Monday, September 30, 2013

Bleeding All Over the Yellow Carpet

The recent monsoons have left our part of the Chihuahuan desert with a carpet of yellow wildflowers accented by clusters of pale violet blossoms amid the varying shades of green of the native lechuguilla, mesquite, creosote bush, yucca and ocotilla. Once this was considered the most biologically diverse desert in the world but man and his cattle have seriously degraded it.  Ranchers have great political clout in these parts and own a big piece of the congressman who represents us.  Efforts to reintroduce the extirpated Mexican gray wolf are failing, off-road riders have savaged huge chunks of fragile desert topsoil and the ocotillo has vanished from areas where cows graze virtually for free on land that belongs to all of us. (The hooved locusts love the sweet blossoms atop the plant's whiplike branches -- which are the plant's reproductive method.  No more flowers, no more ocotillo.)

All of this aside, it's a wonderful time of year, with the cooling change-of-season winds announcing autumn, to visit favorite desert walkways and hide-aways.  The road across public land  to the trails of the Picacho Mountain national recreation area had several wash-outs that required careful navigation when Brandi and I drove out there this morning.  I doubt that they'll get fixed any time soon, what with the idiots in Washington refusing to appropriate the money to operate the federal government as of midnight tonight.  The Bureau of Land Management, which manages these lands on behalf of we, the people who own them, isn't likely to have money for a 'dozer to come out and make the road right. All across this desert, and all the deserts and all the parks and monuments and scenic and historical sites the People own out here, we common folk will suffer the consequences of the  shutdown by the liars and dunderheads who govern us. The little things that make life worth the struggle are the first to be declared non-essential when the idiots shut off the faucet that directs our tax money into the federal agencies and bureaus.

 Oh, they'll find the money for all our wars; for the drones that take out Taliban and children alike; for the spooks who read our e-mail, monitor our Facebook pages and listen in on our telepone conversations; and you can bet that Dr. Kidglove and his playpen pals in Congress will draw down their salaries.  But park rangers and wildlife veterinarians and the people who process things on behalf of citizens will just have to figure out some other way to put beans in the pot and bread on the table.  New Mexico has already cut off any new unemployment benefits for those who lose their jobs, because the state doesn't know when its federal funds will resume.

The pampered nincompoops who hold office in Washington don't give a damn about real people who are jobless or hungry or too old or too sick to fend for themselves.  They don't give a damn about parks and things, about programs that bring free or affordable bits of beauty, of music, of art or of healthful recreation into lives otherwise filled only with frantic hours of strife to survive from one meager paycheck to another.

The Congress is full of people like our guy, whose personal worth is said to be about $30 million, and who cavalierly voted to cut off the SNAP funding that saved nearly 40,000 children from his own district from starvation every day. Their families earn on average less than $17,000 a year. Meanwhile, he's comfortable having $40 lunches delivered to his office for himself, at taxpayer expense.

He's part of the financial elite, the handful of plutocrats and oligarchs who run this sorry-assed country. Few if any of them will feel anything when the shutdown of government comes, despite the fact that the stock markets are down because of it.  We would like to think -- those of us looking through the window from the outside at the lavish lifestyles of our leaders -- that Wall Street's reaction to the upcoming default would pinch some of them enough to order their toadies in Congress to do the right thing.

"But what if," as Paul Krugman writes today, "even the plutocrats lack the power to rein in the radicals? In that case, Mr. Obama will either let default happen or find some way of defying the blackmailers, trading a financial crisis for a constitutional crisis.

"This all sounds crazy, because it is. But the craziness, ultimately, resides not in the situation but in the minds of our politicians and the people who vote for them. Default is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

The clock is ticking down.  Even out there in the peace  of our yellow-carpeted desert, Brandi and I can hear it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How Dare They Attempt Civility!

The England-based American author, Gerald Meyer, taking note of the moderation and friendly gestures of the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, rightly remarked that the U.S. government "doesn't really welcome his overtures, finds the whole thing rather distasteful and wishes it would go away."

Most Americans who actually have knowledge of Iran, its people and its history, immediately recognized Rouhani's unexpected victory in the recent election as an opportunity for President Obama to stop bullying Iran and engage in actual diplomacy.  Now that both presidents will be attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, these knowledgeable Americans are urging them to meet face-to-face. So far the nearest thing is that Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to get together with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, perhaps for a game or two of mah jongg. 

Even this modest first step toward civilized, meaningful engagement seems to have scared the very excrement out of Bibi Netanyahu's neocon hawks in Washington. Mein Gott! Rouhani is making nice and Washington is sort of paying attention!

All a-tremble, the hawks turned to their propaganda minister sans portfolio, David Sanger of the New York Times.  "Unless a good deal of the current infrastructure is dismantled," Sanger wrote just the other day, "Iran will be able to maintain a threshold nuclear capability -- that is, it will be just a few weeks, and a few screwdriver turns, from building a weapon."


Sanger as usual offers absolutely no evidence.  Not even his usual unidentified sources among the most war-mongering officials in the Israeli government have gone that far. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz says Iran is still at least six months away from building The Bomb -- and nobody among the international community's weapons experts takes that seriously. Last March, Obama said, "Right now, we think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon."

Right now, the Great Bogeyman in this charade is a single fact: Iran is enriching uranium.  But its enrichment program stops at 20 percent, enough for medical or domestic energy purposes, but far short of the 90+ percent required to make weapons.  The Islamic republic has said repeatedly that it has no interest in making nuclear weapons.  Rouhani not only reiterates that policy, but he does so from a background of credibility and respected service in international diplomatic circles.  To rebuff his overtures is for the United States to shed the last pretenses of sincerity in the quest for Middle East peace. As a lawyer might put it, Obama goes to the United Nations with unclean hands.

Mr. Meyer, seeing these affairs through the clearer air of rural England, offers a tongue-in cheek suggestion for Rouhani and Javad Zarif:

"The U.S. so prefers to deal with countries on which it has had a reasonable opportunity to expend some of its munitions, thereby creating the need to manufacture some more munitions.  Which brings up the subject of cruise missiles.  They're so much more expensive than mere bombs, and therefore so much more constructive. Iran should let Uncle Sam have a prolonged cruise-missile orgasm, its best since the good old days of shock and awe, after which the two sides can have the equivalent of a post-coital cigarette  (what would that be -- some cluster bombs maybe?) and plan their future together.

"Better yet, let israel send the cruise missiles.  That way we eliminate the middle man, and everybody  will be happy!"

Scary thing is, that's exactly  what might happen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Toward Fulfilling the Neocon Dream

There is great division of opinion regarding potential U.S. military action in Syria. However, one group is ecstatic over President Obama’s endorsement of a military attack on Damascus. These are the Neconservatives who dominated the George W. Bush administration, and who still hold tremendous influence in Washington. An attack on Syria would be one step in fulfilling “stage two” of a longstanding neoconservative plan to bring about regime change throughout the Middle East in three stages: Iraq, Syria and finally Iran. 

The pattern for this plan has been to wait for an event that can be sold to the world public as justification for military attack, and then to push forward, pressuring the military and government officials to move forward with the next stage of regime change. 

President Obama is, perhaps unwittingly, fulfilling this plan, conceived in 1996 by an informal organization, the Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, headed by Richard Pearle and including well-known neo-conservatives, Douglas Feith, Meyrav Wurmser, David Wurmser, Robert Loewenberg, Charles Fairbanks, Jr. and James Colbert. All are connected with organizations favoring right-wing extremist Israeli policies toward Palestinians and other Middle East nations. The Study Group plan, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” was prepared for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The “clean break” refers to their advice that Israel break from the 1993 Oslo peace accords. 

The 1996 plan explicitly calls for attacks on Iraq, Syria and eventually Iran. It states: "Israel can shape its strategic environment . . . by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions."

Many of the same figures carried this plan forward two years later under another rubric, The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan. In a letter to President Clinton and House Speaker Gingrich in 1998, the members of the PNAC, including Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Zoellick called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, carrying out the first stage of the agenda of the “Clean Break” plan. 

Once George W. Bush was elected president, many of these figures took up prominent positions within his administration. Following the tragic destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the removal of Saddam Hussein became a policy objective for the United States. 

The PNAC wrote a letter to President Bush in 2001 stating: “...even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”

It was at this time that Iran came more clearly into focus for the neoconservatives. The theory they promulgated was that Iran was the prime mover in all anti-Israeli activity in the region through Iran’s purported support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Syria was seen as complicit in this, and was regularly identified as a “client state” for Iran. However, neither legislators nor the public could be incited by this theory, for which there was, and continues to be, no credible evidence. 

In 2003, the neoconservatives, working through right-wing think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were able to convince the Bush administration that Iran’s 40 year old nuclear energy program was really a plot to develop nuclear weapons to be used against Israel. This theory eventually became accepted as gospel in Washington, notwithstanding that American and International intelligence agencies asserted there was no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, based on this baseless assertion, these same players called for military action against Iran.

Following the “Arab Spring” popular revolts against standing regimes in the Middle East the longstanding tension between the Sunni Muslim majority and the Alawite ruling minority in Syria exploded in resistance against Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad. This conflict had been festering for two generations. In 1982, armed resistance from the Sunni population resulted in a massacre in the city of Hama under orders from Hafiz al-Assad, Bashar’s father. Bashar retaliated to the more recent revolt with unprecedented cruelty, and has been accused of using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels. Whatever the United States or other nations might do to remove the Assad regime, the civil war there will continue unabated. 

However, neoconservatives have seized on this more recent revolt against the Assad government as justification for military action to carry out regime change there, but not just because the Assad regime is objectionable, but rather because in an attack on Syria they see an opportunity to strike a crippling blow against Iran. As conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks stated on the PBS News Hour on September 6, “this isn’t really about Syria. . . . the real issue is the broader credibility of the President, the international credibility of the United States, especially vis-à-vis Iran. This is really about Iran more than Syria.”

Brooks’ widely held view is a miscalculation. Even if the Assad regime is removed from power, Iran will not be significantly damaged in its foreign, nuclear or economic policy.

A quick examination of all of these efforts—the pretext based on the 9/11 tragedy for ousting Saddam Hussein, weak justification for U.S. involvement in a longstanding and ongoing civil war in Syria, and the claim that Iran is not only directing all anti-Israeli action in the Middle East, but is also a nuclear threat show that the neoconservative agenda is a tissue of fantasy designed to convince the world, episode by episode, to completely reshape the region with U.S. military firepower. 

Americans should not be listening to these neoconservative voices. They have been responsible for a debilitating and useless conflict in Iraq already. Their “advice” to President Obama and his administration will only drag the United States into another useless and debilitating conflict in the Middle East that will accomplish nothing, and will exacerbate violence rather than bringing the world closer to peaceful resolution of the tensions in the region. 

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William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and Visiting Professor at Stanford University. He has worked in the Middle East for more than 40 years.