Thursday, September 27, 2007

Red High Heels

George, here's a foreign policy for you:

First, make it look like we've turned the war around, if only a smidgen. After all, a smidgen is a smidgen is a smidgen, as even Gertrude Stein could tell you. Then string the public along with a bare-knuckled spin machine that has the fissile power of an asteroid in heat. While you're at it, plan to hand the whole requiem scenario over to the next president, presumably a Democrat, who can then be blamed for your war's failure. It's the only way to cut and run without being tagged a "quitter" yourself. Make sure you snatch away the mirror, however, in the event that anyone tries to hold one up.

Meanwhile, allow the "best and the bravest" in our country to die like flies while issuing more barbaric yawps about the importance of "victory." For this purpose, continue to demand from Congress a spending allowance of $12 billion a week, until death do us part. Keep to your one story line, your one plot, however punishing, so you can exercise, without ever stopping, your promiscuous will in opposition to the whole world. Raise destructiveness, exploitation, and deceit to a new level. Trade missiles and verbal insults wherever you can. Exult in the decline of everything. Above all, never become skeptical about your ability to figure out all the angles, slap on more sanctions, or perpetrate the scummiest, scuzziest mindfuck (I personally have) ever known.

Every day I wonder if I will live to see any accountability, any decent resolution, to this mind-bending hypocrisy that has stripped the gloss off my world. And I'm not the only one who feels that way, as far as I can tell.

"It's possible," chimes in the irrepressible Virgil, the only alligator known to mankind who is categorically opposed to oppression, pretension, grandiosity, and self-righteousness. "A body definitely needs more than the usual defenses these days," he announces, his snout glistening and nearly purple with excitement. "But here's a solution maybe even Simone de Beauvoir would have liked. I think we should put the president in red high heels. That way, we'll know for sure that he's publicly surrendered his ability to run away from his own wrong steps."

Virgil's probably right. Nobody's ever escapes if they're wearing high heels. It's just a fact of life.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The IQ of a Noodle

It's curious, but I've hit a big blog blank. For a while there stuff just kept on coming at me so thick and fast I was jumping around like a Mexican jumping bean, reading, processing, writing several blogs at a time, and making myself more than slightly crazy. It was like being on a hotline to something. Now that we know for sure NOTHING anybody says or does will affect Bush's thinking about this war, and the rest of us (citizens, Democrats, bloggers, reporters) have been rendered helpless and irrelevant in the face of this monolith of refusal, it seems pointless to continue to get one's knickers in a twist on a daily basis. Is this a cop-out? Battle-fatigue? Or just surrender to the inevitable? I'm not sure. According to the most recent Pew Research polls, it seems like nothing significant has changed in the public's mind since the Petraeus report, except that the country is more polarized than ever. This, I have decided, is a result of the toxicity of Bush's polarizing consciousness, which, like a radioactive isotope, contaminates whatever it touches. As Richard Pine stated on the HuffPost this week:

"What's most disturbing about George Bush as a wartime president is that he's such an optimist when it comes to the way things are going in Iraq. In fact, he's taken optimism -- a modest degree of which is desirable in a president -- to a toxic level. And, although it might be working for him personally, it's definitely poisoning the rest of us."

So is pessimism the only antidote? Beyond a certain point, the continuous expulsion of impotent and helpless rage leaves you in a barren place where the self can find no joy, and something like a flat, colorless torpor invades the soul. Why is this? I think it's because we now live in a country that has lost its luster, a country where unhappiness and frustration have settled in and taken root. It used to be that the U.S. was the symbol of a thriving society of egalitarianism, but this is no longer the case. Instead we have become the focus of other countries' hatred, fear, and animosity, largely because of our stunt-pilot president, whose unpalatable optimism seems to emanate (as one blog commentator so aptly put it) from the IQ of a noodle.

I had to use that quote because it made me laugh, and I'd rather be laughing than fondling the idea of humanity's forthcoming (to a theater near you) extinction. But speaking of extinction, let me also quote, while I'm at it, that great chief of the Crow Indians, Plenty Coups, who said in his autobiography: "But when the Buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again." And so, too, the hearts of "we the people" in the U.S. have been falling to the ground, and it becomes harder and harder to lift them up again.

In Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the mariner kills an albatross and brings bad luck upon himself and his crew. He becomes an afflicting force because he has shot down a bird of good omen that led ships through icy waters. Because the mariner finds no way to atone for his misdeeds, he is condemned to wear the dead albatross around his neck.

Iraq has become America's albatross, its unatoned mistake.

Maya Angelou once said you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I think I want to add something else to her list: mistakes. Then, when you put these pieces together--the IQ of a noodle, serious mistakes, and no attempt at atonement--what you get are rainy days, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. Or, as my mother used to say, if the first button on your coat is buttoned incorrectly, all the others will be buttoned incorrectly too.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

Have you ever wondered why Nancy Pelosi, when she began her new job as Speaker of the House, declared categorically and right off the bat, "Impeachment is off the table?" No explanation was offered, just a fiat. Well, I think I inadvertently stumbled on the peculiar conjunction that may just provide a reason for her reluctance to start any proceedings against Bush. Family connections! It was her daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, who made that documentary back in 2002, "Journeys with Bush," in which she traveled around on Air Force One and filmed multiple impromptu interviews and conversations with him. I haven't seen the movie, but I have ordered it from Netflix, if anyone is interested.

Meanwhile, the Prez, against all odds, has successfully done his smoke and mirrors act again. Pretend everything is going as planned. Admit nothing. As long as you say we're finally winning, you can begin to draw down troops; as long as you understand we're not leaving, you can bring (some) troops home. The real and tragically sad role of the military now in Iraq was concisely stated in one sentence by columnist Ellen Goodman in our local paper, the Roanoke Times, this week: the role of the military now in Iraq is to try and keep a lid on the terrible violence unleashed by our own invasion.

That the President continues to reject all calls to end the war is not surprising. He once told a group of Republican lawmakers (in late 2005) that he would not withdraw from Iraq even if his wife, Laura, and his dog, Barney, were the only ones still supporting him. So much for staying power, or for the power of staying. Even more disconcerting is the blue glow of confidence with which he states that our troops will be there long after he leaves office, and will extend way beyond his term. How does the oracle recommend that we respond to that?

Here is how George Packer responds, in his most recent essay on the war, entitled "Planning for Defeat," in this week's New Yorker (September 15th):

Packer claims that President Bush will have his victory at any cost, with one eye on his next Churchillian speech (promising freedom and delivering rubble) and the other on his place in history. The opposition meanwhile is eager to hang a defeat around his neck and move on. But here's the rub for the rest of us. Packer states that the problems created by the war are so enormous that their solutions cannot be undertaken by a single political party or president. Here are his cold particulars: the rise of Iranian power, the emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the radicalization of populations, the huge refugee crisis, the damage to a new generation of Iraqis who are growing up amid the unimaginable. Packer concludes that, whatever we might like to do, there will be no turning our back on all of this in any foreseeable future.

Iraq has become a lightning rod from which no good can come. I am reminded of a famous comment made by Foreign Secretary Lord Grey in England, during World War I: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." Meanwhile, my friend in Blacksburg, Bob Walker, wrote me this in an email:

"The slow erosion of morale at home, and certainly among the troops, will have consequences that few now foresee. We will wear ourselves out psychologically, at perhaps a faster rate than we are wearing down our military capability to wage anything but a war of utter destruction, as seems to be in the offing for Iran. In WWII, Japanese forces were committed to fight until victory or death. No rotations home for R&R. They fought for the duration, or until they died. We've slightly revised that policy now, allowing the troops a brief and tantalizing respite of "normal" life at home, before sending them back into the endless slog. Even if we were to declare victory and leave, the damage has been done at home as well as overseas. In the US, it will take generations to erase the physical trauma and the consequences of arrogance and deadly lies." I totally agree.

Virgil, my impenitently stylish alligator-muse, suggests that in times like these, we should anticipate the zoom and festoon the moment by lying on a bed of marigolds. Virgil, I should add, received two unexpected gifts this week. A male putto statue from his friend Kathy Pinkerton, who is holding an alligator in his arms and nuzzling it. And then he also got some note cards, with an image of a babushka'd girl driving an old-fashioned convertible motor car, with a back-seat passenger that appears to be a big bear looking out, ears akimbo in the wind. It took a few seconds before I noticed Virgil tangentially perched on the front hood, carrying a yellow parasol with red polka dots, held in the crook of his tail.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Talking to the Chair

I'm finding it harder and harder to be on Doomsday Watch. I absolutely dread the coming week, which will be filled with bitter and shrieky Congressional debates, collective delusional confabulations about the war, enacted even while knowing in advance that all the bombast happens now in a pit of quicksand, already tainted with a sense of fated inevitability. As one unnamed moderate Republican congressman who is trying to promote a change of course by Bush in the White House put it, while pointing to his black leather chair: "It's like talking to the chair and asking the leather to come off."

Meanwhile Senator and presidential contender Joe Biden's efforts to buck the tide by calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq on Sunday morning TV reduced me to tears. He could be our avenging angel, only nobody's listening. It's like asking the leather to come off the chair. Failure, that alarming possibility which, for all purposes, has already happened in this war, must now be avoided at all costs, so the argument goes. I feel like Sisyphus hiking ever closer to the hot-lava core of a volcano. My feet have started to burn.

Trying to investigate and demystify war with what lies buried and unexamined about the violence, perversity, and capacity for evil in human nature has all but done me in. And then there's the fact that some people believe preparing for disaster invites it in. "I don't want that slimy shit on me," they'll say, turning their eyes away from the emotional epicenter of the fallen world--the fishbowl that's turned into a shark tank. Whereas I'm of the school that needs to look reality in the face unflinchingly and know its truth. Writing gives me a mission as a balancer of the boat (the sinking ship). Writing gives me a job, a purpose, a small task. This has helped me consolidate something within myself to resist the descent into madness. Even so, I need to surrender into helplessness in face of the real truth: I can do nothing. I am like that young woman in the fairy tale who is lost at night in a deep woods. Full of fear and despair that she will not find her way home, she finally gives up searching for the right path and falls asleep on the back of her beautiful horse. But all night the horse doesn't falter; it moves slowly and assuredly through the woods, and in the morning, the woman finds herself back home.

"Once we sign on for war's crusade, once we see ourselves on the side of the angels, once we embrace a theological or ideological belief system that defines itself as the embodiment of goodness and light, it is only a matter of how we will carry out murder," writes Chris Hedges, author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." "Wars," he says, "turn human reality into a bizarre carnival that does not seem part of our experience. It knocks us off balance....We lose our grip."

I've not quite made my peace yet with the subject of war, that bizarre carnival, and my attempt to understand it, but I am close. Forays thus far have unearthed a number of possibilities: that violence is written into our molecular chemistry; that it is an expression of male "pack behavior;" a collective psychosis; obsessive-compulsive disorder on a massive social scale; a timeless and omnipresent archetype; a transhuman force with a dynamism of its own that breaks out everywhere and dominates human life. Each of these grim surmises seems a necessary piece of the puzzle that is war.

Hedges, who by his own account has survived many decades as a war correspondent in multiple combat zones, claims to have been shot at in the marshes of southern Iraq, imprisoned in the Sudan, beaten by Saudi military police, fired upon by Serb snipers, shelled for days by deafening rounds of heavy artillery in Sarajevo--the list goes on and on. His conclusion, from such long personal experience of brutality and death, is that the rush of battle acts on the human organism like a drug--one to which it is all too easy to become lethally addicted. So we can add one last piece here: war is an enticing elixir that offers meaning, resolve, and a commitment to something greater than the ordinariness of everyday life. But, Hedges warns, "We must guard against...the drug of war that can render us as blind and callous as those we battle." Indeed.

I ask for some spiritual blogging help from my darling alligator-horse, Virgil, who is back from making his first ascent of the 4,500-foot southwest face of the Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes. His knees are hurting.

"Focus on the sky," says Virgil, "and on the beauty there. Let's find a wall against which something eccentric can happen. Gargle and become hydraulic. Accept this smoking tide like tea going into a cup. Then hold the cup high up over your head, redistribute yourself through the crowd, and let the cynical and optimistic views that are causing you so much trouble collide, leaving several generations of readers to decide what is correct. Be of three minds, and once you have arranged them plausibly, continue to attend the bohemian picnic that is life. Now, how about some of that champagne?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Real Man Plan for Iran

The story of war hurtles on, like a brakeless truck. Be warned in advance: the following text has been drizzled in warm mineral oil. If you are unwilling to add to the vomit in your suitcase, do not read any further. This will NOT make your day. What I've done here is to edit (by shortening) one of the lead blogs on the HuffingtonPost, dated September 2, by Howard A. Rodman:

"For long time now, perhaps a year, I've been hearing (we've all been hearing) that the White House is planning to bomb Iran. As the neo-cons say, "Boys go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran." It's a strategy so seductive that John McCain set it to music. I've been dismissive of these rumors, as have you. Why? Because one would have to be a madman (or Dick Cheney) to start a second war when the first one is going so fucking well.

Unfortunately, this doesn't take into account the way decisions about these things are made; and it neglects to take into account, as well, this particular president's view of himself in history.

As Bush this weekend was disclosed to have said to his biographer, "I made a decision to lead... One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?" [The biography, by the way, is called Dead Certain. How reassuring to the rest of us.]

In the eyes of our president, an Iran with a different government is a world better off. The people of Iran, or what's left of the people of Iran after a 1,200-target bombing campaign, will greet us as liberators. History and Joe Lieberman will judge him brave for having turned the tide in the Grand Battle Against Islamo-fascism -- a battle which, as we now know, had its origins in the Vietnam war.

Still, I was inclined (you were inclined) to dismiss all this bluster as sabre-rattling. Alas, in the past week it has become more likely that those sabres are Tomahawk missiles -- locked, aimed, targeted.

Here are the indications that a large bombing campaign against Iran is not only on the table, but is in fact the main dish -- the turkey, if you will, of Thanksgiving 2007. I list them in order of ascending terrifyingness.

First: Robert Baer, the former middle-East CIA operative and a man who is not unconnected in the intelligence world (c.f., Syriana), says his peeps tell him we're planning to "hit" Iran.

Second: Barnett Rubin, a scholar and one of the Serious people in the academic foreign policy establishment, says we're already committed to an attack on Iran, and that the marketing for this attack will be ramped up after the long weekend. [In this light, Bush's speech to the American Legion and various Cheney remarks of the last month can be seen as test-marketings. As Bush said in that speech, "We will confront this danger before it is too late." Meaning, I suspect: "before I no longer have my finger on the button."]

Third: I doubt that David Addington believes that Bush, under the AUMF, really needs the permission of congress, or of anyone. As a courtesy, of course, he'd likely, as the planes are on their way, inform a bipartisan leadership group (several Republicans plus an independent from Connecticut)....

Fourth: the foreign press, which during the run-up to Iraq was far less blinkered than, say, the Gray Lady, has been over this weekend treating an attack on Iran as a fait accompli. See this from the Telegraph (UK) . The Times (UK) ran today a headline with the flat declaration, Pentagon 'three-day blitz' plan for Iran. The blitz includes what The Times terms "plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran...."

For me (and for you), beginning a war in Iran -- in the midst of the disaster that is Iraq -- is the precise incarnation of Santayana's warning: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." But for Bush and Cheney, two of the ten or twelve people who actually believe that the Iraq war is going well, this new venture isn't fanatic at all. It would be, in their eyes-- Going from strength to strength.

I've written to my Congressman, and to both Senators. Call me quixotic, for writing; call me naive, for encouraging you to do the same; and, at day's end, call me cynical, for believing that public opinion here makes not one whit of difference...."

So it is that the demonic males in the White House are about to go on the rampage AGAIN. And it seems there is nothing we can do about it. As Hermann Goring said at his trial in Nuremberg: "This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

Which is why James Hillman describes war as "an archetypal truth of the cosmos." It is beyond the forces of history and beyond human ken. It cannot be understood, he claims, by reason, and it does not yield to reason. War goes on and finds ever new objects of enmity; peace only comes when war's ferocious momentum has run its course and exhausted itself.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Just Sit Down and Be Quiet

Last night I was privy to a rare moment of magnificence and nobility while watching tv. Robert Bly was reading to Bill Moyers from his translation of a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi. The two older men look almost freakishly alike, both with radiant faces framed by glasses and white hair. Bly read these lines:

"Just sit down and be quiet.
You're drunk.
And this is the edge of the roof."

Then he repeated them a second time, and commented "This would be a good thing to say to George Bush, don't you think?"

Meanwhile, I'd been planning a long post all week on James Hillman's book, "A Terrible Love of War," but encountered a series of roadblocks in my life that set me back a bit and threw me down a black hole for a while. I felt deleted, defeated, and drained. I couldn't write or even finish reading the book or make notes. But I'm feeling better this morning, so let me start with some of the spectacular formulations Hillman makes at the very beginning of his descent into the fiery rites of war.

The book starts with a killer chapter entitled "War Is Normal," immediately backed up by the following eye-opening paragraph:

"One sentence in one scene from one film, 'Patton,' sums up what this book tries to understand. The general walks the field after a battle. Churned earth, burnt tanks, dead men. He He takes up a dying officer, kisses him, surveys the havoc, and says: 'I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life." Thus are we launched, rocket-style, into Hillman's primary thesis: the coupling of love and war, Venus and Mars. Unless we are able to move our imaginations into the martial state of soul, we will never comprehend war's pull. To do this, he says, we have to set aside our civilian disdain and pacifist horror and understand war as the primary human condition. We will never understand war by simply explaining its causes. Pacifism is for those of us watching on the sidelines. "Men who survive battle come back and say it was the most meaningful time of their lives, transcendent to all other meanings."

I am reminded here of a dramatic essay I read a couple of years ago in the News York Times magazine about war casualties--amputees shipped back from Iraq--whose stories underline the truth of these comments. The following is from notes I made at the time:

A Sergeant, age 26, while he was on patrol in Baghdad, had his body ripped apart in an antitank explosion when his humvee rolled over in a mine. Both legs and his right arm were blown off. His fiancee wanted to marry him despite the tragic circumstances, and now, strong and motivated, he makes slow progress, adjusting to multiple prostheses. There are pins and plates in all three of his stumps. Plus an elevated risk of arthritis, and back and heart problems. However improbably, this soldier is holding his own, grateful to still be alive, not resigned to a life totally out of his control. Even knowing that he would have to lose three limbs, he says that he would sign up all over again.

You hear him say it, and you have to wince. Even with most of his limbs missing, the soldier evidently has full faith in Bush’s Iraq policies. Are those pearls that were his eyes? Does he have some unfathomable insight the rest of us don’t yet have? At least, that's what I thought about all this then. Now I might wonder more about his "terrible love of war."

What's there to love about the nightmare of war? Surely it's not the fiendish suffering and the killing fields. But perhaps it's the indisputable fact that somewhere within that most nightmarish of scenarios is lodged a trigger for the highest and finest passions humans can know: courage, altruism, and the mystical sernse of belonging to something larger than ourselves. Hillman refers to it as a "transhuman force that shows up in the frenzy of combat." I begin to understand now how this is the magnet that draws soldiers back, even after suffering terrible wounds. It's not the lust to kill. And it's certainly not a love of Bush's disastrous foreign policies--about which I agree with Bly. We should all make our mantra about Iraq known to the president right now:

Just sit down and be quiet.
You're drunk.
And this is the edge of the roof.