Liberal Consensus Hardens for More Troops to Iraq; Meet Senator Slither; Farewell, Jeane Kirkpatrick

Here’s comes Rep Silvestre Reyes of Texas, handpicked by Nancy Pelosi to head the House Intelligence Committee and he’s calling for 20,000 more U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq. Reyes says they’re needed to crush the Shi’a and Sunni militias. Didn’t I tell to you right here, after the Nov 7 “peace moment” the polls, that the Democrats would fall into line behind Senator John McCain? The minute Jack Murtha made his run for House Majority leader the liberal establishment began to take a stand against all seditious talk of “immediate redeployment”. You can scarcely open up the New York Times without tripping over a piece by Michael Gordon reporting yet another thoughtful military man–he put up General Zinni in this capacity last week–saying that the prudent short-term course would be to send more troops to Iraq.

Contrast this with the angry floor speech Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, the potato kind of Pendleton, who said straighforwardly on Thursday night that he’d had it with the president that the US should “cut and run, cut and walk or whatever … ”

You want more evidence of Democratic spinelessness? How about the confirmation of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense by the U.S. Senate, 95 to 2. Not a single Democrat voted against this slippery survivor of the Iran-contra scandal, who spent the early part of his intelligence career at the CIA and NSC, inflating the Soviet threat and leaking fictions about the KGB plot to kill the pope to neocon fantasists like Clare Sterling. The two No votes came from Santorum of Pennsylvania and Bunning of Kentucky. Some of the Democrats voting Aye this time voted No on Gates when he was up for confirmation as Bush Sr’s CIA chief back in 1991.

In our national public life these days, if you want to make any realistic recommendation on policy options, you have to be over 75, plenty of money in the bank and with nothing left to lose. Take Jimmy Carter and James Baker. Carter denounces Israel’s “imprisonment wall” and Baker slips Palestinians’ right of return into his Study Group’s road map to peace.

Another 80-year old, Jeane Kirkpatrick, apparently saw reason in her fading years. Her friend Jack Kemp says that she would meet him on the way to church and lament the folly of the US attack on Iraq. This ur-neo-con would, so Kemp said, denounce the younger neocons like William Kristol. I had to endure a servile interview with Kristol by NPR’s Deborah Ames, in which he held forth on her fine distinctions between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

Since the point of Kirkpatrick’s distinctions was to give intellectual buttress to crude imperial functions like cheering on Guatemalan mass murderers practicing genocide on Mayan Indians, Kristol at least reminded me of what a disgusting creature Kirkpatrick was, at least in the decades when she had measurable influence on U.S. foreign policy, in the Reagan years. As with all the Commentary crowd in the late 1970s the only intellectual challenge they ever offered was the matter of deciding whether they actually believed all the drivel they were writing. Kirkpatrick was one of the irksome, because she tricked out her absurdities with pretentious references to Hobbes and Kant, thus tipping off the rubes that here was a Great Mind at work.

I remember her at the Republican convention in New Orleans in 1980. Conservative queen bees like Kirkpatrick and Schafly had, in their proximate physical aspect, an undercurrent of erotic violence ­- Jeane was surely a closet case — that didn’t really come through on camera. Rooted under the rostrum in the Superdome, peering up into Kirkpatrick’s flaring nostrils I could see planes of her face that were normally flattened out in the bland imagery of videotape.

Of course she was talking about “national security” with her lips puckered into a moue of cruel delight as she foretold how Dukakis and the Democrats would leave America bound helpless beneath the Russian jackboot. The only jackboot I could keep in mind was hers: Jeane lashing savagely at the cuffed and whimpering body of effete liberalism.
Meet Senator Slither

The slithery junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama is ensuring himself a steady political diet of publicity by refusing to take his name out of consideration as a possible candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. We’re entering the time frame when all such aspirants have to make up their minds whether they can find the requisite money and political base. Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, the obvious peace and justice candidate, has already decided that he can’t, which gives us a pretty revealing insight into the weakness of the left these days.

It’s a no-brainer for Obama to excite the political commentators by waving a “maybe” flag. It keeps the spotlight on him, and piles up political capital, whatever he decides to do in the end.

It’s depressing to think that we’ll have to endure Obamaspeak for months, if not years to come: a pulp of boosterism about the American dream, interspersed with homilies about “putting factionalism and party divisions behind us and moving on”. I used to think Senator Joe Lieberman was the man whose words I’d least like to be force fed top volume if I was chained next to a loudspeaker in Camp Gitmo, but I think Obama, who picked Lieberman as his mentor when he first entered the US Senate, is worse. I’ve never heard a politician so desperate not to offend conventional elite opinion while pretending to be fearless and forthright.

When Democrats fled Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq a year ago, few with more transparent calculation than Obama who voyaged to the Council on Foreign Relations on November 22, 2005, to soothe the assembled elites with such balderdash as “The President could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people ‘Yes, we made mistakes” or “we need to focus our attention on how to reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I say ‘reduce,’ and not ‘fully withdraw’ or “2006 should be the year that the various Iraqi factions must arrive at a fair political accommodation to defeat the insurgency; and three, the Administration must make available to Congress critical information on reality-based benchmarks that will help us succeed in Iraq.”

Some Democrats working for Ned Lamont in the recent senate race in Connecticut eventually taken by Lieberman, running as an independent, are exceptionally bitter about the role played by Obama who made the calculation that Lieberman would win, and that he would not forfeit political capital by doing anything for his fellow Democrat, Lamont. (By contrast, Hillary Clinton gets good reviews from such Lamont workers as a politician who did what she could for their man.)

These hard feelings go back as far as the notorious political dinner in Connecticut in Marcdh of 2005, when Obama traveled to Connecticut to hail the pro-war Lieberman to the state’s Democrats.Obama, who runs a huge political fund-raising operation in Washington, knows where the money is, in the the right-center segment of the political landscape inhabited by the Democratic Leadership Council.

It’s why he picked Lieberman, a DLC icon, as his mentor. The new arrival in Washington wanted to send out a swift signal to the corporate powers and Party donors that here was no boat-rocker from Chicago, but a safe pair of hands and an obedient pair of heels.

There ere was another, more substantive signal, keenly savored by the corporate world, where Obama voted for “tort reform”, thus making it far harder for people to get redress or compensation.

As I wrote about Obama last year, Sometimes people comfort themselves with variants on what’s called the intentional fallacy: in other words, as only the fifth black senator in US history, Obama has to bob and weave, placate the Man, while positioning himself at the high table as the people’s champion. But in his advance to the high table Obama is diligently divesting himself of all legitimate claims to be any sort of popular champion, as opposed to another safe black, like Condoleezza Rice (whom Obama voted to confirm. The Empire relishes such servants.

And so, Obama, the constitutional law professor, voted to close off any filibuster of Alito, and fled Senator Russell Feingold’s motion to censure the P:resident, declaring “my and Senator Feingold’s view is not unanimous. Some constitutional scholars and lower court opinions support the president’s argument that he has inherent authority to go outside the bounds of the law in monitoring the activities of suspected terrorists. The question is whether the president understood the law and knowingly flaunted it.” That’s not the question at all. The question is whether the Constitution permits its violation by the President, and the answer is no.

Obama, a self proclaimed educator in constitutional law, voted Yes on March 2 to final passage of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, unlike ten of his Democratic colleagues.

A couple of weeks ago Obama unleashed another cloud of statesmanlike mush about Iraq to an upscale foreign policy crowd in Chicago. Trimming to new realities he’s now talking about a four-to-six month time frame for beginning withdrawal from Iraq. Don’t mistake this for any real agenda. It’s a schedule that can be pulled in any direction, like a rubber mask from a Christmas stocking.

This week many Americans have stared aghast at the photos of Jose Padilla, manacled hand and foot, blinded by special goggles, being escorted by his US military jailers from his isolation cell to the dentist. His lawyers say that his horrible treatment , four years of total isolation and sensory deprivation, have rendered him incapable of defending himself.

The treatment of Padilla–classed as “an enemy combatant” until US government prosecutors were forced to reclassify him as a criminal defendant earlier this year–was obviously a diligent exercise in torture, akin to what has been meted out to “enemy combatants” held in the US concentration camp at Guantanamo. Last year Illinois’ senior US senator, Dick Durbin, bravely got into trouble for likening conditions at Guantanamo to those in a Nazi or Stalin-era camp. This was one of Durbin’s finer moments, as he read an FBI man’s eyewitness describing how he had entered interview rooms “to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more.”

“If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners. It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course.”

The right-wing mad-dog crowd jumped on Durbin, and eventually he paid the penalty of having to eat crow on the Senate floor. His fellow senator from Illinois, Obama, did not support him in any way. He said, “we have a tendency to demonize and jump on and make mockery of each other across the aisle and that is particularly pronounced when we make mistakes. Each and every one of us is going to make a mistake once in a while…and what we hope is that our track record of service, the scope of how we’ve operated and interacted with people, will override whatever particular mistake we make.”

That’s three uses of the word “mistake”. Obama had his fingers stuck in the wind as always. He bends to every breeze, as soon as he identifies it as coming from a career threatening quarter. This man is no leader.
“Happy Feet”: Calvinism Takes A Hit

On a final note of uplift: Alya and I found ourselves at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle Friday night, watching Happy Feet, at the Imax. Cartoon movies about penguins are about my speed these days. Happy Feet is fine stuff, particularly for one who, in distant days, put his hands in front of his face as soon as the Ice Queen came on screen. It’s a paean to antinomianism, to informalism in culture, to diversity, to sharing the earth’s resources, to Hispanic homies, to… to … Not a single beheaded, impaled or flayed Mayan (penguin) anywhere to be seen. The imagery is basically out of Caspar Friedrich and early nineteenth century German kitsch romanticism, which–in its later expressionist form — had a big input into Disney’s artists back in the 1930s and early 1940s. Penguins brood atop soaring ice crags, or gaze in vertiginous forced perspective down immense abysses of snow and ice. The ideological contest is between despairing Calvinism, enacted by a Scottish Elder Penguin, and the Promethean defiance of our hero, Mambo the penguin mutant. There are fine cameo roles from killer whales, raptors and leopard seals. The message: we can have our fish and eat them too. Braced with Happy Feet and the late Gold’s persuasive views on the abiotic origins of oil I can face 2007 with a light heart.

Maybe the Bond movie next week, though my favorites in that canon came long ago, as I described in an essay you can find here on this site, relentlessly plundered by other writers about Bond down the years.



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