Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No Dumping

Somewhere recently I read an essay about blog posts condemning exactly the sort of posts I write; saying "No dumping." I can't be arsed to find a link, it looks like I didn't save it anywhere. The weird thing about blog posts is they aren't really conversations, but they do allow for comments and open up the possibility of conversations. My posts are like big question marks without any real sense that someone will answer them.

I write here mostly as a way to put my thoughts in some sort of order. And like the rest of my life my efforts tend more to disorder than to order.

Read Write Web posted a story which mentions a a new favorite tool. My obsession with WikiLeaks can be seem with the links I've saved there. I'm a bit pleased to see the links aren't just WikiLeaks. I use Delicious and have often thought there's a need for good ways to bookmark stuff for my friends using public computers. requires a bookmarklet so it really won't do for that, but there's something simple enough about how it works that it seems on the right track for that sort of thing. Anyhow I do like to use I kept looking at highlights there by "missrogue" and finally followed her to Twitter to discover missrogue is Tara Hunt. I promptly followed her on Twitter.

The past week or so has me addicted to Twitter, primarily as a way to follow the news about WikiLeaks and protests about tuition fee increases in the UK. The Internet is really good for finding others with opinions like our own. It's also good for looking for contrary opinions, but find that part harder. At Twitter I've tried for a a little diversity of opinion with my choices of whom to follow. I haven't been too successful with diversity, really and part of the problem is the links I follow tend to be ones I think I'll be interested in. So even with what diversity there is in my Twitter stream I don't pay enough attention to views very different from my own. Still I try to pay a little attention and glad that Twitter makes that possible.

The photo is of the late Richard Holbrooke the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was not surprising to me that with the news of his death some of the links and comments in my Twitter feed were along the lines of "That bastard!" but I was surprised in going through obituaries and remembrances of him yesterday what seemed a forgone conclusion that Afghanistan is a lost cause. I expected more sentiments like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen:
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Holbrooke's presence would be especially missed this week as the Obama administration finishes its review of the Afghan war, expected Thursday. Mullen said Holbrooke helped write and "deeply believed in" the war strategy.

"That we have been making steady progress in this war is due in no small measure to Richard's tireless efforts and dedication," Mullen said. "I know he would want our work to continue unabated. And I know we will all feel his bully presence in the room as we do so."
Adm. Mullen sent out tweets wishing Holbrooke a speedy recovery after he'd fallen ill. I noted them because General Stanley McCrystal seemed to loathe Holbrooke and that was part of McCrystal's undoing. There's plenty of circumstantial evidence which suggests the military brass hates Obama.

My father is 89 so very much a part of the WWII generation. Towards the end of the Vietnam War almost everyone--despite what many present-day Republicans say--thought the war had been a tragic mistake. Many of the children of the WWII generation got pretty cynical about the USA being a force for good, but I don't really think the WWII generation ever really did. Anyhow my father was interested in the news that Holbrooke had fallen ill. No entirely uncritical of Holbrooke, still in my dad's eyes Holbrooke had a good reputation. I know my dad admires George Mitchell for his diplomacy in the Northern Ireland peace. His sense of a favorable reputation of the two is probably pretty close.

My mother was a New England Republican but Nixon and Vietnam throughly disillusioned her not just about Republican politics but American Empire. She detested Jerry Ford and didn't vote for Reagan. I think my dad has been more conflicted about neoliberalism than she. I shouldn't suggest either one of them had more interest in politics than they have had. The simple point though is my parents, I think typical of their generation, have felt that the USA has tried to act as a force for good internationally even if sometimes the nation fell short of that ideal.

George Bush's re-election in 2004 was in no small part won on the basis of the idea that as a country the USA could be a force for good in the world; as strange as it sounds a force for good in Iraq! I've been against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the start. My mother died in 2002, but suspect she wouldn't have been in favor of the wars. If my father has sometimes agreed with me in private about my views, he's been uncomfortable about my making them public because they're unpopular. And I've appreciated my father's views as an indication of what people generally are thinking.

Zunguzungu has a post up about Holbrooke where he writes:
The sooner we put his life as the functionary of an amoral state power behind us, the sooner we can bury him and what he represents, the sooner we can close the door on a past that should never have happened the way it did.
Were my mother living perhaps she would have been okay with the notion of "amoral state power," I doubt my father ever will be.

Few of the mainstream remembrances of Holbrooke praised the Afghanistan war in moral terms, Mullen is an outlier in that regard.

It's odd here in the USA how the words "liberal" and "conservative" have become so charged. Neoliberalism is a good term that's hard to use here, I think in part because of the way the words liberal and conservative have come to represent polar opposites. So I think there's a pairing of neoliberal and neoconservative in people's minds where the dichotomy of liberal/conservative is assumed. Really it's more like the neoconservatives are the military wing of the neoliberals.

Richard Holbrooke was certainly a proponent of neoliberalism and a fair reading of his career would seem to make him a neoconservative as well. The sense I got from reading his obituaries and remembrances of him is neoliberals are wary of trumpeting their position these days. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars really don't make any sense and people are wondering how we got into them in the first place. It's not that I detect much serious opposition emerging, it's just the wars have made it more unpopular to praise the neoconservative project.

Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives in the new year and the Democratic party majority in the Senate is quite fragile. Josh Marshall notes that the public has more confidence in President Obama to solve problems than they do congressional Republicans. He notes that in two recent shifts of power in congress, 1994 when Republicans took the lead and in 2004 when Democrats did there was more confidence in congress by big margins than the president.

Despite the political polarization of popular opinion, neoconservatism has seemed up to now a big tent with both Republicans and Democrats under it. President Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan war was hardly a surprise as he campaigned on the issue--still it seems to have taken some by surprise. I suppose it's not surprising that Republicans didn't step up to praise Holbrooke, but on the other hand not doing so feeds the opinion abroad in the land that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't in the national interest. The Republicans are vested in their militarism, so much so they take support for it for granted. I wonder if they are smart to do so?

68% of Americans in polling say WikiLeaks has hurt the USA and 59% want Julian Assange arrested. I'm not sure what that means. An awful lot of Americans seemed in favor of the wars motivated by revenge and these numbers about Assange suggest a similar knee-jerk response.

Representative Eric Cantor will become the Majority Leader in the House. Shortly after the November elections he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told Netanyahu that the Republicans will "serve as a check" on the Obama administration. Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the House. The Republican House leadership will have to contend with a substantial contingent of the Tea Party in their ranks. That contingent has nativism, racism and antisemitism baked-in. The senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said after the election that the main goal of congressional Republicans will be to deny Obama re-election in 2012.

I find president Obama's neoliberalism and militarism noxious. But I'm rather surprised by the Republican leadership urge to cripple the president; especially if I'm right that there is an increasing reluctance for Americans to identify strongly with neoliberalism as the prospects of good outcomes of the wars grow dim.

Digby at Hullabaloo is a very smart observer of the American political scene. She has pointed out numerous times the intense political ambition of General David Petraeus. Digby links to an article by Michael Brenner a professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh about Petraeus. While hardly ever mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for president in 2012, he is often described as politically ambitious in the press. Bob Woodward reports that in the development of the escalation plans in Afghanistan
During a flight in May, after a glass of wine, Petraeus told his own staffers that the administration was “fucking with the wrong guy.”
If the Republicans are intent on destroying Obama both in his conduct of foreign and domestic policy with an ambitious general in the wings, it would seem to me to risk the broad acceptance by the public of the big-tent of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism can be summed up in the nutshell-slogan: "More power to the corporation!"

Obama has hewed closely to the neoliberal agenda, while rage from the fallout over massive financial sector abuse has simmered. George Bush frequently joked that it would be a lot easier if he were dictator. There's little doubt that captains of industry might agree with him about the usefulness of dictators. It may be there's a steady plan toward that end in progress. My hunch is that Americans are just stumbling towards dictatorship carelessly.

Adm. Mullen was quick to praise Holbrooke and to emphasize that Holbrooke was fully in support of the war. The absence of many others saying as much suggests to me that the support for the effort is waning. Mullen was suggesting that the civilians are in charge of the policy. While it is certainly true that both parties are in the thrall of the military complex, the open question is how the politics will play out when this sentiment against the war turn from a simmer to a boil?


DaisyDeadhead said...

Thank you for your kind recent comments, and just letting you know how much I appreciate them!

Julian Assange is Tyler Durden come to life, internet version. It is no wonder he ignites so much passion.

We need to start writing the folks songs now; I don't expect him to last too long with that big red target painted on his back. (Plastic surgery? And fast.)

John Powers said...

Thank you Daisy. I'm a dunce when it comes to pop culture references, so Tyler Durden is a character in Fight Club. There's a great piece at Religion Dispatches about the vandalism of the Thorn Tree in Glastonbury here. And it connects with Fight Club. Gives some insight into how longing to be loved can turn us to evil.

Daisy's writing on her blog is righteous. I always appreciate her deep understanding of our human condition.