Archive for the ‘Imperialism’ Category

Trumpery

June 30, 2016

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The whole Donald Trump phenomenon has me baffled. I’ve been following Trump’s career since I was young, and he has always struck me as an obvious fraud. One would think that after his first bankruptcy, investors would have been leery of him. Yet he’s never had trouble finding people willing to throw money into his half-baked schemes. P.T. Barnum famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Trump seems to have dedicated his life to proving this statement.

There are some on the left who argue that Trump would be a better president than Clinton. They make this argument by quoting Trump selectively. At times, he sounds like an isolationist, and they contrast this to Clinton’s hawkishness. Yet Trump also sounds hawkish at times. (He says he is going to destroy ISIS. Gosh, how do you think he’s going to do that?) He has also expressed a creepy enthusiasm for torture. (“I like waterboarding”, he said.)

Trump embodies everything that is wrong with our culture: the emphasis on style over substance, the inclination towards macho bluster, the worship of hype, the mindless jingoism, and, of course, the racism. He must be defeated.

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Good Kill

June 9, 2015

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Our recent strategy in the War on Terror is similar to our strategy in Vietnam: keep killing the enemy until there are none left. That strategy didn’t work in Vietnam, and it’s not working today. The Taliban have made a comeback in Afghanistan, and Daesh now control large parts of Syria and Iraq. Is it time for our policymakers to try something else?

This question is posed by the recent film, Good Kill, written and directed by Andrew Niccol. It tells the story of Thomas Egan (Nathan Hawke), an Air Force pilot who has been reassigned to being a drone pilot. After two children are inadvertently killed in a drone attack, he begins to have doubts about his job. The emotional stress that Egan is under starts to cause strains in his marriage to Molly (January Jones).

Things get worse when Egan’s group is placed under the direct control of the CIA, whose rules of engagement are looser than those of the military. They have a policy of a “double tap”: firing a missile at the first responders to an attack, on the theory that most such people are likely terrorists themselves. The CIA considers it an acceptable risk that innocent people will almost certainly get killed. The characters argue about this. Egan’s fellow crew member, Vera (Zoë Kravitz), makes the case that drone attacks are causing people to side with the terrorists, while Egan’s commanding officer, Col. Johns (Bruce Greenwood) makes the “we can’t risk losing one American’s life” argument. The debate is never resolved one way or another. At the end, however, when Egan literally walks away from his job, it’s clear that we’re expected to see this as a moral redemption for Egan. Although it seems an empty victory, since we know that the military will simply replace him with somebody else.

Good Kills is a well-made film that raises a number of troubling questions, but its feel-good ending cant’t conceal the fact that it doesn’t offer any answers.

The Hillary Clinton Juggernaut

March 31, 2015

Image: File of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivering remarks at the State Department  in Washington

Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on social media. Whenever somebody makes a legitimate criticism of Hillary Clinton, there is always someone who responds by effectively saying, “So, you want the Republicans to win?” The assumption here seems to either be that Clinton has already won the Democratic nomination or that she is the only Democrat who can beat a Republican. The first is obviously false, the second is probably wrong.

Let’s discuss the first assumption. We’re a year away from the Democratic primaries, and yet many people seem to assume that Clinton has it all wrapped up. Many people made that same assumption back in 2008, when she lost to a brash young upstart named Barack Obama. The election is still a year away. A lot can happen between now and then.

As for Clinton being the only Democrat who can beat a Republican, that’s a weird assumption to make considering how much baggage Clinton is carrying. Has anyone carrying so much baggage ever been elected to the presidency before? Richard Nixon comes to mind, but he had been out of the public spotlight for a few years, so people had begun to forget what a turd the guy was. (He packaged himself as the “New Nixon”.) Clinton has been in the public eye almost continuously since 2008. During that time, she presided over the fiasco of the intervention in Libya. You can be sure the Republicans are going to talk about that.

As for the e-mail controversy, it’s not as trivial as some people claim. Clinton deleted over 30,000 e-mails. She says that they were strictly private in nature. Maybe, but we only have her word for it. Common sense dictates the government business should be conducted through government e-mail accounts. At the very least, Clinton showed poor judgment. And Clinton has a history of showing poor judgment, from Whitewater to the invasion of Iraq.

Back in 2003, it was clear to me that invading Iraq was a bad idea, but Clinton thought the plan was just swell. I’m supposed to trust the foreign policy judgment of someone like this? You’ve got to be kidding.

The Diminishing of Christopher Hitchens

March 14, 2015

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A foundation has recently announced that it will be handing out an annual journalism award named after Christopher Hitchens. One of the judges for this award will be Christopher “Thanks, Dad!” Buckley, so you know beforehand that this will be yet another meaningless award that we can all safely ignore.

I stopped paying attention to Hitchens back in 2001, when he wrote that the 9/11 attacks gave him a feeling of “exhilaration”. (Katha Pollitt rightly called this “childishness”.) At the time, I made the naive, but nonetheless reasonable, assumption that everyone else had done the same thing. I gradually became aware that I was sadly mistaken about this. (Personal disclosure: I never met Hitchens, but he once spat a cigarette at a friend of mine.) Hitchens became a noisy advocate for the illegal invasion of Iraq. In spite of this, Hitchens is greatly admired today, but he is admired for the wrong reasons.

Hitchens’s most important work is also his least influential: The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which he convincingly argued that Kissinger is a war criminal and possibly a traitor as well. Today, Kissinger is widely feted, and he even makes appearances on comedy shows. When an anti-war group recently interrupted Kissinger’s testimony before a Senate Committee, Sen. John McCain called them “low-life scum”. McCain apparently doesn’t mind the fact that he spent six years in a North Vietnamese POW camp because Nixon and Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War. Such forgiveness is truly touching to see. (This same McCain once said that he wouldn’t mind if US troops were in Iraq for the next 100 years. This is masochism as foreign policy.)

According to Vanity Fair: “… the foundation intends both the prize and the award ceremony to celebrate and draw public attention to the values that marked Christopher Hitchens’s life and career…” What it will actually celebrate is the moral bankruptcy of our society.

Chris Kyle, Michael Moore, and the Irrelevance of Heroism

January 22, 2015

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Chris Kyle

The enormous popularity of Chris Kyle’s memoir and the movie based on it shows that many Americans are still unwilling to face the truth of what happened in the Iraq War. This war was not about “fighting terrorists”, but about invading a country in order to control its resources. Unless and until people are willing to acknowledge this, they will not be able to make sense of this country’s recent history. Unfortunately, many people prefer a Hollywood fantasy about soldiers fighting “savages” to the truth.

The Iraq War was based on bluster and self-delusion. It is only fitting then, that its most famous hero was a liar and a braggart. The many stories Kyle made up suggest that he may have had difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, which would make him very typical of our times.

A few days ago Michael Moore tweeted:

    My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse

Moore’s remark was clearly aimed at Kyle, but when he was pressed on the matter, he became coy, changing the subject by saying that he liked Clint Eastwood’s film about Kyle. (“Costumes, hair, makeup superb!” Well, now you know what Michael Moore looks for in a movie.)

Moore has always had a thing about cowardice. You may recall that he spent much of the 2000’s trying to prove that George W. Bush had gone AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard. This was a matter of grave concern to Moore as well as to many other liberals at the time. These people seemed to have suddenly forgotten that the Vietnam War was both immoral and unpopular. They thrilled to John Kerry’s Vietnam War stories of derring-do. If you ask me, Bush’s avoidance of serving in Vietnam actually speaks well of him. (It is the only thing that speaks well for him.)

Whether it’s John Kerry or Chris Kyle, heroism in the service of an immoral war is not something to be proud of.

After Charlie Hebdo

January 11, 2015

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The men who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo are dead. The discussion we need to have at this point is how do we keep the political right from capitalizing on this tragic event. (This would be a more useful discussion than arguing about whether or not the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were racist.) Already the right is on the march. The media mogul, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:

    Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.

So, 1.5 billion Muslims should be held responsible for the actions of three (maybe four) people. This is grandstanding, of course, but it shouldn’t be regarded as harmless or inconsequential. The idea of collective punishment has a strong emotional appeal for some people. And there are people who would really like to see the US invade another country, preferably a Muslim one.

And then there is the “liberal” “comedian”, Bill Maher, who recently announced that “tens of millions” of Muslims supported the Charlie Hebdo attack. As with many of his ideas, Maher pulled this out of his ass. Whether or not he realizes it, Maher is helping to recreate the atmosphere of fear and hysteria that preceded the invasion of Iraq. (The fact that Maher says that liberals have turned the US into a “pussy nation” perhaps indicates what his real intentions are.)

We must confront and condemn advocates of prejudice and drum-beaters for war.

Obama and the Sony Hack

January 5, 2015

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I think it’s become clear by now that the Sony hack was not carried out by North Korea. (See here, here, and here.) Yet the Obama Administration continues to insist that North Korea was behind the hack. There are several possible explanations for this, none of which speak well for the administration. The kindest explanation is that these people simply aren’t very bright. However, I believe these people do know what they are doing. So, the next explanation is that Obama simply decided to use this hack as an excuse to apply more sanctions on North Korea. (Sanctions that haven’t brought down the government and probably never will.) Or perhaps Obama has decided to use this as an opportunity to show that he is tough with the US’s enemies. Or perhaps both. Whichever is the case, the President is acting in a cynical and dishonest manner.

Kurmanjan Datka, Queen of the Mountains

December 1, 2014

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Kurmanjan Datka, also known as Queen of the Mountains is a Kyrgyz film by Sadyk Sher-Niyaz. It tells the story of the woman who was the leader of the Kyrgyz during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The young Kurmanjan is forced to marry a man she doesn’t like. After she runs away, she eventually comes to the attention of the feudal lord, Alimbek, who marries her. When Alimbek is killed by a political rival, Kurmanjan becomes the leader of the Krygyz. When the Russian empire begins to intrude upon the Kyrgyz, Kurmanjan realizes that they simply aren’t powerful enough to defeat the Russians. She pursues a policy of accommodation, which is opposed by some of her countrymen, including members of her own family.

Kurmanjan is credited with enabling the Kyrgyz to maintain their identity and culture in the face of Russian imperialism. I imagine some will argue that this was due to her willingness to make concessions to the Russians. However, it seems to me that the Kyrgyz were lucky. The Russians apparently weren’t interested in colonizing their mountainous land. Others were not so lucky. For example, the Russians drove the Circassians off their land and sent them into exile. Last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi were held on land that once belonged to the Circassians.

Kurmanjan Datka is hard to follow at times. I can only assume that Sher-Niyaz intended this film for Kyrgyz audiences who would already know about the events depicted. The early scenes, which show a young Kurmanjan struggling against the patriarchal strictures of Kyrgyz society, have feminist overtones to them. The battle scenes are well done, and there are beautiful shots of the magnificent Kyrgyz countryside. Aside from that, though, I can’t really recommend this film. Perhaps some day someone will make a film that does justice to this remarkable woman.

Kill the Messenger

November 16, 2014

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Kill the Messenger, directed by Michael Cuesta from a screenplay by Peter Landesman, tells the story of Gary Webb, the journalist who reported on contra drug-dealing in the US, and who was blacklisted by the news media for his efforts. The film follows Webb (Jeremy Renner) as he gradually uncovers the story and then writes about it for the San Jose Mercury News. The article causes a sensation, but then it immediately comes under attack from major news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Webb then struggles to defend the article, as well as his reputation.

An interesting question here is: why was Webb’s article so controversial? I remember during the 1980’s hearing rumors that the contras were running drugs. A Senate committee eventually confirmed this as true. So why did Webb’s revelations upset so many people? I can only guess it was because Webb drew an explicit connection between the contras and the crack cocaine epidemic that swept South-Central Los Angeles in the 1980’s. I remember at the time, some journalists expressed fear of “black anger” as a result of Webb’s article.

This film suggests another possible motive: reporters at major newspapers were incensed that they had been scooped by a mid-size paper. Webb was, in that respect, a victim of the news media pecking order. What this movie also makes clear is the extraordinary vindictiveness of these people: even after the CIA admitted that Webb’s story was basically true, he was unable to get work at any newspaper.

Kill the Messenger is a tribute to a courageous reporter.

One Point about Iraq

September 17, 2014

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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.