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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Shaking Hands with Extremists: An Exit Strategy

Bush Policy Called Arrogant and Stupid
One of the reasons we are given for the generals and the overpaid, overindulged and over-empowered policy makers meeting in the White House is that they are discussing changing their "tactics" in Iraq. It leaves one with the impression that we are a flexible force that, like an NFL team at half-time, quickly adjusts to the changing scenarios on the field of combat.

But the truth is, the strategy being talked about by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Casey is political and not military. In fact, the only military aspect is the one that defines the President as Commander-in-Chief. Like his closed door discussions with wavering Republicans earlier this year, this is just the president not too gently reminding the generals and the diplomatic corps to toe the line, that he is "The Decider," and that they better speak more optimistically about Baghdad's realities.

What he wants to avoid is waving the white flag of surrender to Democrats, not insurgents. Can you imagine what it must be like around that conference table, especially for U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, when officials at the State Department are being interviewed on Al-Jazeera calling the Bush policy arrogant and stupid? "Undoubtedly," Alberto Fernandez of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs told the Arabic television network, "there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq." I wonder how loyal this chummy president will be to this latest inside critic.

They are not changing policy. Changing policy to this administration is the equivalent of abandoning victory, or as they so myopically put it, cutting-and-running. The (James A.) Baker Commission, that is due to issue its report after the mid-term election, will advise a policy change. I have some thoughts on an option they may have not considered.

While it's true that we have "friendly" nations in the area, they are not the problem when it comes to the future of Iraq. The malevolent governments of Iran and Syria are the issue. Iran's latest call for discourse is specifically geared toward their nuclear enrichment program is something Condi Rice has said in the past is the only issue this administration is willing to discuss with them. When Iran offered to have discussions about Iraq earlier this year, Dr. Rice said that we would only talk to them about their nuclear program. Well, now is the time. (It's actually almost too late.)

The biggest concern about the civil war in Iraq is, what will happen after we leave? In order to secure a more manageable Middle East, we must enlist the support of Iran and Syria, as well as nations we can usually count on, like Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Not too comfortable a list of names, is it? Well, discomfort aside, these nations are responsible for the future of the region. We must discuss with all of them how they will help secure Iraq for Sunni, Shi'ia and Kurd. We must allow them to rebuild the infrastructure, with our financial help, and the oil program. This war can no longer be for sale to American profiteers. You and I bought it a long time a go on an installment plan. I'd rather pay more with my wallet than with any more of my neighbors' blood.

We must encourage them, these nations that have a lot more at stake with what goes on in Iraq than we do, to help stabilize the region after we leave. We can no longer wait for the Iraqis to stand up on their own. It ain't gonna happen, as my mother says. That stool is through the chute. Their neighbors have to move in and assist their fellow Moslems in rebuilding their country. Whether it has to be partitioned or not, I don't know. I think that will be a stumbling block in the negotiations, but the region must unite to make peace happen. I truly believe that an Islamic federation that is united in principal in Iraq may even lead to support for a secure peace in Israel and Palestine as well.

Only then can we give reason to the so far unreasonable, ill-defined, deadly mission of our troops, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Ghosts are Real

Look out your window in the setting silver moonlight and be mournful in your gaze. The spirits of war are in your neighborhood. Flag draped coffins float like ghosts from the back of your minds and onto the streets of America. The apparitions of failed policy are on parade.

It is a march that has been going on for decades, but so long were the pauses between the floating dead that you easily mistook them for the reflection of a passing, powdery moth. Look out into the wet, moonlit streets, and see the translucence of a government whose greed is as transparent as its stubbornness is plain.

Go to the mirror. Is the image you see translucent or opaque? Do you hide behind the flag and gaze out through its holes like a child through a blanket, or do you face yourself with the plain knowledge of moral certainty? Maybe you cannot see them - our dead, our dying, our injured. Maybe you don't notice them if they are Iraqi, or Syrian, or Moslem. Yet the taxes we pay have killed them. I wish we had used the money to feed our poor instead, and theirs.

Please vote.


A quick note about the last blog entry, "Conditioned to Kill Innocence". Apparently blogger published only the first paragraph of an earlier draft on the PnT group email. Please check out the website for the full, final of: "Conditioned to Kill Innocence," published 10-06-06.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Conditioned to Kill Innocence

There was never any glory in war. Even in those heady, Times Square celebration days at the sunset of World War Two, the happiness was in the peace; the enemy's defeat was defined by those who fought and bled and survived. Victory is in the next morning's waking.

Even so, between Hollywood and politicians, the fifth and sixth decades of the last century painted the Allies' victory with a broad, hard brush of red, white and blue. By the time Baby Boomers came of age, we were brainwashed by the envied, impervious America we saw on Gunsmoke, Combat and The Patty Duke Show.

Some say that illusion was first exploded in an open Lincoln in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and in the very public way that television played the tragedy out, from Cronkite to John-John's salute, that is true. JFK's murder shook our faith in civility less than four months after Martin Luther King, Jr., announced his dream for a better America in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Dreams shatter loudly when they are crushed so soon after their declaration.

By the time the television networks started announcing numbers of our Vietnam dead on the news three years later, the disillusion of desperate red-white-and-blue raised Americans left a bobbing bloodstreak that over the course of the following four years ran from Berkeley to Washington, DC.

Johnson, and then Nixon, became the targets of a generation that had lost the sunshine of freedom's just victory that their World War Two parents had earned for them as a birthright. We were lied to about Ton-kin. We were lied to about the numbers of dead and the progress of the war. We were lied to about the bombings in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. That our leaders would be so cavalier with our lives, our taxes, and the future of our nation enraged many, even igniting violence in cities and campuses around the country.

We had no leaders left in which we had faith, no glory left we could ever believe in again. We got Jimmy Carter elected to make up for abandoning Humphrey, but by then the blowback from the sixties made his success untenable.

So here we are, at least five military operations and three decades out from Vietnam, with an administration that is stuck in a twisted Disney version of Eisenhower-land. Between Beirut, Somalia and Iraq, we can no longer be the right and just Snow White. We have no innocence left. By basing the illusion of an empowered, balanced policy on a mercurial, mythical past, our government regretfully sends soldiers to fight and die for doomed, false causes. As John Kerry might say, how do you ask someone to be the last to die for a myth?

Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, is the tale of an administration that bought into their own mythology. They forgot which Kool-Aid they fixed for our consumption and began to drink it themselves.

Let's say that the "Kool-Aid" is a toxic concoction, a story of how freedom and liberty are a flag-draped bubble we must hide inside of, for our own protection. It wants us to say that attacks on our politicians, however rhetorical, are attacks on our way of life. As the prez said last week, any anti-government rhetoric is feeding the propaganda of the "enemy."

Now let's call the true-brew "Cool-Aid." It says that freedom and liberty are the pillars on which our nation stands. It is the immutable basis from which the greatness of America spreads. The more we allow our government to imprison us in their idea of freedom, the less liberty we will have.

If you are of my or my brothers' generation, you must know by now that we will never be innocent again. It will never be the fifties again and it is too late to reclaim the lost opportunities of the sixties. But at the other end of lost innocence one can always find political maturity. More and more of us can, and are, stepping up to dump the Kool-Aid down the toilet. Like paying your own bills for the first time, it is the responsibility of the politically mature person to show they are grown up and do something, anything, that can legally and morally bring about the change that is needed. After all, you almost never stick with the partner with whom you first lost your innocence. You thank them for the experience, and then you grow. Buck the conditioning. We'll never be innocent again.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lessons from an Amish Schoolhouse

On the wooden floor of a one-room schoolhouse, beneath the blood-stained bonnets of the five dead Amish girls killed this week in Pennsylvania, is the open lesson-book of a closed society.

We force them to meet our violence and fear, and they dutifully give us their love and forgiveness. How can they do that? How many out here, on the "English" side, would respond to such a horrid act without a call for retribution? If Charles Roberts, IV had not taken his own life, it is certain that ordinary Americans would have called for his head to be spiked on the fixed scales of stone Justice.

The Amish community's swift forgiveness is a lesson in commitment. The Baghavad Gita says that your nature compels you to engage in the challenges of life, even when you don't want to. For the Amish, putting faith ahead of a desire to do violence is their nature. The great Mahatma Gandhi forgave his assassin because that was his nature. It is past time for us to look at our own natures and see where our commitment lies.

The Jewish community I come from is at once part of society and yet separated from it by millennia of active tradition. The more integrated we become into secular society, the more difficult it becomes to make choices based on faith alone. Indeed, it is the more traditional communities of my people for whom such choices are easiest. They are just following moral precedent and the Torah.

It is a similar community sense of faith that moved the Amish affected by Monday's tragic events to follow their moral guidance to the doorstep of the family of their children's killer.

But a sense of commitment need not always be tied to the ways of a religious community. The ACLU, for example, is a civilian agency zealously committed to the enforcement of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Many of those who want to continue fighting in Iraq are religiously committed to a belief that by doing so, we are ridding the world of terrorists.

Similarly, candidates are committed to getting elected. If not, just like a rabbi eating a ham sandwich, they are probably in the wrong line of business. So our candidates say things to get us to commit to them. They do things to convince us they are part of our community, like showing up at a Greek festival when they're Irish, or awkwardly donning a yarmulke at an Israel Independence Day celebration. In doing so, they hope to make us feel as if we are a part of their group, that our survival and the survival of what we believe somehow depend on them winning. They call it reaching out, but it is known more cynically as "pandering".

Mark Taylor, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia facing the Republican incumbent, reached way out to the conservative, blood-thirsty community of the Georgia right a couple of weeks ago in just such a gesture of pseudo-solidarity. He has called for the death penalty for repeat sex offenders. Well, I don't care how much Georgia needs more Democrats in office. The death penalty is something I don't believe in even in the way it is currently applied. I'm actually very pissed off that the state's leading Democrat would go so far out there on this one. It may be just politics, but my commitment is to not have my government kill people in the name of justice, even heinous criminals. That's why I cannot possibly vote for Taylor now. My conscience won't allow it. My nature compels me to buck my commitment to Democrats getting back the Governor's Mansion because of this issue. I won't vote for the incumbent either. Hopefully there's a better candidate out there.

Admittedly, my attitude is usually laissez-faire when it comes to the ways people choose to behave. As long as no one is being hurt, I'm usually ok with it. Beyond that, I assume people are guided by their commitment to their personal philosophy and their god.

The Amish live for the grace of being able to forgive, a teaching that helps them emulate their Lord. Without the influence of a secular society in their schools and homes, they are more able to follow their commitment. It is easy to know which road to follow through dark times when it is the only one that is lit up for you. Yet that does not diminish the value of the lesson. Love the teaching even if you don't love the teacher.

For that, the Amish community associated with these gruesome events get my first "Stand Up/Stand Down Award" for standing up to the expected reaction. By doing so, they got us all to examine our own reactions, so that the hate and the evil in the world may, for even a brief moment, stand down.

I invite you to take this lesson and explore your own commitments. Declare them. Indulge in them. But don't ever, ever devalue or abandon them. The survival of your community, your society and maybe your world depends on it. So do you.