Apart from an incredibly sketchy plot, the details of which seem skimpier by the hour, has anything changed regarding the Persian Menace ™ since last August? No, not really.
Why bother, then, writing something new? This recycled story, centering on the brilliant reductio ad absurdum of the whole “table” business from Fafblog, remains as sadly relevant as it was last year (or basically any year since 1981).
Always with the tables
By timmuky, on August 20th, 2010
Few turns of phrase demonstrate the unquestioning dimwittedness of America’s public discourse than “All options are on the table” when it comes to Iran. As far as I can tell, it first came into broad use during the Dubya Administration. Bush’s successor, Mr.Changey Changey, didn’t see anything worth changing in the formulation. In fact, he rather seems to like it. His Secretary of State is pretty fond of it, too.
As is typical, the most concise and most biting analysis of the recent Electiontainment Follies comes from Mr. Cockburn over at Counterpunch. “America the Clueless” is guaranteed to raise the hackles of partisans of all stripes (a good thing).
The American people have spoken, but it’s impossible to decode their incoherent message. Drunk with their capture of the House of Representatives, the Republicans thunder that the verdict of ballot boxes from Maine to Hawai’i is clarion-clear: the ultimate evil in America is government, specifically government as led by President Barack Obama. But when exit pollsters questioned voters on their way to those same ballot boxes, as to who should take the blame for the country’s economic problems, 35 per cent said Wall Street, 30 per cent said Bush and 23 per cent Obama. The American people want a government that mustn’t govern, a budget that must simultaneously balance and create jobs, cut spending across the board and leave the Defense budget intact. Collectively, the election makes clear, they haven’t a clue which way to march.
A couple of choice snippets:
On Harry Reid and the bizarre challenge mounted by Ms. Angle:
It should be added that the powerful corporate and labor interests in the state of Nevada , most notably in the gambling and entertainment and construction sector, were all aghast at the possibility that economically stricken Nevada might cease to have its cause promoted in Washington DC by the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate, and instead have as their tribune a racist dingbat with zero political clout. If ever there was a need for the fix to be in, and seasoned fixers available to face the task, it was surely in Nevada. But that said, Angle and the Tea Party may have engineered defeat all on their own.
And the Rand Paul/Reagan nexus (or disconnect):
The second craziest victory speech of the evening came from a Tea Party man, Rand Paul, now the Republican senator from Kentucky. “We’re enslaved by debt,” he screamed at his cheering supporters and followed this by savage diatribes about any constructive role for government. Now it’s possible that Paul, inflamed with libertarian principle, could actually try to filibuster the next vote in the US Senate to authorize an increase in the US national debt. As awed commentators swiftly noted, he could plunge the United States into default, bring economic devastation to the world.
On the other hand, the history of the Republican Party is supposed crazies, like Ronald Reagan who campaigned against the deficit in 1980, coming to heel and plunging the United States into a vast new ocean of red ink, courtesy of his tax cuts. It’s what drives the Tea Partiers crazy. They do know one basic truth – that to govern is to betray and they are in line for betrayal.
Nor does Cockburn sugar-coat things for the strikingly (still!) large contingent of Obama loyalists. (But if the die-hards can overlook the fact that the only peep to emerge from the White House on the night the President’s party was being slaughtered was a statement in praise of the defeat of Prop 19 (“screw you, young people“), this will probably roll off their backs as well):
The landscape has changed. The Republican swing in the House was as dramatic as in 1994, after two years of Bill Clinton. Democrats who entered Congress on Obama’s coattails have now been ousted. What lies ahead is a war of maneuver, between the White House and the Republican leadership. Obama has been weakened — deservedly so, because a large part of Tuesday’s disaster for his party can be laid at his door. He laid down no convincing political theme, mounted no effective offense, relied on a team of advisors of dubious competence, which had run out of steam. He himself tried to run for and against an effective role for government, made the same childish equations of domestic and federal budgets, sent out mixed messages, lost the confidence of the young and of a vital slice of the independents.
All the same, after two years, the polls show Obama is no more unpopular than was Clinton in 1994. By 1996 Clinton had outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and won reelection in 1996. Today the economic situation is far worse than it was in 1994. No effective political and economic strategy for recovery is on the cards in the current atmosphere. As always, these days in America, our last best friend will be gridlock.
He’s saying we can pretty much count on the incompetence of politicians of both classes. I wish I were as optimistic as he is.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been telling Democrats a win on the health issue will reverse the slide in public opinion, just as passage of another controversial proposal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, lifted President Bill Clinton in the polls.
Hugely unlikely bedfellas Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist have teamed together to demand Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, over the White House Chief of Staff’s “activities at Freddie Mac, and the White House’s blocking of an Inspector General who would look into it.”
This is sure to raise the hackles of lefties who despise Norquist and of conservative-identified folks for whom Hamsher is the SheDevil incarnate. But after that settles down, what will it mean? Will a coalition of ideologically opposed outsiders be able to gain any traction at making life difficult for America’s Number One insider political figure? And will it change anything about the corporate ownership of the political process?
Honestly, I have no idea. My hope is that it will. And I’ve become comfortable with this for some time. As a longtime reader of antiwar.com, whose masthead bears the names of both Pat Buchanan and John Pilger, and represents an alliance of libertarian, paleocon, and old-school lefty antiwar sentiment. Sometimes it gets weird.
Eventually, the corruption of the Washington D.C. political/corporate united front will collapse in on itself, and the two-party system will have a hard time containing the fallout. This move by Hamsher and Norquist might still be too early, or it might be perfectly timed. It remains to be seen. But the contempt of the political class for what used to be called democracy has never been greater. Whatever her motivations may be, I’m glad to see Jane rolling the dice on this one.
Update: Didn’t take long for the firestorm of reaction, hurt feelings, and name-calling to break out (read the comments to this post), nor did it take long for Jane to issue what is sure to be the first of many apologia (I am not entirely sure what the plural for apologia is, sorry):
Rahm Emanuel is destroying not only the Democratic majority but the Democratic Party. There isn’t enough pork in the world to hold his “Blue Dogs” in office with the legacy of bailouts that he has engineered, and that’s why his “big tent” is now collapsing in his wake. Parker Griffin, and now (possibly) Chris Carney, may blame Nancy Pelosi for their defections to the GOP, but that’s pure demagogurery. The mess they are fleeing — the corrupt back-room deals, the endless bailouts — belong to Rahm.
The ground is shifting. You can feel it. And the Rahm dead-enders have become no different than the Bush dead-enders, completely unaware that the President whose malfeasance they are defending on the basis that one must not “consort with Republicans” is the one who ran on — consorting with Republicans. It is knee-jerk authoritarianism in the extreme. Rick Warren is okay because Obama says so. Principles? Who needs them.
If Obama/Rahm want to triangulate against progressives (and they do), they’re not the only ones who can make cause with people on the other side of the aisle. If that’s what it takes to shake up the corporate domination of our political system, we’ve done it before and we can do it again. Because working within the traditional political order to support “progressives” whose conviction lasts only as long as it doesn’t matter just doesn’t seem to be working.
I am not going to defend Rahm Emanuel. He’s never been more than a corrupt, self-interested, low-life would-be hard guy who’s not even really that hard. His role model, that pudgy lump o’ Rove, is the real deal, a completely psychotic fire-breather who would do anything for his party. Rahm has convinced many that he puts the party’s fortunes above everything. Leaving aside the larger question of whether that’s a good thing, lately even those who think he’s a necessary evil have had to reappraise a. his commitment to his party, and/or b. his competence.
So all I really wanted for Christmas was a Karl Rove of our own who would make all of our Obama wishes come true, even if he had to kick Evan Bayh’s mushy skull in to accomplish them. Someone who, I had hoped, would make Joe Lieberman’s life something akin to a hemorrhoidectomy gone horribly terribly wrong.
The White House wants Reid to hand Joe Lieberman the farm.
An aide briefed on discussions with the White House says that there would be no story if Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel hadn’t interceded. The aide confirmed an account, reported by Huffington Post, that Emanuel visited Reid personally, telling him to cut a deal with Lieberman.
Then the aide provided more detail.
Emanuel didn’t just leave it to Reid to find a solution. Emanuel specifically suggested Reid give Lieberman the concessions he seeks on issues like the Medicare buy-in and triggers.
“It was all about ‘do what you’ve got to do to get it done. Drop whatever you’ve got to drop to get it done,” the aide said. All of Emanuel’s prescriptions, the source said, were aimed at appeasing Lieberman–not twisting his arm.
If Rahm Emmanuel is all he was supposed to be, we can safely assume that the Obama White House either never gave a shit about health care reform, or they managed health care reform so horrifically and incompetently that they are now willing to settle for a “win”, no matter how meager.
For more of the same, see “Rahm’s making the White House look terrible,” especially the impassioned comments section. So many former true believers think this is the last straw, but so many are still acting like Rahm’s a maverick operative acting against the wishes of his benign boss, who really does have the best interests of the country at heart.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.
“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold.
In essence, this reinforces all of the worst dynamics of Washington. The insurance industry gets the biggest bonanza imaginable in the form of tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls. Progressive opinion-makers, as always, signaled that they can and should be ignored …. Most of this was negotiated and effectuated in complete secrecy, in the sleazy sewers populated by lobbyists, industry insiders, and their wholly-owned pawns in the Congress. And highly unpopular, industry-serving legislation is passed off as “centrist,” the noblest Beltway value.
And, in an update, he comes up with this classic dissection of Obama/Emanuel excuse-making:
It’s also worth noting how completely antithetical claims are advanced to defend and excuse Obama. We’ve long heard — from the most blindly loyal cheerleaders and from Emanuel himself — that progressives should place their trust in the Obama White House to get this done the right way, that he’s playing 11-dimensional chess when everyone else is playing checkers, that Obama is the Long Game Master who will always win. Then, when a bad bill is produced, the exact opposite claim is hauled out: it’s not his fault because he’s totally powerless, has nothing to do with this, and couldn’t possibly have altered the outcome. From his defenders, he’s instantaneously transformed from 11-dimensional chess Master to impotent, victimized bystander.
Obama’s Delusion, David Bromwich’s essay on the slowly unfolding disaster that is the Obama presidency, is about the best thing I have read to date on the subject. It’s more charitable than I tend to be towards the current ruling party and its head, and at the same time more damning.
Blame goes in all directions: to the right-wing noise machine and the unseemly machinations of Limbaugh, Cheney, Bob Woodward and the generals; and also, to Obama himself, whose political instincts are shown pretty convincingly to amount to a delusion.
Yet he is also encumbered by the natural wish of the moderate to hold himself close to all the establishments at once: military, financial, legislative, commercial. Ideally, he would like to inspire everyone and to offend no one. But the conceit of accommodating one’s enemies inch by inch to attain bipartisan consensus seems with Obama almost a delusion in the literal sense: a fixed false belief. How did it come to possess so clever a man?
Worthy of note, this beautiful and concise characterization of the opposition party:
The Republican Party of 2009 is a powerful piece of contrary testimony. It has become the party of wars and jails, and its moral physiognomy is captured by the faces of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, faces hard to match outside Cruikshank’s drawings of Dickens’s villains, hard as nails and mean as dirt and with an issue still up their sleeve when wars wind down and the jails are full: a sworn hostility towards immigrants and ‘aliens’.
(Even his supporters would probably be content to see “money is speech” engraved on McConnell’s tomb. It’s an epithet the unpleasant man who represents my woebegone state seems perversely proud of. “Hard as nails and mean as dirt” seems more apt.)
As for Obama himself, it would be hard to find a better chronology of the president’s serial missteps than you’ll find here. And there are plenty of harsh words left over for the “prosperous neoliberal consensus,” something with which Bromwich, who teaches at Yale, is intimately familiar:
Equality in the United States in the early 21st century has become a gospel preached by the liberal elite to a populace who feel they have no stake in equality. Since the Reagan presidency and the dismemberment of the labour unions, America has not known a popular voice against the privilege of the large corporations. Yet without such a voice from below, all the benevolent programmes that can be theorised, lacking the ground note of genuine indignation, have turned into lumbering ‘designs’ espoused by the enlightened for moral reasons that ordinary people can hardly remember. The gambling ethic has planted itself deep in the America psyche – deeper now than it was in 1849 or 1928. Little has been inherited of the welfare-state doctrine of distributed risk and social insurance. The architects of liberal domestic policy, put in this false position, make easy prey for the generalised slander that says that all non-private plans for anything are hypocritical.
This is not a pretty picture, and Bromwich concludes in an unsatisfactory manner, by addressing only one of the many traps faced by the president. This particular trap, Afghanistan, is the one most of Obama’s own making. “The best imaginable result just now, given the tightness of the trap, may be ostensible co-operation with the generals, accompanied by a set of questions that lays the groundwork for refusal of the next escalation. But in wars there is always a deep beneath the lowest deep, and the ambushes and accidents tend towards savagery much more than conciliation.”
Glenn Greenwald muses on the fervor of personal feeling that is behind so many opinions — pro and con — about the current president. Yes, there are kooks who venerate Sarah[!] for no good reason. But what about… um, you know, the president?
This week Andrew Sullivan has highlighted numerous rants from Obama loyalists who are disappointed, nay, disgusted that people “on the left” are daring to criticize their president. As Greenwald asks, should we just ignore all of this:
[A]re the criticisms that have been voiced about Obama valid? Has he appointed financial officials who have largely served the agenda of the Wall Street and industry interests that funded his campaign? Has he embraced many of the Bush/Cheney executive power and secrecy abuses which Democrats once railed against — from state secrets to indefinite detention to renditions and military commissions? Has he actively sought to protect from accountability and disclosure a whole slew of Bush crimes? Did he secretly a negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical industry after promising repeatedly that all negotiations over health care would take place out in the open, even on C-SPAN? Are the criticisms of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan valid, and are his arguments in its favor redolent of the ones George Bush made to “surge” in Iraq or Lyndon Johnson made to escalate in Vietnam? Is Bob Herbert right when he condemned Obama’s detention policies as un-American and tyrannical, and warned: “Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House”?
Greenwald asserts that these reactions are “grounded almost exclusively in (a) a deep-seated conviction that President Obama is a good and just man who means well; (b) their own rather intense upset at seeing him criticized; and (c) a spitting ad hominem fury of the type long directed by Bush followers at any critics of their leader, and generally typical of authoritarian attacks on out-groups critics.” So, the big question this raises: WTF is up with America and politics??? Is it all about an innate national inclination to favor judging the person over scrutinizing policy? I guess. Along with a massive media industry that works exactly along the lines of some arcane symbolism, judging the president’s body language, his failure to wear a flag pin, his pre-empting the Charlie Brown Christmas!
Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies. But for those looking for some emotional attachment to a leader, rather than policies they believe are right, personality attachments are far more important. They’re also far more potent. Loyalty grounded in admiration for character will inspire support regardless of policy, and will produce and sustain the fantasy that this is not a mere politician, but a person of deep importance to one’s life who — like a loved one or close friend or religious leader — must be protected and defended at all costs.
You know, this doesn’t really bode well for democracy. And somehow, I don’t see us pulling out of this personality-driven shite anytime soon.
Tom Englehardt has a spot-on analysis of what went down last Tuesday night. Obama’s West Point speech announcing the Afghanistan escalation was a Big Moment in America’s recent history, and one that shows just how desperate straits we’re in. Who among us thought that when the Democrats swept into power in the 2006 midterms, presaging their control of everything in the 2008 election, that the Dems would not only NOT end Bush’s wars and Constitutional crimes, but that they would extend them?
But nobody talks about it. I see and hear a lot of chatter about the last spasms of health care reform, Wall Street excesses, and New York state’s gay marriage doublecross, but I’m not hearing a lot of “what the fuck is he doing with this Afghanistan bullshit?”–in spite of the fact that no one–NO ONE–thinks there’s a chance in hell of this mini-surge succeeding.
With my usual gratitude for Englehardt’s keen powers, but with an unusually heavy heart because what he says is so fricking depressing, I present “Meet the Commanded in Chief”, in which a very convincing case is made for this being Obama’s “anti-MacArthur moment”:
In April 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, President Harry Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of command of American forces. He did so because the general, a far grander public figure than either McChrystal or Centcom commander Petraeus (and with dreams of his own about a possible presidential run), had publicly disagreed with, and interfered with, Truman’s plans to “limit” the war after the Chinese intervened.
Obama, too, has faced what Robert Dreyfuss in Rolling Stonecalls a “generals’ revolt” — amid fears that his Republican opposition would line up behind the insubordinate field commanders and make hay in the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. Obama, too, has faced a general, Petraeus, who might well have presidential ambitions, and who has played a far subtler game than MacArthur ever did. After more than two months of what right-wing critics termed “dithering” and supporters called “thorough deliberations,” Obama dealt with the problem quite differently. He essentially agreed to subordinate himself to the publicly stated wishes of his field commanders. (Not that his Republican critics will give him much credit for doing so, of course.) This is called “politics” in our country and, for a Democratic president in our era, Tuesday night’s end result was remarkably predictable.
The dysfunction here is quite intense. There is an unquestioned trend toward increased presidential power in the last half century or so, but not for a president who wants to buck the consensus in Washington. I’m not defending Obama, but I also really can’t imagine ANY president doing the right thing and sacking his insubordinate subordinates in the Pentagon for their brazen challenge to his authority. One wishes for more from the guy, but he never led us to believe he’d do anything different than what he’s doing. Still, the landscape is pretty dismal.
Unfortunately, the most essential problem isn’t in Afghanistan; it’s here in the United States, in Washington, where knowledge is slim, egos large, and national security wisdom is deeply imprinted on a system bleeding money and breaking down. The president campaigned on the slogan, “Change we can believe in.” He then chose as advisors — in the economic sphere as well, where a similar record of gross error, narrow and unimaginative thinking, and over-identification with the powerful could easily be compiled — a crew who had never seen a significant change, or an out-of-the-ordinary thought it could live with — and still can’t.
As a result, the Iraq War has yet to begin to go away, the Afghan War is being escalated in a major way, the Middle East is in some turmoil, Guantanamo remains open, black sites are still operating in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s budget has grown yet larger, and supplemental demands on Congress for yet more money to pay for George W. Bush’s wars will, despite promises otherwise, soon enough be made.
A stale crew breathing stale air has ensured that Afghanistan, the first of Bush’s disastrous wars, is now truly Obama’s War; and the news came directly from West Point where the president surrendered to his militarized fate.
From aljazeera english, this is a pretty good discussion on Afghanistan/Iraq, featuring a host who, in spite of his outrageous accent, is extremely well-informed and aggressive when he needs to be with both his guests. One of whom is Richard Myers*, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and currently professor of military history at Kansas State, who seems to be wondering why he agreed to this gig, and As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State, Stanislaus, and author of the terrific blog the Angry Arab. Witty, digressive to an extreme, and in-your-face, AbuKhalil doesn’t seem to be able to decide on what he hates most: U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Islamism, or “the Usurping Entity”.
What if American political television featured discussions at this high level of discourse? Just askin’.
* Myers is also a member of the Board of Directors of Northrop Grumman Corporation, the world’s third largest defense contractor, as well as United Technologies Corporation.
If you’re accused of being a Terrorist, there’s not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win. Even worse, Holder repeatedly assured Senators that the administration would continue to imprison 9/11 defendants even in the very unlikely case that they were acquitted, citing what they previously suggested was their Orwellian authority of so-called “post-acquittal detention powers.” Is there any better definition of a “show trial” than one in which the defendant has no chance of ever being released even if acquitted, because the Government will simply thereafter assert the power to hold him indefinitely without charges?
Of course there are those who gravely lament the impending spectacle, the fakery of judicial “impartiality”, the pompous sermons about the rule of law, the hysteria, the howls for vengeance. Bring them on, say I. Let’s face it, we could do with some drama and American political life is at its most vivid amid show trials. Their glare discloses the larger political system in all its pretensions and its disfigurements. The show trial is as American as cherry pie , as the former Black Panther H. Rap Brown – currently serving life without the possibility of parole in the Supermax in Florence, Colorado – famously said about violence.
The meatiest part of the Cockburn piece comes courtesy of The real price of trying KSM, an excellent Slate article by David Feige, a former public defender, about the mountains of bad legal precedent that will come from all this:
At each stage of the appellate process, a higher court will countenance the cowardly decisions made by the trial judge, ennobling them with the unfortunate force of precedent. The judicial refusal to consider KSM’s years of quasi-legal military detention as a violation of his right to a speedy trial will erode that already crippled constitutional concept. The denial of the venue motion will raise the bar even higher for defendants looking to escape from damning pretrial publicity. Ever deferential to the trial court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will affirm dozens of decisions that redact and restrict the disclosure of secret documents, prompting the government to be ever more expansive in invoking claims of national security and emboldening other judges to withhold critical evidence from future defendants. Finally, the twisted logic required to disentangle KSM’s initial torture from his subsequent “clean team” statements will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they’ve been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.
In the end, KSM will be convicted and America will declare the case a great victory for process, openness, and ordinary criminal procedure. Bringing KSM to trial in New York will still be far better than any of the available alternatives. But the toll his torture and imprisonment has already taken, and the price the bad law his defense will create will exact, will become part of the folly of our post-9/11 madness.
Update: The last word will be to an old guy. Paul Craig Roberts, in the aptly titled “A Trial to Convict Us All,” reminds us that Thomas Paine wrote in Dissertations on First Principles of Government (1790):
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Every principle of impartiality tossed aside that protects Those Who Deserve No Protection (like, uh, say, Terrorist MasterMinds ™, is another law WE lose to protect our own sorry selves. It’s a pretty simple concept. Been around for a while.