Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

An Exaggerated Sense of His Own Importance

Dear Mr. President:

I hope this finds you well.

I hope this finds you, actually.

I hope you’re as much of a relentlessly temperate man as my observations of you, these last six years, suggest that you are. (Considering that the legislators with whom you work have been statistically proven to be more do-nothing than the actual “Do-Nothing Congress”, and considering the legion of people who would take issue with you if you commented that the sky was blue … you might be the most patient President who ever lived.)

Since I don’t wish to test that patience, I’ll try to cut right to the chase.

Can I make a tiny request?

If you do decide to send US military personnel back into the frightening cauldron that is Iraq – more people than just 300 people with the disconcertingly familiar moniker of “military advisors” – may I ask that you don’t do it lightly?

It would be a welcome contrast to the last time the US sent military personnel there.

I see what you did with Syria, last year. Rattled the sabers nicely, got everybody over there good and jumpy. Really had a few of us genuinely jumpy too, got us suspecting that US military involvement in the Syrian civil war was imminent. To the point that it convinced otherwise scary people to give up their scary weapons when nothing else had convinced them to do so. Made me freshly impressed – even made me embarrassed that I’d seemed to underestimate your capacity for the ol’ Head Fake, the concept of the diplomatic “made you look”. Anybody who conducts a lengthy political career anywhere near Chicago, as you did, has to be at least a little bit good at political negotiation. I was gently reminded.

The present Congress appears not to be capable of doing much of anything, never mind pass a resolution about a contentious issue such as this. If the Republican-controlled House passes something, the Democratic-controlled Senate slaps it down, and vice-versa. So, in this era of the unitary executive, I guess the decision ultimately is yours.

I suppose that these factors should make me a bit more relaxed – not in a Constitutional-scholar way, and certainly not in a future-terrifying-President way, but in a living-in-the-moment way.

If I were a Constitutional scholar, I would really rather seat the ability to send this nation into combat with more than just one person. I would like at least the illusion that a group of people had gotten together and debated and then decided. I’m not totally convinced that our legislative branch represents its actual individual constituents – ya know, the ones that physically go to the polls to vote, rather than just sending campaign contributions and paying for TV ads. But it would be a more comfortable illusion than the “l’etat, c’est moi” alternative.

If a future unitary executive turned out to be a loon or a sadist or a sociopath, I assuredly wouldn’t want wartime to exist on her or his say-so alone.

Living in this moment, and using the evidence provided to me by what’s left of our journalistic Fourth Estate, I observe that your style appears to be, “let everybody have their say, and then if the decision really is mine alone anyway, do what I think is wise”. Selfishly, I tend to gravitate toward that, perhaps because it’s been my style, too. You don’t come off, most times, as an autocratic fellow. And even though I don’t necessarily agree with absolutely every decision you’ve made as President since January 2009, and even though sometimes I think you actually have let people yammer on for far longer than they deserve, given their relative standing in the world, without hauling off and verbally smacking them on the back of the head … my political leaning and my admiration for temperance has caused me much more often than not to be on the same page as you are.

So, by all means let pundits and politicians dive in front of the nearest TV camera and try to convince you (or at least everyone else) to send soldiers back in to Iraq. I would hate to think that the President of the United States has time to watch every Sunday-morning chat show and every prime-time cable news channel commentary program, and anyway they’re probably not displaying any opinions you haven’t already heard and considered and damn sure they’re not always offering too many actual immutable facts.

I’m sure you know what it looks like when the mass media gives a platform to people who, twelve years ago, had advocated for US military action in Iraq on the basis of evidence that was later discredited, or had predicted outcomes that did not occur (ignoring thirteen hundred years of historical record), and in doing so had revealed themselves or their organizations to have been paying attention to the nicely corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex rather than to the memories of their history classes (or a relatively easy trip across their study to a damned encyclopedia).

I’m pretty confident that you do look at the occasional video clip and shake your head and allow one of your measured chuckles to emerge.

As long as we’re all (including your critics) pretty lathered up over the recent revelations of stupidity within the VA, and all reflexively expressing Support For Our Troops, I hope we can all keep in mind the inevitable effects of sending soldiers into combat. Win, lose, or stalemate, soldiers are humans, not “Iron Man 2” automatons, in spite of how we dress them nowadays – and the horrors of war are of a sort that I cannot imagine, and that Hollywood movies apparently don’t come close to simulating accurately. People return from combat damaged somehow. If we’re going to inflict that on them, we’d better be damn sure it’s for a good and achievable cause.

I’m not making this request based on any information about how possible it may be to land US military boots on the ground in Iraq and be able to make a spit of difference in what’s going on there now, or what has been going on for more than a century. You have access to more Intelligence than I do. And while I fervently wish that no more innocent Iraqis die because of a relatively small but violent bunch of militant insurgents running around with pickup-truck-mounted machine guns and IEDs, and an official Iraqi government that seems unable to get its act together for whatever legitimate reasons … that’s not my main impetus either.

I am, instead, making this request based on two major things.

First, I’m responding to squishy, bleeding-heart-liberal concerns like “war is awful and we ought not get into it lightly”. And second, this past week I have had a bellyful of the fear- and war-mongering and “we would’ve won this thing if we’d just have stayed longer, kinda like forever” of Senators McCain and Graham, Messrs. Kristol and Wolfowitz, and especially our most recent former vice president, whose Wall Street Journal op-ed piece revealed once and for all a roiling, bitter case of psychological projection. (Just about the only thing missing from this week’s bouquet of unwanted advice is the former half-term governor of Alaska supposin’ that we ought to send in our armor-plated kids to baptize the heck outta those bad guys with guns, you betcha.)

Speaking of unwanted advice: mine. You’re a busy man (he suggested, with understatement on a Biblical scale); it’s likely that you’ve got more on your plate than “read this blog post”. So I suppose I can hope that someone else inside the White House is expressing this gentle request:

Think hard. Support our troops in deeds, not just words. And don’t cave, on some third-rate media pundit’s say-so.

Sincerely (and I mean that),

Your friend, the fourth-rate blogger,

Rob

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June 21, 2014 Posted by | current events, government, media, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Takeaway

Twelve years ago today was a very tough day.

On a couple of previous anniversaries of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, I have taken a moment (here in this blog space) to note the date, usually utilizing what I remember of where I was – what I was doing (hmph). I made a connection, without great difficulty, to the music I was making at the time with my students – and the role that music played in getting through the day, or making sense of the day later, or offering comfort to people who needed it for a long time after.

I was teaching today, as well. Since I’m relatively new to my school, I was teaching several classes’ worth of students with whom I had never shared this particular observance. The change of scenery, I think, caused me to think in perhaps wider-angle terms than I would have otherwise. Things are different … somewhat.

My seventh-grade students were weeks or months old in 2001. I was twelve years younger, too; and much closer to the beginning of my teaching career than I am now. I wasn’t as schooled in the ways of geopolitical affairs and foreign policy as I have become, since. Then, I was much more likely to worry greatly about driving under highway overpasses than I am now – or, let’s just say that now I worry more about whether the bridges are going to come down on their own, never mind with help from terrorist people.

One night about a week ago, I noticed my local television listings beginning to fill up with 9/11 documentaries and tribute-laden programs – the Discovery Channel was showing nothing but, all afternoon and all night – and I was frankly shocked for a moment after I found myself thinking, “oh… Here we go. It’s that time of year.”

For those who lost people that they dearly loved, that day, September will always be “that time of year”. I was instantly embarrassed at my thought (which I had unhelpfully delivered to myself in the voice of the “Stewie” character from “Family Guy”). The sister of a good friend of mine from high school was on the second plane that hit the World Trade Center, for heaven’s sake. If the tables were turned, I’d be more than a little put out that somebody was thinking of this particular anniversary with the same kind of jaded outlook that a lot of us carry into, say, the holiday shopping season in December. For many many people, this is and always will be – well, deadly serious.

Not long after 9/11, many people wondered if it would be this generation’s Pearl Harbor – not so much as an impetus for war specifically, but more as an event that was both unforgettable and a turning point in a lot of people’s understanding of the state of the planet Earth, for better or for worse. I doubt people were thinking, “oh… Here we go again,” on December 7, 1953.

So I did several hundred mental pushups, as a sort of penance for my offhand thought. And I thought, okay, then: is there anything that we can take away from that awful day? Anything positive? Anything that we’ve actually learned?

There is the temptation to respond to that question by commenting on political- and military-science permutations of this question. We went to war in two places in the wake of 9/11 and we’re still hanging around in one of those theaters, a dozen years later, and to what end I’m not sure (except that this must be how the Soviet Union felt in 1980 or so). More lives lost; less ground gained, I think.

I am tempted to express deep concern about our temptation – then and now – to knee-jerkily retreat into patriotic fervor, as a means of reassuring ourselves that not only was this an awful, evil act (well, it was that; and no civilian population anywhere “had it coming”), but that becoming victims of that heinous crime automatically made us, or perhaps more properly our government, blameless in all things and justified in any and all responses. Invasions of whole countries followed. Euphemisms like “extraordinary renditions” and “enhanced interrogation” followed. Unnerving titles such as “Homeland Security” were created. Chants of “USA, USA” only make me smile at the Olympics, I think.

As is almost always the case … it’s not nearly as simple as politicians and pundits make it their business to make us believe.

So, while government activities and international politics grind on, actual people still suffer, both directly because of the attacks and indirectly, for a staggering and unnerving variety of reasons. There are vast, sweeping plains of wrong that haven’t yet been made right. There were wrongs before 9/11 that haven’t yet been addressed. There are debates that haven’t even been properly begun.

So what can we possibly take away from 9/11 that can make the human race seem like a noble thing?

Finally, I came around to this:

If thinking about 9/11 causes us to wonder what would possess someone to do such a thing, and we look further afield than just the instinctive, jingoistic “they hate us for our freedoms” answers … then regardless of what we find, we’ve at least tried to imagine the world from someone else’s point of view … and that’s something.

If observing 9/11 will cause us to remember and thank and support first-responders – not just the ones that ran toward the burning Twin Towers, but the ones that run toward trouble and danger in our own communities all the time, right now – then that’s something.

If recalling 9/11 will cause us to remember or be introduced to tales of ordinary people helping other ordinary people in far-from-ordinary circumstances … then that’s something.

If remembering 9/11 will cause us to reach out to people we know who lost friends or family on that day, to offer them some help or support or comfort or connection … then that’s something.

If I can start out sitting in a classroom with students who were mere toddlers in 2001, having conversations with them about those terrible events and these difficult issues … and somehow end up with a teachable moment that boils down to “go out of your way to treat people decently, so that your individual world stands a chance of being a better place”, or “let’s work together because it sure beats working against people” … as happened this morning …

then I guess that’s something.

September 11, 2013 Posted by | blogging, current events, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Assuming Responsibility

Ten years ago this day, portions of the US government committed ordinance, materiel, and most importantly, people to a military action that lasted, by all accounts, at least a dozen times longer than its inventors envisioned.

This military action was, by most after-the-fact accounts, based not so much on a wealth of credible evidence of clear and present danger to the United States, but rather on a clear and present wish on the part of numerous officials, both publicly-elected and not elected. That wish was the desire to go to war.

Political and military intelligence was misread or ignored. Historical and demographic information about the region in question was not considered or in some cases even known. All in the effort to justify the desire to go to war.

Weapons of mass destruction? No, said the international agency whose purpose it was to recognize such things. Connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attackers? No, since Al Qaeda was a global Islamist organization with a corresponding religious affiliation, and Saddam was firmly against such things as religion (no dictator wants anyone thinking of a high power than himself, eh?). Who lives in Iraq? Sunni? Shia? What’s the difference? Is there a difference? Why should we care? Do we care enough to research that question before we go to war?

In this space some time ago, I noted that President George W. Bush, in his post-presidency memoir “Decision Points”, insisted that he did (and, reportedly, still does) have a “sickening feeling” about the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq – one of several rotating justifications for going to war. I also noted that his sickening feeling probably didn’t compare to the sickening feeling of those Americans who lost family members, or to the sickening feeling of Iraqis who lost family members or whole neighborhoods to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The ultimate results of that Operation, in spite of a few public officials’ continuing insistence that the effort was worthwhile, are these: the physical and political wrecking of one nation and the international shaming of another one.

Evidence has piled up, and continues to emerge, pointing to the whole operation as being fraudulently conceived, poorly (or non-existently) prepared, and (at best) clumsily executed. It has cost the United States, by some estimates, $2.2 trillion dollars – money that could have been sent to far more deserving places in the world, or even within our very States, to do good works. And yet, not one of the elected or appointed officials who should bear responsibility for the resulting foreign-policy catastrophe and humanitarian disaster – both of which will have repercussions far into the future, both for nations and individuals – have been called to account. At least, beyond the occasional feeble attempt at cross-examination by a corporately-sponsored press full of people who can barely claim the title of “journalists”. Such cross-examination surely was not conducted in the run-up to the war, at least by journalists well-funded enough to be visible to the majority of Americans at the time.

(The estimable Charlie Pierce wrote a piece yesterday on his political blog about this facet of the story. It’s short, to the point, punchy, and dead-on.)

 

Not only has none of those elected or appointed officials been prosecuted in any civil or criminal court, domestic or international – but not a single main character in this tragedy has even come close to admitting responsibility.

Never mind the Paul Wolfowitzes, the Richard Perles, the Colin Powells, the Lawrence Wilkersons, the John Boltons, etc., of this story – the supporting players. Most statements about the Iraq War from the four figures in the iconic Crawford, TX ranch photograph – the former Secretary of State (then the National Security Adviser), the former Vice President, the former President, and the former Secretary of Defense – betray no evidence of having learned anything. The President and Vice President in particular have been shown – in interviews included in MSNBC’s recent documentary “Hubris: The Selling of the Iraq War” – to say that, knowing what they know now, and given the same set of circumstances, they would not act any differently. And they say such things with an air of utter confidence and unshakable belief. In the documentary, the former President’s attitude edges close to flippant (as has become familiar over the years); the former Vice President’s is much more dogged, serious, even foreboding (as has also been his wont). Remarks from each man come off (to this eye) as callous at best. No genuine admission of mistakes; no hint of atonement; no apologies; no assumption of responsibility for any of it.

Nearly four-and-a-half thousand Americans lost their lives in the Iraq War. Tens of thousands of American servicemen and -women have returned home as damaged goods, physically or psychologically or both. And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were sacrificed, in the service of the geopolitical aims and (arguably) the psychological needs of a scant few very powerful and in some cases unaccountable people.

These people either have no soul, or they have successfully compartmentalized their consciences to the point where those consciences will never again see the light of day.

Why are these people still asked for their opinions about foreign policy?

Why are these people still treated as honored guests on television chat programs?

Why are these people allowed to make money writing books and making speeches?

Why are these people not in jail?

 

 

P.S. I have included a link to Charlie Pierce’s article where it’s mentioned above, so that you may properly click it and give him the Internet hits he richly deserves. But I think it bears re-printing here. It’s great, and damning, and angry, and a must-read.

PLEASED TO BE SHUTTING THE PIEHOLE NOW

by Charlie Pierce / Esquire.com

The ‘public editor’ of The New York Times tells us today that the paper’s coverage of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War is likely to be less of a hoot than back in the drum-banging days when Judy Miller was standing atop a great pile of stove-piped bullsh*t while Bill Keller threw roses at her feet.

I asked Dean Baquet, a managing editor, about the low-key approach. He said that while a few stories are planned, editors did not see a need for a major project or special section, as they did with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ‘The war itself has been dissected to a tremendous degree,’ he told me. ‘You have to have something new or fresh to say.’ He would not provide specifics about the articles that are planned, but said there might be one or two that would make their way onto the front page this week … Is The Times’s own role in the run-up to the war a part of this relative reticence, as some readers have suggested to me? Is there reluctance to revisit a painful period in the paper’s history? Mr. Baquet said that’s not a factor. ‘The Times has probably acknowledged its own mistakes from that period more than anyone,’ he said. ‘We certainly haven’t been shy about doing that. We’re doing the stories that make sense to us and that offer our readers something worthwhile.’

That is, of course, all bollocks. Keller still writes a column. The Times is playing this on the downlow precisely because it never truly has atoned for its role in a fiasco. The op-ed page still welcomes submissions from people whose work on this most grotesque foreign-policy blunder should have been as definitive a career-killer as were Joe Hazlewood’s navigational abilities.

I can hardly wait for this week to end. If it’s not Dean Baquet, copping a cheap alibi for his newspaper’s unforgivable malpractice, it’s Richard Perle. who should be displayed in a pillory outside Walter Reed for the next 10 years, being allowed to vomit blood all over the op-ed section of USA Today.

Many commentaries on the Iraq War, including the one to which this is a response, show little understanding of what it means to manage risk. We do not normally consider it to have been foolish to pay for fire insurance when the house does not burn down – or particularly clever to have done so when it does. When thousands of American lives are at stake, insurance, sometimes pre-emptive military action, is not cheap.

And precisely what risk did you ‘manage’? What chance did you take? You gambled with other people’s children in a game you’d helped rig. What cost was exacted from you, sitting your fat ass in a swivel chair at a wingnut intellectual chop-shop while kids are still staggering around the wards without legs and arms, or the cognitive functions to get them through the day? What price did you pay? You have to send out for lunch one day? Show me the butcher’s bill for the Perle household, you vampire son of a bitch.

And let us not forget Perle’s onetime co-author, David Frum, who’s mysteriously been allowed through the tradesmen’s entrance back into the discourse conducted by decent people. It should be recalled, before we all start doing that which Winston Wolf cautioned us not to do, that Frum did a lot more than write one speech in 2002. Two years later, he also wrote a discreetly McCarthyite book with the aforementioned Perle called An End To Evil. If we’d found a single cache of biotoxins anywhere in Iraq, Frum would have been waving his warrior dick at CPAC last weekend. Instead, we hear about Dick Cheney, and Tony Blair, and how really sorry David Frum is for the hand he played in the deaths of so many people who are not named David Frum.

Shut up, all of you. Go away. You are complicit in one way or another in a giant crime containing many great crimes. Atone in secret. Wash the blood off your hands in private. Because there were people who got it right. Anthony Zinni. Eric Shiseki. Hans Blix. Mohamed ElBaradei. The McClatchy Washington bureau guys. Dozens of liberal academics who got called fifth-columnists and worse. Professional military men whose careers suffered as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world. The governments of Canada and France. Those people, I will listen to this week. Go to hell, the rest of you, and go there in silence and in shame.”

This article copyright © 2013 Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | government, journalism, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment