Monday, September 19, 2005

Rebecca, the heat and C.I. on Iraq

One guy wrote me about Rebecca's "potty mouth" in the Sunday thing they did at The Common Ills. I read it and I didn't have a problem with it. If it had been up at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Rebecca's site, it would have contained a lot more language, explicit.

The guy's got a problem with Rebecca. I don't. He tries to lure me into some debate about Christianity and I'm sorry but my Bible doesn't say "Thou Shall Stab Your Friends In The Back."

I like Rebecca. I like what she says. I like how she says it.

Hope everyone had a good weekend. I don't know. Sunday, at church, I was worrying because we've got air conditioning in our church but the older ladies had their fans out, which isn't uncommon, but they were "glowing" (never tell an older black woman she's "sweating" unless you know she won't be offended) while a lot of the older guys were looking really warmed over too.

My preacher is going to have someone come out and look at the air conditioning because it didn't get very cool in there. Hopefully, it just needs something minor. But it was pretty warm in there. A lot of the older people really need the air conditioning. Some of them don't have any in their homes or, because of tight budgets, can't afford to use it.

If they don't have any, the church tries to get them fans. Not one fan because no old person is going to park themselves in front of a fan all day. If they're living on their own or with a spouse or a friend, they've got stuff to do in the kitchen, stuff to do in the living room. So the church always tries to provide them with three fans.

There's a very sweet older woman at the church who kept saying no the fans because she wanted a boxed fan. The preacher and his wife showed her how the oscilating fan worked better because it moved around and how she could pull up the little lever and make it stay in place.
They visit her a week later and she's got the white levers up on all of them. Why? Because "all that turning can't be good." She thought she would wear it out.

Which reminds me of a story my friend Vern used to tell. It was 1987 and he and his wife had just gotten a new TV because the old one wasn't working. The picture was leaning sideways forever and then the picture and sound just went out. I remembered the kind of TV he was describing and you may too, you had this strip of metal buttons that you touched, not pressed down and you could go up and down the channels. The new TV had a remote and it scared him to death changing channels. Back in his day, you changed channels by turning the knob on the TV set and every time you turned it to a new channel, the picture would jump. So you didn't turn it all that much in Vern's house. Then with the one with touch buttons, it was a little easier. But that was the first time, on the TV set he got in 1987, that they could surf without any concerns. He said he hated it. Said it was better in the old day where you sat through something boring maybe but you saw the whole thing.

I miss Vern a lot. I'm worried about the other three guys at the nursing home because I know they miss him too. The choir director's wife was telling me Sunday that when you got a group of friends like that and one dies, the other's seem to follow after. I hope that's not true.

We hit 1900 U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Made me think of what C.I. wrote Saturday:

I'll note Richard A. Oppel Jr., Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker's "Baghdad Bombings Raise Anew Questions About U.S. Strategy in Iraq" (which is credited with this note: "This article was reported and written by Richard A. Oppel Jr., Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker."):

Although the attacks in Baghdad suggest that there may be cells of insurgents there, or at least that they can sneak into the city to plant bombs, senior officials at the Pentagon and in Iraq say they believe that Mr. Zarqawi and the insurgency's "center of gravity" is now in the bends and towns of the Euphrates River valley near the Syrian border.
Commanders say they plan to squeeze the Zarqawi leadership and Iraqi insurgents in those areas. Throughout the spring and summer marines and Army forces staged raids into those same towns, confiscating weapons and killing scores of insurgents. But many fighters melted into the countryside, and there were not enough coalition troops to keep a sufficient presence in the villages.
Commanders say new offensives in Anbar Province in coming weeks will be modeled on the siege of Tal Afar, which used 8,500 American and Iraqi troops.
"You will see the same thing down along the Euphrates Valley to push back out and restore Iraqi control to the area around Qaim," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, said in an interview in Baghdad. General Casey said the Iraqi forces had little control of the country's border with Syria on either side of Qaim, a desolate town on the Euphrates.

Why am I noting it? I think we should remember what "commanders" say in this piece for a future date. Also we've dropped to the figure "8,500" (the one Elaine noted was consistent with other reporting but inconsistent with the Times' claim on Sunday [11,000]). And because "you will see the same thing." Not what's reported in the Times, but the same actions in Tal Afar that you saw in Falluja will be repeated elsewhere. Unlike the optimists quoted in the report, this will not be the end of it (even with death squads) but fuel for more rage.

Hopefully, Christian Parenti was correct and the Times reporters (at least Dexter Filkins) are aware that there is reality and then there is the spin that's characterized too many reports from the paper. We're told, by commanders who lead in the story, that Iraqis are cooperating to halt the insurgency (they're supposedly outraged by the violence). We've heard that claim before. We heard that claim, in fact, before we invaded.

It's offered as new and developing as though we've all acquired early senility and forgotten all that's come before. And we're also supposed to believe not only that in choosing between their own citizens and the occupiers, Iraqis are siding with the Operation Enduring Falsehood "coalition," but that they're ratting them out.

"Secretarian" wasn't a word that popped up much in the limited Tal Afar coverage in the Times. But it's worth noting the term. No doubt many sects are turning on each other (some believe that has been the US plan). But the idea that a country of people embraces an invader over their own people goes against history and political theory. Today commanders present it as fact.Here are the facts. Violence rages still. Violence has not been "subdued." It is unlikely that it will be "subdued" with these actions. We could let Negroponte unleash all the death squads his heart may desire but everyone that's killed will be replaced with friends and family. That's how a resistance breeds. That's historical.

There is no "subduing." This isn't a state in the United States (though certain policies seem to attempt to make it that). This is a foreign country. And to the citizens the US is a foreign force.They will argue and fight amongst themselves and we may prove momentarily effective at playing them off one another but not in the long term. In the long term, they want us out and they will not be "subdued" or "channeled." This isn't an issue of "Give us ___!" whatever service. This is an issue of autonomy and it won't go away while we're there.

Our presence only adds to the problems. "Fine tuners" will no doubt trumpet today's claims by commanders with choruses of "See!" I'm not sure what they think they're seeing (possibly the happy talk the Times portrays and gives far too much weight to -- though give the paper credit for clearly identifying who reported what), but it's an ahisotrical approach (and, bluntly, an ignorant one) to think that this is a turning point in the favor of Operation Enduring Falsehood.

"Winning" defined by the terms of the administration will mean more massive killings and they may delay certain attacks, maybe planned ones in the works, but this is how a resistance breeds.If you and I argue over the tree in the middle of both of our properties, I may kill you and claim the tree. Before I claim victory, I better be prepared to kill everyone close to you and everyone who's not pleased that I moved into the neighborhood.

We're talking a Biblical slaughter (term used intentionally). No baby Moses better be floated down a river.If I don't kill everyone then they will be there to tell what happened, to stroke the outrage and to encourage it.

There is no turned corner here. Suggesting there is requires a denial of history and a denial of how a resistance operates. That a nation (the US) supposedly so consumed with the Bible can't grasp the basics suggests that maybe they might need to read a little more closely. Otherwise, cries of "Let my people go" may come as a shock to them.

These are points that are raised later in the article, after the happy talk:

But independent analysts suggest that the strategy of driving the insurgents from urban centers and trying to capture or kill as many as possible, aiming especially at leaders, may be flawed. The violence in Baghdad is only one problem. Another is that the fighting may work against the search for political consensus among Iraqis.

Whether it was an editorial decision or one on the part of the journalists, pushing reality down into the article, as opposed to leading with it, was a mistake.In terms of past reporting, however, I'll give the writers (and the paper) credit for noting reality somewhere in the article. You lead with the most important information, however, and happy talk isn't important to anyone but the people spinning. Readers need reality from the start.

If I reassemble the article on my own, there are few quarrels I have with it. (As always with the paper, the reliance on "official sources" would be a quarrel I have with the article.) For a Times piece it's a strong one. But as assembled, weighted with happy talk at the start, it's not as strong as it should be.

A daily paper wants to provide you with a sense of "This just happened!" so possibly it's a problem with the form itself? However, I'd suggest that the opening paragraph could have been written in such a way that we'd have both history and what the military is spinning today.

Hopefully, this is a sign of stronger reporting to come from the Times.

As a member of The Common Ills community, I've got to say, I have always enjoyed it best when C.I. addresses the issue of Iraq.