"Lights Out in Tehran"


Senator John McCain is on track for another rhetorical bombing run. In Munich, he’s been squaring up to Iran, gravely telling the allies that the military option can’t be ruled out if diplomatic efforts fail to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb: “Immediate UN Security Council action is required to impose multilateral sanctions, including a prohibition on investment, a travel ban, and asset freezes for government leaders and nuclear scientists.”

“Every option must remain on the table,” McCain said. “There’s only one thing worse than military action, that is a nuclear armed Iran.”

The senior senator for Arizona is, thus far, sparing the Iranians his riper bouts of pugilism, as when he bellowed for “lights out in Belgrade” and for NATO to “cream” the Serbs back at the close of the Nineties.

Perhaps Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has reminded McCain forcefully that McCain could be writing condolence letters to a lot more war widows in his home state if the Iranians want to remind Washington that it holds some high cards of its own. As Andrew Cockburn wrote here last week, in his piece “Bush’s 130,000 Hostages“. Iran recently hosted Moqtada al Sadr for a high profile visit, in the course of which he obligingly pledged that his militia, the Mahdi army, would retaliate for any American attack on Iran. His spokesman quoted him as telling his hosts “If any Islamic state, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is attacked, the Mahdi Army would fight inside and outside Iraq.”

“This warning should be taken seriously, ” Andrew wrote. “The Jaish al Mahdi, al Sadr’s militia, has emerged as a formidable force since its formation in 2003. Fifteen months ago, in November 2004, when it was less well trained and equipped than today, this army held off a determined assault by US Marines for three weeks in Najaf.”

Not long ago a top Republican from Illinois was confiding to a Democratic lobbyist in DC that that “the fix is in for McCain to be the nominee”, but, as close scrutiny of his demeanor on tv confirms, there a questions about McCain’s health. His face and mouth-movements suggest a stroke at some point in the recent past. In Washington, some speak of a cancer scare.

The pundits love McCain because of his grandstanding on soft money’s baneful role in politics, thus garnering for himself a reputation for willingness to court the enmity of his colleagues.

In fact colleagues in the Senate regard McCain as a mere grandstander, as during the State of the Union last Tuesday when he clapped and wagged his head vigorously as Bush hailed Congress for working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects.”
What Chavez Gave Morales

Bright spot. Frank Bardacke tells me he read in his local paper down in Watsonville that at Evo Morales’ investiture as president of Bolivia, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela gave him a portrait of Simon Bolivar made out of coca leaves. Folk art at its finest. Maybe Bush could still upstage Chavez by sending Morales a conceptual piece, in the form of a mirror, titled “Portrait of Bolivar (Before I Sneezed)”.

Bush Blows Centaur Vote

Back at the start of the 1970s President Nixon made a determined bid to split his liberal opposition. His strategy was to present himself as an environmentalist, a friend of Mother Earth. He celebrated Earth Day, founded the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. and in so doing proved himself a greener president than any since. Politically it didn’t help him, at least in the short term. Watergate soon overwhelmed him, and the environmental movement displayed no appetite to defend their crusader.

Listening to Bush on Tuesday night, I wondered whether he was trying to play the same game. How many Greens today dreamed they would hear George Bush call for more investment in ” revolutionary solar and wind technologies” , let alone “cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years”.

Of course Bush has zero credibility on such issues, as Ralph Nader points out this weekend, here on this site. In his speech Bush also called for money to go into “zero emission” coal plants and into “clean, safe nuclear energy”.

Bush’s substantive policy proposals were a forlorn parade of ghosts: “energy independence”, a souvenir of the Carter era of the 1970s, when Carter made a oint of wearing a sweater and the White House first ran, at least in part, on solar power. Ronald Reagan made it his first order of business, after taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1981, to tear the solar panels down and ship them off to Unity College in Maine, where they’re apparently still working, heating the cafeteria.

Bush has a solar set-up at his place in Crawford, and in his first term, without much fanfare, the National Park Service supervised the installation of a grid of 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance shed to deliver electricity to the White House landscape lighting and watering systems. Another solar installation has been helping to provide hot water.A third has been heating the water in the presidential pool.

Three or four years ago, in Santa Monica, I met the man who installed that solar system atop the Carter White House, though I forget his name. He was still angry. “It was Reagan’s first act,” he said, gnashing his teeth.

Bush’s call to reduce US “dependence” on Middle Eastern oil by 75 per cent by 2025 has zero credibility.

His other proposals were equally remote from political reality, and sometimes comical. At one point he declared in ringing tones that “Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research–human cloning in all its forms … creating or implanting embryos for experiments … creating human-animal hybrids …”

“He just blew the centaur vote,” I muttered to my dog Jasper, imagining the inevitable reaction from the president of the Chiron Society, deploring in hoarse terms an American president “pandering to the old Lapith-sponsored slurs on the centaur community.”

I waited for the post-speech commentators to pick up on the human-animal hybrid ban, almost the only feature of interest in the entire speech, but they passed it by. Jay Leno finally picked up on the animal-human hybrid on Thursday night. He ran the relevant clip from the speech, (where Bush had muffed the phrase, saying huma…uh…animal-human hybrids), then cut to the Congressional audience, where they’d put a dog’s head on some woman member and had the dog growl.

It seems that what Bush’s “human-animal hybrids” ban actually referred to is low-level Frankenstein-lab stuff like injecting human DNA into pig’s livers to make them more hospitable to transplants, not centaurs and the like. But I’m sure human-hippopotami are being plate-tested in the labs of General Foods, to ensure continued and profitable voracity in an American market were humans are at max capacity in bloating both themselvesw and the food industry’s bottom line.

Hybrid cars, running on gasoline or electricity, are all the rage these days among the virtuous set, even though there are probably no end savings in terms of total energy inputs into manufacture, also in servicing and replacing those $4,000 batteries. A friend told me the other day that the net gain in efficiency–not relating to top speed or comfort — of autos since the Model T is under ten per cent. A man in Chico rebuilds Model T engines and gets terrific efficiency out of those old four-cylinder engines.
Arc in Mystery Trip

The bulk of the president’s speech was a series of defiant and sometimes incoherent raptures about the great tasks of American Empire. “Sometimes,” Bush proclaimed, “it can seem that history is turning in a wide arc, toward an unknown shore”. What did this arc portend? The answer came in a reprise of John Kennedy’s famous call in 1961 for America “to shoulder any burden” in the cause of freedom. “Once again,” cried Bush, ” we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed, and move this world toward peace.”

In substantive terms this means the war in Iraq which at least 60 per cent of the American people would like to see their troops quit in the near future. In rhetorical terms it meant fierce presidential invective against the government of Iran and the Hamas party in Palestine, both of them denounced by Bush as undemocratic even though their electoral credentials are stronger than his.

Rhetorical artifice prompted Bush to acknowledge the presence in the gallery, right behind the First Lady, of the parents and widow of Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay killed last month in Fallujah. The reality is that Bush’s ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, is now deep in friendly negotiations with the leadership of the very Sunni insurgents who probably killed Sergeant Clay.

It was thus throughout the speech. Rhetoric and reality in America have drifted further apart than ever, and the people know it. Bush talked about a jobs boom in the US. The people know that Ford and GM between them are laying off 60,000 workers. They know that in Chicago 15,000 people lined up when Wal-Mart advertised 325 jobs. In Bush’s six years in the White House America has lost about 16 per cent of its manufacturing jobs. The present jobs “boom” is mostly for waitresses and bartenders.

“We move forward–optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of victories to come.” That was the presidential rhetoric. The reality is that most Americans are depressed and pessimistic. Tax season is on us, and the rain here in the Pacific Northwest isn’t helping either.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.