Sunday, September 03, 2006

And the war drags on . . .

For Camilo Mejia there was no epiphany. In fact, his refusal to rejoin his regiment in Iraq barely represented a decision at all. It was more a weary submission to months of anxiety that had gnawed at his sense of duty until there was nothing left but his conscience. "I didn't wake up thinking I wouldn't go," he says. "I just went to bed and didn't get up in time to catch the plane. But I kept thinking maybe I would go back sometime."
Mejia, 30, never did go back. He went on the run for five months, staying with friends and relatives, using only cash, travelling by bus and not calling his mother or daughter, before he turned himself in as a conscientious objector. A military tribunal sentenced him to one year in prison.
Like Mejia, 24-year-old Darrell Anderson went on the run just a few days before he was due to redeploy. "I was supposed to leave for Iraq on January 8th. On the 3rd I started to talk to people about the war. By the 6th I woke up and had hit a brick wall. I just knew I wasn't going to be able to live a normal life if I went back."
He told his mother, Anita, who said she "had been hoping for that". "I packed up the car and took him to Canada. It was the first time I slept through the night in two years," she says. Anderson is now essentially a fugitive seeking asylum in Canada.

[. . .]
When Anita Anderson went on talk radio to defend her son, one caller said he should be publicly executed. At the doctor's office in the small conservative town in Kentucky where she lives, her boss called a meeting at which her colleagues, who had previously congratulated her on Darrell's service, said she was not allowed to talk about her son's desertion. "My boss made me sign a paper saying I would resign if the patients started to complain." She got another job. "People say 'Support the troops' but whenever you talk about supporting one individual soldier, they are not interested."

The above, noted by Gareth, is from Gary Younge's "We shall not be moved" (Guardian of London). The PR slogan proved quite popular. It never rallied people to the troops but, then, that was never why it was created. It was created to silence dissent. A friend who teaches at a college, on mass communication, spoke about that slogan this morning and wondered if the reality (redeployments, tour of duty extended, low wages, insufficient medical care, et al) would result in the death of the slogan or if, possibly, it might find new life being appropriated by people with a completely different intent than those who coined it? I have no idea.

But, let's sing the song,

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the American military fatality count in Iraq stood at 2624. Tonight? 2647. That's twenty three since last Sunday. Twenty-three in one week. Did you see any coverage that indicated that last week or this weekend? Billie didn't. She notes that the Iraq coverage on her local station consisted solely of number two (see "Iraqi army boasts they squeezed out Number Two -- but did they remember to wipe?"). They did that in less than thirty seconds. But they spent two minutes (with gag reel footage!) on their co-worker who was moving to DC. Billie notes that they spent a similar amount of time the night before "covering" the "news" of someone at the station giving birth. (This is the WB's 33 out of Dallas, Tex -- I don't know the call letters, Billie didn't note them and I'm rushing this entry.)

So Billie, and others watching, got the earth shattering news of a move and gossip for about four minutes of airtime in the last two nights and Iraq was thirty-seconds on number two. I doubt very seriously that this only happened in one area. (The reduction of Iraq to a blip. I have no idea on the births and moves to DC.) (Texas members, "Editorial: Know your enemy" focuses on big media itself but does note many points that Texas members have made about their local media.) 23? That's averages out to a little more than three a day.

Where's the coverage?

Maybe you remember the first of April in 2006 when a strong effort was made by the Operation Happy Talkers to push the (false) notion of a 'turned corner' yet again? There was all this happy talk about how only (only!) 31 Americans had died. Things were looking up, things were looking up. It was front page news, led with on broadcasts. 31 dead in a month was a lead story. 23 dead in a week? Apparently not.

So where's the coverage becomes the repeated cry and the response is . . . silence. One would assume watchdogs can't bark when they've been too busy licking themselves to cover Iraq. And that's reality.

Here's some more from Reuters: four people dead, 19 wounded in Baghdad when a bomb exploded at a market and Hasan al-Jawadi shot-dead in Amara. We're not done yet. Arab News reports 21 are dead in Baquba from shootings and bombs.

As Paul Craig Roberts notes in "The War Is Lost" (CounterPunch, noted by Mia):

The Pentagon’s latest quarterly “progress” report to Congress on Iraq is a grim tale of a lost war. The Pentagon told Congress what Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and propaganda organs such as Fox “News” never tell the American public, namely:
(1) The Sunni-based insurgency remains “potent and viable” despite spiraling Sunni-Shiite violence and beefed up US forces.
(2) Since the last report three months ago, Iraqi casualties from “sectarian clashes”--the Pentagon’s euphemism for civil war--have soared by more than 50 percent.
(3) From May when the new Iraqi government was established until August, the average number of weekly attacks increased sharply to 800.
(4) Since the previous report, Iraqi daily casualties have jumped by 50 per cent from 80 per day to 120 per day. Currently, Iraqis are dying at the rate of 43,800 per year from violence.
The Iraqi government cowers behind the fortified walls of the “Green Zone.” On August 31, the Kurds in the north took down the Iraqi flag and replaced it with the Kurdish one. Most of Iraq is ruled by Shiite and Sunni militias. Conflict between them has forced 160,000 Iraqis to flee their homes.
Who is going to tell Bush that the war is lost?

That's assuming that he doesn't know already. Win or lose, he's determined that troops will remain in Iraq as long as he occupies the White House. Cindy notes David Rossie's "White House Wages War against Reality" (Binghampton Press & Sun Bulletin via Common Dreams):

Recently, the Marine Corps announced that it is going to begin recalling 2,500 inactive reservists for duty in Iraq. A colleague, who has already completed tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and is not thrilled about having to make yet another try at bringing democracy to the Middle East, said he went on the Corps Web site and discovered the call-up could be more extensive than it was described in the mainstream media. Web site information indicated that the 2,500 would be an initial call-up and there could be more.
[. . .]
Four years later and the troops continue to pay the price of that blunder, with no end in sight and little or nothing they can do about it. Unless they revive Nancy Reagan's solution to the drug problem: Just say no!
But they can't do that in the military, you say. Don't be so sure.
Recently, the brass in Iraq decided it was time to strengthen the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses the U.S. military headquarters and what passes for an Iraqi government, among other things. The Green Zone is surrounded by a large brown zone made up of seething Iraqis who have somehow managed to ignore Dick Cheney's prediction that they would be pelting our boys with flowers and sweets.
The response of the commanders in Iraq has been to bring more soldiers in to defend the Green Zone. These are people who apparently never heard of Dien Ben Phu.
The bolstering force consists of 12,000 soldiers -- 7,000 Americans, the remainder Iraqis. The remainder, however, appears to be shrinking. According to the Aug. 29 New York Times, a hundred or so Iraqi warriors from the 4th Brigade of the 10th Iraqi Division, have declined to participate. They, officers and enlisted personnel, decided they would prefer to remain in Maysan Province, where things are apparently less hectic.

The reality. It also includes the opening of Camp Democracy. Tom notes Angela K. Brown's "Bush Protesters Moving Operation to DC" (Associated Press via Truthout):

About 100 war protesters ended a monthlong vigil near President Bush's ranch with a rally on their campsite Saturday [Camp Casey III], and planned to move the demonstration close to the White House.
"We wanted to try to build momentum and needed something to move the focus back to Washington," said retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who resigned as a U.S. diplomat in 2003 to protest the war with Iraq.
The two-week "Camp Democracy" demonstration starts Tuesday on the mall in Washington, centering on issues including the war, environment, health care and attention to Hurricane Katrina victims, organizers said.
Cindy Sheehan, whose oldest son Casey died in Iraq in 2004, started the Crawford protest camp in early August on a 5-acre lot she bought in July. About 50 demonstrators have camped on the land, and a previous weekend's cookout drew more than 100.
Attendance was significantly lower than last summer's protest, when more than 10,000 people streamed into Crawford over Sheehan's 26-day vigil in ditches off the rural road leading to Bush's ranch. But protesters said they were not disappointed.

Let's repeat, Sheehan and Camp Casey did not get the attention they deserved from independent media. There were exceptions, members know who the exceptions were. But overall, independent media had no interest in covering Sheehan or Camp Casey. We could find coverage in the mainstream quite often. We couldn't find in the independent media. How bad was it? Francsico's already wondering about the 2006 end of the year look back? (I am too.) When we look back, Francisco wonders, what will we remember? I'd argue "Summer 2006: When Independent Media Took A Long Vacation From Iraq." Labor Day's tomorrow, maybe the vacation ends? What little coverage there was (not speaking of the exceptions who offered coverage) was pretty pathetic. From Steven D. Green's arrest date (June 30th) which they couldn't get right to annoucing the 2600 mark (US fatatalities in Iraq) had passed . . . two weeks after the AP had headlined the actually passing of the 2600 mark, it was hideous coverage. The ignoring of Ehren Watada's Article 32 hearing, Thursday August 17th in real time and then the poor reporting as some rushed to play catch-up. It was all pretty disgusting.

A few are asking about the upcoming book tour. No, we're not noting it or the book here. If someone wants to go to one of those events, that's up to the individual. But if you do go, maybe you should ask: "If, as you say, 'independent media is so important,' then where was it all summer long on Iraq?" Or ask where the taped interview with Suzanne Swift's grandfather is? The one promised on air that never aired. Or you might ask, "If Watada is a 'story we've been covering,' why did you just offer four or so lines on a hearing that actually happened the week before -- on a Thursday and your four lines were stated the following Tuesday?" And maybe if the New York Times is slammed, you can ask, "Well, most days the paper had at least one story on Iraq, but you went weeks at a time with nothing on Iraq. When you did do a story somehow Iraq related, the coverage was then dropped for another two weeks. Considering the fact that the violence has gotten worse, that the fatality rates have climbed, why are you talking to us about the New York Times' Iraq coverage from 2002 and 2003 instead of addressing why you dropped Iraq this summer?"

I slam the Times frequently. And will continue to do so. But I'm not making a buck off it. I'm not enriching my own nest nor do I claim to be a journalist. If you're making a buck off it and/or are a journalist, maybe instead of reaching back to 2002 and 2003 (going further would require reading and knowing the name Dexter Filkins), why don't you examine your own actions?

And it's not just that one program. Independent media dropped the ball. With few exceptions. They all wanted to cover Israel because apparently, heaven forbid, you shouldn't be able to turn on your radio or stream online for any program without hearing (again) each day about Israel. How bad was it? Only one program I'm aware of, Flashpoints, has bragging rights on the topic. They cover Gaza, they cover the entire area. That is their beat. Not just when every news outlet sends dozens and dozens of reporters into the area to cover a 'hot topic.' They're reporting on it (and from it) when no one else is. They're there day after day, five days a week. It's their beat. (Surprising when you consider that among all the guests -- ALL THE GUESTS -- invited on various programs to talk, Dennis Bernstein and Nora Barrows Friedman, hosts of Flashpoints, weren't among the invited. One would think when you have journalists covering the area with that kind of focus and attention, you'd make every effort to invite them on as guests -- both due to their expertise and due to the fact that, if you're a Pacifica station, it's getting the word out on two of your own.)

They do have other beats. But what happens in that region, especially in the occupied territories, day in and day out, is really left to Flashpoints to cover. If it's not "hot," if it's not "trendy," if every big organization isn't covering it, it's usually treated by other programs as if nothing is going on in the region. In fact, let's be really honest about the coverage elsewhere, those programs that gave up Iraq for five to six weeks didn't really cover the region. They didn't. They aren't now. They cover what was done to Lebanon. They don't really show the same interest to the horror that Palestinians are living under -- the daily horror. So all the self-satisfied back patting seemed more than a bit much when, with all the time they devoted in coverage (ALL THE TIME), they still weren't up to offering the reality that Bernstein and Barrows Friedman offer in one hour of Flashpoints.

I think of it as the independent media equivalent of Andersoon Cooper weeping in New Orleans on CNN. But, and the point in bringing in Flashpoints, was that the show maintained their coverage of the region and, as they usually do, also provided some Iraq coverage. That's secondary for the show. Their focus really is on the occupied territories. So it was surprising to grasp that the real coverage for that period on Iraq was coming out of Flashpoints.

On Friday, and Kat intended to blog about this at her site but it's a holiday weekend so I told her I'd grab it here, they were speaking to people at Camp Casey. They were discussing deputizing of people there to go to the ranchette of the Bully Boy (some on horseback) and serve papers to the security guard charging the Bully Boy with war crimes. (That's not the only thing they covered last week, re: Iraq, by the way. But that's not been noted at any community site and Kat doesn't need to sit in front of her computer to note it during a holiday weekend when I've already got to get online to due the "And the war drags on" entry.)

I don't know if they beefed up their coverage of Iraq at Flashpoints, I'd be surprised if they did. (Again, that's not their main focus.) But I do know that the lack of coverage elsewhere really made their continued coverage feel like extensive coverage. Watada's speech? They had it. Camp Casey? They noted it. Carl Webb? They interviewed him. I'm sure I'm forgetting many other things. This isn't intended as a complete listing. On Fridays, Dennis Bernstein's attempting (my summary/judgement) to get people to connect to the realities of the world on additional planes of understanding and is bringing in music and poetry. As part of that, last Friday, he read Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Conscientious Objector."

More than anything else, the program demonstrated (again) that they can cover more than one story seriously. The same can't be said for many other outlets.

Pru and Micah both wrote noting the early days of these entries and how they were link-fests. Noting the holiday weekend (and Micah also, rightly, guessed that there were problems with Blogger this morning), both said they doubted anyone would mind a link-fest this evening. I honestly thought, when I was going through the e-mails that I'd take them up on that. Sometimes on Sundays especially (though at other times during the week as well -- but Sundays follow the marathon sessions for The Third Estate Sunday Review), I really don't think I have anything to say. But Liang and Francisco (among others) had some wonderful points in their e-mails and they inspired the above. What's planned for tomorrow? Ruth's latest report was finished Saturday afternoon and will go up tomorrow. Kat is trying to polish (which may mean demolish and rewrite) a CD review. We're still up in the air on whether or not we're going to do a group entry. If there's not one, a lot of sites will be on holiday Monday. (If there's not one, we won't. We'll have an entry. It may go up later than usual.) (And Kat's doing a polish at her own insistance. I read the review she'd written and I loved it.) That may be it for tomorrow. I am exhausted. Thanks especially to Liang and Francisco for their e-mails (Marcia, Julie, Eli and Charlie are among the others deserving thanks) because we did two editions at The Third Estate Sunday Review -- a print edition and an online edition. The print usually has the same thing plus pieces that we kill for the online version. Today they were two completely different editions and I am wiped out. (Those wanting to read the print edition, Gina and Krista will be reprinting it in full in their Friday round-robin.)

Let me note, at Zach's request, the new content at The Third Estate Sunday Review:

Editorial: Know your enemy
TV: Swift Justice
Somebody's Lying
Iraqi army boasts they squeezed out Number Two -- but did they remember to wipe?
'Checks in the Mail!'
Little Lee-Lee Happy At Last?
The Appeaser Rumsfeld
A note

And we've still got to do the note. We've put that off because . . . well read the note when it goes up.

Pru gets the closing highlight. From "From 'totalitarianism' to 'Islamofascism'" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The theory that Communism and fascism were twins was developed to justify the Cold War. Now the right needs a new enemy -- and has discovered 'Islamofascism', writes Anindya Bhattacharyya
At the beginning of August, at the height of Israel's brutal military assault on Lebanon, Tony Blair gave a widely reported speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council where he warned of "an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East".
What was less well reported was the qualification Blair gave to this "extremism". It was "not any religious extremism, but a specifically Muslim version," he said, and this "Islamist extremism" was "based on a presumed sense of grievance" among Muslims.
Around the same time, George Bush started making similar comments, talking of "war with Islamic fascists".
The notion that there is anything "fascist" about Islamic resistance movements in the Middle East does not stand up to scrutiny, as even the US foreign policy establishment admits.
"There is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term," says Daniel Benjamin from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
These claims about "extremism" and "Islamofascism" are the latest version of right wing arguments that have deep historical roots.
They are a pointed ideological weapon of the ruling class -- a weapon that the anti-war movement needs to confront.
By justifying imperial wars in terms of broad and abstract "values", Bush and Blair can effectively license any sort of military attack anywhere in the world.
They no longer need to justify their actions in terms of the threat of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
Open and closed
In Blair's Los Angeles speech, he spoke about how in politics "the increasing divide today is between open and closed" - and "open" in this context means "free trade" and "managed immigration".
The notion that the fundamental political distinction is between "open" and "closed" societies was first championed by Karl Popper.
He was an Austrian philosopher whose political theories rose to prominence at the end of the Second World War and became deeply influential in right wing circles during the Cold War.
Popper came from a Jewish background and had to flee his native Austria when the Nazis came to power. He opposed fascism -- but he was also a fanatical anti-Marxist. Popper argued that communism and fascism, far from being opposites, were in fact twins.
Both were examples of "closed" societies marked by "totalitarian" political ideologies.
Liberal democracies, on the other hand, were "open" and thus equally opposed to both extremes, left and right.
These ideas, and related theories of "totalitarianism", were eagerly championed by ruling classes across the US and Western Europe.
They provided the perfect cover for imperialist meddling abroad and political repression at home. Liberation movements in the colonies and trade unionists in the West could all be labelled as "communist", and therefore as "enemies of freedom".
The other crucial feature of Popper's "totalitarianism" theory was that it deliberately blurred the distinction between left and right -- another favourite theme of Blair.
This allowed Western ruling classes to put a "left wing" gloss on their ideology when it was convenient. Communism was the same as fascism, the left opposed fascism, therefore the left should side with the US against Russia -- or so the logic went.
These arguments did in fact attract certain sections of the far left. Trotskyist activists such as Max Shachtman in the US, reeling from the murderous repression meted out by Stalin's agents against revolutionaries, started to see Western capitalism as relatively progressive.
Shachtman's followers supported the US during the Vietnam war and some, such as Irving Kristol, became full-blown neoconservatives.
In contrast other currents of revolutionary socialism, such as those associated with this publication, rejected the idea of choosing between the US and Russia.
Tony Cliff, founder of the Socialist Workers Party, argued that whatever the superficial rhetorical differences between the two superpowers, in practice they both functioned as imperialist and capitalist states -- and that both should be opposed.
But however useful the theory of "totalitarianism" was for the right during the Cold War, it suffered from major flaws.
It could not explain why Western ruling elites had at first welcomed Hitler and Mussolini, seeing them as a bulwark against working class agitation.
It was only when Hitler's military ambitions threatened their own imperial interests that the Western "democratic" elites discovered their opposition to fascism.
Moreover, the notion that Communism and fascism were simply two variants of the same "totalitarian" species, was of no value in understanding how such societies actually worked.
In truth the Soviet Union was nowhere near as powerful as it was painted to be by Cold War ideologues. In the late 1980s the Eastern European regimes suddenly collapsed. All of a sudden the ideology of "totalitarianism" was obsolete as a means of justifying Western imperialism.
So throughout the 1990s, there was a concerted effort by right wingers to concoct a new enemy that could take the place of Communism in a resurrected version of "totalitarian" theory.
And the ruling class needed such an enemy -- its imperialism certainly did not stop in the 1990s, so the need for an ideology to justify that imperialism persisted.
A new 'great enemy' created
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent establishment of an Islamic regime in Iran proved very useful in providing a new enemy for imperialist ideology. Over the next two decades many people in the Middle East turned to Islamist movements against imperialism.
These developments led Samuel Huntingdon, a right wing US political theorist, to propose that the new order following the Cold War was characterised by a "clash of civilisations" that pitted Western Christendom against a variety of enemy civilisations -- Islam chief among them.
This increasing demonisation of Islam, and casting of Islamism as the new totalitarianism, received a huge boost with the launch of the "war on terror". Concepts such as "Islamofascism", once confined to cranks on the right, suddenly became respectable establishment opinion.
And just as in the Cold War, a section of the left has played along with this.
But while "Islamofascism" might be the buzzword of the moment, the hardcore of the ruling class right has never forgotten who their real enemy is. Daniel Pipes, an influential neoconservative ideologue and rabid anti-Muslim, made a revealing comment in the wake of Bush's mutterings about "Islamic fascism".
"I applaud the increasing willingness to focus on some form of Islam as the enemy but find the word 'fascist' misleading," he wrote. "Few historic or philosophic connections exist between fascism and radical Islam... Radical Islam has many more ties, both historic and philosophic, to Marxism-Leninism... During the Cold War, Islamists preferred the Soviet Union to the US. Today, they have more and deeper connections to the hard left than to the hard right."
And a close reading of Tony Blair's speeches suggests that he agrees. In August last year he declared that radical Islam "has got some of the same characteristics as revolutionary communism". It seems his reheated Cold War rhetoric has come full circle, focusing on the threat of global human liberation, led by workers and based on principles of equality and solidarity.
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