Archive for September, 2014

Once More into the Big Muddy

September 25, 2014

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Earlier this month, Andy Borowitz wrote an article with the title “Growing Pressure on Obama to Do Something Stupid”. This title is (partly) meant in jest, but it has proven to be prescient. Obama has finally done something that he has long resisted doing: he has bombed Syria. Why? Salim Lone, in The Guardian, writes: “Obama’s resistance to launching a war has for months made him the target of a sustained barrage of criticism, of a vehemence suffered by no other US president in the last 40 years.” Lone is probably referring to Jimmy Carter here. He was harshly criticized for not going to war with Iran over the hostage “crisis”. I would go back further, to Harry Truman, whom Republicans and much of the news media accused of “losing” China. These accusations may have contributed to Truman’s later reckless behavior during the Korean War, when he allowed Gen. MacArthur to exceed the UN mandate and invade North Korea – which led to a horrific war with China.

Over the past year or more, Obama has been under intense criticism from the media. They accuse him of being “soft” on Putin. (Do these people really want the president to start World War III?) As Lone points out:

    To get a sense of the pro-war shift in the US political landscape, recall how Bush’s infinitely more contentious 2003 war was preceded by a national debate. [Not much of a debate, actually.] Merely a media-amplified campaign for stepped-up military intervention has preceded Obama’s war. Even within his party, there has been little support, with senior figures like Hillary Clinton pouring scorn on his reticence.

Such discredited figures as Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham – all of whom helped to create the current crisis in Iraq and Syria – are being exhibited on news shows as “experts” on what we should do now. We shouldn’t consider this surprising, considering that most of the people in the news media supported the invasion of Iraq.

Once again into the Big Muddy.

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One Point about Iraq

September 17, 2014

iraqisolders

I would like to make a point here about Iraq, that, so far as I know, no one else has made. Years ago, Iraq had a capable, battle-seasoned army that could have easily dispatched a group like ISIS. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US disbanded this army. The US then trained and equipped a new Iraqi army. It was this army that abandoned Mosul in the face of an ISIS offensive, leaving behind US-supplied weapons. So, yes, in that respect the US does bear responsibility for the current crisis in Iraq.

Tunnel Vision on ISIS

September 13, 2014

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

There is a certain type of argument that I’ve been hearing on the Left lately, a good example of which can be found in an article by John V. Walsh at Dissident Voice, entitled Syria Next on Hit List (ISIS is a side issue at best). In it, he writes about President Obama’s recent speech:

    The rationales that Obama is peddling make no sense. If the barbarity of beheading were the actual trigger of this latest onslaught on the Middle East, then the U.S. would not be sending our “moderate” trainees to Saudi Arabia where beheading is a well respected national past time – far more popular than allowing women to drive automobiles.

But the beheadings aren’t the only trigger. ISIS has carried out mass killings of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims. These have received extensive coverage in the US media. Walsh must surely know this, yet he never mentions this. The point about beheadings in Saudi Arabia is basically true, but it’s not really pertinent to the situation in Syria. Walsh goes on:

    And ISIS remains a mysterious entity, springing up out of nowhere and carrying arms that are supplied by American and Saudi agencies. In Iran as was reported in the NYT yesterday on the front page, the great majority of “the street” believes it is an American/Israeli/Saudi creation.

Since Walsh apparently reads the New York Times, he must surely know that ISIS captured US weapons when the US-trained Iraqi army fled Mosul. Another important detail that he neglects to mention. And in what possible sense can “the street” in Iran be considered a reliable source on the relationship between the US and ISIS?

    Syria, of course, was on the list of targets that General Wesley Clarke [sic] revealed to us that there was a hit list in the Middle East and North Africa of seven countries, “starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” And miraculously the schedule has been modified only slightly perhaps because Assad has put up such fierce resistance.

Walsh has no idea what he is talking about here. The “hit list” he refers to was drawn up by neoconservatives in the Bush Administration before the invasion of Iraq. They expected to accomplish all of their goals within five years. (You can see how well that worked out.) It’s doubtful whether this list still has any influence over US foreign policy. Obama has had five years in which to attack Syria. Last year’s Sarin gas attack gave him a perfect excuse to do so, yet instead he eagerly accepted an offer by Russia to negotiate a deal with Assad.

Walsh ends with this rhetorical flourish:

    The dream of the U.S. Empire to dominate the Eurasian land mass is being implemented: Damascus, Tehran, Moscow and finally Beijing unless nuclear war breaks out first. Obama and the rest of the imperial elite are flirting with Armageddon.

Uh, yeah. Look, I have strong reservations about what the president is proposing to do in Syria and Iraq. We need to have a serious national discussion about this. Unfortunately, we have too many people like Walsh, who just want to idly spin conspiracy theories.

Forrest Gump and the Manufacturing of Innocence

September 7, 2014

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It’s been 20 years since Forrest Gump was released. This anniversary is being celebrated with a week-long IMAX release. I guess this is a good enough excuse to write something that I’ve long been wanting to write.

When Forrest Gump first came out, it mostly received ecstatic reviews (with a few naysayers here and there). I went to see it fully expecting to enjoy it. The early scenes seemed promising. I liked Sally Fields as Forrest Gump’s mother. She quickly disappeared, however. After about half an hour, I started glancing at my watch, wondering how much longer this thing would go on. I was watching stick figure characters who were doing things that were neither believable nor interesting. When the film finally ended, I left the theater feeling numb, as if I had just sat through a really long and really dull lecture.

So, what gives? Why did this mediocre film win such rave reviews? And why was it so hugely popular? (Those Bubbagump Shrimp hats were far and away the most annoying fashion item of the 1990’s.) This is something that I have thought about from time to time. I think that one of the significant things about this film is the fact that Gump is depicted as morally pure. There isn’t a mean-spirited bone in his body. He even manages to make it through the Vietnam War without killing anyone. (Although he somehow wins the Medal of Honor.)

But what’s really striking about this film is its racial angle. Gump is depicted as being not the least bit racist, despite the fact that he grows up in the Deep South during the time of Jim Crow. (We are also explicitly told that he is named after Nathan Bedford-Forrest, the founder of the Klu Klux Klan.) He is nice to almost all the black people he meets. (Interestingly, the only black person Gump doesn’t like is a Black Panther.) When Gump is in the Army, he meets a black soldier named Bubba, who talks non-stop about the different ways to cook shrimp. We’re expected to believe that Gump somehow forms a deep emotional bond with this self-absorbed monomaniac. Bubba is killed in the war, and after Gump leaves the army, he buys a shrimp boat and calls his business “Bubbagump Shrimp”. The film then has one of its moments of “whimsy”. A hurricane destroys all the shrimp boats except for Gump’s. This gives Gump a monopoly on the shrimp business that makes him wealthy. (This film’s makers expect us to see it as a good thing that a whole bunch of people were impoverished so Gump could get rich.) Gump then gives a bunch of money to Bubba’s mother, who works as a maid. She retires and buys a nice house, where she is waited upon by a maid. The film implies that this is a form of justice. (Although not for the woman who has to wait on Bubba’s mother.)

The clear subtext of this film is that Gump absolves us of our sins. (The film critic, Gene Siskel, once called this movie “a healing balm”.) We’ve had 500 years of racism, but it’s OK, because Gump was nice to Bubba’s mom. Two million Vietnamese were killed in the war, but, hey, at least Gump didn’t kill any of them!

Forrest Gump promotes a notion of American “innocence” that helped to create the cultural climate in this country that made the invasion of Iraq possible.