Armies Of The Benighted, cont’d.

Ray writes:
It would be illuminating to cross reference those that wanted to intervene in the Balkans during the 90’s to those that oppose a similar action in Iraq.
One supposed objection raised by the neo-cons is that many opponents of the coming invasion of Iraq supported the Clinton Administration’s intervention in the Balkans and would support a war against Iraq under a Gore Administration.  I see no contradiction in such a position.  Despite the canard that "politics stops at the water’s edge," it makes a great deal of difference who is in office when deciding whether to support a particular foreign policy.  Those who affect to be scandalized by opposition to Bush’s invasion of Iraq precisely because Bush is calling for it would have us believe that one intervention is the same as any other, and that motives are irrelevant when the U.S. sends troops into harm’s way.  Only someone besotted by notions of "moral clarity" would fail to see that who is to execute a policy should be a primary factor in judging the soundness of that policy.

Quite simply, conceiving and implementing a long-term policy for bringing the Ottoman successor states into the twenty-first century is a bit of a poser.  Rolling into Baghdad is the easy part.  Surely, one would not give this assignment to an outfit whose competence and motivation were suspect.  This was the real import of the weapons-of-mass-destruction ruse; to create a sense of urgency that overrode questions of the Administration’s fitness for the job.  While I might support a military intervention in the Middle East (not necessarily in Iraq) by a more trustworthy and competent Administration, I remain convinced that the unfavorable outcomes that will result from this ill-conceived invasion far outweigh the costs of doing relatively nothing.

Alert Level: White

It’s times like this that I’m grateful none of my family lives anywhere near Washington, D.C.


Armies Of The Benighted

The time for talk is, as they say, over, and has been for some time.  The invasion of Iraq was first envisioned by Karl Rove in 2000, and was being actively planned before the WTC stopped smoldering.  The logistical groundwork began in December 2001 (while our "allies" the Pakistanis gave bin Laden a safe haven), and the military planners selected the dates months ago.  The U.S. has been ready to commence offensive operations since mid-January 2003 and will do so at the moment of greatest advantage to itself, regardless of whether such operations are "authorized" by anyone other than Donald Rumsfeld.  All of these facts have been known to all international players for months.  Of course, this hasn’t stopped the pols and the pundits and the proles from talking past each other for five months, dredging up one "case for war" after another and invoking cathartic moments of artificial crisis from the U.S. Congress to the State of the Union Address to the U.N. Security Council.  Deals don’t come any more done than this.

I haven’t participated in any of the anti-war protests, but it’s not the futility (or the weather) that’s kept me home but rather the company: I’m not against war per se, and I think that most of the protesters are as geopolitically ignorant as the supporters of the war are self-deluded.  The invasion of Iraq will have many tragic consequences, but not the least of which will be the missed opportunity for bold, humanitarian leadership by the U.S.  We are already bearing the costs of Empire, and we should therefore avail ourselves of the prerogatives.  Any farsighted, pragmatic, and enlightened policy for the Middle East would of course require the toppling of the Ba’athist regime in Baghdad, just as removing the Taliban in Afghanistan was a geopolitical no-brainer.

Unfortunately, this Administration’s performance in Afghanistan has been a depressing precedent for anyone who appreciates the costs of rebuilding a civil society after defeating tyranny.  After routing the Taliban (or, at least, all those warlords who couldn’t switch sides quick enough), the U.S. refused to commit to stationing peacekeepers more than 50 miles outside of Kabul.  Once bin Laden holed up with his ISI buddies in Pakistan, the U.S. became a lot less interested in capturing members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda (unless, of course, they were willing to say they had tea with Saddam).

As despicable as many opponents of the war are (opposing whatever position the French take is almost a surefire strategy), they are far outmatched by supporters of the war, whose motivations range from displaced outrage over 9/11 to (perhaps) well-intentioned delusions about the foresight and imagination of George Dubious.  Many conservative ideologues have joined the chorus supporting "the new unilateralism," but I doubt they are cheering anything beyond their own reflections.  This criminal Administration only cares about preserving and increasing its own power, and it is pursuing this war only to maintain the American public in a state of oppressive fear.

The only thing more desperately pathetic than Susan Sarandon claiming that Hans Blix can keep Saddam honest indefinitely is William Safire claiming that George W. Bush has the patience and vision to bring democracy to the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.


Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, by Sir Francis Bacon

Due to screenwriters’ notorious lack of glamour, the Best Screenplay categories are often the least politicized and offer a morsel of satisfaction during a feast of outrage.  They are also your best bet for sneaking a bit of snarky irony under the door.  Two years ago, Joel & Ethan Coen’s script for O Brother, Where Art Thou? was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  This year, the nomination of Adaptation for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Charlie and Donald Kaufman.  I suppose the screenwriting Academy members (who largely determine the nominees) couldn’t find a way to create a "Best Unadapted Screenplay" category.


All About Your Mother

Injustice is never in short supply at the Academy Awards, but some of the greatest absurdities are the result of the rule limiting films eligible for the Best Foreign Film category to one per country, and permitting that one film to be selected by its country’s government.  Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, but the Spanish government was nevertheless hidebound enough to withhold Talk To Her from consideration by the Academy.  Talk To Her was easily the most thoughtful and heartfelt film I saw last year, so I was gratified to see that Sony Picture Classics’s campaign bore fruit in nominations for Pedro Almodóvar in the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories.  In addition to Pedro, I’ll be rooting for The Pianist and Roman Polanski (who was curiously absent from Clinton’s roster of eleventh-hour pardons two years ago).


Sovereign PowerPoint

Let us be clear about who was the primary audience for Powell’s presentation.  It was not the U.N. Security Council, which has historically suffered the indignity of having its resolutions flouted before (and not just by Iraq).  It was not the U.S. Congress, which has abdicated its responsibility to provide a check upon a reckless executive branch.  It was not the American public, which has been successfully propagandized into displacing its fear and outrage over 9/11 into fueling George Dubious’s Iraq obsession.  It was, of all parties, the French government.

As is becoming a bit of tired political theatre, the French Foreign Ministry has decided that all expressions of American foreign policy must be met with token cavils, regardless of the merits of the case.  In the case of Iraq, France has hewed to a (overly) legalistic interpretation of UNR 1441, affording them plenty of opportunities to complain that the U.S. is (surprise!) less than scrupulous about fulfilling each and every obligation in accusing Iraq of being in "material breach."  In the end, however, France (and the U.N. Security Council) will likely conclude that they can’t afford the humiliation of having failed to sanction what they know to be an inevitable exercise of American military fiat.

In what must be the result of herculean efforts by career foreign service officers (who suffer from the occupational hazard of foresight), Secretary Powell agreed to jump through the hoops and lay out, not a "case for war," but a finding that best satisfied the French demands for evidence without compromising our intelligence sources (which have been oh so helpful in the past).  In giving the French this fig leaf, the U.S. Department of State is doing what it can to preserve the U.N. and NATO, towards which the rest of the Bush Administration is not yet antagonistic but merely contemptuous.


Plundering The Chinese Main

Nick Denton claims to eschew romance in his prescription for reinvigorating space exploration, but how can you beat pirates for romance?

Plundering The Chinese Main

Nick Denton claims to eschew romance in his prescription for reinvigorating space exploration, but how can you beat pirates for romance?


Does this mean Macedonia can have its name back?

Plus La Même Chose

Along with reruns of Hill Street Blues on Bravo, this is giving me severe vertigo.


Per Aspera

This morning, as the TV repeated the video of the daylight meteor shower over Texas, I watched my one-year-old son playing on the floor and wondered if he would ever ask me about today.  A staple of grade school historians, "national tragedies" are ready-made segues for inter-generational bonding.  Ubiquitous media never hurts; while I’ve asked my grandfather where he was when he learned of Pearl Harbor, it never occurred to me to ask where he was when the Hindenburg went up.  Perhaps it’s the element of human villainy that transforms catastrophe into infamy.

Nevertheless, I will always remember January 28, 1986, if only because my high school class was interrupted and we were all permitted to watch CNN for the remainder of the period.  More enduring than the shock of that morning was the frustration and loathing for the craven bureaucrats who used the occasion to make political hay and to defer the dream of exploration.

While I feel an undertow of that same dread today, I find my thoughts turning not to Challenger or Apollo I but to Pathfinder, which I vividly remember tracking on the Web and watching on TV.  Tellingly, I was no less excited for the fact that it was a robot and not a human taking the risks; it was sheer technological geekiness on display, the same geekiness that saved the day on Apollo XIII.  I was eleven months old for Apollo XI, and I like to think my parents convinced me to watch Armstrong step off into history.  I won’t forget Columbia, but in a few years I hope my son asks me about how cool it was to watch a Lego Mindstorms kit roll about the Martian landscape, and perhaps one day he’ll go bring it back.