Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

January 1, 2009

Maher:Hitchens::Vietnam:Iraq

Filed under: history, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:52 am

I happened across the above video recently where Maher was defending the Vietnam war and Hitchens was criticizing it.  It is a bizarro moment because in more recent discussions I have seen between Hitchens and Maher about the Iraq war, they are in the opposite position.  Hitchens is for the war; Maher is against.  It floors me particularly because the arguments are essentially the same for the war, the actors are different.

Maher, when supporting the war in Vietnam, feels the need to stop the advance of communism.  Hitchens, when supporting the war in Iraq, feels the need to stop the advance of Islamic extremism.  In both pro-arguments, the particular war is seen in the context of a larger war of civilizations.  

In truth, both wars were started for essentially imperial reasons.  Vietnam was, to a first approximation, an ideological war.  Iraq was, to a first approximation, a resource war.

The fear of Vietnam was a type of domino theory, although not as it is usually described.  The fear was that a colonial or client state would obtain some degree of prosperity through nationalistic or socialistic reform and would become a model for popular uprisings in other colonial or client states.  I’m somewhat surprised when people say the United States lost the Vietnam war.  Lost?  Lost what?  It isn’t like the Vietnamese invaded Washington D.C.  Not a single U.S. city was even attacked by the National Liberation Front.  Vietnam was bombed and devastated to such an extent that it did not become a model for countries elsewhere.  The United States failed towards one goal, the country did not relent and submit to a puppet regime, thus proving armed resistance could succeed if one was willing to endure massive casualties and mass devastation for the principle of self-determination.  What a Pyrrhic victory for the Vietnamese!  Why the United States continued the war, even after its government knew that the installation of a puppet regime was not going to work, was to increase the cost of this victory.

The Iraq war was a war of opportunity.  After September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration saw a historic opportunity to establish American power in the heart of the world’s energy reserves, and they took it.    

As Bertrand Russell put it in The History of Western Philosophy: “The stages in the evolution of ideas have had almost the quality of the Hegelian dialectic: doctrines have developed, by steps that each seem natural, into their opposites (pg. 643).”

For both Maher and Hitchens, both of their respective pro-war arguments are equal in merit in principle, and equally divorced from the particular circumstances of the actual conflict.  The role-reversal is so stark, it seems unlikely they are even aware.  Although, it is said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

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July 7, 2008

Naomi Klein: The Greatest Stick-Up in History

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 7:55 am

Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism has an article over at the Guardian “Big Oil’s Iraq deals are the greatest stick-up in history.”

The presumed argument that Klein is going against is the following:  the United States has spent a lot of money on Iraq.  The long-term costs of the war are likely to top 3 trillion dollars according to Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.  The United States overthrew the government of Iraq for great cost in terms of blood and treasure, American tax-payers deserve to get something back, namely cheaper gas.

One can see this dynamic play out in comparing and contrasting how Democracy Now! covers the oil contracts versus MSNBC.

I don’t know precisely where this cheaper gas narrative comes from.  Even if Iraq started pumping more oil into the world market, it is not clear how much the price of gas would drop.  No doubt it would be quite a boon for the oil companies as Klein points out: “Iraq is being forced to sell 75% of its national patrimony to pay the bills for its own illegal invasion and occupation.”  Less money for the Iraqi people is more money for the oil companies. However, a significant chunk of the gas price increases were due to increasing demand of emerging markets and devaluation of the dollar due to trade deficits and debt.  The benefit is for those who control the oil fields, not for those who buy the gas.  Acting as if there is a shared interest between for-profit corporations and their consumers is, at its heart, disingenuous.   It likens us to dogs who cheer on the fortunes of our masters for the hope that the plenty will improve the quality and quantity of our table scraps.  We are not dogs; we are oil junkies.  Oil companies are the dealers that feed our habit.

Do we deserve a medal?  Some type of award for our ability to uncritically accept all the comfortable lies we are constantly told?  Abu Ghraib was the result of a few bad apples.  The purpose of the Iraq War was to disarm Saddam Hussein because he poised an imminent threat and to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East.  This is not something to be critically considered, it is something to be laughed in the sincere hope that these lies will die of embarrassment because no one can take them seriously.  The problem with America is its inability to recognize a good joke.

June 20, 2008

Iraq: The Colonial War

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:10 am

The New York Times is reporting that “Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.”

These are no bid contracts.  However the most disingenuous part of the article is the following:

While the current contracts are unrelated to the companies’ previous work in Iraq, in a twist of corporate history for some of the world’s largest companies, all four oil majors that had lost their concessions in Iraq are now back.

Really? You think that awarding no bid contracts to corporations in countries that are currently occupying Iraq is mere coincidence? Corporations that have direct ties to people now in power?

As Stephen Kinzer’s book “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” shows, the vast majority of American interventions follow this pattern.

In a certain sense, separating politics and economics is a lie. The slightly archaic but holistic term political economy represents a proper quantum of study. The study of one, without the other, impoverishes the understanding of both, since the two topics are intimately related. Clausewitz said “war is a continuation of politics by other means” although apparently the obvious interpretation of this statement is not what Clausewitz meant. However, the obvious interpretation appears true, so I would go one step further: war is a continuation of economics by other means.

Oil as a commodity isn’t the sole reason we invaded Iraq. Understanding how the political and economic factors inter-relate provides the proper basis for its comprehension.

Iraq is an imperial project. As Chalmers Johnson argues, we can have a Republic or we can have an Empire, we can’t have both. Right now, we are on the road to empire.

May 1, 2008

NBC and the Myth of the Liberal Media

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 7:46 am

Glenn Greenwald has a post about NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ response to the New York Times military analyst story. Ok, that is a bit convoluted, so let me try to clear this up. First of all, the New York Times on April 20th ran a story exposing the complicity of the “independent” military experts used by various news agencies and the Pentagon. It is very likely that the Pentagon program was illegal. Not only that, but these military generals frequently had various conflicts of interests, none of which was hinted at by the networks on which they appeared to viewers. The goal of the Pentagon program was to use the generals as “message force multipliers” (no, I’m not making that up, it is what the Pentagon called them).

This story has been met by the mainstream news media with almost complete silence. There have been a few mentions in the mainstream media, but for the most part it has been blacked out. The major networks just won’t talk about it. In fact, there are now some clocks about it.

In one of the ways that old world meets new, Brian Williams now has a blog. He took some time to knock some of the more gossipy stories in the New York Times and expresses his thoughts that former Reagan speech writer and current Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan should get a Pulitzer prize for commentary.

In one of the great moments of web 2.0, Glenn writes a post about this and causes a virtual mob to descend on Williams’ blog until he finally addresses the Pentagon “message force multiplier” story.

In doing so, Williams displays more of the jaw-dropping insipid behavior it took him to be completely silent about the story to begin with.

To get insight into this behavior, we must look at the institutional structure of the mainstream media. I posted this before, but it bears a view if one hasn’t seen it already.

It is important to realize that we don’t have a liberal media. But, if you believed that wasn’t true, where would you get the evidence? How would you notify others of your findings? How could you dissuade people who hear the numerous assertions from mainstream and right-wing channels constantly asserting the opposite with various anecdotal cases? The voices have always been there, they have just been buried.  The dominant narrative is the one most often repeated, just keep connecting liberal and media, eventually people will believe it.

One of the best counter-examples of the liberal media is NBC’s flap with Arianna Huffington. NBC confirmed that she wouldn’t be booked on any NBC-affiliated show to promote her book. Is this because of criticism of Tim Russert on her site the Huffington Post?  Whatever the behavior, it certainly isn’t liberal.

In short, certain messages are multiplied. Others are ignored. Some are dismissed. Still some are demandingly challenged. It is not a matter of standards, it is a matter of agenda. There is a reason why the mainstream media gives equal time for lies, others are allowed in but placed under constraints of concision, and others are allowed to opine endlessly.  We then reach the inescapable fact, the news media does what it sees in its interest which is profit.  And for some, like those in the media, war can be very profitable.

April 21, 2008

Selling the War: The Unending Endeavor

Filed under: film, media, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:11 am

The New York Times ran an article exposing the complicity and collusion of “objective” military experts in the pre- and post-invasion coverage of the Iraq War. Glenn Greenwald has some additional commentary that is worth reading.

To bring this into perspective, there was a belief among certain segments of the military and hawkish politicians that it was the news coverage that eroded the popular support and eventually forced the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. There was a concerted effort by the Pentagon to ensure this did not happen to this conflict. This is but one facet of the larger effort.

Was the coverage slanted in the run-up to the war? Yes. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that nothing has changed. The media still trots out pro-war advocates like Kenneth M. Pollack as one-time critics, sober, serious, independent evaluators of Bush’s foreign policy. As Pollack tellingly reveals:

Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Pollack, a man who sees no problem conflating threats. He who has no problem with politicians over simplifying the situation in Iraq and just group everyone who is attacking our troops in a country that we invaded with the people who attacked us on 9/11. In other words, Pollack has no problem with politicians manipulating and lying to the American public which he deems too stupid or ignorant to understand the complexity of the situation to support the position that he has always supported: we go and we stay.  These are the experts the “liberal” news media consults as the independent observers.  These voices are never culled and there is never any indication to suggest how consistently wrong they have been.  It is just denial after denial from the news organizations until confronted with incontrovertible evidence which is then met with uniform and deafening silence.

As for the overall political climate such coverage helps create, it is important to realize there are four classes of people in this conflict: hawkish soldiers, dutiful soldiers, doves and chicken hawks. When compared to past wars, the group which has seen the largest growth are the chicken hawks. To the degree that this war continues, the 9/11 generation is increasingly the chicken hawk generation.  Maybe this should be no surprise considering that it was led by a president who used family connections to serve in the National Guard and a vice-president who received multiple deferments and is similarly cheered on by a cast of similarly chicken hawk personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson (which is documented along with others in Greenwald’s book “Great American Hypocrites.”)

It would be bad enough if this were just some academic debate.  Something where we could disagree and get a beer afterwards.  But people are dying and people are being horrendously injured.  This occupation needs to end.  If you don’t listen to me, a dove.   How about a dutiful soldier.

April 16, 2008

McCain Opposes New GI Bill

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 6:54 am

Salon has a piece on McCain’s opposition to a measure that would expand and renew the GI Bill.  What makes the opposition unconscionable is that a few days earlier, on the view, McCain talked about increasing the size of the military.  To entice more volunteers, for a unending war that we refuse to draft for, McCain said the government should focus on incentives: “[O]ne of the things we ought to do is provide [the troops with] significant educational benefits in return for serving.”

Crooks and Liars has video of him saying it.  It is about 4 minutes in.

Earlier in the video, McCain outlines his strategy for success.  We need to keep troops there until they stop getting killed, then they get to stay.

What is McCain’s rationale for opposing the GI Bill.  We can’t really say.  But, it might be along the same lines as Bush officials who “worry that a more generous and expansive GI Bill would create an incentive for troops to get out of the military and go to college.”

I didn’t agree with this war from the beginning.  Irrespective of that, the people who did fight deserve to be taken care of.  It is debatable whether an all volunteer force is better than a larger force with some conscription as far as the military mission is concerned.  However, what an all volunteer force does is relieve some of the political pressure.  Apathetic youth suddenly find a reason to participate in their government when they find out they might be the next victim of an IED.  Keeping the physical burden to a small group of volunteers and mercenaries combined with simply passing the financial burden onto the next generation of Americans seems to be the order of the day. As it stands, there is no shared sacrifice to this war in Iraq.  The people who did get called to go have had to bear an unfair burden.

In this respect, McCain is not a candidate that represents a departure from disastrous Bush policies.  He is more of the same.

March 7, 2008

Rolling Stone: The Myth of the Surge

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:35 am

Rolling Stone has an insightful article called “The Myth of the Surge.” (h/t crooksandliars)

If we want to look at why the war is costing so much and not achieving the results we expected, the article provides some answers to why that is the case. Quagmire seems a fitting way to describe it.

Hopefully it will give some context to what is really going on when “fifty-three people were killed and 125 were wounded in two bomb attacks Thursday evening in a Baghdad commercial district.” Or when the news story says:

Also Thursday, the U.S. military said a U.S.-backed Iraqi group helped American troops find an “al Qaeda in Iraq torture house and prison.”

A local leader in Sons of Iraq — the name of the Iraqi militia or grass-roots group helping the U.S. and Iraqi militaries — provided intelligence that led troops Wednesday to the facility, located 20 miles south of Baghdad, the military said in a news release.

An American troop commander, was quoted as saying the local leader “wants to clean up the area” since “AQI killed half his family.”

Soldiers found “a house full of materials used by insurgents for torture.”

The U.S. military also said Thursday that coalition troops in Iraq killed four insurgents and detained 26 others in raids Wednesday and Thursday targeting al Qaeda in Iraq.

Know that the story is probably no where near as unambiguous as it is portrayed. We don’t know language. We don’t know the culture. The troops live in their bases, then go out and kill and arrest Iraqis based on information that is at best questionable. The U.S. military is being used to pull off local political power plays on people that latched on extremists because they offered protection and money caused by the power vacuum left in the wake of the invasion.

March 5, 2008

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict

Filed under: books, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:07 am

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes wrote a new book about the Iraq War called “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.” Gary Kamiya wrote an excellent piece called “The cold price of hot blood” over at salon.com.

Joseph E. Stiglitz has been a critic of George W. Bush administration before, writing a piece in Vanity Fair called “The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush.”

The first thing to remember about the Iraq War and its costs, as Kamiya points out, is how dismissive Bush administration officials were of more accurate estimates for the wars costs. Recently the White House has turned to a new strategy.

One can’t even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11. It is also an investment in the future safety and security of Americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?

It bears repeating that Iraq had next to nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. Secondly, all indications are that the 9/11 attack was carried out by a small but determined band of people upset by the American presence in the Middle East. In this respect, the Iraq War has been a tremendous American policy failure since it has emboldened a new wave of anti-American sentiment throughout the region. Third, how did Mr. Fratto learn of these new attacks on the homeland? Through the torture of prisoners that were suspected of being terrorists, as if any confession given under torture or threat of torture is reliable.

It is really hard to imagine how much money three trillion dollars is. So, we’ll put it in terms of the stock market. Market capitalization is term for the current price of a stock multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. It is approximately how much money it would take to completely buy out the company at present market value. Now, such a value tends to be too low, so let’s say we double the market capitalization on any given company, or put another way, how many companies could be buy with 1.5 trillion.

Company Symbol Market Cap. as of 3/4/08 close
Microsoft MSFT 256 Billion
General Electric GE 335 Billion
Bank of America Corporation BAC 173 Billion
The Walt Disney Company DIS 61 Billion
McDonald’s Corporation MCD 62 Billion
Google Inc. GOOG 140 Billion
Exxon Mobil Corporation XOM 464 Billion

And still have 18 billion left over. Again, we are paying double the current stock price for all these companies and this would purchase all the shares.

The Iraq War may finally come down to a simple reality: can we afford to continue it?  And like the war, we shouldn’t expect a sudden shock, but rather an economic quagmire of higher taxes, and fewer services due to a burdensome debt.

Money is being wasted.   No one is allowed to say, “mistakes were made.”  No on is allowed to say, “we didn’t know.”  The evidence is there, staring us right in the face.  The only question is whether we heed the warnings and respond to it appropriately.

February 11, 2008

Rolling Stone: The Chicken Doves

Filed under: history, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 10:46 am

Rolling Stone has an article titled “The Chicken Doves.”  It equates Harry Reid’s and Nancy Pelosi’s political collapse to Neville Chamberlain’s.  Although to be fair, Neville Chamberlain deserves far less blame than Reid and Pelosi.  Chamberlain was trying to stop the break-out of another World War on the faint hope that giving the Sudetenland to Germany would be enough to prevent it.  Chamberlain had miscalculated.  Hitler’s imperial ambitions did not end at the Sudetenland and war was inevitable.   However, appeasement may have been successful in drawing Germany eastward and opening up a new front in the war, which was essential to Germany’s eventual defeat.

Chamberlain worked to prevent a major war from breaking out.  Pelosi and Reid refuse to end a disastrous one that has already begun.  Like Hitler, Bush’s imperial ambitions extend far beyond the few countries the United States is currently occupying.  Bush has let it be known that his goal is to transform the Middle East through regime change.  Bush has stated that he wants to establish democracies.  In practice, what Bush wants are obedient client states in the region.

The nature of the Democratic party’s collapse is their unwillingness to press the issue.  They could have forced compromises by being as obstinate as the remaining Republicans in Congress are the President are.  The Democrats are unwilling to play hard-ball.  So, the killing continues.   We will not have an end to this occupation until those who want to end it, want to do so as badly as those who want to continue the bloodshed.  If the Rolling Stone article shows anything, it is that trying to end this war will be an ongoing struggle, even if a Democratic president comes to power in 2009.

January 19, 2008

The Things They Carried: Tim O’Brien

Filed under: books, culture, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 12:01 pm

I’m approximately a third of the way through “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. It is on track to be one of the finest works of literature I’ve ever read. I find myself tearing up almost every night I read it. I don’t believe there is any objective measure of one’s favorite novel. Books carry different meanings depending on the perspectives and experiences of the reader. For any one reader, these perspectives change over time, and even with circumstances. For example, reading “Catch-22” was a very powerful moment in my life. It exposed the inanity of authority and the world in general in a way that wouldn’t have affected me as much as it did if it had come before or after High School.

“The Things They Carried” comes at a similar moment. I have, by in large, lucked out. The country went to war again, but it didn’t draft. In all likelihood, if the country did start up the draft, I would now be considered too old. However, if I was of a similar age during the Vietnam era, I might have found myself in similar circumstances to Tim O’Brien, participating in a war I didn’t agree with, against an enemy that I didn’t truly understand, in a country I had no interest in ever visiting. O’Brien talks about the dark humor, animal cruelty, and basic inhumanity of the war. I can’t help but draw parallels to U.S. soldiers blowing up a cat in Iraq and the other stories I’ve previously explored. There is a moral imperative to end the occupation of Iraq similar to the way we did in Vietnam. I am not ignorant of the repercussions of such an action. However, as one of the fortunate ones, there is a duty I have to those of the past, who found themselves in similar circumstances, but unlike Tim O’Brien, didn’t make it back. I also have a duty to the present, to the soldiers that go, not because they agree, but rather because they are told.

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If a the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.

– “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien (pgs 68-69)

The protected must be at least as strong as the protectors we send into the heart of darkness. Irrational fear must not guide our actions, otherwise we are no better barbarians, practicing human sacrifice to appease our imagined and violent God.

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