Saturday, May 29, 2004
landed in Kiev at 10 pm our time, and then the hotel didn't have a phone that
was usable to call the US and then we ran around town trying to figure out a
way to call so I finally called you briefly from the U.S. embassy today. We
were there meeting with the cultural affairs officer just to update them on
our project and get instructions for getting visas for the ukrainians.
Our taxi ride from the embassy was hair-raising. The traffic jams were so bad
on the way back to the center of town that he was driving on the wrong side of
the road several times into oncoming traffic, once even in the face of a
trolley -- we were on the tracks headed right for it! He pulled over at the
last possible moment, it seemed. I just closed my eyes and that was as good
Kiev is a big modern city, except for the difficulty calling abroad, which we
are working out. Sharon's nerves are shot, and my patience is wearing thin.
Lena, our interpreter is great when we are in a place where she knows
everything, but it turns out her common sense is not all that amazing, so her
guesses have been off here in a place that is strange to her. So that's a
little frustrating because we keep trying stupid things and it's hard to get
anyone to listen to reason when I'm relying on her to go between. For
example, she kept insisting that we had to call a rather complicated code to
get out of the country but we really didn't, which I had figured out but it
took me several go 'rounds to just try the card my way. Which worked, but
then I only had about 2 minutes as you know.
The embassy had a lot of security, naturally. Interestingly, I picked up some
reading material that they had made copies of for public consumption that was
incredibly critical of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq. The
report, which you can find at: http://www.csis.org/ (scroll down on the left
side, for Iraq: What is to be Done?), basically said that we were losing, that
we were going to have to accept some of that defeat, and that the only things
to be done were non-military. I'm just surprised that the report was being
distributed at the embassy in Kiev, right next to the full color propaganda
brochure: Iraq, from Fear to Freedom.
Our hotel sucks. It was built during soviet times, and it is called the Hotel
Kooperator. No shit. We walked in last night, and the lobby was filled with
big burly KGB looking guys. The woman behind the desk was terribly
unpleasant, even in Russian, and they kept our passports overnight. Something
about having to register us in the morning. The scariest looking person in
the lobby was the security guard, who looked like he'd be a natural as a guard
for a concentration camp. Really, he'd have a great career as a character
actor. I said the lobby had "ve haf vays of making you talk" atmosphere.
We had to pay up front for 3 nights, so we're stuck there. Sharon and I are
sharing a room with two warped single beds, a useless phone (I don't even
think it works to call to the next room), and a less than spotless bathroom.
It includes breakfast. I picked up a glass of milk and realized it was thick,
like a milkshake. It turns out they actually enjoy drinking sour milk here.
The city on the whole is much more prosperous than Kharkov. It's bustling and
modern and really wonderful. Hopefully now that I have the details of calling
you down, I will be able to relax a little. I am going to try calling you
now, using the internet phone here.
Hopefully I'll talk to you shortly. XOXOXOXOXO
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Russian and the BBC channel doesn't come in well, I only get little bits and
pieces of news from friends in U.S. that we talk to by phone. So, I hear that
the U.S. can expect more terror this summer. Quel Suprise.
In other news, if you think the whole powerful men sexing up young interns is
shocking, you should be here, where very beautiful young women marry fat old
guys on a somewhat regular basis. It has to do with money of course, or lack of
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
interesting time decoding Russian. I cannot understand the newspapers, and
have been rather happily ignoring U.S. domination, except as it relates to the
situation here. Ukrainian boys all go into the military for a period of time,
and some of them are then shipped off to Iraq, where they maybe die for our
little adventure. The reason Ukraine supports us? So that hopefully we will
help them to have some of their debts forgiven, or perhaps we'll invest here.
Think about that next time any of our corrupt leaders mention the coalition of
the willing. Ukraine has plenty to offer in the way of talented, skilled
workers, and almost everyone is poor. Their leaders are corrupt, too, and
bribery and nepotism undergird the economy. JUST LIKE IN THE U.S.
Will write more when I have time....
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Monday, May 10, 2004
Today, I have to say the people I'm still angry at were those "serious centrists" who contributed to the effort to marginalize all anti-war voices by labelling them as the fringe. Exhibit A in all of this was Salon's Michelle Goldberg, who in her most recent article finds someone to continue to perpetuate this basic idea -- those who were against the war were fringe nutters. -- even as polls showed majority opposition to this war, one without UN approval at least, proved that idea wrong.I'm just a middle class white person, married with children, living a basically "normal" boring suburban life. I've lost friends because I was against this war and said so. I've made colleagues uncomfortable because I couldn't keep my trap shut about it. All I did was question the obvious bullshit coming out of this administration, spread as if it were the gospel truth thanks to the pampered press. Now, I and a majority of Americans have become the lunatic fringe!
I'm a partisan hack, but I'm basically just an angry centrist. There are few if any issues I would consider myself to be on the "fringe" of. People like Goldberg did their best to portray the anti-war movement as a bunch of loonies. Screw them.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
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Saturday, May 08, 2004
In the aftermath of Donald H. Rumsfeld's appearances on Capitol Hill on Friday three critical forces will probably determine whether the defense secretary keeps his job: the White House, Republican lawmakers and Mr. Rumsfeld himself.
The White House is the most important, and some people close to its inner circle suggest that despite the outward display of support for the defense secretary, years of battles with the Pentagon over Iraq war planning and the occupation have taken a toll.
WMD. No, WMD programs. No, WMD program related activities. No, the Pentagon
Friday, May 07, 2004
Democracy is not a spectator sport.
We all know it when we see it.
I know that most American citizens continue to find it difficult to believe how more than just a few redneck soldiers can have deeply cruel hearts, but we must face up to what our history has wrought. If you can, read all Josh Marshall's posts for the last several days. He explains quite well how this is not just an isolated problem, but both cultural and structural.
Culture. We like to think that Rush Limbaugh is just not to be taken seriously as he continues to insist,
This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?I have always believed that Rush was exactly what he claims, an entertainer. It's not that I cannot fathom how he attracts an audience; it is clear that he does whether I like what he says or not. Rather, I think he entertains by taking his audience on an adventure. I imagine that what attracts his audience to him is not so much that his words are agreeable to them, but rather that they are just ever so slightly disagreeable. Limbaugh pushes his audience just slightly into taboo territory, and from the safety of their SUV's or their offices and worksites, they experience the adventure of committing a thought-misdemeanor; that is, holding a belief that is out of bounds in civilized society. Unfortunately, on a fast-moving cultural terrain spurred by a monolithic mainstream media, what was taboo last week will no longer be next.
The culture of stupid American cruelty exists at the highest levels of government, according to The Nelson Report by way of Talking Points Memo:
We can contribute a second hand anecdote to newspaper stories on rising concern, last year, from Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage about Administration attitudes and the risks they might entail: according to eye witnesses to debate at the highest levels of the Administration...the highest levels...whenever Powell or Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as "around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners...."Put these players at a football game, a pool hall, a cowboy bar, or a frat party, and you would see the same confluence of masculinity, violence, and self-righteousness. As Limbaugh himself would say, "You've seen it before, Ladies and Gentlemen."
-- let's be clear: our source is not alleging "orders" from the White House. Our source is pointing out that, as we said in the Summary, a fish rots from its head. The atmosphere created by Rumsfeld's controversial decisions was apparently aided and abetted by his colleagues in their callous disregard for the implications of the then-developing situation, and by their ridicule of the only combat veterans at the top of this Administration.
Structure. According to The Guardian, again by way of Talking Points Memo, there is terrible mismanagement in Iraq.
[T]he place is so mismanaged and there's so much pressure for contractors to produce people to fill slots as interrogators that they end up sending people with no experience whatsoever. "If you're in such a hurry to get bodies," he says, "you end up with cooks and truck drivers doing intelligence work."In addition, many of the prisoners have little or no connection to terrorism at all.
"A unit goes out on a raid and they have a target and the target is not available; they just grab anybody because that was their job," Mr Nelson said, referring to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq. "The troops are under a lot of stress and they don't know one guy from the next. They're not cultural experts. All they want is to count down the days and hopefully go home.
"I've read reports from capturing units where the capturing unit wrote, 'the target was not at home. The neighbour came out to see what was going on and we grabbed him'," he said.
According to Mr Nelson's account, the victims' very innocence made them more likely to be abused, because the interrogators refused to believe they could have been picked up on such arbitrary grounds. Interrogators "weren't interested in going through the less glamorous work of sifting through the chaff to get to the kernels of truth from the willing detainees; they were interested in 'breaking' tough targets", he said.
A couple of days ago on NPR, they offered sound clips coming from Abu Ghraib. One was of a woman prisoner hysterically screaming to anyone who would listen. The translation was something like, "I have children out there, with no one to take care of them!" She had been placed in a barred cell as opposed to the lower security tent camp, and I surmised it was because she wouldn't stop screaming and causing trouble.
The personal is political. There are two determining factors in how one will be treated while in prison: the crime they committed (or are suspected to have committed) and how they act while in the prison. The irony, of course, is that those who are guilty of lesser crimes, or of no crime at all, are likely to be less manageable than criminals. The culture of the prison is one site in a longer carceral trajectory, as Foucault argued in Discipline and Punish. Those who are in prison often were always on their way there. Someone who is plucked out of another kind of life is going to have a much longer adjustment period, to say the least.
The personal is political. Imagine, Tomato Observer lives in a house in a conservative midwest community, raising her babies, paying her taxes, minding her own business. The leader of her country is a cold-blooded killer who laughs when those he executes plead for mercy. She knows the horrors of a Texas prison, because she's worked in one. Women are sexually abused by guards, are body and cavity searched daily, and stripped of all daily pleasures, even color. Those who refuse to work (for no pay) are placed in solitary confinement where they receive weekly showers and officers guard them with electric cattle prods. And so on. She knows that slowly her rights to free speech are being stripped from her, both legally and via the complicity of mainstream media. Slowly, words become crimes, and Tomato Observer sees this coming, and continues to fight it by publishing this blog and participating in actions on the ground, in her community. Eventually, the names of blog owners are subpoenaed, and the fight makes its way through the courts. And even though she saw it coming but never really imagined it would happen, Tomato Observer is arrested before she's had a chance to get her affairs in order. She is not allowed to speak to anyone or make arrangements for her children, and there she sits for months in a converted fortress not knowing where her children are or whether they are alive. Screaming to anyone who will listen.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
The soldiers who abused the Iraqi prisoners were ordered to "soften the prisoners up." They were not given instruction on how to do this, so they had to create ways to accomplish this based on their combined and collective cultural understandings.
According to Taguba's report, the ones who in civilian life are guards in prisons, served as the primary source for training on how to manage prisoners. They learned a great deal about dehumanizing and humiliating prisoners back here in the States (I know, I've worked in one). Most people have a vague, disconnected understanding of what goes on in prisons here. It's shameful.
Then, there are the young women who grew up in poverty and white trashiness, and no offense to those who escaped this life, but I have also worked with extremely marginalized women and most of them grew up in a culture of masculine domination, brutality and degradation. They know how to humiliate someone, having been humiliated themselves in similar if not worse ways, with no intervention from schools, social service, or law inforcement, except to compound their risk and their humiliation. Here on our own soil every single day.
Finally, there is the weird relationship between military and homoeroticism. The military as an institution behaves like a self-hating closeted gay man.
When these people came together and were instructed to soften the prisoners up, they conjured up tactics very well suited to their collective cultural upbringing.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
An astonishing interview with Sy Hersh, who broke the story for the New Yorker. By, of all people, Bill O'Reilly. One point is especially important, that may get lost in all the other horror:
The guy they have now put in charge of the prison himself recommended that the prison should be run this way.
HERSH: No, look, I don't want to ruin your evening, but the fact of the matter is it was the third investigation. There had been two other investigations [before Taguba's].
One of them was done by a major general who was involved in Guantanamo, General Miller. And it's very classified, but I can tell you that he was recommending exactly doing the kind of things that happened in that prison, basically. He wanted to cut the lines. He wanted to put the military intelligence in control of the prison.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
MSNBC has the full report on Iraqi prisoner abuse. I was going to quote the parts that have to do with the finding that it was systemic, but there's just too much. It's incredibly damning and you need to see it yourself.
Captain Bligh: Mr. Christian, I give you your last chance to return to duty.As Alan S. pointed out in Eschaton, the assignment of a former member of Saddam's Republican Guard who headed up Saddam's infantry, General Jassim Mohammed Saleh, to lead Iraqi soldiers in charge of stabilizing Fallujah "smells like mutiny," since it appears to have been accomplished by Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne and his colleagues commanding the U.S. Marine operations on the ground without the complete agreement of the Pentagon.
Fletcher Christian: I’ll take my chance against the law. You’ll take yours against the sea.
According to the Guardian, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, first appeared not to be aware (like he wasn't "aware" of the reports of widespread abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war), then argued that Saleh must be "vetted" to ensure he hadn't been involved in atrocities perpetrated by Saddam's regime, and finally denied Saleh's appointment. Saleh will now be subordinate to another Saddam Hussein-era general, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Latif.
Byrne and his colleagues appeared to have accepted Saleh because he offered the best alternative to bloody fighting that could have produced casualty rates politically untenable both in Iraq and the United States.Perhaps the Marines on the ground are not too crazy about our operational plan, or lack thereof. Or perhaps they are not too crazy about the mission to begin with:
The Marines backed off their threatening posture around Fallujah, inhabited by adherents of Saddam's Sunni branch of Islam, as elements of Saleh's brigade replaced them Saturday. In the city, crowds waved Iraqi flags, cheered and celebrated, many flashing ``V'' for victory signs.
[Myers] said the original objectives in Fallujah remained:Foreign fighters:General Saleh asserted there were no foreign fighters in Fallujah and also made public note that the Iraqis in the city calmed down as soon as the Americans pulled out. Rather than any crimes he may have committed under Saddam, these comments are probably what got him immediately tossed by Myers, who is continuing to claim that foreign fighters are stoking the opposition in Fallujah. And of course, our maladministration argued that the Iraq people would greet us with flower petals strewn in our path, but continues to insist that the crazed men with automatic weapons and rocket launchers are not the "real" Iraqis, just a bunch of thugs and foreign militants to keep the myth alive.
-``Deal with the extremists, the foreign fighters.''
-``Get rid of the heavy weapons out of Fallujah.''
-``Find the folks who perpetrated the Blackwater atrocities.''
Get rid of the heavy weapons: How about instead, we just hire them? According to Tom Paine:
There's no sugar-coating the fact that the Bush administration has suffered a major, public defeat in Fallujah. The United States looked the insurgents in the eye there—and blinked. Instead of flattening Fallujah if the insurgents didn't hand over heavy weapons and stop fighting, U.S. forces have meekly retreated, under cover of a plan that would put some of the same insurgents on the U.S. payroll.Blackwater atrocities: One does have to wonder why scores of our American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis died and continue to die to avenge the lives of four mercenaries. According the Guardian, "[In February] Blackwater USA flew a first group of about 60 former commandos, many of who had trained under the military government of Augusto Pinochet, from Santiago to a 2,400-acre (970-hectare) training camp in North Carolina." The President of Blackwater, Gary Jackson, said, ""We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals - the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system."
According to CNN, "The four men killed Wednesday were providing security for a convoy delivering U.S. government food." But the Washington Post reported that the men were "among the most elite commandos working in Iraq to guard employees of U.S. corporations and were hired by the U.S. government to protect bureaucrats, soldiers and intelligence officers." They were traveling in a dangerous area in an unarmored vehicle. Blackwater claimed that the mercenaries were lured into an ambush by Iraqi Civil Defense corps. Analysts investigating or writing about the incident wonder whether the particular mercenaries were recklessly stupid or whether the presence of mercenaries at all is itself a destabilizing influence. As Tom Englehart wrote in Mother Jones:
In Iraq, this new "security" business has already reached monumental proportions. Looking at the military situation there logically, as Paul Rogers, the sober geopolitical analyst for the openDemocracy website, recently did (A strategy disintegrates), you can see why. Though we now have perhaps 135,000 American troops in Iraq, "what has to be remembered is that a large proportion of [them]… are reservists working on a wide range of projects. The core group of perhaps 80,000 combat troops is far too small to secure Iraq even if it were aided by effective Iraqi forces, and these are simply not there."No wonder the Marines on the ground are resisting this incompetent, idiotic maladministration. Apparently, I'm not the only one to suggest this, either. Naomi Klein writes,
As it stands, reports Brendan O'Neill at the Alternet website (Outsourcing the Occupation), American troop strength is so low that most Iraqis -- 77% by one poll -- have never had an encounter with a member of the occupation forces. (This reflects as well the strain of the Pentagon's being committed to an ever greater global imperial mission with ever smaller military forces -- since so much of the Pentagon's budget actually goes into the creation of a vast array of 21st and 22nd century high-tech weapons and into the "pockets" of the megacorporations that create them.) As a result, in places like Najaf, it's been the "contractors," often brutal forces under no legal constraints or oversight in a land of which they know nothing, who have been left in small numbers to man the battlements.
The men of Blackwater and Custer Battles now find themselves at war and, as O'Neill reports, often can't even call on the U.S. military for backup when attacked. As a result, the various, otherwise competitive private outfits in Iraq are beginning to band together -- with their own helicopter support teams and their own intelligence -- to defend themselves more effectively. The Bush administration has for months now been hyping the infiltration of dangerous and unscrupulous "foreign fighters" into Iraq. As it happens they've been right. According to Brookings Institute expert Peter W. Singer, "We're talking somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 private personnel, and that is expected to rise to 30,000 when the coalition hands over power to Iraqis on 30 June." These men, living in their own Wild West, are, for some Iraqis, "the most hated and humiliating aspect" of an occupation which probably couldn't continue without them.
As the different "security contractors" mesh more closely with each other, they are, in a sense, becoming the real "coalition" in Iraq -- in conjunction of course with the American military. Here is how David Barstow described the situation in a recent front-page piece in the New York Times (Security Companies: Shadow Soldiers in Iraq):
"They have come from all corners of the world. Former Navy Seal commandos from North Carolina. Gurkas from Nepal. Soldiers from South Africa's old apartheid government. They have come by the thousands, drawn to the dozens of private security companies that have set up shop in Baghdad. The most prized were plucked from the world's elite special forces units. Others may have been recruited from the local SWAT team.
"But they are there, racing about Iraq in armored cars, many outfitted with the latest in high-end combat weapons. Some security companies have formed their own 'Quick Reaction Forces,' and their own intelligence units that produce daily intelligence briefs with grid maps of 'hot zones.' One company has its own helicopters, and several have even forged diplomatic alliances with local clans… With every week of insurgency in a war zone with no front, these companies are becoming more deeply enmeshed in combat, in some cases all but obliterating distinctions between professional troops and private commandos."
Can we please stop calling it a quagmire? The United States isn't mired in a bog or a marsh in Iraq (quagmire's literal meaning); it is free-falling off a cliff. The only question now is: Who will follow the Bush clan off this precipice, and who will refuse to jump?Other countries are pulling their soldiers out, many members of the U.S. controlled Iraqi Army have refused to fight and some have even been donating their weapons to the resistance, half the Iraqis with jobs in the U.S. "green zone" don't show up for work, some U.S. soldiers are refusing to go to Iraq. Add in the Marine commanders, and you have a consensus of the sane. As Janeane Garofolo said last night on The Daily Show, a vote for Bush is a character flaw.
Monday, May 03, 2004
Talk about the draft has reached the heartland. In today's Des Moines Register:
Concern the United States might return to a military draft is surfacing among some young adults and peace activists in Iowa and around the nation, despite widespread resistance to the idea in Congress and the Pentagon.
A renewed national debate over whether compulsory service should be reinstated for young men has been fueled by continued bloodshed among U.S. troops stretched thin in Iraq, speculation by a prominent Nebraska senator about a draft, and the upcoming presidential election.
I hope these kids are gonna vote:
At Montezuma High School in Iowa, it's a frequent topic among the older teens, said Lance Little, 18, a senior.
"You hear it's going to happen all the time, and that they're going to reinstate it," Little said. "It affects us all."
Cole Henkel, 18, another senior, said students conducted a survey for the school newspaper and found little enthusiasm for a draft.
"Some of us get kind of nervous, because they're talking about the war moving on," he said. "A lot of us don't want it - a lot of us want to continue our futures in something else."
The prospect, though, has not alarmed Joel Vause, 21, an Illinois native who will graduate from Iowa State University in May and move on to a job in banking in his hometown. "It hasn't really been discussed at all" among friends and classmates, Vause said.
And when he signed up with Selective Service at 18, as required by law, "it really wasn't something I gave a lot of long-term thought to," he said.
Matt Abbott, 23, an Iowa State senior and Forest City native, said professors who came of age during the Vietnam War seem much more interested in discussing a possible draft than their students are.
"I don't think anybody really thinks this war is going to lead to a draft," said Abbott, an English major. "I'm not too worried about it."
Nathan Swanson, a political science major at Iowa State, said the subject of the draft is not popular.
"I think it's somewhat of a sensitive thing - people don't like to think about it or talk about it," said Swanson, 20, who hopes to attend law school. "It doesn't seem like right now there appears to be a need. I know a lot of the troops, their stays are being extended. That almost, I think, is a separate problem."
Our fearless conservative leader weighs in:
Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, also downplayed the idea. "I do not hear it talked about now. . . . The draft is involuntary servitude. We don't use involuntary servitude unless it's a case of defense of our country."
There's more "bang for the buck" in a volunteer military in which enlistees serve by choice, he said.
Our fearless liberal leader begs to differ:
Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, said the debate over the draft is needed, particularly because of the heavy reliance in Iraq on the National Guard and reservists, unlike past wars.
"I think Sen. Hagel has touched a very hot button here," said Harkin, a former Navy pilot.
"He's put his finger on a problem - if we're going to be involved, as we are, in these types of wars, and we're going to do it sort of on our own, I believe we will not be able to provide the manpower for that.
"We have a lot of people serving in the National Guard who are going to say, 'Wait a minute. This is not what I signed up for, being gone two years at a time.' "
I think this is a dangerous road to go down. Just talking about it will make it real.
According to George Lakoff, it's all in the way you frame the argument. He says that conservatives have put the weight of their resources behind machines that are dedicated to framing the public discourse, while liberals have not thought about this aspect of public engagement very much at all. What's interesting is that liberal academics do indeed analyze discourse, but we stop short of reframing the debate. I think we can take a few lessons from Joe Wilson's interview on Meet the Press yesterday. When asked about some strong words he had used about seeing Karl Rove "frog marched out in handcuffs," he responded
As I say in the literally first paragraph of the book, Karl Rove, a week after the Novak article appeared, called Chris Matthews of NBC and said, "Wilson's wife is fair game," that it was OK to go after somebody's spouse because you disagreed with what her husband said. And now remember, when you talk about partisan, what I did was my civic duty to hold my government to account for what it had said, a pattern of deception to the Congress of the United States and the American people, including these 16 words in the State of the Union address. I did not put those 16 words in the State of the Union address....
But the partisanship that goes into this was the attack on myself and on my family. This country is created with checks and balances guaranteed to, one, hold the government accountable for its actions and for its words, and two, to give citizens and the press certain privileges and rights to take on the government and challenge the government on what it says and does. For this government to have attacked me personally and then to have done what they did to my wife is, frankly, un-American....
Now, with respect to Rove, let me just also say the idea that you take it upon yourself to drag an innocent family member into the public square to administer a beating is just simply unacceptable. And this sort of political shenanigans has no place when we are discussing serious issues of national security, in which now we have over 700 American soldiers dead and $150 billion spent in a war that is--as one Republican told me the other night, "We are on the verge of a strategic catastrophe."
First, Wilson re-frames the discussion away from the conservative language of "partisanship" which of course only seems to ever apply to anyone who criticizes them, and toward citizenship. The responsibilities of democratic citizens have seldom been discussed in recent decades, but should make a comeback in the public discourse. Wilson asserts that it is not his capricious desire to support democrats, but rather his civic responsibility to hold his government to account. Another interesting re-framing has to do with the way he uses masculinity to re-frame what he believes Karl Rove did. He moves the discourse away from the focus on whether or not what Rove did was illegal, to whether or not it was fair, sportsmanlike, honorable, fundamentally masculine. He move the discourse away from the focus on whether or not he is partisan to his own masculinity; he is a man defending his innocent family against the dishonorable actions of others who are less masculine. Wilson finally reminds us that we are at war, which is something the conservative machine reminds us all the time when they want to shut us up. But he takes this discourse and owns it, to support his other claims, that we have civic responsibilities and that we must be honorable, neither of which the other side is taking seriously.
The final exchange between Tim Russert and Joe Wilson was perhaps the most powerful.
MR. RUSSERT: A supporter of the president will point out that in The Daily Iowan in December of '03 you called Dick Cheney "a lying SOB" to an audience, and that you are an active participant in the campaign of John Kerry, and that that's your political agenda:
Attack the vice president by calling him those names, talk about Karl Rove in handcuffs; that you're a partisan Democrat supporting Kerry.
AMB. WILSON: Well, with respect to the vice president, that may be the gentlest and kindest thing I've had to say to him, about him, in recent months. And I think the record is clear, and you can go back to his speech in August. You can go back to his many statements about the reconstruction of nuclear weapons, again, well after he was told by his own CIA that there was nothing to this. There was a pattern of deception and lying to the Congress of the United States that got us into this terrible war. Again, with respect to my partisan activities or the fact that I support John Kerry, I am an American. This is a democracy. I am perfectly entitled to hold my political opinions and I'm perfectly entitled to share them. This president said on this show that he wanted this election to be a referendum on his first term. And well it should be. And I intend to enrich that political debate with what I know to the fullest extent possible.
First, Wilson is challenged about his strong language, which conservatives would say reveals his blind partisanship. Wilson re-frames the discourse by turning the focus back onto the Vice President and his lies. He reminds us of the consequences of these lies, and reminds us that it is perfectly rational to call Cheney a "lying SOB" or worse. He turns the partisanship argument around at the end, reminding us again that we are citizens of a democracy and that we each have the right to engage in the political debate. This is fundamentally what defines us.
Joe Wilson is a person who Pierre Bourdieu would call a "dominated dominant." He understands the rules by which public discourse is constructed, and he has the motivation to change the discourse. People like him, Richard Clarke, and others, are really the ones to watch.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
The disgusting atrocities committed by American soldiers against Iraqi prisoners of war comprise yet another chapter in the book on rise and fall of the American Empire. Are they the final chapter? Who knows? It seems that every time I think we've hit rock bottom, the bottom drops out. This latest may be the last of the trap doors, though, as Juan Cole explains:
The sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war, a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions by US soldiers at the Abu Ghuraib prison, has naturally produced outrage in the Arab world. This is a big thing, folks. I saw the rightwing talking heads Friday evening trying to shrug off the photos and the incidents as minor affairs. They are not, in the world of public diplomacy. Can you imagine what the mood would be like in the United States if some foreign power had treated US POWs like this and then the photos came out?
...In any case, this incident is in significant part a direct result of Rumsfeld policies--the Pentagon's kidnapping of unprepared reservists for long-term military duty in Iraq, supplemented by unregulated cowboy security firms. It has already been forgotten that some of the fighting around Najaf was done by US private security guards, who even deployed an attack helicopter!
I really wonder whether, with the emergence of these photos, the game isn't over for the Americans in Iraq. Is it realistic, after the bloody siege of Fallujah and the Shiite uprising of early April, and in the wake of these revelations, to think that the US can still win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi Arab public?
Many progressives are wondering why we haven't heard of these incidents before the photographs leaked out, when they were committed late last year and have been investigated since January. I have to stand by the military and government on this one. These images surely are going to be the flashpoint for unification of the globe, particularly the Arab world, against the U.S., just as surely as any of Bush's numerous crimes and incompetent bumblings have helped to unite his opposition here.