Saturday, April 07, 2007

Word to Word with John McCain

John McCain is running as the War Candidate, presenting himself as the the effective warrior who will bring victory to America. I, for one, am pleased to see McCain finally being all he can be. As a constituent, I look forward to a steady dialogue with my senator on this important topic. The first installment previously appeared in this space. So will future installments.

McCain's embrace of war is his attempt to call America to her destiny, to be Winston Churchill standing resolute against imminent danger. But if he will send our sons and daughters to war, then he must also tell us what their deaths will achieve that other solutions will not. MeCain claims that more agression, more troops and more resolve will prevent catastrophe. He says this after four years of catastrophe that ranks among the greatest strategic blunder in American history and the greatest failure presidential leadership since Buchanan. I do not think any political arrangements brokered by American forces and their Green Zone Iraqi allies will last much beyond our departure. The Iraqis live there, they can afford to wait us out. So John McCain needs to be describing his end game for Iraq as he calls the nation to this task. I think his fear of terrorism is far too great and that America has non-military options that can do at least as well as our occupation. I sure plan to press these and other questions to him.

This debate seems to be my destiny, an opportunity to serve my country in a meaningful way. In that respect, debating John McCain on the goals and purposes of American foreign policy may be a step in my journey to and from Vietnam. I went to Vietnam because my country asked me to and I was afraid to say no. I wanted to have a voice in my country and feared refusing service would limit my voice. So I went and passively endured the loss of my humanity. Having lost my innocence for that reason, I redeem my honor by speaking out as a veteran against war and mindless militarism. I have done so in various ways over the years, starting with a Veterans for McGovern bumpersticker and my LTE of the Richmond Times-Dispatch protesting William Westmoreland's "stabbed in the back speech" at the dedication of the memorial to Virginia's Vietnam War dead. Debating John McCain will be nothing new. I am pleased that fate has brought me to McCain as a constituent at this time. If the truth be known, though, I'd rather have a senator that does not so reflexively support war and aggression as the deciding factor in America's future. But circumstances brought McCain and me together in Arizona. So be it.

My education, including Vietnam, and professional experience have taught me many things. One of the most important is to use scarce resources wisely for the common good, an ideal embodied in the Preamble to the US Constitution. I have followed public affairs actively since the mid 1960's. I was trained to identify and measure results of public sector efforts. I believe I am as well qualified as John McCain to determine my country's future. (Okay, I don't get the on-site briefings in Iraq that McCain is privy to but he doesn't seem to use that information very well so I don't think that gives him an advantage.)

When I cast a cold eye on the American occupation of Iraq, it becomes simply an effort on behalf of the nation, on my behalf and my neighbors'. Unlike building a highway or operating a library, this effort demands our lives and national honor--our soul--along with money. It's a high price to pay. My cold eye demands a return equal to the sacrifice and I see none. Perhaps I am obtuse and resistant. After all, I never thought invading Iraq was a good idea. That's not the issue now. The issue now is the way forward and certainly an unsustainable, objectionable occupation will not take anyone forward in Iraq. I want John McCain to tell me why, what good it is doing our nation? I bet this nation can achieve greater (not absolute but arguably better)security sooner by ending the occupation. I don't think John McCain can convince me otherwise. I am listening. I will also ask questions. I'm good at that.

It will be fun.

some afterthoughts:

The article about McCain has some interesting quotes, few of which give me any confidence in his judgment.

"Iraq is the most important issue facing the country," said Brian Jones, McCain's communications director. "John McCain is going to continue to talk about how we achieve victory in Iraq."

Iraq is important but THE most important? Umm, I think sustaining life, prosperity and economic justice in a changing world is more important. I think that helping America remain competitive in a global economy. Iraq has oil. Sure we need oil but didn't Republicans used to talk about markets? Isn't oil and resource allocation a market issue? What's with the armies and blowing shit up? I don't believe that is a particularly efficient market mechanism. And most of the violence and mayhem in Iraq is home grown. What terrorist threats that are likely to result from the Iraq civil war should be within the capability of a powerful First World nation, especially if we work with other nations of the world.

"Of course I am going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions and I probably will do it in the future."

Not a quality I normally look for in a candidate. But at least he's telling the truth. We here in Arizona know that his military judgment questionable ever since he became close personal friends with fellow fighter pilot and flying ace, Duke Tully, publisher of the Arizona Republic,godfather for a McCain child, who turned out to have acquired all of his military background at surplus stores. McCain just cannot see past lies. No wonder he misspeaks.

"This is about moving forward and doing what's necessary to make John McCain president," said Terry Nelson, his campaign manager. "We want to talk broadly about the challenges this country faces. That has not been done in a systematic way by any candidate, so far."

It's always been about making something of John McCain, war hero, congressman, senator and now president. If McCain, who has supported this war from the beginning hasn't systematically explained the why this war makes sense for America, I don't think he's likely to make a good case after for years of failure.

And finally, what is the etiquette for publishing correspondence with a public offical. I consider that correspondence to be public record. Do I need to inform him that his words, or lack thereof, will appear on this blog? I am open to advice. I most certainly want to do right by everyone in this matter.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Referral

How one visitor arrived here.


Mirror Image

Worth reading: Noam Chomsky's "What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?" at Tomdispatch.

It baffles me to no end that my fellow Americans cannot see this country from the world's perspective. Americans certainly would resist another nation interfering in our internal affairs. Somehow, though, it's okay when we do it. We're America. We're the good guys.

That is SO special.

Labels: , ,

Can You Understand Now?

To all Americans who in 2002 and 2003 said, "The president has information that we don't have. If he says Iraq is a danger, then I respect his judgment.":

He did have evidence that we did not. IT WAS WRONG! IT WAS DISTORTED! Your president, whose judgment you respected, started a costly war for no good reason. He betrayed you. He failed in his most fundamental duty.

To all Americans still supporting CheneyBush:

Why on earth do you still believe this administration can be trusted on anything?

The Minstrel Boy's comment to a previous post sure says it all:
the part of this that simply makes me crazy is that after being completely, absolutely, and totally wrong (if not lying through their teeth) about every single aspect of the iraq situation, anybody, anywhere, at any time will listen to bush when he says he's certain about what will result from withdrawal. he was certain about the weapons, he was certain about the operation being a cakewalk, he was certain that iraqi oil revenue would pay for the whole thing, he was certain that democracy would spring from the desert once he opened up a little irrigation, he was certain. . .

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sober Thoughts with CheneyBush

At his press conference yesterday, CheneyBush wished Americans would "...take a sober look at the consequences of failure in Iraq. My main job is to protect the people, and I firmly believe that if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here." Later, addressing Matthew O'Dowd's disappointment in his performance, CheneyBush said it's probably because O'Dowds's son is at risk in Iraq. "I would hope that people who share Matthew's point of view would understand my concern about what failure would mean to the security of the United States."

Let's think about this soberly, then.

The enemy would follow us here.

Actually, most Iraqi insurgents and fighters will stay in Iraq. They just want the foreign occupiers to leave their country and hope that Iraqi leaders can keep the civil war from worsening. The relatively few foreign fighters will migrate from Iraq to another conflict area or perhaps they will return to their home countries and foment violence there. Either way, they'll be troublesome. Here's an opporutnity to work with allies in the region to deal with these conflicts. The United States can assist and look out for its own interests but it's in everyone's best interest for the local parties to reach agreements that are likely to last. So these enemies are likely to remain a regional issue.

No doubt some will reach higher. Osama Bin Laden surely wants to repeat his 9-11 spectactular as do any number of his allies and imitators. Some are already in America, if only in wanna-be delusions. Some are even native born, With appropriate police and intelligence work this First World nation should be able to identify, disrupt and prosecute illegal actions that threaten the health, safety and welfare of this nation. I even believe America can do this within the legal traditions and protections that have been a hallmark of our democracy for centuries. When I say good police and intelligence work, I mean actually following up on leads like the ones that came to CheneyBush's attention in the months prior to September 2001. Not distorting and cherry picking data to fabricate threats. America can do that. If CheneyBush cannot provide the necessay leadership and competence, then he is not protecting America. He is not doing his job.

National security is at risk.

Who threatens our national security in what way? We know Islamic fundamentalists mean us harm, especially when we are active in their homelands. Prior to Iraq, their attacks were sporadic but deadly: the embassy bombings in Africa, the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and the Marine Barracks in Beirut. The 9-11 attack was the spectacular event that showed the ease with which a disciplined group could inflict mass casualties and sow terror. But this enemy is not so strong as to seriously threaten America's security. Even the carnage of 9-11 was a passing event. It did not threaten nuclear annihilation or permanent economic peril. Make no mistake, 9-11 had a major, long term effect on America. This nation learned that two oceans and a massive military do not guarantee protection in a globalized world. 9-11 also caused much of the nation to stop thinking and start fearing. When CheneyBush says consequences, he means "9-11". When he says security, he means "9-11". What America did not learn was how to deal with this new uncertainty.

Other threats to our national security concern me more than terrorism. America's econimic weakness in a highly competitive world, a huge debt for future generations, climate change, sustainability. All these issues seem far more of a threat than the occasional casualties of terrorism. When I see the huge amount of public resources funnelled into armaments and war, I wonder what kind of America we would have if a large chunk went instead to schools, roads, health care and other purposes that will help Americans compete in the 21st century world.

Nuclear proliferation is a national security and world security issue. Use of nuclear devices by terrorists or even recognizable states is a hazard to all. I'm pretty sure Osama would like to detonate a nuclear device in a major city. He sure won't be able to do the plane thing again. Our law enforcement and intelligence organizations will need to be very much on their toes to identify and disrupt any such plans. I believe the solution is through diplomacy that fairly addresses national interests. My preferred solution would be a nuclear free zone that includes the entire planet.

None of this seems to hinge too centrally on Iraq.

Who is The Enemy?

Another problem I have is the concept of "The Enemy". I don't like to think of anyone as my enemy. Yeah, there may be people who will not act in my best interest or even in opposition to me but I like to believe that's from circumstance rather than some implacable hatred between us. I never considered the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong as enemies, even though they might actually have killed me. Had I been Vietnamese, I would have sided with them as opponents of foreign occupation. As an American, I would oppose foreign occupation of this country. So I don't see an enemy in Iraq so much as I see nationalists. I also see greed, scheming, sectrarian bigotry and corruption among all factions, none of which is new or unique to Iraq. What is new is the chaos and violence. But it's not directed a me, only at their opponents, who are often my fellow Americans placed in the line of fire.

When Muhammed Ali was asked why he would not serve in the Vietnam war he said, "I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong, no Vietcong ever called me nigger." I don't have any quarrel with Iraqis. I want them to stop killing each other and Americans but I don't see their actions as based on any real enmity or hostility between our two peoples. Iraq has never threatened the United States in any way that justifies the occupation. It does neither nation any good.

Okay, George. I've given sober thought to the consequences of ending American military involvement in Iraq. I think this nation can handle them.

Back to you.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Russ, You Always Been My Man

A consistent voice against war finally makes an impression.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Day at School

Last week, I joined fellow Veterans For Peace in a counter recruiting presentation at a local high school. Unlike military recruiters who have full access to school facilities, students and student information, counter recruiters must be invited by students, parents or teachers. We spoke to five English classes in a Phoenix area high school. If nothing else, the day reminded me of how hard teachers work. I was exhausted at the end of the day.

The kids were overwhelmingly Hispanic with some white, black and native Americans. What I noticed mostly was that they were kids in all their varied styles and expressions. Their teacher gave us a list of questions she had requested from each class. The questions were at once naive, insightful and honest. The teacher did an excellent job of incorporating us into the curriculum. She provided her students with a triangle diagraming the elements of argument--emotion, logic, factual information–and asked them to identify how we used each and give examples. She also used the opportunity to introduce vocabulary that was unfamiliar in our presentations. I thought it was a creative use of the opportunity to teach.

Our presentation was pretty direct and graphic. We talked of war as killing and explained the moral and ethical dilemmas we faced in that situation. We also showed photographs of war, not to shock but to remind the students that war nothing like the sanitized version offered by the media. Dennis told about his first kill in Vietnam, about how difficult and mind-bending it was, about how he read the dead man’s letters revealed that the dead man was no different from himself. John asked the students if they are willing to kill another human being. None were. They said it is not right unless that other human being is actually presenting a deadly threat (my paraphrase of their answers). I spoke about the balance between one’s obligation to serve the country and the nation’s obligation to honor that sacrifice with meaning. All three of us told them why we believe they should be wary of recruiters and this war. Dennis emphasized the particular risk of assault and rape faced by women in the military. We did not get too many questions directly from the classes. Most of the students were reticent. The list of questions we had gave their names so we asked them about their questions and opened a dialogue that took some interesting turns.

A few students asked about the military’s focus on Hispanic recruits, especially after we described the new recruiting offices the US has opened in Mexico, Dominican Republic and the Philippines. Some were aware of the contradiction in a country that welcomes Mexicans as recruits but not as immigrants. They also asked why we have wars, for which our only answer is that nations and leaders fail in their dealings with each other. When we asked them if they knew why the US is fighting in Iraq, most were silent. The ones who spoke said “9-11" which gave us the opportunity to describe the very real disconnect between the Iraq war and that tragic event.

I was amazed at how little of the world these students seemed to know compared to my own knowledge at that same age. Of course, my 40 year old memories of high school probably give me more credit than was actually the case. I was more aware of Vietnam and world events at their age but I was also pretty advantaged compare to these students so the difference could easily be due to that. Their lack of awareness did not mask their intelligence or curiosity at all. I thought many showed a real ability to think, especially the ones who stuck around after class to ask more questions.

We explained how recruiters work and why. We offered information on how students can protect themselves from recruiters by either opting out of the federal requirement that the school share information, by learning about the military and what it offers or by taking a parent or a veteran with them if they are interested in a military career. We used to recommend the military as a possible career choice, provided that a recruit does in fact get the training and opportunities he or she signs up for. Recent changes in the recruiting contract eliminate any guarantees–a recruit may be trained in a skill they request but there is no guarantee that they will actually be assigned to work in that skill if the military needs them for other purposes (read: combat or combat support). These days we tell the kids to look elsewhere in contemplating ways to serve their nation.

For me the best part of the day was seeing a teacher who teaches her students to think. I cannot imagine a greater gift.


We received a very nice thank you note from the teacher and a stack of thank you’s from the students. I’m just starting to read them now and will post some of their comments later.

Labels: ,

Victory and Defeat

Reading CheneyBush's reaction to the bills tying war funding to withdrawl, I am painfully aware of how little is there. Here's Tony Snow on 19 March:
...a war spending bill up for consideration by the full House this week would "provide victory for the enemy....That is not a fund-the-troops bill but a withdraw-the-troops bill," Snow said. "We think that is an approach that is conducive to defeat. It is a recipe for failure, not for victory. ... It would provide victory for the enemy and not the much-needed and deserved victory for the people of Iraq. Furthermore, it would forfeit the sacrifice that our troops have made in the field."

That statement pretty much sums up the current arguement for continued war and occupation in Iraq. And it pretty much shows how hollow an arguement it is. It's all about VICTORY and DEFEAT, SACRIFICE and CATASTROPHIC consequences. Actually the George W. module said "catastrophic". I'm sure the Big Dick module has said something very similar. You get the idea: it's all about fear.

But it's not about defeat or victory. Iraq and America's overall policy for the middle east SHOULD be about SOLVING PROBLEMS that threaten to destabilize yet another part of the world (of course, this one has OIL). When you're solving problems, victory and defeat are not the issue; success in finding a workable solution should be the focus. That's why ending the United States occupation does not necessarily mean defeat. It will not be a change from a failed strategy that has created much chaos and death to one that rachets down the violence. I fully expect the United States to participate in reconstructing Iraq, with generous funding to repair the damage we have caused. But reconstruction, like political reconciliation is an Iraqi responsibility and duty, it will only occur once they settle their differences. The US cannot win the Iraq civil war. Only Iraqis can do that

Therein lies the problem to be solved.

Labels: ,

Communicating with My Senator, Part II

I finally finished and mailed my response to John McCain's response to my previous letter. I posted the early draft here and the final is pretty much the same with some of the redundancy and rambling thoughts either removed or better placed, so I wont' repost it. I'll report on any response.

Do you think he'd see it any sooner if I mailed it to him in Baghdad? He could just saunter down to the post office and pick it up.

Labels: ,

The Sound of Hands Clapping Louder

Juan Cole challenges St John's shopping trip in Baghdad:
Look, I lived in the midst of a civil war in the late 1970s in Beirut. I know exactly what it looks and smells like. The inexperienced often assume that when a guerrilla war or a civil war is going on, life grinds to a standstill. Not so. People go shopping for food. They drive where they need to go as long as they don't hear that there is a firefight in that area. They go to work if they still have work. Life goes on. It is just that, unexpectedly, a mortar shell might land near you. Or the person ahead of you in line outside the bakery might fall dead, victim of a sniper's bullet. The bazaars are bustling some days (all the moreso because it is good to stock up on supplies the days when the violence isn't so bad). So nothing that John McCain saw in Baghdad on Sunday meant a damn thing. Not a goddamn thing.

It makes my blood boil.

Because McCain, you see, knows exactly what I know about guerrilla wars and civil wars. Hell, people used to shop freely in Saigon in the early 1970s! And if he is saying what he is saying, it is because he is attempting to convey an overly optimistic picture with which to deceive the American public.

The deception will get even more of our young men and women in uniform blown up, at a time when their mission has become murky and undefined. If the American public sacrifices the lives of the troops with their eyes open, for what they see as the sake of the security of the United States, then the loss of life is regrettable but the mission is clear, defined, and has public support. But if the American public is lied to and only thinks a mission is being accomplished as a result, then the sacrifice of soldiers' lives is monstrous. The Iraq War has become monstrous in this way. And John McCain, whom I had long respected as a straight shooter, has now been seduced into playing illusionist with the lives of our troops.

St John wants it both ways. He wants us to believe in this war even as he says it will be difficult. Either way he can justify this war until the brutal moment when reality finally collides with his fantasy. Then he can say we didn't try hard enough.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 01, 2007

More Milestones

Milestones are better than kidney stones. I've had two of the latter, the last now fortunately ten years past. The milestones are still happening, though. Last month saw another spike in traffic. Unsolicited Opinion had over 600 visitors in March. (I'm coming up behind you, Kos, any decade now.) March was the third straight increase in traffic and my average daily vists have more than tripled over last year. The end of March also witnessed my first extended comment string. All of this is pretty small potatoes in the blogtopian (yes! skippy coined the root of this phase!) universe but it tells me that my words and ideas are circulating and being read. Always satisfying to this writer. I even met fellow blogger, Minstrel Boy for breakfast in March. He's only the second blogger I've met in person outside of YearlyKos last year.

Beyond blogging, March was the 25th anniversary of moving from Richmond, Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona. Ten years ago in March I moved to the Navajo capital in Window Rock, Arizona. I am often caustic and skeptical about the city where I've ended up but I have no regrets about moving here. Leaving Virginia was difficult. I had never lived anywhere else and the idea of giving up everything I knew scared and saddened me. But I came here anyway and found much that I recognized, many new friends and a whole new world. I had always thought of the desert as a forbidding, desolate place. Living in Arizona quickly disabused me of that notion. The Sonoran Desert, which stretches from Phoenix south into Mexico is one of the most beautiful, striking places I have ever lived. It harbors an amazing array of plant and animal life. The night sky is like nothing I have ever seen in my life.

I never planned to stay in Phoenix. It was a stop along the way that turned out to be far more interesting than I had anticipated. I met my life partner, Maggie, and in those first months. Work was interesting. I went hiking whenever and wherever I could with the Central Arizona Backpackers. I explored much of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado Plateau and so many of Arizona's remote mountains and canyons: the Mazatzals, Pinelenos, Galiuros, Chiricauhuas. As a photographer, I met many artists and poets. When I did leave, I went to northeast Arizona and discovered a whole new set of adventures and friends.

Not a bad set of milestones on this first day of April 2007.

Labels: ,

An Elucidation in Song and Print

A commenter asked me yesterday "What is a democratic socialist?" I offered a two or three sentence summary and later responded to a follow up question. Within the limited context, I thought my responses fairly respresented a very personal set or political and economic principles. Fixing dinner later in the day, I put on Billy Bragg's William Bloke cd. The second cut "Upfield" is a good, rousing statement of the ideals I had been writing about earlier.

I'm going upfield, way up on the hillside
I'm going higher than I've ever been before
That's where you'll find me, over the horizon
Wading in the river, reaching for that other shore

I dreamed I saw a tree full of angels, up on Primrose Hill
And I flew with them over the Great Wen till I had seen my fill
Of such poverty and misery sure to tear my soul apart
I've got a socialism of the heart, I've got a socialism of the heart

I'm going upfield...

The angels asked me how I felt about all I'd seen and heard
That they spoke to me, a pagan, gave me cause to doubt their word
But they laughed and said: "I doesn't matter if you'll help us in our art
You've got a socialism of the heart, you've got a socialism of the heart"

I'm going upfield...

Their faces shone and they were gone and I was left alone
I walked these ancient empire streets till I came tearful to my home
And when I woke next morning, I vowed to play my part
I've got a socialism of the heart, I've got a socialism of the heart

I'm going upfield...

All sung in a stirring voice that trades with a brassy horn arrangement in a stirring anthem, a call to action. It's romantic and idealistic, certainly, but it has great empathy and concern, which is why I call myself a democratic socialist.

To further remind me of my values, today's Washington Post reports on a year long investigation of illegal logging in Asia to feed Chinese sawmills to build furniture for First World markets. The story reports on immense wealth, corruption and environmental degredation that occurs in the space between environmental concerns and the reality of life and politics in the Third World. Greedy, efficient, rapacious capitalism at full speed.

Labels: ,