Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We Want, and If We Don't Then That's What We Want

Here's Scott Norton, who I link to frequently, on the New York Times piece on Obama the Executioner. While I don't always agree with Norton's conclusions I find him more reliably fair than the majority of writers who work for the old professional progressive warhorses. Please pardon the long extract:

The article also tackles the underpinnings of the CIA’s claims that there have been no, or at least very few, civilian deaths owing to drone strikes recently: “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties. . . . It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” We learn that this approach has been controversial within the administration, with some advisers noting that it seems close to a conclusive presumption of guilt.

This is a very important disclosure. On one hand, it clarifies the basis for the CIA’s no-collateral-damage claim. On the other, it puts the drone program on very tenuous grounds under the laws of war. The U.S. military in Iraq, for instance, has previously disciplined officers who issued rules of engagement authorizing the targeting of all military-age males. A person cannot be presumed to be a terrorist simply because he is male, of military age, and happens to be in the same village as some terrorists—he must be engaged in conduct that makes him a combatant. Applied to targeting, this presumption raises serious war-crime issues. As the Times reports, the administration is currently limiting its use to the counting of persons unintentionally killed when a legitimate target has been struck, which theoretically leads only to false information about the number of innocent civilians killed. But the distinction isn’t actually quite so clear-cut: in deciding on a strike, an estimate of collateral damage has to be included. And if all able males are deemed legitimate targets, that process is being seriously distorted.

The Times piece also considers the question of tactics versus strategy. Much of the controversy surrounding drones has swirled around the decision to target individuals, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, who have gained notoriety, and around the government’s willingness to aggressively deploy drones as a tool in the first place. Less discussed have been the broader consequences of drone assassinations:
[T]he strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda—just since April, there have been 14 in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan—have also tested both men’s commitment to the principles they have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’—reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.
Blair is correct to stress long-term strategy, and it’s a shame that the Times piece fails to develop his point further. Admiral Blair isn’t the only person raising these questions—so, too, is the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, who is mentioned in the piece as having complained that “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” and has spoken out elsewhere about the CIA’s dominance in U.S.–Pakistani relations. The current meltdown in U.S. relations with Pakistan—long considered a vital American ally in the region—is directly related to the drone campaign. The White House, focused as it is on kill data from each strike, doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the effect of heavy drone use on American relations with states in the region, nor to the broader dynamics of American operations against terrorist groups. Is a drone campaign that eliminates Al Qaeda but turns Pakistan, the nation with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, into a bitter enemy really a success story?

OK? Clear? Here's Horton's concluding paragraph, the paragraph immediately below the above paragraph:

With the Times account, more important details about the Obama drone program have fallen into place. The disclosures will offer solace to Obama supporters who have qualms about the program, since the administration is shown scrutinizing individual targets and avoiding strikes that would affect innocent women and children. On the other hand, the drone operators continue to they make lethal misjudgments, and the government’s case for secrecy with the program looks more dubious than ever.

Asked honestly: what the fuck? Rimshot for obamapologists but rimshots for everyone, thanks for playing? And it's the smartest piece on the block? So fucked.


Albert Goldbarth

It's as if every demon from hell with aspirations
toward interior design flew overhead and indiscriminately
spouted gouts of molten gold, that cooled down
into swan-shape spigots, doorknobs, pen-and-inkwell sets.
A chandelier the size of a planetarium dome
is gold, and the commodes. The handrails
heading to the wine cellar and the shelving for the DVDs
and the base for the five stuffed tigers posed in a fighting phalanx:
gold, as is the samovar and the overripe harp
and the framework for the crocodile-hide ottoman and settee.
The full-size cinema theater accommodating an audience
of hundreds for the screening of home (or possibly
high-end fuck flick) videos: starred in gold
from vaulted ceiling to clawfoot legs on the seating.
Of course the scepter is gold, but the horns
on the mounted stag heads: do they need to be gilded?
Yes. And the olive fork and the French maid's row of dainty buttons
and the smokestack on the miniature train
that delivers golden trays of dessert from the kitchen
to a dining hall about the size of a zip code,
and the snooker table's sheathing, and the hat rack,
and those hooziewhatsit things in which you slip your feet
on the water skis, and the secret lever
that opens the door to the secret emergency bunker.
Smug and snarky as we are, in our sophisticated
and subtler, non-tyrannical tastes, it's still
unsettling to realize these photographs are also full
of the childrens' pictures set on a desk,
the wife's diploma proudly on a wall, the common
plastic container of aspirin, and the bassinette
with the scroll of linen shade at the ready
in case the sun is too powerful: reminders of how
a graduated continuum connects these überoperatically
fat interior lives to our own. We all desire
"more" and "better," Melville adds that final "e"
to the family name, and Faulkner adds the "u," in quest
of a signified gentility. My friend Damien
(fake name) won A Certain Literary Award, and
at the stellar after-ceremony party, in the swank hotel's
swank atrium, he found a leggy literary groupie
noshing caviar under a swankily lush mimosa,
and in under an hour his own swank room could boast
the golden statuette, the evening's loveliest woman, and
the silver serving platter of five-star caviar,
and if you think this story's moral lesson is
that satiation is ever attained, you don't understand
the protoknowledge we're born with, coded into our cells:
soon soon soon enough we die. Even before we've seen
the breast, we're crying to the world that we want;
and the world doles out its milkiness in doses. We
want, we want, we want, and if we don't then
that's what we want; abstemiousness is only
hunger translated into another language. Yes
there's pain and heartsore rue and suffering, but
there's no such thing as "anti-pleasure": it's pleasure
that the anchorite takes in his bleak cave
and Thoreau in his bean rows and cabin. For Thoreau,
the Zen is: wanting less is wanting more.
Of less. At 3 a.m. Marlene (fake name) and Damien
drunkenly sauntered into and out of the atrium,
then back to his room: he wanted the mimosa too,
and there it stood until checkout at noon, a treenapped testimony
to the notion that we will if we can, as evidenced in even
my normally modest, self-effacing friend. If we can,
the archeological record tells us, we'll continue wanting
opulently even in the afterlife: the grave goods
of pharaohs are just as gold as the headrests
and quivers and necklace pendants they used every day
on this side of the divide, the food containers
of Chinese emperors are ready for heavenly meals
that the carved obsidian dragons on the great jade lids
will faithfully guard forever. My own
innate definition of "gratification" is right there
in its modifier "immediate," and once or twice
I've hurt somebody in filling my maw. I've walked
—the normally modest, self-effacing me—below a sky
of stars I lusted after as surely as any despot
contemplating his treasury. The slice of American cheese
on the drive-thru-window burger is also gold,
bathetically gold,
and I go where my hunger dictates.


  1. And Hiatt and Diehl are demanding that Obama DO SOMETHING about Syria, for humanity.

    (Of course, what they mean is smash the living shit out of it, like we did to Iraq.)

  2. What they mean is boots on the ground while we funnel money to the private sector.

  3. Yup, think where the US economy would be w/o war, those we fight, those we supply.

  4. But that's not stimulous.

  5. Jeez, no wonder the Germans lost WW2.

  6. Do we need someone to tell us that protesting is coming to a bloody end?