Friday, April 27, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Military Statistics

The drop in the number of civilian deaths touted by CheneyBush as proof of success in Iraq does not include car bombings. Instead they just count the number of bodies found in the street that end up in the morgue. While the found body count has declined, the blown apart body count continues to rise. BushCheney says that to insist on an Iraq with no bombings is a "huge victory" for the enemy. A peaceful Iraq is a victory for the enemy? How strange. I thought that was America's goal in Iraq.

General Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, is a little more sober in his assessment. He said this week that the US does not expect the surge to stop bombings.
"I don't think you're ever going to get rid of all the car bombs," General Patraeus said. He added that "Iraq is going to have to learn as did, say, Northern Ireland, to live with some degree of sensational attacks."

Realistically, the general is correct, certainly in the near future, if not longer. Iraq is awash in weapons and hostility, even more so than Northern Ireland, so I would be surprised if the bombings will stop anytime soon. The fact that Northern Ireland would be a good outcome tells me how badly BushCheney has bolloxed Iraq. Perhaps that is why they discount car bomb victims.

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This Administration

The US Attorney firings, reports of political activity on government premises and other nefarious doings of the CheneyBush administration give me cause for a dark hope. The hope is that their corruption will burst into the light of day for all to see. From the blind arrogance of Iraq, to the stunning incompetence of Hurricaine Katrina to the cynical subverstion of Constitutional government this adminstration has ill-served America. Clearly, these people have little respect for law or ethics when it comes to seeking cutthroat advantage. These ideologues and conspirators have had six years of unchecked power with no oversight or accountability. The one thing you can always count on with unchecked power is its insatiability. Nothing I've seen about this administration suggests that it is at all imune from this iron law of human behavior. I suspect the scandals and schemes that now bedevil CheneyBush are only the first of many more.

Especially with a Congress that has rediscovered its oversight authority and is learning how to use it. CheneyBush no longer has his back covered and must suddenly answer for the actions taken under his command. He IS the commander-in-chief of EVERYTHING, you know. It's really all on him, The Decider. If events so far this year are any indication, the abuse and misuse of the public trust will be widespread. I would predict that the results will destroy what little credibility and trust the public has for CheneyBush and his henchmen, but the persistence of a 30 percent hard-core base after the waste and incompetence of the past six years, has so far confounded my faith in human nature.

This administration ain't so new.
Did pretty much what it set out to do.
Take from the many and give to the few.
And don't think it gives a shit about you.

--Cindy Lee Berryhill (1989)

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Rite of Passage

[This is a follow-up to a previous post about The House, where I shared studio space with other artists in Phoenix. If you see names or references that you don't understand, you'll probably find an explanation in the earlier post.]

The House closed with as much enthusiasm as might be expected from a large crowd of artists, poets, musicians and friends. I saw the full range of The House’s history and tenants during the farewell party on 14 April. Some I did not recognize but along with the many I did know, they made for a high energy night. Much alcohol flowed from copious contributions by guests and Shelly’s keg of Fat Tire. The sweet smell of pot was in the air. The mood was festive. Many of us reminisced about our experiences and events and noted the closing of a chapter in our lives but the atmosphere was anything but funereal.

Everybody’s stuff was mostly out of The House itself and the back building known as The Barn, already loaded into the shipping container whose doors opened into the yard through the fence. (Not entirely unlike those 40 yard dumpsters that were so integral to our first weeks there in 1994.) Even so, The House was far from empty, filled with abandoned materials, battered kitchen appliances and debris. The bulldozers will soon come; there’s no sense trying to clean up. Somehow, people managed to wander through, around and over any impediments. No injuries were reported, which is pretty amazing, given the impaired state of many persons in attendance.

The party began in mid-afternoon on a bright, sunny spring day. Probably no more than six to eight people were there when I arrived around four o’clock. Robert and Dan Frenette were noodling around with guitars. Not long after, more people arrived. Some, like Luis Gutierrez, I’d not seen in years. Others I’d never seen. Musicians and poets alternated on the stage as afternoon became evening. Jules Dinehdeal told stories of her time with us at Central Studios before we moved to The House and read from Cleopache, her 1995 collection of poems. When Jules invited others to share their House stories, no one responded immediately, and not one to pass up an open mike, I told some of my experiences, including the installation of the massive swamp cooler hanging off the second story of The Barn behind the audience. I also remembered my time at The House as a time of no war, which sent me on to a riff about the current time of war until Maggie called me back to the subject at hand. I could look around these run-down, chaotic premises and see many, many friends and recall great experiences. It was a clear reminder that life has been good to me.

The sequence of events for the remainder of the night is a bit vague. Leslie Barton performed a song about “You and Your Fucking Dog” and another song I didn’t catch too much of. Leslie has a long association with The House and the artists there. Many of us met her at Central Studios the year before we moved into The House. She’s been reading poetry and performing ever since. Leslie’s Bad Xmas Pageant performances are legendary. Brian Flagard read, with Jules holding a lamp for light on the now dark stage. His story told of the Night of Revolution and Anarchy at Central Studios, an event that led, six months later, to The House. Virtually all of the principals from that night were in the audience as he recounted the details: the vodka, Shostakovitch building to a cresando, Alexi sentimental for lost Russian kin, the paint, the roof top, the police, the aftermath. All there on this final night at the The House.

Other poets read while I wandered among the crowd enjoying the company of old friends and new acquaintances, amazed at the mass of bodies circulating through the building. Jeff Cochran, one of the original House artists, pulled in around 9:00 pm after driving down from New Mexico. Delaney Dickerson, who was at Central Studios with us showed up. So did Dave Salcido who shared space with Shelly at Faux Café before Central. The night was one to celebrate my good fortune with those who gave me so much.

The kitchen was as functional as ever, the sink cabinet listing backwards as it had since we installed it in the first months. Jules'daughter, Lauren, made a most excellent pot of vegan chilli that went down well with beer and with baguettes. Chooga’s studio was still intact, work in progress on the wall. The House computer and phone remained on the table from The Great Hall of Integrity. The entire back end of The House sloped, as it always had, at an angle on this sinking addition. Robert’s studio was stripped of all his art and materials, a large mound of trash in the middle of the room. The ceiling was long gone, open to the rafters above. The walls splattered with paint. The old Great Hall and front rooms were the wood shop, a more level application than in a previous configuration. Scrap lumber and frame materials littered the floor and storage racks, sawdust covered the floor. Robert’s large paint covered work table remained, filling much of this space. The front sunporch was filled with bike parts, old frames, a dead table saw and other clutter. Shelly and Julie still occupied my old studio, its ceiling also open to the rafters but the space partially filled with red cloth looped down between rafters. Pretty nice effect. The outside door now worked and the space had an open, light, airy feel. The room and sunporch were among the most Spartan, Shelly’s and Julie’s stuff was minimal and compact. The space seems to have weathered well the last 13 years of occupants. I was first. Shelly was last. In between were Steve Yazzie, Jack Evans, others and Paul Michuta, Chooga’s son who made the last film shot at The House. The room had good vibes for me.

A DJ kept music going throughout the evening. At one point I went out to my truck and lay down the camper shell, which is tricked out for that very purpose (camping, actually but always good for horizontal time). Just getting off my feet and closing my eyes for a while renewed me a bit. When I returned, The House was filled with people, the only one of whom I recognized was Jules, deep in conversation with others. I found Robert and April upstairs, listening to Mike Little sing and play guitar and harmonica. He’s very good, polished and the songs I heard were well done.

The upstairs is an intimate space, with ceilings that crowd in as the roof reaches to its peak. The center is probably seven feet, the walls half that. Mike played in the center front where the roof opens under a dormer window. Tea lights laid out in front of him gave the room a warm feel. The north roof slope has a large window that offers access to the roof. That was our access when Robert and I installed the cooler there. I dug a bullet out of the roof during that installation.

By now it’s almost midnight, way late for this normally early riser with the incontinent dog. I’m doing the radio show in the morning, too. I thank Robert and April for everything, say my farewells and head home on Phoenix’ wonderfully uncongested late night freeways. The party’s over but a few more acts remain. Robert told me during the evening that they would not be pulling out at noon Sunday. More likely Monday morning.

Sunday morning I thank my previous night’s moderate intoxicant consumption for the lack of a hangover but I am tired. I do the radio program and stop at The House afterward. Robert, April, Chooga and, I think, Dan Frenette are there. Even with all the added party debris, nothing looks particularly different. We talk about what they’re leaving behind and what they might want. April wants the table from the Great Hall of Integrity for a future studio but they don’t have room. Maggie and I offer to take it–we can always use another table for our myriad sorting and packing tasks and don’t want to see that piece of The House disappear quite yet. Robert asks for my help in the morning loading their bed and a few other large items so I agree to return with Maggie then. I go home, meet the man who gave us Prince, The Dalmatian, 14 years ago. Maggie had tracked him down with the original paperwork he’d given us and we invited him to see how his companion given for adoption fared. He was pleased to see Prince and hear of his life and adventures. Sunday evening is also the first birthday party for the radio station. It’s not far away, in Scottsdale at some fancy club. I get a VIP wrist band but it’s still a cash bar. I stick around long enough to be introduced as one of the weekend program hosts. The free food isn’t out yet so Maggie and I head to find food and finally, sleep.

Monday is cooler, even a bit overcast. Robert and April are still doing laundry and packing when I arrive. We can’t load the bed and other items until after the dryer. In the meantime I help as I can, moving items from the bedroom in “the barn”and the main building. Maggie is in full salvage mode and is particularly incensed because she knows the new owners will not bother to save the 1910 wood floor with its-impossible-to-find old-growth tight grain. I’m sure this deal is so big the money from the floor would be peanuts. It will be sad to loose something that rare, though. She identifies the old dryer, the washer and 75 gallon water heater for salvage. And still the bamboo, or pampas grass or whatever this fast growing vegetation is, remains. There appears to be some uncertainty. Plants and other living things are pulled from everywhere. The internet and phone connections go down. Shelly and Julie take their leave; they will spend another day or so at friends before heading to meet Robert and April at their place in Santa Fe. Fifty Dollar Bill, a neighboring artist/DJ pries the security door from the barn with a wrecking bar. He’s taking the old washing machine and leftover organic and vegan food, also. We load the dryer and then the queen mattress, box springs and futon sofa frame. Almost done now. Boxes of final things are crammed into a few convenient open spaces on the container or vehicles.

The dogs wait, sometimes confined, sometimes free. Willie, the black, white and tan basset hound, the older but smaller of the two, and Nancy, a bull mastiff and basset mix. I did not mention any dogs in my previous story, a serious omission that I will correct right now. The House was home to at least six dogs that I know of. Willie and Nancy are the most recent. First was Sarah, Robert and April’s basset-Labrador mix who came to Arizona with them in 1992. She’s even listed on the first Art Detour advertisement along with all the artists. Yazzie’s dog, Josh, was also there at the beginning; he’s in the photo that appeared in the paper in March 1995. Then he was gone. Max was another canine resident. There’s a story behind his arrival but I don’t know it. He came after I moved to Window Rock but I recall seeing him, a large, old, gangly black dog who somehow fit into a chair that he adopted. I believe he ran across Fourth Street and was killed by a car. David Lewis did a wonderful painting of Max in dog heaven, his long legs curled into that impossibly small chair. During that same time, Charlie, the peacock also lived at The House. He had the run of the yard and his own pen by the barn. There may be other dogs but I only know Hazel, a mixed breed hound whom Robert and April adopted in Portland after Sarah died. Hazel was an escape artist and also met her fate on Fourth Street. Two dogs, one peacock, all buried here at The House. Willie and Nancy have a long ancestry here.

Mid afternoon now, a little rain falls, sending us scrambling to get the last items under cover. Robert closes and locks the doors on the shipping container. Final items go into the cars. The Great Hall Table is in my truck. Maggie’s got other salvage. The storage company will pick up the shipping container tomorrow. We take a short break. Robert says it will be strange not to have The House to return to. They won’t need The House, though, not with almost three acres south and east not far from Santa Fe. Robert has already said he won’t miss the dirt at The House. We offer farewells, hugs, good wishes and promises to stay in touch. We know we will, so the parting is just a change to another place and time in the progress of life. Robert leads out in his Tundra, its camper-covered bed packed full, towing a small U-Haul trailer. April follows in her Forester, also full including Willie and Nancy. They head toward the freeway, into a 500 mile trip just as Phoenix rush hours begin at three o’clock.

Maggie runs another errand in the area. I head home to wrangle dogs and food. Maggie and I unload the Great Hall Table and she heads back to The House to help Chooga clear out his studio in the now unpowered, unlighted building. Over the next few days, Maggie makes a couple more salvage trips and finds the dryer gone from the front porch and the scrap aluminum from Robert’s travel trailer rehab project also gone. The combination stove, reefer and sink from the old travel trailer and the water heater from the bathroom are gone when I stopped in a few days later. The fence has been tagged with graffiti, the back gates are falling off. Some of the old chimney bricks that paved the patio are gone.

The weekend after the final party, Maggie helped members of the Phoenix Permaculture Group remove bamboo and plants. An artist in the group pulled out old window frames and glass for found material. The barn has been open since Monday. Now the main building is too. Soon a fence will surround the property and demolition will commence. During the last days we wondered what kind of karma the new structure will have. We hear condos but no one knows for certain. We do know for certain that The House will always be part of that space and our time in Phoenix.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Hussein Agha writing in The Guardian tells why the United States will have great difficulty withdrawing its troops from Iraq: American troops serve just about everyone's interests, except perhaps for the American and Iraqi people.
Overt political debate in the Middle East is hostile to the American occupation of Iraq and dominated by calls for it to end sooner rather than later. No less a figure than King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, arguably the United States' closest Arab ally, has declared the occupation of Iraq "illegal" and "illegitimate". Real intentions, however, are different. States and local political groups might not admit it - because of public opinion - but they do not want to see the back of the Americans. Not yet.

For this there is a simple reason: while the US can no longer successfully manipulate regional actors to carry out its plans, regional actors have learned to use the US presence to promote their own objectives. Quietly and against the deeply held wishes of their populations, they have managed to keep the Americans engaged with the hope of some elusive victory.

The article provides an insightful analysis of how the occupation serves various regional interests and the interests of Iraqi factions and leaders. Among the more interesting observations:

Inside Iraq, this is a period of consolidation for most political groups. They are building up their political and military capabilities, cultivating and forging alliances, clarifying political objectives and preparing for impending challenges. It is not the moment for all-out confrontation. No group has the confidence or capacity decisively to confront rivals within its own community or across communal lines. Equally, no party is genuinely interested in a serious process of national reconciliation when they feel they can improve their position later on. A continued American presence is consistent with both concerns - it can keep clashes manageable and be used to postpone the need for serious political engagement.

Shias in government would like the US to stay long enough for them to tighten their grip on the levers of state power and build a loyal military. Those Shias who are not in power would like them to stay long enough to avoid a premature showdown with their rivals. Militant Shia groups can simultaneously blame the occupation forces for their community's plight and attack them to mobilise further support. Pro-Iranian Shias, meanwhile, retaliate against anti-Iranian US moves with attacks on Americans in Iraq.

Al-Qaida and its affiliates arguably benefit most from the occupation. They established themselves, brought in recruits, sustained operations against the Americans and expanded. The last thing they want is for the Americans to leave and deny them targets and motivation for new members. Other Sunni armed groups need the Americans for similar reasons and for protection against Shias. For Sunni politicians, the occupation prevents a total Shia takeover of state institutions and helps increase their influence.


In this grim picture, the Americans appear the least sure and most confused. With unattainable objectives, wobbly plans, changing tactics, shifting alliances and ever-increasing casualties, it is not clear any longer what they want or how they are going to achieve it. By setting themselves up to be manipulated, they give credence to an old Arab saying: the magic has taken over the magician.

America is screwed unless we start asking our leaders to clearly and honestly tell us what interests they are pursuing. So far the "debate" in this country has been mostly fear,lies, dissimulation and obfuscation. America would benefit from a thoughtful, frank discussion of just what the fuck we are doing in Iraq because it sure isn't helping either this nation or most Iraqis.

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Words to Remember

Came across this quote in a biography of Earl Warren. Justice Robert Jackson wrote these words in the 1943 case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

To repeat, "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."

Eloquent and true words. They speak of and to the most fundamental American ideal.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Meeting with John McCain

[As an Arizonan, I have the dubious honor of being represented by John McCain. As an American, I have the Constitutional right to petition my government. Regular readers know that I have been busily petitioning and carrying on a dialogue of sorts with my senior senator. I would really like to meet and talk with him but he has been unwilling to meet with other anti-war activists so I haven't actually requested a meeting since I don't think that request will be honored. John McCain is a Very Important Person, very busy--too busy to subject himself to my questions.

Instead of an in-person meeting, I met with the senator in the very favorable venue of my own head and tried to present the kind of responses he would offer to my questions and comments. This long dialogue is the result of that meeting. I will send a copy to the senator's office. If he responds in any way, I post that response (without additional comment intitially but I do reserve the right to comment in a subsequent post). In the meantime, here's the result of the imagined meeting.]

Me: “Senator McCain, I’m Mark Fleming. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.

McCain: “My pleasure, Mr. Fleming. As senator from Arizona, I believe it’s important to hear constituents’ views and tell them how I represent those views and Arizona’s interests in Washington. May I call you Mark? We can be less formal in our discussion (and the guy writing this will type less). Call me John.”

Me: “Thanks, John. I know you are busy and can’t meet one-on-one with every Arizonan but I do think I am sufficiently familiar with national and international affairs to speak intelligently and offer alternatives that merit your consideration, and I believe, your support, if you want America to succeed in this world.”

McCain: “Is that your goal, Mark, to see America succeed? What do you mean by American ‘success’?”

Me: “You ask a broad question so I’ll offer a broad answer. American success is the freedom to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. For everyone. Everywhere. Always.”

McCain: “Nice sentiment. What’s it mean in practice?”

Me: “Well, John, I’m a simple man. I think it means just what it says, that all persons have certain unalienable rights, ‘endowed by their Creator’ and, further, that they can act to secure those rights, individually or in concert with others. For me as an individual, it means exercising those rights in a way that does not limit others’ ability to do the same. In the world at large, I expect the same of my country. It’s simple when you look at it like that.”

McC: “The world is not simple. And certainly there are people in this world who are hostile to the idea of individual liberty and will enthusiastically take advantage of an open and welcoming attitude like yours. We must protect ourselves from those who mean us harm.”

Me: “I know that. History is filled with too much mayhem and straight out evil for anyone to naively assume that individuals and societies will always act with reason, understanding and non-violence. The world can be a dangerous place. That said, I am not content to live in a world where fear and violence is the norm. I can at least imagine, as John Lennon said. Or like Robert Kennedy, I can ask, “Why not?”

McC: “I share that vision. America is a world leader. Has been for 60 years now. Madeline Albright correctly described the US as the ‘indispensable nation’. As your senator, I must deal with the world as it is, not as I might wish it were. I must be coldly realistic. That is my solemn duty.”

Me: “Duty. That’s a big deal in your life.”

McC: “You don’t grow up in a Navy family without acquiring a sense of duty. I take pride in serving my country. My grandfather was a World War II admiral. My father followed in his footsteps. Serving my country seemed like the right thing to do. My background gave me opportunities worked out well for me. I got to fly. And I served my country with honor.”

Me: “I know your basic story but recently learned about your “hunter-killer” missions. Minstrel Boy told me about them and your reputation for cool competence. To be honest, as a grunt, I tend to discount pilots; we didn’t see much of you guys where we were and you got to sleep in a bed at night. Until you were shot down. That singles you and your fellow prisoners of war for recognition. Your bravery and determination under very difficult conditions demonstrated a true sense of honor. I would be proud (in a non-aggrandizing manner, of course) to have such an accomplishment in my background.”

McC: “You also served, Mark. You did your duty.”

Me: “Nothing like you. Had I shown your courage, I would have refused to serve. I did not believe the war was in the national interest so the honorable course would have been to say no when my country asked me to kill. You can say, at least, that you believed in what you were doing. Hell, I doubt if you would have survived as a prisoner had you not believed. I was very conflicted because I also had a sense of duty and some interest in GI Bill education benefits. In the end I took the easy way out and lucked my way through combat for five months until I got a relatively safe rear job and went home. My experience left me angry and bitter that I had surrendered my humanity by killing in a war that should have never begun and should have ended well before I got caught up in it.”

McC: “We come away from Vietnam with different experiences and different lessons.”

Me: “Not surprising. We went in with different experiences and understanding. I can only assume that you believed in the war.”

McC: “Of course, I did. It was my duty. My father was commanding the fleet. I can’t recall ever saying it myself, but didn’t your ROTC college room mate say something like, ‘It’s not much of a war but it’s the only one we’ve got.’? We wanted in on the action. That’s what we trained for. It’s what we can do well for our country. I wanted to serve. I understand your room mate was also a fighter pilot.”

Me: “Yeah, he flew A-7's in Cambodia in 72 or 73. Was shot down once but managed a crash landing near his base. He wrote me that he did well in bombing and strafing school and seemed to enjoy it. Did the “blowing shit up” factor add excitement to the job? I recall a certain guilty thrill when I fired heavy infantry weapons and rockets. I can only imagine what an A-6 is like.

McC: “As you can imagine, it’s quite a powerful machine. But it can also be vulnerable to good anti-aircraft fire. It’s also a deadly serious business. As a fighter-bomber pilot, you attack for a reason. You are unleashing deadly force against enemies. Yeah, flying is exciting. You don’t become a Naval aviator if you want a quiet life.”

Me: “What did it feel like to know you were killing other human beings?”

McC: “They were military targets. Enemy forces who were acting against America or its allies in Vietnam. Those were my orders.”

Me: “That’s a key difference. I didn’t see them as enemies.”

McC: “They would have killed you in a New York minute.”

Me: “I know that. It would’ve pissed me off royally, given what I felt about the war. But their hostility was nothing personal. I guess they may have hated me as a foreign occupier but not because I was Mark Fleming, son of Frank and Kay Fleming of Danville, Virginia and 1970 University of Virginia graduate. They hated me for what I was doing in their country. I hated myself for the same reason. Did you hate the Vietnamese when you attacked them?”

McC: “It wasn’t a matter of hatred. I was executing a mission against enemy forces.”

Me: “You never asked why they were ‘enemies’?”

McC: “Above my pay grade.”

Me: “Mine, too, but as a citizen I have the right, and I would say, duty to ask that question. Hell, John, I have to ask it as a human being when that kind of violence is unleashed in my name or when I am asked to become part of that violence.”

McC: “That’s not part of the curriculum for a military officer. You and I both know that would be dangerous. You can’t have an effective military where everyone can question everything. Even worse, you don’t want to compromise civilian control of the military.”

Me: “Here’s another difference between you and me. I think even military personnel should always ask questions. Junior officers and enlisted personnel can serve as a military’s conscience. I don’t mean resistance, although that has a place in appropriate circumstances, but offering a moral compass, a reminder of what’s right. That’s what finally brought both My Lai and Abu Ghraib to light. At the top of the pay scale, I expect senior officers to offer frank, candid information based on their knowledge and experience to civilian leadership. But that doesn’t mean compromising civilian control. That’s why the Framers created a Navy but not a standing army. They knew the danger of a permanent military class.

McC: “Times have changed, Mark. The United States would be at grave risk without a standing army in the modern world.”

Me: “Why not a world without armies?”

McC: ”That’s preposterous.”

Me: “Why?”

McC: “We’d be at risk. The US demobilized after WWII and the Communists conquered China, invaded Korea, threatened the Philippines, southeast Asia and central Europe. America was the only nation still standing after the war. America has a responsibility to contribute to world security. You only have to look at history to know what happens without a strong America.”

Me: “As much as I would like to see a world without armaments and war, I know that we need to be prepared to defend ourselves. It’s in the Constitution and is one of the reasons that individuals with unalienable rights agree to limit those rights by joining together in a society. In a world of nation states, military force may be necessary to preserve that society. But I consider the most effective military to be one that is used sparingly, if at all. I may have the right to kill in self-defense but that is not a right I ever want to exercise. I prefer to keep away from those situations. I want my country to do the same.”

McC: “You seem to live in some kind of fantasy world. The United States cannot simply ignore a real world filled with hostile states and clandestine organizations all bent on our destruction.”

Me: “I’m not suggesting that America ignore the world. I simply want America to engage the world differently. I know we have adversaries. That’s what they are to me: adversaries, opponents. Not enemies. Enemy implies perpetual hatred. I do not hate anyone, even temporarily. I may dislike what they do. Their actions may disappoint and anger me. I may believe they think poorly, if at all, but none of that is hatred. I would rather talk, educate, negotiate and understand than attack and kill.”

McC: “Try negotiating with Mohammad Atta and the 9-11 killers. You can’t change a mind like that with reason and ideals.”

Me: That was 19 guys who attacked us. Looking past them to Al-Qaeda and allied groups that plan and carry out violent attacks, I don’t see much opportunity to negotiate. They are the bad guys to disrupt and destroy. But these organizations are criminal syndicates that combine violence with religion and nationalism ideas to further their political goals. The world has long experience thwarting and disrupting these kind of activities and that experience has rarely involved major, extended military commitment.

McC: "You seem to think that the only adversary, if you will, are these stateless organizations. Iran is right next door to Iraq. Iran has been hostile to this nation for three decades. Syria has long been a threat. Hamas threatens Israel and is increasing its strength in Lebanon. Negotiation and diplomacy are all very nice, but the United States cannot afford to play only defense in this critical region. That’s why we need to win in Iraq, to maintain regional stability.

Me: “Have you ever asked why Iran or Syria or any other country is hostile to the United States? That's not above your pay grade any more.”

McC: “They are hostile. They support our opponents. Iran is threatening the region with nuclear weapons. What more evidence do you need?”

Me: “I want to know why they are hostile. These nations and for that matter even Al-Qaeda must have some reason for acting against the US in the region. They must believe it’s in their interest to do so. Understanding those root causes will help us respond effectively to their challenges and threats."

McC: “They don’t believe in freedom. They want to impose their ideas on everyone. Just like the Communists. Islamic fundamentalists may lack the weaponry and reach of the Soviet Union, but as a clandestine and well financed organization, they are capable of creating great instability, putting America’s interests in jeopardy.”

Me: “What do you mean when you say ‘America’s interests”?

McC: "Secure from attack, secure in our economy, secure in the free society envisaged by the Framers."

Me: “That’s not unlike my definition of American success: the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness, for everyone, everywhere.”

McC: “Yours seems somewhat broader. I don’t see anything specific to America. It sounds like you’re talking about the entire world.”

Me: “Yeah, I am. I do that for two reasons. One is spiritual: I cannot refuse to share my wealth and good fortune with those who have nothing. America has wealth and a society that has grown more open and tolerant throughout most of its history, at least until recently. That wealth and tradition should be shared with the world to promote freedom and success for all. I’m not talking about self- or national-abnegation here; just reasonable sharing and cooperation, whether individuals in a society or nations that share this planet. I also recognize that sharing must be based on mutual benefit and an understanding of the differences among societies.

My second reason is practical. A society where some have all and most have little is inherently unstable. Marx was certainly right in predicting the results of exploitation and immiseration–at some point, the many dispossessed will simply take the wealth they are denied. Marx wasn’t so good at coming up with a solution but he was spot on about the dire consequences of economic inequality. The more unequal the wealth, the more likely the have-nots will reach a point of desperation and simply take the wealth they are denied. The world saw the terrible results of despair in Revolutionary France and Russia during and after World War I. Even American capitalism was at risk from despairing masses during the Great Depression, saved only by the New Deal and World War II. I think that makes a practical case for policies that reduce gross inequality in wealth.”

McC: “Now you’re sounding like a leftist, Mark.”

Me: “You say that like it’s something bad. I think I sound like a human being and American who has a sense of justice and history. I am a leftist because I find ideals and policies that match my values. I began my political activity as a Goldwater conservative and much of what he said about individual liberty still resonates with me.”

McC: “Well, as a United States senator and, I hope, president, I have a duty to look out for America’s interests first. The United States has vital interests around the world and it’s my duty to protect them as best I can to the best of my ability.”

Me: “I couldn’t agree more, John. But I do question how well you and the President Bush are doing that right now. I see America becoming less competitive in the world. I see American jobs and cash moving overseas. The US dollar is no longer the world’s sole reserve currency. The number of terror attacks around the world since 9-11 has increased. I see a war that was started on false pretenses creating a generation of enmity for the United States in the Muslim world. I see our soldiers and Marines held hostage to Iraqi political stalemate and in-fighting among Iraqi factions.”

McC: “Everyone thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We didn’t invade based on lies, just poor information. And even in the absence of the weapons, we got rid of a brutal tyrant. What we didn’t do was send enough troops or manage the war better. We accomplished our invasion handily. President Bush and his advisors bungled the post-invasion.”

Me: “Everyone thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because that’s what the administration insisted over and over was the case. I don’t know if the administration erred through willful distortion or blind ignorance. Neither scenario speaks well of the president. As for the post-invasion, the president and his advisors were wholly unprepared for what they got into. They should have known. Hell, I did. Saddam even told the world that the real fight would begin after the invasion. Wasn’t anybody listening?”

McC: “We should have sent more troops. I’ve been saying that for a long time.’

Me: “You mean like the three to four hundred thousand Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki recommended before he was cashiered?”

McC: “Certainly more than we went in with.”

Me: “You weren’t all that vocal at the time. I can’t recall hearing you arguing strongly against the invasion plan. I don’t remember you calling for more troops in 2003 and 2004 as the insurgency grew.”

McC: “I was supporting my commander-in-chief in pursing America’s national security. When duty calls, it’s imperative that we all pull together. I made my views known without fanfare.”

Me: “Remember what I said earlier about senior commanders speaking out truthfully? I think that is what you failed to do. Maybe you did go hammer and tong with the president, vice-president and SecDef. If you were so sure that they were sending insufficient troops into Iraq, should you not have spoken out publicly and supported the General Shinseki’s assessment of troop strength? You had high credibility with much of the nation and are recognized as informed on military and international affairs. Unlike military commanders, you don’t have to fear for your career by challenging what you consider erroneous policy and action. I expect that from my public officials. You were silent at a critical time. Look at what your silence wrought!”

McC: “You’re blaming me for bungling Iraq?”

Me: “Yes, you certainly contributed to the fiasco. Had you insisted on adequate force prior to the invasion, Americans would have been at least somewhat more informed about its costs. I say somewhat because I don’t believe that America could ever successfully occupy Iraq after an invasion. I think sooner or later Iraqi sectarian, ethnic and nationalist sentiments would have led to resistance and civil war with Americans caught in the political and actual crossfire. But that’s not part of the debate any more. The debate is now about how to end the mayhem and destruction.”

McC: “We can’t leave the field to our enemies. That would be irresponsible and dangerous. It would lead to catastrophe.”

Me: “Enemies. Catastrophe. You use those words a lot. I don’t have enemies.”

McC: “Adversaries, then. They still want to kill and harm us. I will not leave them free to do harm America. That’s the catastrophe I’m warning against. America cannot retreat from the world.”

Me: “You forget that I strongly support American engagement with the world. I just prefer that it not be at the point of a bayonet. That doesn’t mean surrender or retreat. It means clearly understanding our interests and how we work with other nations to secure those interests. In the long run it’s a far more sustainable policy than military intervention and occupation.“

McC: “And then you wake up in the real world when America is threatened.”

Me: “Threatened by what? The Iraqi resistance? They are only a threat as long as we are in their country. When we leave, that threat is no more.”

McC: “If we leave anarchy and a hostile regime in place, Iraq will threaten us for a long time.” Al-Qaeda is there. They will attack us wherever they can.”

Me: “And we can monitor, harass and disrupt their operations with international cooperation, effective intelligence and targeted operations. And more than likely, Iraqi nationalists will turn against the al-Qaeda foreign fighters and expel them.”

McC: “And they will simply migrate to other countries to cause trouble. If we don’t destroy them in Iraq, terrorism will metastasize like a cancer.”

Me: “John, that has already happened. Terrorism migrated to Iraq when we opened that front. It continues in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Africa and Asia. Cells are active throughout Europe, I am sure. Occupying Iraq has only increased the hatred and anger that creates terrorism. I have no illusions about eradicating terrorism. It’s a tactic as old as warfare, which we both know is all too much a part of human history. I believe we can contain terrorism and mitigate its impact but the world will still suffer casualties from terrorist attacks.”

McC: “You would leave America vulnerable to another 9-11? It sounds like you accept a world where terrorists are free to operate.”

Me: “Not free to operate. I expect my government to protect this nation from terrorism but at a reasonable cost. I strongly believe that’s possible. We have identified and disrupted real and wanna-be plots. The British have done the same. I think the record shows that if someone had been paying attention prior to 9-11, we may well have stopped that attack. There were a lot of red flags. We could have done a lot more then and we can do more to make effective use of real intelligence and analysis to protect this nation. And we can do so without abandoning Constitutional government that has been our signature contribution to the world.”

McC: "You have the leisure to be naive. I have a duty to protect America. If that means taking risks seeking a better future, so be it. I would not be serving my country if I did less."

Me: “You would be serving your country far more if you were to really think about how America engages the world and begin looking past your neo-Cold War militarism as a model for foreign policy in the 21st century. You would be doing quite a bit to protect America by pursuing diplomatic, economic and cultural initiatives rather than waging war.”

McC: “Sometimes war is necessary and inevitable. You are dreaming if you think we can do without a military.”

Me: “I acknowledge that need but I also acknowledge the responsibility to use that military as a last resort, when all other options are exhausted. I expect the men and women who lead that military–including you, John–to not waste the patriotism and sacrifice if its armed forces in unnecessary wars.”

McC: “I’m a senator. I don’t lead the military.”

Me: “You’ve built your career based on your military expertise. You've certainly presesnted yourself as a miltary expert. I expect you as a veteran and a man who served with honor and courage to recognize the special duty we have to the nation and the men and women who serve in our military. That duty is to make their sacrifices meaningful. Looking at what America has done to Iraq, I don’t think we can say that about their sacrifice. Our troops want that meaning very much. When you sacrifice your humanity, when you descend into the depravity of combat, it MUST mean something. Otherwise, you’re just a killer.”

McC: “I have always respected and honored our military.”

Me: “Iraq doesn’t speak well of your respect.”

McC: “That statement impugns our troops and me.”

Me: “It certainly does impugn you, John. I most certainly does not impugn our troops, their courage or their sacrifice. Sending them on an unnecessary mission, without the equipment and training they need, asking them to sacrifice life and soul in a fruitless war impugns only those who send them. That’s you, John, with a lot of company.”

McC: “Those troops want to serve America. I’ve talked to them. They want to succeed. You would deny them that victory.”

Me: “All troops want to serve. That’s why they volunteered. They are can-do, gung-ho patriotic Americans who believe in their country and want to contribute. I’ve heard them, too, John. I know that many believe in their mission. From the lowliest private up through the generals, the military wants to perform, it relishes challenge. So a well respected general like David Petraeus is willing to make an effort if given the opportunity and a reasonable level, even if the odds are long, because the president asked him to. That can-do spirit is what makes the military such a valuable resource. What makes it effective is strong leadership that knows when and how to use that military in the nation’s best interests. You and President Bush failed to do that in Iraq. An unnecessary invasion has become a homicidal nightmare.”

McC: "We must challenge America’s enemies wherever they threaten us. You just don’t seem to understand, Mark."

Me: "You don’t understand, John. I have no enemies."

McC: "America faces serious challenges from some dangerous adversaries. I call them enemies. You are hopelessly naive and trusting in a hostile world. You would risk America’s security."

Me: "Frankly, I think you are pursuing a hopeless, self-defeating policy that will only put America further at risk by sowing a generation’s worth of hatred around the world at a high cost to American troops, their families and taxpayers."

McC: "I think we’ve reached an impasse here. I can’t agree with you. Nor, it seems, are you willing to listen to me."

Me: "I’ve listened to you for years but don’t think the policies you advocate serve America's long term interests."

McC: "If we’re done, then, it’s time to get back on the Straight Talk Express. I need to take my message to America. It’s not too late for this nation to wake up to the danger."

Me: "Actually, John, I think America is beginning to wake up, if not to my leftist universalism, at least then to the futility of the war you so vigorously support."

McC: "Thanks for joining me, Mark. Don’t let the door swat you on the way out."

Me: "You’re welcome, John. It’s been interesting. Be careful making those hard right turns on the Express. You could end up in a ditch."

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Fall of An Empire

Much of the reporting on the death of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin has emphasized his role in dismantling the Soviet Uniion, which in this country is considered by many to be the signal achievement of Saint Ronald the Great. According to American Triumphalists, Saint Ronald bankrupted the Soviet Union by forcing its teetering economy to match increased US military spending. Saint Ronald also bled the Soviets in Afghanistan by supporting the resistance to Soviet Occupation. According to this line of thought, Yeltsin's reforms were the direct result of American policy.

Thinking about those days and America's present situation--bogged down in a seemingly endless war, piling up record deficits in order to maintain a world wide military presence and decaying infrastructure here at home--I begin to feel a little uneasy when I recall that Al-Qaeda's strategy is to bleed America into bankruptcy. I don't think the US is quite as politically or economically vulnerable as the former Soviet Uniton but the high costs of our military crusades certainly seem to fit within Al-Qaeda's strategy.

Maybe I'm just thinking too much these days. I should go watch some television.

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