever emerages from one of Tony Snow's White House press gaggles. (I realize that's setting the bar very low.) These are good resources. If bloggers can find them, so can regular reporters.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The analogy that never dies

A conference has been going on this week in Virginia Beach called, Transformation WARFARE 07 whose theme is "Reconstituting and Reinventing the Force".

Toni Guagenti summarized the speech by former US Iraq commander Gen. John Abizaid, now retired, in
General Abizaid Outlines Iraq War Strategy Focused on Unified Network at the Naval Institute Web page 06/20/07. Among other things, Abizaid used guess-which-analogy:
He emphasized the need to defeat the enemy before the extremist views are thrust upon the majority Middle Easterners, and the world is thrust into another world war. He compared it to Hitler taking over Germany before World War II, even though the majority of Germans didn't support Hitler's politics or his fascist ideologies.
Apparently, in the Long War we're always going to be fighting Hitler and it will always be 1938 and the West - or at least the United States - will always be on the verge of capitulating at the Munich Conference, unless our far-sighted Churchills can keep us alert to the danger.

This is what's known as "threat inflation". The companies there looking to promote their products, i.e., high-tech weapons of various sorts, presumably don't feel an incentive to contest such threat inflation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pravda and Izvestia, aka, the *Washington Post* and the *New York Times*

Up until 10 years ago or so, maybe even later, a title like that would almost certainly be announcing some rightwing rant about the Jew Commie Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press!

No more. After Whitewater, the Iraq War,
Judith Miller, the Scooter Libby case and various and sundry other illustrations of the dysfunction of our "press corps", that's no longer true. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post still do have responsibile reporters, of course. Even some of their columnists are worth reading most of the time. David Broder the Dean Of All The Pundits from the Post is not one of them.

But it really has reached the point where the news consumer needs to pay close attention to which reporter's byline is on the article to tell whether you're more likely to be looking at real reporting or simple dictation. Sometimes that gets tricky. At the Post, for instance, you have to remember that it's Dana Priest who does solid reporting on foreign affairs but Dana Milbank who vigorously pimps lazy press corps scripts about politicians.

Gene Lyons, who was one of the first to perceive how badly the mainstream print press was going off the tracks over the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, who compares the Times and the Post to the old Soviet-era paper Pravda (News) and Izvestian (Truth):
'Act of madness' gains allies in complacent media Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 06/20/07. He quotes the cynical old Soviet joke, "There is no Pravda in Izvestia, and no Izvestia in Pravda".

The "act of madness" to which he refers is a military attack on Iran. He focuses in particular on a Washington Post story,
Iran Curtails Freedom In Throwback to 1979 by Robin Wright 06/16/07, that passes on Chenyist/neocon propaganda about Iran as though it were something other than war propaganda. Pointing out something in the story that doesn't make sense in context, he observes, "Editors are least apt to notice contradictionslike that when they’re taking dictation."

Today's New York Times offers another example, this one related to our ever-expanding victory in Iraq,
U.S. Seeks to Block Exits for Iraq Insurgents by Michael Gordon 06/20/07.

Now, pretty much all you need to know about Michael Gordon is that he shared Judith Miller's byline on some of her phony stories about the non-existent Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction", phony articles which played an important role in starting the Cheney-Bush administration's unnecessary invasion of Iraq. So you can pretty much count on his articles being straight dictation from some official or other. Which can be interesting to see what the administration prefers to have us think is the true story.

This piece reads pretty much like a Pentagon press release. For example:
In the first hours of the American military assault, after midnight early Monday, helicopters flew two teams of American troops and a platoon of Iraqi scouts so they could block the southern escape routes from the city. Stryker armored vehicles moved along the western outskirts of Baquba and then down a main north-south route that cuts through the center of the city.

By the time dawn broke on Tuesday, the insurgent sanctuary in western Baquba had been cordoned off. Then, the American forces established footholds on the periphery of the section and slowly pressed in. "Rather than let the problem export to some other place and then have to fight them again, my goal is to isolate this thing and cordon it off," said Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division.
That last paragraph is the article's first reference to a source. But not only those two paragraphs but the whole article read like something straight from a military PR page.

Gordon's dictation tells us that the foe is "Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia". Of course. All the Terrorists in Iraq seem to be "Al Qaida" these days.

Another piece of evidence that Gordon took dictation straight from some Pentagon PR hack:
Officers are hoping that local residents and even former insurgents who have splitwith Al Qaeda may quietly help the American troops pick out insurgents. American troops have already begun to work with more than 100 Iraqis on the eastern side of the city — a group American soldiers have nicknamed the "Kit Carson scouts." (my emphasis)
Kit Carson scouts? What can you say about that? The PR guy thinks they're huntin' Injuns out there? Good grief!

Far down near the end of the article, there is a noteworthy fact, if you happen to get that far and are still paying attention, about how Gen. Petraus' forces is fighting an urban counterinsurgency war in the city of Baquba:
This American counterinsurgency operation has some of the firepower associated with conventional war. American forces have already fired more than 20 satellite-guided rockets into western Baquba. Apache helicopters have attacked enemy fighters.

Warplanes have also dropped satellite-guided bombs on suspected roadside bombs and a weapons cache, which produced spectacular secondary explosions after it was struck. M1 tanks have maneuvered through the narrow city lanes. The Americans have responded to insurgent attacks with mortar fire. (my emphasis)
But if there happen to be any civilians killed - you think that will happen with firing rockets and dropping bombs into a populated urban area? - it's their own fault:
American helicopters dropped leaflets last night urging the residents to stay in their homes. The hope was to keep civilians off the streets while American forces began to close in on the insurgents. The appeal appeared to have little effect, though, as large groups of civilians mingled on the streets Tuesday and some students even sought to go to the local university.

The presence of so many civilians on an urban battlefield affords the operatives from Al Qaeda another possible means to elude their American pursuers. If the insurgents do not manage to sneak out, some may hide their weapons and try to blend with the city’s residents. (my emphasis)
Hopefully the leaflets were in Arabic, at least. But they got fair warning. And if some of them get killed, it's their own dang fault. Because whatever bomb or rocket kills them was precision-aimed at "Al Qaida". You know, "Al Qaida" withoutweapons. Blending in to look just like regular noncombatants. But our bombs and rockets can tell the difference.

But there is a mushroom cloud involved. These two paragraphs end Gordon's transcription:
On Tuesday afternoon, a Stryker company tried to blaze a path through the road believed to be full of buried bombs by firing a line-charge, a cable festooned with explosions. The hope was that the explosion would cut the wires that the Qaeda fighters use to set off the blasts.

After a delay in getting the line-charge to detonate, the weapon went off. There was a resounding thud and the skies over Baquba were smeared by a spiraling mushroom cloud.
Now let me understand this. This means laying a string of explosive along an urban street for, what, a block? five blocks? ten blocks? And then you set off the explosives all along the street.

Well, I guess since it's only "Al Qaida" we're fighting, we don't have to worry about any of that "hearts and minds" nonsense, do we?

But I wonder if the people who live along the street will flock to the Americans and the Iraqi government forces to inform on "Al Qaida" afterwards.

Gordon's dictation transcript doesn't both to mention that Baquba is mostly a Sunni city and that the Iraqi government forces with the Americans are probably all or mostly Shi'a. I guess taking all that dictation from the Pentagon PR guy and typing it up - or did he just have to cut-and-paste from an e-mail - poor Michael Gordon was too tired out to call, say, Juan Cole, who might have told him something like this (
Everyday Apocolypse in Iraq Informed Comment blog post 06/20/07):
The US offensive in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, is intended to root out Salafi Jihadi forces among the Sunnis that have come to dominate entire neighborhoods and entire towns in the province, which lies between Baghdad and Iran. But most of the forces involved seem to be American and Shiite (the 2,000 'paramilitary police' mentioned are surely from the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council [SIIC], the leading Shiite party with links to Iran). Diyala has a Sunni majority, and a lot of the problems in thatprovince began politically in the first place because SIIC has dominated it politically. In the short term, this operation may 'pacify' Baquba. But likely it will inflict tremendous damage on the city, will cause a lot of the 300,000 or so inhabitants to flee and become refugees, and will likely not change the political situation, which is Shiite dominance of Sunnis along with some Kurdish separatist plans for parts of the province. Falluja had 2/3s of its buildings destroyed and tens of thousands of its former inhabitants are living in tent cities in the desert with bad water, and Falluja is still not secure--kidnappings, shootings, mortar attacks, even car bombings are all still taking place there and in its environs. (my emphasis)
That's our "press corps", well into the fifth year of this war.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Changing perspectives

Sometimes when I look back at something written or said prior to the Cheney-Bush administration, I'm surprised at how much my own way of looking at things has changed. But it's not 9/11 that "changed everything" for me. For that matter, I don't think I've had any drastic turns or breaks in my way of looking at things. But the Iraq War and the administration's torture policy have made me look at some things, particularly in relation to foreign policy, in a different way than I did before.

I was reminded of that coming across these three articles:

Andrew Bacevich,
The World According to Clinton First Things June/July 1999

The Idea that Is America by Anne-Marie Slaughter TPMCafe 06/19/07

American Exceptionalism by any other name... by David Rieff TPMCafe 06/19/07

Prior to 2002 or so, Bacevich seems to have published his articles on military and foreign policy issues mainly in conservative journals, of which First Things is one. In the 1999 linked above, he is making a thoughtful if somewhat caustic criticism of the Clinton's administration's use of history in terms that apply even more strongly to the neoconservative ideologues who defined not only the surface ideology but also the policies of the Cheney-Bush administration.

David Rieff is replying to the Anne-Marie Slaughter post that elaborates a 2007 version of the kind of Clintonian historical moralism that Bacevich discusses. Slaughter's piece is pretty general. But here is how Slaughter describes her Wilsonian framework for US foreign policy:
We need not only to embrace a vigorous national debate on what we stand for, but also to launch a global debate about the meanings and trade-offs of universal values. Liberty, democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith bind Americans together, but these values do not stop at the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific, or the banks of the Rio Grande and Saint Lawrence. We have always insisted that our values are universal values. Indeed, part of what we think makes us distinctively American is that we hold to a set of values that apply around the world. (my emphasis)
I'm always dubious when people start talking about "launching a debate". That's one of those things where I want to say, okay, if you think we need to launch a debate, then launch it, don't talk about the need to launch it.

Her article's main point is pretty tame. She's saying that Americans need to learn a lot more about how other democracies in the world work. I'm down with that.

Where Rieff challenges her is on her moralistic vision of American history as the story of the progress of democracy, which he calls "Whig" history:
But leave what we have wrought in Latin America from James Monroe through Woodrow Wilson (self-determination, indeed!) to Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan to one side. There is, more generally, something strangely over-intellectualized as well as over-sentimentalized about Anne-Marie’s account of our own history. Take, for example, her argument that our debates about what our values mean constitute what she calls “the essence of our politics, the secret of our success, and the source of our strength as a vibrant, open society.” Frankly, while I might wish this were so, I don’t think there is really much historical basis for the claim.
Rieff takes a shot at the assumption that democracy produces capitalism and vice versa:
Would an economic historian agree that political and moral debate was the secret of our economic success? Perhaps one who subscribes to the neo-liberal and neo-conservative view that democracy engenders successful, liberal capitalist societies would do so? But that, frankly, is utopianism disguised as economics and is, in any case, foundering as China and Russia demonstrate the economic viability of capitalism in an authoritarian political context.
I would add that Wilhelminian Germany and France under Napolean III also provide examples of thriving capitalism under an authoritarian-type government.

Rieff also calls attention to the fact that much of the world is unlikely to share a Wilsonian vision of American moral virtue:
I try to imagine a historically-minded Latin American reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s claim that the essence of American patriotism is its commitment to “liberty, democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith,” without exploding in bitter laughter and I find that I cannot. ...

But is history really a progress, as Anne-Marie claims? Perhaps we are not going ‘forward’ at all, but backwards, or sideways. Frankly that seems far more likely to me and I can’t help wondering, were Anne-Marie herself not trying to ‘rehumanize and revitalize’ what I believe she would think of as the American project, whether she would really disagree? Again, when Anne-Marie speaks of the need to “get our foreign policy back on track,” or, in her justifiable consternation over the Bush administration’s suicidal foreign policy, refers to nations friendly to the United States that think that we Americans “no longer (italics mine [Rieff's]) listen and learn,” I come back to my fantasy of a Latin American reading these words, and I invite Anne-Marie’s readers to ask themselves what any non-American would make of such a claim? I also cannot help wondering if the nations and peoples who did once believe this were any other than the Europeans grateful at America’s role in their liberation from the Nazis. But Europe is not the world, and I do not believe that Latin Americans or East Asians ever believed anything of the sort. (my emphasis in italics)
Rieff writes about the notion of American exceptionalism which he finds in Slaughter's work, "What a florid romance Americans make of America!"

Bacevich in 1999 was also arguing for a more restrained, more realistic, less messianic vision of America's role in the world. But it was the Clinton administration, then dealing with the Kosovo crisis, to which his main criticism was directed:
The view of history espoused by President Clinton - and the vast aspirations that he and his lieutenants have concocted - appear by comparison naive and pretentious. For this Administration, the true object of the exercise [of promoting its particular interpretation of history] is not understanding or wisdom. Rather, it is to package the past into nice inoffensive bundles, neatly lined up on the near side of the President’s bridge to the new millennium. As we step off into the twenty-first century, Mr. Clinton would have us leave that history behind. But we had best step lively. For the contents of those bundles remain toxic and Mr. Clinton’s packaging is imperfect. Indeed, the bundle marked Kosovo just sprang a leak.
Bacevich in that article discusses at some length the ways in which the Clinton administration tried to promote an interpretation of American history that was optimistic and humane, but also directed toward justifying it's own policy orientation. He argues that the reason such an undertaking was such a priority for Clinton had to do with "the 1960s". Bacevich's description of what that means reflects his own background adhering to more the conservative side of what we now commonly call the "culture war" (although as late as 1992, it sounded shocking and extreme to hear Pat Buchanan talking that way at the Republican National Convention.)

Bacevich describes the relevant elements of the "1960s" view he saw as follows:
Foremost among those myths was the assertion that in the twentieth century survival itself had become problematic. ...

A second and related element of this mythology was a deep-seated skepticism about the nation’s founding ideals. ...

The third element was a corresponding skepticism about America’s role in world affairs.
But, Bacevich says, the Clintonians discovered that "as a blueprint for governance, the mythology of the 1960s is next to useless." He then cites several examples of Clinton administration rhetoric that I find far more problematic today after seeing Bush, Cheney, Rummy and the neocons bring democracy and liberty to Iraq through bombs, bullets and torture. He writes:
In the new age of globalization that beckons, according to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a speech at Tennessee State University, the United States provides the "organizing principal" [sic]. America’s place is at "the center of this emerging international system." Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has gone a step further, declaring that the United States is "hegemon and proud of it." ...

The American claim to being the "organizing principal" of the new age rests on the certainty that the United States embodies that right side, and that Americans, especially senior government officials, are uniquely equipped to discern the direction of world affairs. After all, as Secretary Albright has explained, "We stand tall, and therefore we can see further into the future." The mission of the United States on the eve of the new millennium is to coax others into acknowledging the direction in which historical forces tend, to commend those nations that are moving in concert with history, and to chide the reluctant to get with the program. (my emphasis)
And this one particularly caught my eye after seeing Bush and Cheney's faith-based foreign policy in action:
Thus, during President Jiang Zemin’s 1997 visit to the United States, Mr. Clinton publicly rebuked the Chinese government for being on "the wrong side of history." A year later, explaining the rationale for his own trip to China, the President told reporters that "one of the things I have to do is ... to create for them a new and different historical reality." (my emphasis)
Now, the Clinton administration never had the absurd level of hubris Cheney and Rummy and the neocons have displayed in recent years. In general, the tried to keep themselves "reality-based".

But still, I think we have to be careful about letting our leaders, Republican or Democratic, hide behind pretty abstract ideals. We have to look at the realities their actions are producing. And when it comes to wars, we should (1) avoid them whenever reasonably possible and (2) insist that policy-makers take full account of the specific realities of that country instead of invading the country that imagine is there instead of the country that we're actually invading.

Today, the following comment of Bacevich's resonates with me much more strongly than it would have in 1999:
There are those, on both the left and the right, who will find much to applaud in the prospect of the United States exerting itself to "shape history." There are others, again across the political spectrum, who will judge such an endeavor to be suffused with arrogance and doomed to fail.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Zorro update: Selenia comes through!

In the June 18 episode, #88 by my count, Selenia finally put the hoodoo on Mariángel (Mangle) to make her madly in love - and wildly in lust - for Olmos the evil hunchback. Mangle and Olmos deserve each other. And this is going to fun to see!

The One the Only the Great Selenia visits Mangle's sickbed (with the local doctor/dentist/undertaker Agapito in the background)

Selenia arrives at Mangle sick-bed and insists she needs to talk to her alone. It's still a dark and stormy night and lightening flashes and thunder crashes as Selenia walks in. Sure, it's melodramatic and corny. But in the telenovela genre, it works just fine.

Selenia hypnotizes Mangle with her red ring. We don't get to hear what all Selenia tells her. But Mangle wakes up hot for Olmos. As she tells her dear daddy el Gobernador Fernando when he comes to visit later, to his considerable surprise. It's not entirely clear whether it was the love potion, the hypnosis or the combination of the two that got Mangle going. I'm guessing both, but who cares? She's going to be lusting after evil little Olmos now, who displayed his character in this episode by selling García and Esmeralda to slave traders - at a cut rate, even.

But García did save Esmeralda from being executed by Capitán Pizarro. Esmeralda was pretty much completely out of it, but she had a lucid moment or two, during one of which she told Pizarro that as long as she was alive, she would seek revenge for the death of her baby. Who we know isn't really dead and is safe with Diego at the hacienda. But she doesn't know that.

Zorro had a nice chat with Queen Ana Louisa in her bedchamber. He came off aggressive at first, accusing her of being behind the murders of Sara Kalí and Esmeralda. (Neither of whom are dead but Zorro doesn't know that.) But the Queen was surprised and promised to follow up on it. Other than sneaking into her bedroom armed in the middle of the night, he was the perfect gentleman. Except he refused to take off his mask despite repeated royal demands to do so.

Zorro promised to return the following night to talk to her and el Duque Jacobo, who was not thrilled to hear about this. But they have a date.

We didn't see Yumalai/Guadalupe in this episode. But I mentioned in a earlier post that she's into the Guadalupe Spanish mode at the moment.

Yumalai in Guadalupe mode


Zorro: Capítulos 83-87 (June 11-15)

Only the Shadow knows...Zorro visits the Queen in her bedroom

The action on Zorro moved ahead rapidly during the week of June 15 because they skipped six months into the future. Also, five out of five episodes included the One the Only the Great Selenia, a trend which I hope will continue. By the end of the week, Zorro was in the bedroom of Queen Ana Louisa, la Reina de España. La Reina has arrived in Los Ángeles and insisted on meeting first with the De la Vegas, who she considers allies.

El Duque Jacobo was obviously not thrilled with this. Diego communicates some of his suspicions of el Duque to Alejandro and María Pía. El Duque wastes no time plunging into new intrigues. He tells one of his co-conspirators that he will make sure the heads of el Comandante Montero and el Gobernador Fernando roll, literally, if Sara Kalí turns up alive.

Sara Kalí rallies the gitanos to confront the Queen of Spain

Speaking of Sara Kalí, she has revealed herself to the gitano tribe and she's ready to go to Los Ángeles to contact the Queen, who is her cousin Ana Louisa. Sara Kalí says the Queen was not part of the plot to kill off her family and she thinks that the Queen will do the right thing if they can just get to her and convince her that she's really Mercedes Mayorga de Aragón.

After the time-jump, both Mariángel (fondly known as Mangle to many Zorro fans) and Esmeralda have their babies on the same dark and stormy night that the Queen arrives in town. There are some nice plot parallels involved. Bothare assisted in the birth only by a short guy, Esmeralda by García and Mangle by Olmos. Esmeralda has the better deal.

I should mention here that, to my surprise, el Comandante before the time-jump managed to get Esmeralda back into her basement cell, where she languished for the next six months. After she gives birth to a health Diego, Jr., with García's help, el Comandante takes the baby away and gives it to el Capitán Pizarro to kill.

Ooohhhh... Olmos! Do you think the One the Only the Great Selenia is impressed with your little gun? Selenia and her magic dwarf Tarsisio face down a distraught Olmos

The births also highlight the characters of the short guys. García is bumbling, feckless, a bit cowardly, and not terribly bright but basically good at heart. Back at Mangle's bedside, the scheming Olmos also shows his character. Mangle's baby is born dead, because Olmos couldn't wait to give us Selenia's love potion. It killed the baby and Mangle still doesn't love him yet. She's also dying it seems, though Selenia says she can save her. Olmos is panicked and can only think of going to kill Selenia. Which he can't pull off, of course.

But it winds up that Pizarro leaves Esmeralda's baby (Diego's real child) in the cemetery and Olmos picks him up and substitutes him for Mangle's still-born child. So baby Diego winds up at the De la Vega hacienda.

There a poison plot parallel, too. Mangle winds up poisoned because love-crazed and sex-starved Olmos gave her the love potion while she was still pregnant. Meanwhile, Mangle has been poisoning Almudena back at the hacienda for six months.

Almudena is still hanging in there, but just barely. Yumalai has apparently learned a lot of Spanish ways in the missing six months, because after the time-jump we've so far onlyseen her in her Spanish/Guadalupe mode.

Does Aaron the Exorcist have a girlfriend? (she can't measure up to the One the Only the Great Selenia, I'm sure!) - Aaron flirts with a señorita while he stalks el Gobernador Fernando

Before the time-jump, we see Aaron the Exorcist in the background discretely paying close attention to el Gobernador Fernando. Fernando tells his guard not to bother him, that he's a strange saint, or something to that effect.Aaron the Exorcist, Selenia and Yumalai/Guadalupe are my favorite characters in this telenovela.

And it would be a shame to conclude with one more Selenia note. Here she's watching the Queen arrive but chatting with Tarsisio the magic dwarf about Olmos and Mangle:

Gratuitous Selenia picture


Christian cultism?

Cults don't always look like this (actually, this is Aaron the Exorcist from the Zorro: la espada y la rosa telenovela, one of my favorite characters)

The 04/19/07 issue of Rolling Stone carried an article by Jeff Sharlet about Ron Luce's fundamentalist Christian group
BattleCry, "Teenage Holy War". Rolling Stone placed an excerpt from the first part of the article online.

Sharlet's article is disturbing enough. But I was struck by one passage in the print version that shows that the group has some definite cult-like tendencies. But Sharlet didn't flag them that way. I can only guess what decisions he or his editors may have made. But it's also possible that Sharlet, like most journalists, wouldn't recognize these as warnings of cult tendencies.

He reports on the Honor Academy, which is prominently featured on
the group's Web site at the present writing. The Academy is said to be a one-year experience for teenagers. Sharlet reports, "Students, called interns, come for a year or more between high school and college."

And he describes one of the striking features of the Honor Academy "campus":

There's also what they call the "Back 40," several hundred acres on which stand more primitive structures, retreats for toughening up the kids, and a Quonset-hut officer's club for those who stay to become employees or permanent volunteers, forgoing college or earning mail-order degrees from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
That mention of some of the kids deciding to stay living in apparently Spartan conditions permanently really caught my eye. Especially giving the socially restrictive conditions Sharlet describes. Here's his portrait of a typical day there:

Intern days begin as early as 4:45 A.M. •with an hour of group exercise on the court near the Academy's swimming pool. Mornings are for classes: There's "Character Development," which focuses on "obedi-ence" and "purity," and the "World View Mocule," in which one learns to see current events around the world through the lens of obedience and purity.
"Purity" for BattleCry means, especially, no sex. And presumably no lustful thoughts, either.

Then there's this:

Further reinforcement comes from the Academy's required "Life Transforming Events," the most grueling of which is ESOAL (Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of a Lifetime). Luce was reluctant to share details about the "Opportunity," a fifty-to-ninety-hour sleep-deprived endurance test, but a short video of the 2005 ESOAL provides revealing glimpses: students weeping and dragging giant wooden crosses on their shoulders; a boy rolling and puking across a field while a senior intern "sergeant" in camouflage and a helmet urges him on; a platoon of weeping girls; a shell-shocked boy mumbling into the camera, "Don't know what time it is.... Don't know what matters. ... Don't even necessarily know who I can trust." (my emphasis)
The Web site presents a 2006 ESOAL video as of this writing.

As hair-raising as that sounds, Sharlet's article doesn't provide enough information about the right factors, such as what kind of personal authority Luce and his senior assistants exercise over their most devoted members, to say definitively that he's describing a cult.

But there are some screaming warning signs there that this group could be a cult, or a group evolving into a cult.

In any case, it's hard to imagine a camp like that is really constructive or healthy for 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds.

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Iran War propaganda

Gareth Porter writes on Cheney's Iran-Arms-to-Taliban Gambit Rebuffed Inter Press Service 06/11/07. He writes that the drug trade certainly accounts for some trafficing of arms along the Iran-Afghanistan border:
[Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [NATO Afghanistan commander Gen. Dan] McNeill are obviously aware of the link between arms entering Afghanistan from Iran and the flow of heroin from Afghanistan into Iran. It is well known that Afghan drug lords who command huge amounts of money have been able to penetrate the long and porous border with ease. They have undoubtedly been involved in buying arms in Iran with their drug proceeds for both themselves and the Taliban, which protects their drug routes. Smuggling is relatively easy because of the money available for bribery of border guards.

Another factor helping to explain the influx of arms from Iran, as noted by former Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Momand in an interview on Pakistan's GEO television Apr. 19, is that the Taliban now controls areas on the Iranian border for the first time. Momand said the Taliban, which is awash in money from the heroin exports to Iran, buys small quantities of weapons in Iran and smuggles them back into Afghanistan.

But the Iranian government itself is not involved in the trade in arms, Momand insisted.
He also reminds us that the bulk of outside arms supplied to the Taliban is coming from Pakistan, an ally in Bush's Global War on Terrorism:
Afghanistan specialist Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation, who visited Afghanistan most recently in early 2007, says some elements of the Iranian government may be involved in arms trafficking but that it is "very small-scale support" and that Iran does not want to strengthen the Taliban.

NATO commanders in Pakistan have long been aware that the Taliban has been dependent on Pakistan for its arms and ammunition. The Telegraph reported Sunday that a NATO report on a recent battle shows the Taliban fired an estimated 400,000 rounds of ammunition, 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 1,000 mortar shells and had stocked over one million rounds of ammunition, all of which came from Quetta, Pakistan during the spring months.
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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kurt Waldheim, the "all-powerful lobby" and contemporary anti-Semitism

Refugees from the Kozara massacre, perpetrated in 1942; Waldheim was in Bosnia as an intelligence officer on the staff of the West Bosnia Combat Group of Army Group 12 (later Heeresgruppe E) while Group 12 was helping Croatian fascists carry out the massacre and subsequent deportations of survivors to Croatian camps

In the tenth anniversary year of his 1986 Presidential campaign, Kurt Waldheim sat for an interview with G. Hoffmann-Osterhof of Profil magazine, which appeared in the 17.06.1996 number of Profil under the title "Everyone is Afraid". Here I'm going to give long excerpts from my translation of that interview with some comments of my own. Profil's questions are in italics. The bolding for emphasis is mine.

Keep in mind while reading these excerpts that Waldheim in his posthumous "reconciliation" plea complained mightily that he would like to have take a clear historical stand on the crimes of the Third Reich, even though he still denied having done anything wrong in his Wehrmacht service in the bloody partisan warfare and deportations of Jews, Bosnians and Macedonians in the Balkans. In this 1996 interview, he presumably had the opportunity to express his honest view of such matter.

He even says in his first response below that he believed enough time had passed to deal with these things dispassionately". So presumably, the 1996 interview reflected his dispassionate intellectual understanding of the issues he addresses.

Profil: Herr Doctor Waldheim, the title of your book that has just been published is "Die Antwort" (The Answer). But it contain little beyond that which you have already said in the course of recent years. Why did you really write this book?

Waldheim: I wanted to make a summary presentation of my case. On July 8, it will be exactly 10 years ago that I assumed the office of Federal President. Therefore I thought that enough time had passed to deal withthese things dispassionately. But when you say there is nothing new in it, then I don't share that view. For example, I describe what happened when the President of the World Jewish Congress [WJC], Edgar Bronfman, brought pressure to bear on the American Secretary of State, George Schultz, and the US Attorney General, Edwin Meese, to place me on the watch list. It weighed heavily on the two government officials that the Jewish organizations of the USA gave little recognition to the Republican Administration's services on Jewish concerns. Bronfman merely replied, "Our behavior in the Presidential election of 1988 depends on your behavior." When Meese asked, "And what should we do?", Bronfman declared that it would be a useful signal to place Waldheim on the watch list. That is a kind of pressure that is unusual in international life - especially when it concerns two states that have traditionally had friendly relations.
It's true that the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations pressed publicly and privately for Waldheim to be placed on the US watch list, which effectively prevented him from travelling to the US. Waldheim does not mention that Greek organizations in the US were doing the same. He does not site his source for this alleged conversation of Edgar Bronfman with Meese and Schultz.

Hoffmann-Osterhof followed up with a sensible question:

But is it not normal in America that lobbies - Jewish and Arab lobbies, gun lobbies and environmental lobbies and many others - raise their concerns to the government? American politics these days is often described that way. What was so special about that?

The brutal form. I have established serious grounds for that of which I have just spoken.
Waldheim's "dispassionate" response was to duck the question and whine.

In your book, you write about the not merely "powerful" but rather "all-powerful" Israeli lobby, which exerts pressure on politics in America and other states. Perhaps the Israeli lobby has influence, but just how is it "all-powerful"?

We are not experts, but we have at least an insight, because we were compelled to occupy ourselves with it. You need only to read the book by Herr Rosenbaum, the current head of the [US Justice Department's] Office of Special Investigation. Everything is there. Howthe World Jewish Congress was glad that Meese declared himself ready to turn the Waldheim case over to the OSI, while they were thereby spared a lot of work - and above all money - if the investigation was carried out by the Justice Department. That is also something that doesn't come out here in this form - this cooperation. First Herr Rosenbaum was at the Jewish Congress, then he became chief of the OSI - the gentlemen exchange the positions over and over - Neil Sher, Rosenbaum, Sternberg and others.
The book to which Waldheim refers there is Eli MRosenbaum with William Hoffer, Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up (1993).

Waldheim's repeated references to Rosenbaum's book Betrayal are striking. He later says, "I can only recommend that you read the Rosenbaum book closely." Waldheim gives the impression that the book supports his argument of an "all-powerful" Jewish conspiracy against him.

In fact, Waldheim's comments were more of a "preemptive strike" against the book, which had not been published in a German-language edition at that time (and as far as I can tell from an Internet search, has never been published in German). As an experienced prosecutor and war crimes investigator, Rosenbaum makes a persuasive case that, during Waldheim's wartime service in the Balkans, he was directly implicated in criminal actions including: reprisal killings of civilians, among them the notorious the Kozara massacre in western Bosnia led by the fascist Croatian Ustashi forces; the murder of British prisoners-of-war; deportation of Jews to death camps; transport of Italian prisoners to slave-labor camps after Italy's surrender; and, the authorization of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets. (One of the leaflets apparently authorized by Waldheim exhorted Soviet soldiers, "Enough of the Jewish war. Come over. Kill the Jews." See p. 338 of the book.) Rosenbaum also paints a highly unflattering picture of Waldheim during and after the 1986 election campaign.

But at that time there were also internal Austrian political aspects.

Yes, of course, the whole thing was first of all an internal political campaign. My political opponents in Austria at that time attempted to destroy my chances of becoming Federal President - and they did very well at it back then. The accusations and suspicions were then passed on to the USA. As a result - this is also in the book by Rosenbaum - they sent a Jewish emissary to Vienna, who met with an Austrian in the Stadtpark (city park).

Evidently with Hans Pusch, the head of the Cabinet of then-Federal Chancellor FredSinowatz...

The emissary is said to have met with him, among others. Therefore the Jewish Congress - as one can read in Rosenbaum - sent someone to Vienna at the wishes of the Lobby here in order to get incriminating information.
What Waldheim says here is consistent with Rosenbaum's account. In his book, Rosenbaum describes how he himself went to Vienna and met with a representative from the Socialist Party (since renamed the Social Democratic Party) who he identifies only with the pseudonym "Karl Schuller." In the following, Waldheim refers to Rosenbaum melodramatically as "the emissary."

As I said in an earlier post, I've never understood why the Socialists felt like that had to do such a cloak-and-dagger routine instead of surfacing the information themselves. For one thing, it did make it easier for Waldheim and his supporters to make the whole thing sound like a sleazy smear campaign.

According to Rosenbaum's account, it was Leon Zelman, director of the Jewish Welcome Service of Vienna and survivor of the Mauthausen and Auschwitz camps, who made the first contact with the World Jewish Congress about investigating Waldheim's wartime past. Rosenbaum describes Zelman as having "played a leading role in achieving a rapprochement of sorts between the Jewish world and the people of Austria." (p. 3)

What is so reprehensible about that?

What concern did Herr Rosenbaum and the Lobby over there have with the Austrian election campaign? The Presidency was an internal political concern of Austria...

With a candidate who was UN Secretary General for 10 years.

It is a generally recognized international principle that one does not interfere in the "domestic affairs" - as it is so beautifully called - in the internal political matters of another country.

Do you now mean the interference of the World Jewish Congress?

In the specific case, I mean the World Jewish Congress. But also seen generally.

But do many organization not interfere in the internal matter so states, for example, Amnesty International and Greenpeace?

I  just think that it should have been a normal election campaign. I was most deeply convinced that I had not committed any crimes and that the accusations against me were unjustified. Three international commissions and institutions examined the charges against me and came to the conclusion that the accusations against Dr. Waldheim were unjustified.
The interviewer keeps challenging Waldheim with what should be obvious, that the things that the WJC did which Waldheim tries to make sound sinister and unusual were actually things that lobbies and various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) do all the time. Waldheim was also one of the most prominent people in the world at that time, having served two terms as Secretary-General of the UN.

Waldheim here applies a typical tactic of anti-Semites and other conspiracy-mongers. He omits the fact that there were many groups and individuals, both inside Austria and out, who were at a minimum concerned about the revelations.

Another aspect of the case that I haven't yet seen mentioned in the obituary summaries involves the fact that some of the material that implicated Waldheim in war crimes were held by the Communist Tito government of Yugoslavia. One questioned raised by the revelations in 1986 was whether Yugoslavia could have been using those materials in some way to blackmail Waldheim when he was Secretary-General of the UN. But, so far as I'm aware, there was never even circumstantial proof that such blackmail occurred. It was only a theoretical possibility. And that element was also not at all central to the controversy.

Waldheim didn't say which "three international commissions and institutions" it was to which he was referring. But the Report of the International Commission of Historians Designated to Establish the Military Service of Lt. Kurt Waldheim, a Commission assembledby Austrian officials with Waldheim's approval, concluded in its report issued February 8, 1988:

The resulting picture is one of varying proximity to criminal measures and orders under the rules of war. ... In general, some guilt must arise simply from knowledge of violation of human rights, when the person concerned - through lack of personal strength or courage - neglects his duty as a human being in intervening against injustices. ...

The Commission has received no indication of any case in which Waldheim raised objection to, protested at, or took steps against an order for an injustice of which he was certainly aware, in order to prevent or at least hinder the realization of the injustice. On the contrary, he repeatedly assisted in connection with illegal actions and thereby facilitated their perpetration. (my emphasis)
The Austrian Press Service responded to the Commission's report with a bold "preemptive strike" on behalf of their President. The day before the report was released, the Service released a statement stating simply that the Commission "found no evidence" of Waldheim's complicity in war crimes. President Waldheim himself said that his role in the war "was the normal fare of a young Austrian." Presumably, this sharply critical report is one of those to which Waldheim refers in this interview as having come "to the conclusion that accusations against Dr. Waldheim were unjustified."

In the following, the Profil interviewer continues to press him on his conspiracy theory about the vaguely-defined Jewish lobby that Waldheim described in his book as "all-powerful":

Nevertheless, you were isolated. How do you explain that such respectable independent newspapers as the "Neue Zurcher Zeitung" [Zurich] and "Le Monde " [Paris] reported on you negatively? Did they also come under the pressure of the Lobby?

Unfortunately, I cannot completely exclude it. Some are coming under this pressure - even until today!

What constitutes the power of this Lobby?

Look who rules in America. Then you will see it.

How is this pressure exercised concretely -for instance, on newspaper editors? Are they appealed to?

It is a worldwide network that is in operation here. It has great power. I can only recommend that you read the Rosenbaum book closely. There are revelations in it. It is emphatically confirmed that this worldwide network is enormously effective. There is also pressure against journalists. Some, that I still know of from my time in New York, have told me that they lost their jobs because they supported me and tried to counter the smears (Verleumdungen).
This is typical anti-Semitic conspiracy-theory talk. Waldheim again ducked the reality-based questions that the interviewer had posed. He didn't name any of the journalists who had allegedly lost their jobs because of supporting him.

In the following passage, the discussion refers to the major exhibition "War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941-1944," which appeared in Hamburg in 1995 and Vienna in 1995-96. The exhibition challenged the tendency to minimize the role of the Wehrmacht, the regular armed forces in World War II, in war crimes and especially in the Holocaust.

The exhibit was very controversial because the popular image of the Wehrmacht in both Germany and Austria was that the Wehrmacht had largely performed as a professional military and had no distinct responsibility for the Holocaust, in particular. Since so many millions of German men had been required to served in the Wehrmacht - including men like Waldheim from the Ostmark (annexed Austria) - there was a particular sensitivity about any implication that simply serving in the Wehrmacht directly implicated a person in war crimes or crimes against humanity. Waldheim made full use of this general sentiment about the Wehrmacht to pose as an ordinary German soldiers who did his duty without committing war crimes.

Although it's not relevant to anything Waldheim says in the interview, the Wehrmacht exhibition received close scrutiny, and was eventually withdrawn from public viewing in order to make a number of corrections in response to some legitimate criticisms from historians, including some photos that were incorrectly identified in the exhibit.

A German speech by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, on of Germany's leading historians, is available online at
Wehrmacht und Nationalsozialismus 27.01.2002, given on the occasion of the reopening of the corrected exhibit. The Hamburg Institut für Sozialforschung has a Web page on the exhibit, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941-1944. An English version is also available.

In your book, you also write in detail about your time in the German Wehrmacht. Recently in Vienna, a much-noticed Wehrmacht exhibition was shown. Did you visitit?


Why not? Didn't it interest you?

I had so many other things to do, and I knew the Wehrmacht.

For those born later, the exhibition was shocking because it shows how the Wehrmacht directly and in the very forefront of its operations in the East and in the Balkans was taking part in the destruction of the Jews. You, by contrast, portray the Wehrmacht very generously as an organization with many anti-Nazis, almost as a gathering point for oppositionists. Isn't there a contradiction?

The deportation of the Jews and their persecution is one of the greatest tragedies of world history. I am the first to regret this, shocked and in the deepest way Yet we didn't know about that. I did not know about the extent of this Jewish persecution - especially during the time of my military service. I first found out about the whole extent of the Holocaust after the war.

But the Wehrmacht provided the logistics for the deportations, and there was from the highest Wehrmacht leadership in Russia the so-called Commissar-Order, in the Balkans "atonement orders, " which directly referred to the destruction of the Jews. You were an information officer...

I never saw such orders.

They didn 't come across your desk?

No. If there were such orders in Russia or elsewhere, then I am shocked and regret it most deeply, because I find nothing more terrible than the persecution of people. If there were such orders, then they were criminal.
In his posthumous "reconciliation" plea, Waldheim wrote:

I regret most seriously that I - under the pressure of monstrous accusations that had nothing to do with my life and my thinking - waited much too long to take a clear and unmistakable position on the Nazi crimes. The reason for that was neither doubtful basic convictions nor any kind of political calculation, but rather the consternation, the offense, even the horror over the content and volume of these accusations.(my translation)
We see in the 1996 Profil interview what his "clear and unmistakable position" on the crimes of the Wehrmacht in service to the Hitler regime were. With reference to the old TV series Hogan's Heroes, We might call it the Sargeant Schultz defense: "I know noth-ink! I see noth-ink!"

In the last part of the published interview, Hoffmann-Osterhof pressed Waldheim for his clear and unmistakable position on the Wehrmacht's criminal actions:

Then the Wehrmacht actually waged a criminal war.

No war is anything good. In our time, we can do only one thing: to help see that such a war is not repeated, that there is no war at all.

Was there a difference between Hitler's war and other wars?

I would say, any war is a terrible experience.
That was Kurt Waldheim. Even in 1996, he was interested only in pandering to the far right. Waldheim's anti-Semitism and his unwillingness to distinguish Germany's war of aggression from any other war will be immediately obvious to most readers. He was probably skirting the borders of Austria's laws against anti-Semitic propaganda in this interview with his nonsense about the worldwide Jewish conspiracy.