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The Political Animal

Iraq and “Last Days in Vietnam”

At the Los Angeles Film Festival I caught Rory Kennedy’s powerful and moving Last Days in Vietnam. If you think you are familiar with the story of the botched and frantic – and heroic – American evacuation of Vietnam, with the fall of Saigon, including some many tens of thousands of lucky Vietnamese, this film will set you straight. There is an iconic photo from that time of desperate Vietnamese climbing a spindly ladder to the narrow roof top of the American Embassy and the last helicopter out. In truth, it was not the American Embassy (rather the home of the assistant CIA station chief) and there were many more helicopters. There is much, much more to the story. It is a tragic story, and near its close, ex CIA operative Frank Snep, one of a host of American and Vietnamese who recount their experiences of the evacuation, offers the sadness with which he recalls the end of the United States experience in Vietnam and how it represents for him the nature of the whole experience.

The North Vietnamese committed their massive violation of the Paris Peace Accords, by invading the South, in February of 1975, twenty five months after the accords were signed, and the subsequent withdrawal of American combat forces. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. The American evacuation, because U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin until then refused to even consider planning one, was effected in a single day, April 29, 1975, into the dark morning of the thirtieth.

The consequences for the South Vietnamese, especially those known to be allied with or sympathetic to the U.S. were great. Up to one million Vietnamese were subsequently interned in the infamous reeducation camps, where mortality rates have been estimated at 10% per year. “Boat people” refugees numbered 1.6 million. What followed were decades of economic stagnation, and for those of the South, the loss of political freedom that persists today.

As the North’s rapid advance southward progressed, President Gerald Ford appeared before Congress with a request for over $700 million to fund an American response, including the possibility of the reintroduction of American military forces. The American people and their representatives were in no mood. As the end credits rolled, carrying with them the enormous sense of the loss, the folly, and the betrayals worked into the very start of that American endeavor, the thought occurred to me: who would argue now, after that long war, fought at such price, with no gain, that the United States should have returned to Vietnam in 1975, in the baseless belief it could have achieved in the end any of what it had failed to achieve the last time around?

Instantly, the answer occurred: the same people now arguing for a return to Iraq, who wish we had never left, who never learn from history. For these people the sum total of political wisdom in international affairs is Hobbes, Machiavelli, and von Clausewitz, Munich and the historical anomaly of total victory in the Second World War, and an American Exceptionalism perverted from an empirical historical achievement into a moral inherency that paves an imperial road not only to folly but to ruin.

If one were to draw out the implications of the judgment these voices make on American military dominance in the post-War era, the seeds of national decadence were planted almost at the reaping of the nation’s greatest harvest: from Korea to Cuba to Vietnam, Taiwan, Iran, Afghanistan and beyond, nothing but lack of national will, a weakness of backbone to fight the ultimate fight, the failed moral courage to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe.” Kennedy completed the thought, “in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” He neglected to add in foreign lands, and even when one needs to construct the friend out of grass or clay. The only truly morally sufficient, which is to say total, military achievements were the pathetic accomplishment of invading Granada and the discretely achievable goal of capturing Manuel Noriega in Panama. Even the resounding military success of the Gulf War was compromised, to these foreign policy hands, by George H.W. Bush’s careful decision not to move on Baghdad, a decision ratified in its own resounding fashion by the Iraq War. That is to say the judgment not to advance on Baghdad was confirmed for all but those for whom it was a moral as much as a strategic failure, and who hawked a whole new ward to achieve that end.

Who in 1975 would have been led by McNamara, Rusk, or Westmoreland back into the paddies of Vietnam? Who would not have cried out in repugnance at the shameless reappearance of any of them on the national stage in order to pretend to strategic wisdom, never mind moral suasion, while hawking further military misguidance? These are people who would have reduced the Thirty Years’ War to the bromide of “staying the course.”

While the Arab world continues to struggle in its political development, related, profound strains of Islamic culture reject modernity and illiberally, even barbarically erupt against it. Influences go back a century and far longer. The program and the pitch for external imposition of liberal democratic structures over these conditions has been already an intellectual scandal with mortal consequences and of historic proportion. Those who once again make the pitch – the Cheney’s, McCains, Kristols, Wolfowitz’s, et al – deserve the censure of history, not the spotlight of lazy broadcast journalism and the assembly line of op-ed pages.

As tragic were the consequences of South Vietnam’s fall, there is no reason at all to believe a reengagement there would have produced a lesser tragedy to substitute, or a lesser failure than the first engagement. When the mission is mistaken, no amount of backbone, bombast, or bombing will extract success from it.

The arrogant misreading of history is that missionary liberal democracy can redirect world historical and long-term regional social developments through force of imperial might and inherent moral superiority. This arrogance is, in fact, a signature of post-Columbian imperialism. And when the folly has ended, imperial democracy leaves the Sykes–Picot Agreement or the patchwork of African nation-states and comforts itself in mad, blind delusion that it left the places it tarried better off for the visit. The greater and tragic truth is that we are guided through history by the vaguest sense of a destination while wearing a blindfold. Just ask the people unlucky enough to host the imperial visits.

From the fallout of the Arab upheavals, so sadly and natively labeled the Arab Spring, to the theocratic insanity and barbarism that has come to possess too broad a strain of Islam, the Middle East and North Africa will host dangers for the liberal democracies and the United States for an immeasurable time to come. There may well be times, soon and later, when the United States will need to carry out smaller and larger military operations to destroy enemies and counter threats there. It has not been called by some the Long War unknowingly. But such purposeful actions in self-defense and in careful protection of the national interest are a categorical remove from nation building, and from committing the nation’s human and other resources on behalf of nations and governments that offer no manifest political and cultural alliance. Such military miscalculations – such as the Iraq War in the first place, and any return there to bolster the Iraqi government – actually have, and would, work counter to American self-defense and the protection of American interests, by draining will and resources from what must be accomplished in the attempt achieve what cannot.

James Madison, on a very different domestic topic, warned in Federalist No. 10 that

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

He understood that the times, as the leaders, would not always be so great. They were not great or enlightened in 2003. The same figures, unreconstructed and unconscionable, are no greater now, their cause and argument no more supported by the short or longer history of events. They are a danger to the republic. The doors need be barred against them.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

A Political Hall of Mirrors

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Puppet Master (franchise)
Puppet Master (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bob from Brockley writes (from Brockley, I presume) to offer compliment and commentary to my last post on Maureen Dowd. Bob and I are usually in close alignment on such issues as have arisen from Dowd’s recent column on the neocons. In this case not. Bob (whom, if you don’t, you really should be reading over at BobfromBrockley) thinks, like other of her critics, that Dowd used problematic language in a subject that seems to touch on Jewishness. Contrary to my more common thoughts on these matters, I think Dowd’s critics got it all wrong this time. And then again…

I have to say that I do not read Dowd often. I find her brand of snark far too facile and empty of nutrition. Sort of like Cheetos, which have their place, mind you. So I don’t know if Dowd has a history here. I suspect not, though others are welcome to enlighten me. I think history, context, matters. For the sum of Dowd’s offense in this instance is that she used the term “puppet master” in relation to behind-the-scenes necons influencing the foreign policy pronouncements of international neophyte Mitt Romney; her editor adopted the word “slither” from Paul Wolfowitz, used against the Orthodox Barack Obamawitz, for the title of Dowd’s column, back against the neocons; and as we all know, a pretty fair number of influential neocons – by no means all, including some very influential figures – are Jewish.

Absent any history on Dowd’s part, and considering that there is nothing even close to a Jewish reference in her column – despite the gross distortion of some, like Dylan Byers, in reporting on Dowd’s column – I find this an attack (and it was swift and serious) to have been very misguided. It is misguided because, I think, wrong, and because it tends (mistakenly) to confirm the common dismissals these days of all those lined up against Israel of unfounded charges of anti-Semitism. It is very much to the point that many (not all) of the most damning critics of Dowd are representative of the kind of foreign policy positions she was decrying, American politicos deeply invested in devising an umbilical tie between support of Israel and the most conservative, jingoistic expressions of American foreign policy.

It seems apparent to me that Dowd was incensed – as we all should be – that American neocons are still part of any foreign policy discussions in our politics, just as Romney-Ryan are running on the similarly failed GOP plutocratic economic policies that failed just as miserably under George W. Bush and before. The anger comes through very clearly, if the brief particulars are not deeply thought out. Dowd’s neocon opposition is as extreme and simplistic as are neocon ideas themselves. The Jewishness of some neocons is entirely incidental to the column, and even that incidental nature is never even alluded to – unless, of course, it is now considered to be so that the very use of the terms “puppet master” and “slither” conjures up Jews. That is an ill-considered destination.

James Fallows has written an excellent post on the issue, all of which should be read, and that makes the essential points quite well.

– For what it’s worth, I know that the term “puppet-master,” which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago’s role as “puppet-master” of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd’s column, the statement that a certain group was “slithering” back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote.

I agree exactly with what Kevin Drum said:

There’s nothing anti-Semitic in Dowd’s column. She just doesn’t like neocons, and she doesn’t like the fact that so many of the neocons responsible for the Iraq debacle are now advisors to Mitt Romney’s campaign.

People who are not members of a certain minority group should be careful to avoid terms that that can do harm. But we all have a stake in keeping discussion as free and open as possible. In my view Dowd, with whom I often disagree, was making a valuable point [about the resurgence of the neocons]

Well, there I stand – except I just caught a glimpse of the politics of all this in a mirror, and there is another mirror reflected in that mirror, and some fun-house distortions begin to appear.

Bob commented on my last post a second time, to direct us all to Andrew Sullivan’s post on the matter, from yesterday. It’s getting to where you can begin to term this sort of thing “pulling a Sullivan.” It’s about how one gets to be un-PC and wrong at the same time.

Sullivan does not just defend Dowd, unsurprisingly – he actually manages to upend my argument and confirm the currents in American politics that Dowd’s critics feel. I don’t think it confirms anything in the least about Dowd – but offering a bat to someone  likely to use it for bashing someone else over the head ought to give one pause. Of course, if Dowd’s column had been allowed to pass without the attack, the likes of Sullivan would not have had the opportunity on one day to show himself, and we ought to see him clearly.

What did Sullivan do and say?

To begin, there is in the post title, “Another One!” and the photo of Dowd with a Hitler mustache, and the mockery of concerns over, and charges, of anti-Semitism. This kind of thing is common today, in quarters, too, where the denizens would be outraged by a like display showing Dowd with a KKK conical hat and mocking concerns over anti-Black racism. Or anti-Latino or, in many instances, anti-Muslim. An observable reality is, too, that whenever resentment of, for instance, charges of anti-Black racism are expressed, anti-Black resentment itself, indeed, is not often hard to see. So it is with Sullivan regarding Jews.

In the obverse action of Dylan Byers, distorting Dowd’s column in order to criticize her, Sullivan performs the identical distortion in order to promote an anti-Israel argument that Dowd did not make.

Dowd wrote a column in which she noted how Greater Israel fanatics run the Romney campaign’s foreign policy (which they do), and their neoconservative bubble is part of what explains Romney’s nasty and divisive attempt last week to politicize the recent flare-up of violent anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Dowd wrote a column noting no such thing: Dowd makes no even implied reference to “Greater Israel fanatics” or the issues that would follow from such a reference. This is all Sullivan: Sullivan confirming, indeed, that when a Maureen Dowd writes what she did, there are people like Andrew Sullivan who will always see the Jew in it.

So many mirrors.

AJA

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Categories
The Political Animal

The Stink Bomb

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There is so much messy farting going on, the political arena smells like an outhouse. Of course, why should it not? It is an outhouse.

Between the craven opportunists and the reflexive ideologues, even a dash past the entrance with cotton plugs in your nose will not spare you the stench.

The Muslim world has a problem. Clearly. Is it all Muslims? No. Is it most Muslims? Check with Gallup. Is it a lot of Muslims. Yes. What’s a lot? I don’t know. I didn’t take statistics. But something is going on in the Muslim world, has been for a long time, that is not quite going on in any other religious culture. It’s a problem. You do not see a problem?  I’ll be seeking insight and advice elsewhere.

American conservative – that’s GOP – foreign policy talk is simpleminded. Talk tough – solve the Muslim problem. No one thought of that before. President Obama does not talk tough enough. (He just kills the enemy.) He does not posture tough enough. (He just kills the enemy.) The Israelis talk tough. They posture tough. Hell – they are tough. They kill the enemy too. And I’m not saying they should not be or do any of those things. But. Solve the problem? No.

Tina Brown’s Newsweek thinks Muslims have a problem. The magazine called it Muslim Rage. Newsweek these days, along with co-0wned and published online sibling  The Daily Beast, cannot separate itself from sensational, opportunistic journalism and covers, the way a boy grown too old cannot unsink his teeth from his mother’s tit. Tina Brown is angling for a Pulitzer. No, not that Pulitzer. The first one. The yellow one.

Culturally sensitive leftists think Muslim Rage headlines and generalizing are more of a problem than, well, Muslim Rage. I guess you have to be there.

The culturally sensitive created a Twitter hashtag to represent their scorn and ironic superiority to any conception of, well, you know, Muslim Rage. They called it #MuslimRage. (Why didn’t you think of that?) At least they have identified the true problem.

Maureen Dowd (how’d she become part of this) inked, penned, tapped out digitized a column decrying quite angrily the influence of neocon advisers and that simpleminded policy talk on the Romney-Ryan campaign. Maureen (we called her “Mo” back in the hood) (I made that up) thinks this is not a good thing. I don’t agree with all of her particulars, but in support of her general message, I offer you the two thousand oughts. Some people thought they caught, in Dowd’s column, a whiff of something. That is probably because when you live in an outhouse, your nose is going to be full of it.

Wrote Dylan Byers in what I can only, unfortunately, call the most dishonest blog post of the day,

Dowd … asserted [Romney and Ryan’s] strategy was orchestrated by a “neocon puppet master” who was leading the neocon effort to “slither back” into power.

“Puppet master” and slither” are supposed to be, according to some, including Byers, references to Jews. Except the only reference to “slither” in Dowd’s column is by Paul Wolfowitz in regard to the first Jewish president, Barack Obama. But that’s okay, because Byers also wrote, characteristic of the entire post,

Dowd’s assertion that Jewish neoconservatives — chiefly Paul Wolfowitz — dictated the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq also ignored the influences of the other individuals most often credited with that responsibility, namely Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice — none of whom are Jewish.

You would be forgiven for concluding – in truth, you would be expected to believe – from the above that Down made an “assertion [about] Jewish neoconservatives.” Says it right there – move your eyes up – “Dowd’s assertion that Jewish neoconservatives….” You would not know that neither the words Jewish nor Hebrew nor Brothers-in-the-bagel appear anywhere in Dowd’s column. Byers certainly leaves the impression they do, does he not? From here on, if ever before, you trust not what Dylan Byers writes to characterize the words of others. If you do, it’s on you Bubbies and Babes.

Whence cometh this concerted attack on Dowd after her attack on neocons, Jewish or not? We have it from none other than The Times of Israel that

Republicans have launched unprecedented efforts to attract the Jewish vote this year, including funding television, print and billboard ads criticizing Obama’s policies on Israel and the economy. Last week, the Republican Jewish Coalition conducted a large grassroots canvassing campaign in Jewish communities in the battleground areas of South Florida, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

The nature of these “unprecedented” efforts we see in the smear of Dowd, the now daily GOP smear of Obama – counter to the whole historical record –  as having “thrown Israel under the bus” and as having apologized for the United States, which, actually could stand to apologize for some things, but not for defending without flinching the right of anyone to express any idea no matter how offensive to anyone else.

Anyone who has a problem with that has – a problem. Like Muslim Rage, and misguided cultural sensitivity, and simpleminded jingoism, and dishonest reporting, and all of it stinks. It stinks – how would my mother have put it? To high heaven. It stinks to high heaven. And if I’ve offended anyone, I apologize.

AJA

 

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