Euphemism and American violence

Maybe the most disturbing implication of the famous sentence “They create a desolation and call it peace” is that apologists for violence, by means of euphemism, come to believe what they hear themselves say.

On July 21, 2006, the tenth day of the Lebanon war, Condoleezza Rice explained why the US government had not thrown its weight behind a cease-fire:

What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is the growing — the birth pangs of a new Middle East, and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.

Very likely these words were improvised. “Growing pains” seems to have been Rice’s initial thought; but as she went on, she dropped the “pains,” turned them into “pangs,” and brought back the violence with a hint of redemptive design: the pains were only birth pangs. The secretary of state was thinking still with the same metaphor when she spoke of “pushing,” but a literal image of a woman in labor could have proved awkward, and she trailed off in a deliberate anticlimax: “pushing forward” means “not going back.”

Many people at the time remarked the incongruity of Rice’s speech as applied to the devastation wrought by Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon and Beirut. Every bombed-out Lebanese home and mangled limb would be atoned for, the words seemed to be saying, just as a healthy infant vindicates the mother’s labor pains. Looked at from a longer distance, the statement suggested a degree of mental dissociation. For the self-serving boast was also offered as a fatalistic consolation—and this by an official whose call for a cease-fire might well have stopped the war. “The birth pangs of a new Middle East” will probably outlive most other phrases of our time, because, as a kind of metaphysical “conceit,” it accurately sketches the state of mind of the President and his advisers in 2006. [complete article]

Globalization Bush-style

Imagine, for a moment, that you live in a small town somewhere near the Southern California coast. You’re going about your daily life, trying to scrape by in hard times, when the missile hits. It might have come from the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — its pilot at a base on the outskirts of Tehran — that has had the village in its sights for the last six hours or from the Russian sub stationed just off the coast. In either case, it’s devastating.

In Moscow and Tehran, officials announce that, in a joint action, they have launched the missile as part of a carefully coordinated “surgical” operation to take out a “known terrorist,” a long-term danger to their national security. A Kremlin spokesman offers the following statement:

“As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them. We share common goals with respect to fighting terrorism. We will continue to seek out, identify, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists where they plan their activities, carry out their operations or seek safe harbor.”

A family in a ramshackle house just down the street from you — he’s a carpenter; she works at the local Dairy Queen — are killed along with their pets. Their son is seriously wounded, their home blown to smithereens. Neighbors passing by as the missile hits are also wounded.

The conservative case for Barack Obama

…why consider Obama? For one reason only: because this liberal Democrat has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq. Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival.

To appreciate that possibility requires seeing the Iraq War in perspective. As an episode in modern military history, Iraq qualifies at best as a very small war. Yet the ripples from this small war will extend far into the future, with remembrance of the event likely to have greater significance than the event itself. How Americans choose to incorporate Iraq into the nation’s historical narrative will either affirm our post-Cold War trajectory toward empire or create opportunities to set a saner course.

The neoconservatives understand this. If history renders a negative verdict on Iraq, that judgment will discredit the doctrine of preventive war. The “freedom agenda” will command as much authority as the domino theory. Advocates of “World War IV” will be treated with the derision they deserve. The claim that open-ended “global war” offers the proper antidote to Islamic radicalism will become subject to long overdue reconsideration.

Trying times for Trinity

The year was 1971, race riots flared across the country, and on the South Side of Chicago a tiny church was dying. Many blacks, disillusioned by their ministers’ failure to bring home the promises of the civil-rights movement, were abandoning Christianity. They converted to Islam or Judaism or fringe sects—or refused to go to church at all. This particular congregation was looking for a pastor to lead them through these troubling times, and before they launched their search, they wrote a blue-sky description of the community they wanted to be: we want to “serve as instruments of God and church,” the statement said, and we want to “elimin[ate] those things in our culture that lead to the dehumanization of persons.” They wanted to be Christian, in other words. And they wanted to keep fighting.

On New Year’s Eve, the search committee interviewed its final candidate. Jeremiah Wright Jr. was a young pastor enrolled at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Wright belonged to a group of black intellectuals who embraced “black liberation theology,” the idea that blacks shouldn’t have to choose between “Malcolm and Martin,” as the theologians put it. They could be Christian and black; they could be black and proud. When Barack Obama responded to the altar call at Trinity United Church of Christ in 1988, he was responding, in part, to that message.

GOP presidential candidate seen as best to handle a 3 a.m. crisis at the White House

The recent Hillary Clinton campaign advertisement asking who Americans want answering the phone in the White House when a crisis erupts at 3 a.m. has sparked a national debate about which candidate would best handle such a phone call. But while the ad was designed to boost the Clinton candidacy, likely voters nationwide say they would feel more secure having Republican John McCain answering the call of a crisis, a new Zogby International telephone poll shows.

Given the choice between Clinton and McCain, 55% preferred McCain while 37% would want Clinton to answer the phone, while 9% said they were unsure.

White male vote especially critical

The results in Ohio in particular raised questions about whether Obama can attract support from this crucial demographic. They also brought to the forefront the question of whether racial prejudice would be a barrier to his candidacy in some of the major industrial battlegrounds in the general election if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

An examination of exit polls in Wisconsin and Ohio, states with striking similarities, shows that many more working-class white men in Ohio said race was a factor in their vote on March 4 than was the case in Wisconsin. The analysis makes clear that race was not the deciding factor in the Ohio primary but did contribute to Clinton’s margin of victory.

Many voting for Clinton to boost GOP

For a party that loves to hate the Clintons, Republican voters have cast an awful lot of ballots lately for Senator Hillary Clinton: About 100,000 GOP loyalists voted for her in Ohio, 119,000 in Texas, and about 38,000 in Mississippi, exit polls show.

A sudden change of heart? Hardly.

Six signs the U.S. is not headed for war in Iran

There are a couple of military adages — “An Army marches on its stomach” and “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics” — that should adequately explain why the United States is not headed for war with Iran. There is no actual preparation for such a war going on. Moreover, the U.S. military is not in a position to carry off such an operation.

But then, we live in a world of “shock and awe,” where long-range air and missile strikes suggest the ability to use force without the commitment of boots on the ground. When Iran war junkies make their case for some kind of “October surprise,” they usually cite the need for preemption and say an attack can be unleashed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney with the mere push of a button.

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One thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: March 17

  1. Phil Sheehan

    About that Zogby poll, “GOP presidential candidate seen as best to handle a 3 a.m. crisis at the White House” — doesn’t anyone remember 9/11? Four major airliners off-course and out of radio communication. Fighter planes scrambled. Air traffic control and intelligence agencies and military units on confused alert. President Bush reading “My Pet Goat” to school children.

    One of those off-course planes flies into the World Trade Center. The President is told, and makes an inane comment about the inept pilot.

    The point is this. At what was arguably the most critical moment in American history for sixty years, the President did not answer the red phone.

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