Daniel Larison

My Summer Anabasis

Actually, looking at the map of my upcoming summer sojourn, it will be more of a katabasis, as I will be heading down south to my home country, New Mexico, and my folks’ soon-to-be new place in central Texas, but then Xenophon’s journey was mostly a katabasis, too. Happily, my trek will not involve military defeat, treachery or perilous escapes from the depths of the Persian empire, but it will take me away from Eunomia for the better part of July, so I am bidding my friends and readers adieu for now.

Incidentally, this Anabasis comparison would, if I extended the analogy a bit further, make Chicago the equivalent of Mesopotamia, which might make Mayor Daley a new Artaxerxes II. That part of the analogy makes the most sense of all, except that it would probably be rather unfair to Artaxerxes. At the end of the month, I will be back east in New England for a few days, so perhaps I will have a chance to shout, “Thalassa, thalassa!” in echo of the intrepid Ten Thousand. More likely, I will be shouting at the New England traffic, but anything’s possible.

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Bush’s Iraq Speech Bombs

I’m beginning to think maybe God is watching over America. We are blessed with leaders — well, mainly one leader — so clueless, or perhaps so challenged in various ways that he can’t bring himself to do what he needs to do to save his unwise policies from rejection by the people.

Dubya simply had to do something different tonight, something to increase his credibility, something to dissipate the growing notion that he and his administration are divorced from reality over Iraq. Instead he simply repeated his standard schtick. I suspect he is psychologically incapable of admitting in public that he ever made a mistake or miscalculation, and he kept that record intact.

A poll by the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles found that after the speech support for the war dropped — by about five percentage points I think; I’ll check the Web ite in the morning, and opposition increased by about the same amount.

If he continues like this he might just innoculate the American people from supporting foreign adventures for a decade or so. ~Alan Bock, Antiwar.com Blog

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Bush’s Boilerplate Speech

As Iraqis make progress toward a free society, the effects are being felt beyond Iraq’s borders. Before our coalition liberated Iraq, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. Today the leader of Libya has given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we have witnessed elections in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working. The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder and make our nation safer.

We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America’s resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins.

America and our friends are in a conflict that demands much of us. It demands the courage of our fighting men and women, it demands the steadfastness of our allies and it demands the perseverance of our citizens. We accept these burdens because we know what is at stake. We fight today because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world, and the rise of democracy will be the ultimate triumph over radicalism and terror. And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we will fight them there, we will fight them across the world and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won. ~President Bush, June 28, 2005

The excerpt from Mr. Bush’s speech could have come from any of a dozen of his previous speeches since the invasion in March 2003. The same could be said for most of the speech. Short remarks mentioning a few details about counter-insurgency training do not constitute a serious answer to the doubts of the public. When it comes to parroting the official line on Iraq and terrorism, one thing we can say for Mr. Bush is that he is dreadfully, mind-numbingly consistent. Consistency is often a good quality, provided that it is consistency in practicing virtues and living out noble convictions, and perseverance is even more admirable, as long as it is perseverance in the right course of action. Mr. Bush has been consistently wrong about Iraq, and yet perseveres in folly nonetheless.

For Mr. Bush, it has become axiomatic that Iraq is a vital anti-terrorist effort. He has become so enmeshed in his own rhetoric, so “on message,” that he is incapable of imagining the real criticisms of his position and finding ways to address those criticisms. If he believes the only serious criticisms concern the setting of a timetable for withdrawal or the problem of whether to send more soldiers (and from this speech, one gets the impression that he cannot imagine anything other than that as real criticism), he can dismiss these easily by simply reiterating that the mission is too important and that we want to empower Iraqis, etc. Lacking anything serious to say, he will invariably return to his boilerplate material talking about people who hate freedom, “fighting the terrorists over there” and the cult mantra “freedomdemocracyfreedomdemocracy.” If the public was expecting the president to demonstrate something other than his ability to spout cliches and the trite, hackneyed leavings of worn-out ideologies they were sorely disappointed Tuesday night.

This speech betrays a remarkable disconnection from reality, not only from the realities of Iraq but also from the political realities here in America. Mr. Bush’s numbers are at their lowest levels of his presidency, and are among the worst of any second-term president in history. Yet, in a speech designed to rally the public and give the American people some sense of direction in the Iraq war and a reason for hope of relatively speedy victory, he essentially ignored the growing disaffection and unease in the country, told us to wait just a little longer and, of course, to rally ’round the flag. His supporters can tout this brazen obliviousness to his own unpopularity as proof that he is a man of conviction–but what sort of convictions?

The insurgency has not been significantly weakened in the last year, in spite of all the “turning points” that have been reached. Iraqis are being killed much more frequently in much greater numbers than before the “handover” (which should tell us how inauthentically Iraqi and sovereign the transitional government appears to the consituencies fueling the insurgency). Our soldiers continue to die and be wounded at a steady rate, and each “turning point” in “breaking” the insurgency seems only to have spread it out and made it more aggressive. Mr. Bush paid no attention to these problems, except by way of denouncing the freedom-haters, intra alia.

What is the virtue of a political or military leader who is oblivious to present circumstances? Instead of leadership, we get a glorified press release reiterating the same, tired bullet points. This is what the cultists of the presidency venerate? One thing that can be said for our more successful wartime presidents, even those whom I loathe, is that they were adaptable and flexible (that they were sometimes as morally flexible as they were in tactics is another issue). The inability to adapt in war is a fatal flaw. Whatever the merits or demerits of the war, there should be a broad consensus in this country that fumbling along unsuccessfully for several more years is unacceptable and profoundly detrimental to our armed forces, which incidentally have a real war to fight elsewhere in the world.

Mr. Bush’s indefatigable persistence in an erroneous course of action is a threat to the welfare of our armed forces and to the security of this country. The longer this Iraq debacle drags on, the more radical the insurgents will become until we find ourselves confronted with our own versions of the Moscow theater crisis or the Beslan massacre. Mr. Bush’s incompetent Iraq policy has potentially created a new source of terrorist threats to this country, and it is only to that extent that the country of Iraq has ever had anything to do with anti-American terrorism.

Congress must impeach and remove Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney for this illegal war, or the administration will continue to blunder along as thousands more die in a profitless and pointless cause.

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Poll: 40% Strongly Disapprove of Bush’s Performance

The ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the two-term president’s overall performance, with 40 percent strongly disapproving.

Comparatively, former president Bill Clinton’s highest strong disapproval rating peaked at 33 percent in 1994, while the strong disapproval rating for Bush’s father George H.W. Bush reached 34 percent in 1992, according to the poll. ~Yahoo News

This poll result may not ultimately mean very much. At first, it might suggest massive electoral rebellion against the incumbent president’s party as we saw in 1994 and the massive disaffection from the incumbent president that we saw in 1992. Unlike Messrs. Clinton and Bush the Elder, Dobleve has the option of demagoguing his position as a wartime president, which has the same destructively attractive effect on Americans as flames have on moths. All political trends right now point to a GOP electoral disaster in 2006, but that presupposes there is an opposition party that can appear credible as a party of government once again.

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Poll: Majority Thinks Bush “Intentionally Misled” Public

Most Americans now believe that President George W. Bush’s administration “intentionally misled” the public in going to war in Iraq, according to a poll.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll came on the eve of a key speech in which Bush will seek public support for the war, which 53 percent of Americans who were surveyed said was not worth fighting.

A record 57 percent say the Bush administration “intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons,” according to the poll.

It was the first time a majority said the administration “intentionally misled” the public, the survey said.

The poll also shows 56 percent disapprove of Bush’s handling of Iraq, including 44 percent who “strongly disapprove”.

Still, 53 percent remain optimistic rather than pessimistic about the prospects for Iraq in the next year, the poll said.

And nearly six in 10, or 58 percent, want US troops to stay in Iraq until civil order has been restored, while 41 percent asked for their withdrawal. ~Yahoo News

It is worth bearing in mind that ABC/Post polls are almost always far more favourable to a sitting administration, and their figures on support for withdrawal continue to be well below those found in other polls. To those 58% who want to restore civil order, I would only note that their position would require our soldiers to stay there for the next 15 or 20 years. (Civil order is a different level of order above simply defeating an insurgency.) I wonder if the support for staying would remain the same if that estimate were put to the subjects of the poll.

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“Growing in Optimism and Hope”: Bush’s Complete Detachment from Reality

In his radio address on Saturday, Bush warned that there is likely to be more tough fighting to come in Iraq. And, as he did in his meeting at the White House Friday with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Bush urged Americans to share their confidence in a positive outcome to the war.

“The Iraqi people are growing in optimism and hope,” Bush said. “They understand that the violence is only a part of the reality in Iraq.” ~SFGate.com

The electrical situation differs from area to area. On some days, the electricity schedule is two hours of electricity, and then four hours of no electricity. On other days, it’s four hours of electricity to four or six hours of no electricity. The problem is that the last couple of weeks, we don’t have electricity in the mornings for some reason. Our local generator is off until almost 11 am, and the house generator allows for ceiling fans (or “pankas”), the refrigerator, television and a few other appliances. Air conditioners cannot be turned on and the heat is oppressive by 8 am these days.

Detentions and assassinations, along with intermittent electricity, have also been contributing to sleepless nights. We’re hearing about raids in many areas in the Karkh half of Baghdad in particular. On the television the talk about ‘terrorists’ being arrested, but there are dozens of people being rounded up for no particular reason. Almost every Iraqi family can give the name of a friend or relative who is in one of the many American prisons for no particular reason. They aren’t allowed to see lawyers or have visitors and stories of torture have become commonplace. Both Sunni and Shia clerics who are in opposition to the occupation are particularly prone to attacks by “Liwa il Theeb” or the special Iraqi forces Wolf Brigade. They are often tortured during interrogation and some of them are found dead.

There were also several explosions and road blocks today. It took the cousin an hour to get to work, which was only twenty minutes away before the war. Now, he has to navigate between closed streets, check points, and those delightful concrete barriers rising up everywhere. It is especially difficult to be caught in traffic and that happens a lot lately. Baghdad has been cut up into sections and several of them may be found to be off limits immediately after an explosion or before a Puppet meeting. The least pleasant situation is to be caught in mid-day traffic, on a crowded road, in the heat- waiting for the next bomb to go off.

What people find particularly frustrating is the fact that while Baghdad seems to be falling apart in so many ways with roads broken and pitted, buildings blasted and burnt out and residential areas often swimming in sewage, the Green Zone is flourishing. The walls surrounding restricted areas housing Americans and Puppets have gotten higher- as if vying with the tallest of date palms for height. The concrete reinforcements and road blocks designed to slow and impede traffic are now a part of everyday scenery- the road, the trees, the shops, the earth, the sky… and the ugly concrete slabs sometimes wound insidiously with barbed wire. ~Riverbend

Yes, the violence is only part of “the reality.” Other parts of the reality include fear, terror, frustration, discontent and resentment. There may well be some bright spots in Iraq, but it would seem that, from an Iraqi perspective, those bright spots have nothing to do with us. High time that we brought our soldiers home and let them have their country back.

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Toll on Iraqis Worst Since Start of Occupation

The toll has been tremendous, according to the AP count: From April 28 through June 23, there were at least 161 vehicle bombings that killed at least 586 people and wounded at least 1,747.

In total, for the year from the handover of sovereignty on June 28, 2004, until June 23, 2005, there were at least 480 car bombs, killing 2,180 people and wounding 5,533.

That represents a big jump in violence from the previous year. The Brookings Institution in Washington, which keeps track of all suicide bombings as well as car bombs that kill two or more people, counted 95 such attacks from July 2003 through June 2004, when 979 were killed and 2,662 were wounded.

Altogether, the AP count shows that insurgents have killed more than 1,250 people since the government of new Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari took over April 28. ~Yahoo News

If this is what the “last throes” of the insurgency can accomplish, how many more will the insurgents manage to kill when the insurgency has supposedly been “defeated”?

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Ahmadinejad Likely Winner of Iranian Poll

The hardline Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sweeping toward a stunning presidential election victory over the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, officials said early this morning.

“Ahmadinejad is well ahead and it seems he is the winner,” said an Interior Ministry official, who declined to be named. “Poor provinces have voted massively for Ahmadinejad.”

An official at the Islamic Republic’s Guardian Council, which must approve the election results, said that with 12.9 million votes counted, Mr Ahmadinejad had secured 61 per cent.

The official said turnout was 22 million, 47 per cent, which was well down on the 63 per cent of Iran’s 46.7 million eligible voters who cast ballots in the first round on 17 June. A final result is expected today. ~The Independent

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Support for War Continues to Ebb

Beset by fading public support for the war and growing violence on the ground, President George Bush flatly rejected any timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq, vowing the United States would stay until the insurgency was defeated and democracy had been established.

“This is a time of testing, a critical time,” Mr Bush acknowledged yesterday after a meeting at the White House with Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi Prime Minister. The insurgents “feel that if they can shake our will and affect our public opinion, we’ll give up on the mission. But I’m not giving up the mission, we’re doing the right thing”. The President was speaking amid unprecedented challenges to his whole Iraq policy. A week of carnage in that country was capped by news that six marines were killed on Thursday in the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah, lifting the total American death toll in Iraq to a total of 1,730.

Several victims were believed to be female marines. The Pentagon said they died when a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle as a US military convoy was passing. The attack is the 479th recorded car bombing since the handover of sovereignty on 28 June 2004. Even more serious is the ebbing support on the home front. Polls show a majority of Americans believe the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein was a mistake. Some 60 per cent now favour a troop pullout, while Mr Bush’s approval rating has tumbled to little more than 40 per cent, the lowest of any second-term president since Richard Nixon in the throes of Watergate. ~The Independent

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“More Lucrative Uses”: The Perversion of Eminent Domain

Rejecting pleas by homeowners fighting to keep their properties, the Supreme Court on Thursday said local governments could condemn a person’s home or business so the sites could be redeveloped for more lucrative uses. ~Chicago Tribune

The Tribune’s phrasing of the first sentence captures the matter surprisingly well for a modern piece of journalistic writing. The protection of property rights is not “lucrative” enough, and now apparently lucre has become the most important standard by which we weigh the just claims of the homesteader. I have never been thrilled at the prospect that a government could take my property for the sake of a utility plant or a public road, but I could at least grant that there is some interest in the common good at work here, however well or poorly it may be applied.

Here there is the illusion of seeking the common good, while really perverting the purpose of eminent domain to the benefit of limited private interests: “revitalising” a neighbourhood by driving its inhabitants out of their homes for yet another faceless strip mall, shopping center or set of chain stores serves the common good only if we measure that good in terms of money and not the life and integrity of a community, and perhaps not even then. What is more, we can be fairly sure that this “revitalisation” benefits the area only marginally, where the land of the small property owner becomes instead an outpost for some multinational or chain that can, and will, depart when it finds “more lucrative uses” for another site. That is the mechanical, efficient logic of corporations, and it never has the best interests of any community at heart.

In New London, Connecticut, it will be hotel, housing and office developments in the shadow of a Pfizer facility. Those developments will probably not even appreciably improve the economic life of New London, though it may improve the revenues of the city. Besides, property rights are not something to be traded away even for a general higher rate of economic growth. They are the last defense against the encroachment of government and corporations, the poor man’s shield as well as his vehicle to a more prosperous life, and they are the fortification that secures the domestic castle against attacks from outside. To weaken those rights or take them away is one of the most grievous acts of tyranny imaginable.

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