Monday, April 26, 2010

The non-withdrawal, the non-election

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that's not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.
Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.
Then there's the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable -- at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan -- would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us. Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it's taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of US forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the US has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.
Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone (that -- it goes without saying -- only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet's premier narco-nation. It's not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it's now cornering the hashish market as well. That's diversification for you.

The above is from Tom Engelhardt's "Why We Won't Leave Afghanistan or Iraq" (Middle East Online)and how many are going to be surprised if that happens? All those people who pretended to give a damn about ending the Iraq War, who insisted it had to end and it had to end now. Barack was sworn in January 2009. A year later and no real end in sight but suddenly that's okay. Suddenly it really doesn't matter if the Iraq War ends tomorrow or in a year or in two years or really whenever. The illegal war continued. It didn't suddenly become legal. It didn't change a bit. Terry Date (New Hampshire Eagle Tribune) reports on the pathetics:

Will Hopkins, 29, director of the statewide anti-war group New Hampshire Peace Action, said he has seen renewals and new memberships decline in the past six months. The decline hasn't been significant, but it is measurable, he said.
For Hopkins, the war in Afghanistan makes little more sense than the war in Iraq did. Under President George W. Bush, the war in Iraq was a lightning rod for dissent.
Now, under the Obama administration, economic challenges have drawn attention away from the war, said Hopkins, an Iraq war veteran from Plymouth.
Also, he said, Obama supporters don't want to turn on their man.
"It is hard to get people out in the streets protesting against someone they worked hard to get into office," he said.

Oh, how sad. Having ethics might interfere with the ability to hero worship. Poor pathetics. Leave them their hero worship, it's all they have left having whored every belief they previously held. This is a good point to drop back to November 2008 when Joan Didion was speaking on a panel which included Andrew Delbanco, Jeff Madrick, Darryl Pinckney, Robert Silvers, Michael Tomasky and Garry Wills at New York Public Library's Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. The New York Review of Books podcast the event (scroll down to November 17, 2008, What Happens Now? A Conversation on the 2008 Election) and we did a transcription of Joan's remarks at Third, "Joan Didion on the Cult of the Christ-child:"

Close to the heart of it was the way in which only the very young were decreed of capable of truly appreciating the candidate. Again and again, perfectly sentient adults cited the clinching of arguments made on the candidate's behalf by their children -- by quite small children. Again and again, we were told that this was a generational thing, we couldn't understand. In a flash we were sent back to high school, and we couldn't sit with the popular kids, we didn't get it. The "Style" section of The New York Times yesterday morning mentioned the Obama t-shirts that "makes irony look old."

Irony was now out.

Naivete translated into "hope" was now in.
Innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized.

Partisanship could now be appropriately expressed by consumerism.

I could not count the number of snapshots I got emailed showing people's babies in Obama gear.

Now I couldn't count the number of terms I heard the terms "transformational" or "inspirational." The whole of election night I kind of kept dozing on and off and the same people were on always on television and every time I woke up
to them they were saying "transformational."

I couldn't count the number of times I heard the sixties evoked by people with no apparent memory that what drove the social revolution of the sixties was not babies in cute t-shirts but the kind of resistance to that decade's war that in the case of our current wars, unmotivated by a draft, we have yet to see.

It became increasingly clear that we were gearing up for another close encounter with militant idealism by which I mean the convenient redefinition of political or pragmatic questions as moral questions -- which makes those questions seem easier to answer at a time when the nation is least prepared to afford easy answers.

Binghampton, New York was supposed to be installing a financial cost of war counter for Iraq and Afghanistan last Wednesday. The day before, it was called off under pressure and allegations that it was 'disrespectful' to the military (In a Junta, we must all salute, apparently). The Post-Standard's editorial board offers:

That's where "gimmicks" like Mayor Ryan's counting clock come in. The more Americans know about this spending gusher -- especially in Iraq -- the more questions they'll ask their members of Congress, who can put pressure on the Pentagon to proceed responsibly -- but also cost-effectively.
That's not a sign of disrespect to men and women in uniform. It's a matter of priorities and accountability.

In Iraq, Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports that there's a snag in the Baghdad recounts which were expected to begin this week but will now be delayed until at least next week as a result of a lack of instructions. Most observers have estimated the recounts would take eight to ten days. Meanwhile Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) insists that the US has entered the negotiations on who will lead Iraq: "The proposal is for Mr Maliki and Mr Allawi to split the four-year prime ministerial term, according to Dr Mahmoud Othman, who is a veteran member of the Baghdad parliament." Othman, Cockburn forgets to explain, is the Kurdistan Alliance leader. The Kurds would be kept in the circle but would they be informed of so much? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't but this is Patrick Cockburn, don't forget. The man who 'reported' a woman stoned to death was hanged -- only one of the many examples in which he continues his family's long tradition of estrangement from reality and facts. If it is an offer, it's an idiotic one. Nouri would want to go first and stepping down after two years? Oh, that's hilarious. NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition) speaks with Ayad Allawi who states, "If no counting is going to take place in other places that have been disputed including what the Kurds have disputed, we are not going to acknowledge the results of the recount in Baghdad."

Iraq's slammed by bombings today. Reuters notes a Falluja roadside bombing which has injured three police officers, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured one person, a Baghdad roadside bombing which has injured two people, a Yusufiya roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left three more people injured, Ramadi roadside bombings which targeted the houses of police officers and claimed 1 life (police officers son) and left three people injured, and, dropping back to Sunday for the rest, a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left five people wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people injured and a Taji roadside bombing which injured two people.

Crazy Cockburn pitches the "Iraq War ending" nonsense (he never understood the SOFA -- too busy sniffing Barack's crotch in 2008 to really report). But in the real world, AP quotes, Iraqi Air Force Commander admitting, "We are still far from an air force's full potential. We will need the U.S. long after 2011." That's shocking . . . if you're Patrick Cockburn. If you're a functioning adult who's paid attention, it's not a surprise. (We've noted it here since 2006.)

Bonnie and Susan remind that Kat's "Kat's Korner: My Best Friend Is Kate Nash" went up yesterday as did Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts' "Iraq's Got Tyrants." We'll wind down with this from David Bacon's "The People of the Central Valley - 2" (ImmigrationProfBlog), link has photos and text:

Marysville, near the Sacramento River, has been home to immigrants from the Punjab for almost 100 years. During the period in which India was a British colony, Punjabi immigrants returned to India from California to fight for independence, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Today, Punjabi and Mexican migrants work in the peach orchards around Marysville and Yuba City. Many of the growers are earlier Punjabi immigrants or their descendents. In the harvest crews, Mexicans, both men and women, climb the ladders and pick the fruit. Down below, mostly Punjabi men and women sort the peaches in the bins, using a ring to find and discard fruit that's too small. Raj Mahal, of Punjabi and Mexican descent, is one of the few Punjabi workers who climbs into the trees.

Mexican fruit pickers include Felipe Hernandez and Veronica Beltran. Sorters include Angie Lopez, Monasingh Kuribala and Balvir Bassi. Bassi is a student of the history of Punjabis in the U.S., and of the radical movements for independence in India. He's an admirer of the early Indian socialist agitator Bhagat Singh.

In nearby Yuba City, many Punjabi immigrant families live in Mahal Plaza, a large apartment complex. Their community organizes potlucks and other activities to draw Punjabi immigrants together. Many of Mahal Plaza residents work as farm workers in the surrounding peach orchards.

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).

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