March 2023 Notebook
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Friday, March 31, 2023

Daily Log

Most days I don't feel like I'm getting anything constructive done. Today feels a bit different. Today's accomplishments (most, admittedly, minor):

  • Set up and tested Zoom account on computer "monk": I've had a camera there for some time, but have only used it with Facebook, and not very effectively. Setup involved adding the Blue microphone (in place of the mic built into the camera), which was offered as the default option. Before all of that could be done, I had to clean off the south desk, where the computer is.
  • I've gotten six unidentified phone calls over the last four days. Looked up the number, and it's been reported as spam. Tried to figure out how to block it, and finally managed. UI not very good (e.g., why would I ever want to place a number in contact list only to block it?).
  • Put new batteries into a dim flashlight. Seems stupid/simple, but wasn't obvious.
  • Got two packages from Amazon: one with a pair of headlamps; the other with two magnifying glasses. Things I've been needing/wanting. Third package coming tomorrow: a USB charger block. The headlamps add to our inventory of devices needing USB charging.
  • Picked up tax package. Also some Chinese takeout.
  • Set up an email address under tomhull.com, then arranged to pick up mail there from computer "monk." It's kind of klutzy, but gives me a way to forward email to that machine.
  • Started "Speaking of Which."
  • Brought laundry down. Will work on that tonight.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Daily Log

I posted a cartoon to Facebook, which showed a donkey with a sign ("Let's do something and help each other") facing off against an elephant with another sign ("Let's blame someone and punish them"). I wrote:

I saw this in the Eagle today, and it seems about right. Except, of course, that Democrats sometimes get confused by lobbyists about what "help" means.

I also added a comment:

By the way, this cartoon was attached by an article by Chuck Schmidt, "Five things that would be better if Democrats ran the legislature." Link.

Elias Vlanton commented:

Other than major differences on some social issues--abortion, gay rights, gun "rights", etc., I find the differences between the Republicans and Democrats fairly minor. The broad economic and foreign policies are similar, the Democrats talk a good game on climate but don't follow through--think arctic drilling and the massive expansion of LNG exports. Both parties have no respect for democracy or basic freedoms--Democrats spent tens of millions funding extremist Republican candidates, and both parties use social media to suppress they don't like. They are both owned by the same lobbyists, funded by the same corporations, they only differ to market themselves to different voting blocs.

I responded:

Glad I included that caveat. I was thinking about how Democrats are still wedded to promoting growth and business (even the full, Green New Deal, which is being cut down to just the pro-business parts). On the other hand, their experience with belt-tightening has never paid off (I've always said that the 55mph speed limit was the dumbest idea they ever came up with). One might also complain that Democrats only wise up on "social issues" once the battle for public opinion has been won (e.g., your examples, although Republican intransigence still hurts). But it looks to me like there's quite a bit of open ground between the parties on "democracy or basic freedoms" (I'm not impressed by your examples there), and there seems to be a significant shift in economic views: I've just opened Tomasky's "Middle Out," which makes that argument, so we'll see how convincing he is. Foreign policy is a big problem for both parties, but that's not quite the same thing as saying they're identical (I'd say the Democrats are more dangerously interventionist, while the Republicans are more dangerously confrontational.) And, yeah, money is a big problem, on both sides. One of my big complaints about Obama is that he talked a lot about the bad influence of money during his 2008 campaign, then once he got elected, he did the math and decided he was better off with unlimited money, so didn't lift a finger to do anything about it. So I'm far from being an uncritical Democrat, but I do believe that there are real differences and really matter. The cartoon highlights one of the most fundamental.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Music Week

Expanded blog post, March archive (final).

Tweet: Music Week: 37 albums, 8 A-list,

Music: Current count 39873 [39836] rated (+37), 56 [50] unrated (+6: 28 new, 28 old).

Rated count is down because I lost a day when last week's post didn't appear until late Tuesday. Otherwise, it's the same drill: I've been picking off old jazz records from my unheard Penguin Guide 4-star list, going from Perry to Scott this week. The exception is a Bobby Hutcherson record that Hank Shteamer included in his Twitter list of 10-best classic Blue Note records. I commented there, but also copied the lists into my notebook, as one of my self-check exercises. For Hutcherson, may I suggest Dialogue (1965), Happenings (1966), Oblique (1967), and/or Medina (1968-69 [1998]). Had I been more thorough, I would have checked out The Kicker (1963) and Total Eclipse (1967) -- both Penguin Guide 3.5-stars.

Elsewhere, Shteamer reminded me of the death of Ethiopian pianist Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou (99). Her Ethiopia Song is one of the best volumes in Buda Musique's Éthiopiques series (Vol. 21).

My demo queue has grown to 28, so I need to whittle that down a bit. One problem is that I need to do a major desk clearing first, and some resorting of the queue box. Another is that only 7 of those records (25%) have been released so far, and until recently it was closer to zero. Also, I'll note that I've been sitting non a lot of download offers, which I've started to collect in their own folder, in case I decide I need to look something up.

Two of this week's three new albums were found while looking for something old. Although I updated my 2023 tracking file to reflect what I've heard or have in the queue, I haven't added any records yet that I want to get to, so I'm pretty ignorant of (or maybe just oblivious to) 2023 releases, at least so far. Once I do, it will be easier to figure out what to play next.

This closes out Streamnotes for March. I'll catch up with the indexing later. At last month's rate (193 records), I should crack the 40,000 rated albums level in late April (3 or 4 weeks from now).


I published another Speaking of Which yesterday. Main news today is that Netanyahu delays judicial overhaul plan, backtracking after unprecedented strikes and protests. Key word is "delays," as Israel's current ruling coalition of past and future criminals still want their "get out of jail" cards. For important background, see: Richard Silverstein: Facing Israeli Army Mutiny, Defense Minister Calls to Halt Regime Change Agenda. Silverstein also wrote (posted today): Does Netanyahu Have an Exit Strategy.

A couple more points: Netanyahu made it clear that he's delaying because his junior coalition partner Itamar Ben Gvir gave him permission, making it clear who's calling the shots in the right-wing government. Also, the price for Ben Gvir's delay permission appears to be approval of a new "national guard" under direct control of the National Security Minister (that's Ben Gvir). See Critics slam Netanyahu's alleged OK for national guard: 'Private Ben Gvir militia'. Maybe if they can provoke Palestinians to start an armed uprising, they'll be able to kill off what's left of Israel's democracy as an "emergency measure."

Meanwhile, in America we have another mass shooting in an elementary school: 3 Children and 3 Adults Killed in Shooting at Nashville Elementary School. You know, of course, that Tennessee governor Bill Lee just signed laws to ban drag performers ("protects children") and to loosen restrictions on who can carry guns where. Also, that this guy represents in Congress the district the shooting took place in. Cue the Clash (I was thinking of the "killers in America" line, but sure, all of it).


New records reviewed this week:

  • Bára Gisladottir: Silva (2023, Sono Luminus): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rich Perry: Everything Happens (2021 [2022], SteepleChase): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Chris Potter: Got the Keys to the Kingdom: Live at the Village Vanguard (2022 [2023], Edition): [sp]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

None.

Old music:

  • Bobby Hutcherson: Components (1965 [1966], Blue Note): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Rich Perry: Doxy (1998 [2000], SteepleChase): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Rich Perry: O Grande Amor (1999 [2000], SteepleChase): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Rich Perry Quartet: Hearsay (2001 [2002], SteepleChase): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Current Conditions (2001 [2003], CAM Jazz): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jean-Michel Pilc Trio: Together: Live at Sweet Basil (1999 [2000], Challenge, 2CD): [sp]: A-
  • Paul Plimley/Trichy Sankaran: Ivory Ganesh Meets Doctor Drums (1996-98 [1998], Songlines): [sp]: A-
  • Valery Ponomarev: Live at Sweet Basil (1993 [1994], Reservoir): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Michel Portal: Dockings (1997 [1998], Label Bleu): [sp]: A-
  • Chris Potter Quartet: Sundiata (1993 [1995], Criss Cross): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Mel Powell: Trios: Borderline/Thigamagig (1954 [1993], Vanguard): [r]: A-
  • Quartett: No Secrets (1988, New Albion): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Freddy Randall & His Band: My Tiny Band Is Chosen: The Parlophone Years 1952-1957 (1952-57 [2017], Lake): B+(**)
  • The Recyclers: Visit (1995 [1997], Babel): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Buddy Rich: Compact Jazz: Buddy Rich (1955-61 [1987], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Howard Riley: Flight (1971, Turtle): [yt]: A-
  • Howard Riley: Feathers With Jaki (1984-88 [1996], Slam): [r]: B+(***)
  • Howard Riley: Consequences (2003 [2005], 33 Records): [r]: B+(***)
  • Howard Riley: Short Stories (Volume Two) (2004-06 [2006], Slam, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Max Roach: With the New Orchestra of Boston and the So What Brass Quintet (1993-95 [1996], Blue Note): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Max Roach: To the Max! (1990-91 [1992], Enja, 2CD): [yt]: B+(**)
  • Renee Rosnes: Art & Soul (1999, Blue Note): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jim Rotondi: Iron Man (2005 [2006], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • ROVA Saxophone Quartet: Bingo (1996 [1998], Victo): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Paul Rutherford/Philipp Wachsmann/Barry Guy: ISKRA NCKPA 1903 (1992 [1995], Maya): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Samo Salamon Quartet: Ornethology (2003 [2004], Samo): [sp]: A-
  • Samo Salamon Sextet: Ela's Dream (2004 [2005], Splasc(H)): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Marit Sandvik: Song, Fall Soft (1995, Taurus): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Michel Sardaby Trio: Night Cap (1970, Disques Debs): [yt]: A-
  • Dave Schnitter: Sketch (2001 [2004], Omix/Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Irene Schweizer/Maggie Nichols/George Lewis/Joëlle Léandre/Günter Sommer: The Storming of the Winter Palace (1986-88 [1988], Intakt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jimmy Scott: Dream (1995, Sire): [sp]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Matt Barber: The Song Is You (MB) [04-15]
  • Bokani Dyer: Radio Sechaba (Brownswood) [05-12]
  • Marc Jordan: Waiting for the Sun to Rise (Linus Entertainment) [04-23]
  • Le Boeuf Brothers: Hush (Soundspore) [04-21]
  • MUEJL [Michel Stawicki/Uygur Vural/Elisabetta Lanfredini/João Madeira/Luiz Rocha]: By Breakfast (4DaRecord) [02-03]
  • Taiko Saito: Tears of a Cloud (Trouble in the East) [04-28]

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: Another week bites the dust, one with too much Trump insanity, too much Republican agita, too much past/present/future war, and not just here; it's as if they think "nasty, brutish & short" is some kind of goal:

Started this on Friday, but by Sunday evening I'm getting really sick and tired of it all. Nearly done with Nathan J Robinson's The Current Affairs Rules for Life: On Social Justice & Its Critics, and I'm getting tired of it too. Not that it's a bad book, but that I so rarely use terms like "social justice" (or for that matter, "socialism") that debate over their use hardly matters to me. Similarly, the long opening section where he tries to rebut conservative writers by taking them seriously wasn't a lot of help. (The chapter on Jordan Peterson was especially hard, as the main point that he writes verbose nonsense was proven by reproducing way too much of it.) Still, I do some of this myself in the Shields comment, which exasperatingly was the last item written here.

The Simmons-Duffin piece is one of the most important below.


Top story threads:

Top stories for the week:

The Fed, Banks, and the Economy: Just a couple notes here. I hardly need to remind you that I thought Biden made a big mistake in reappointing Jerome Powell.

Trump/DeSantis: Maybe we should start merging their names, like Benifer or Brexit? A lot of pieces that could be better sorted, possibly eliminating some redundancy. The race to the bottom makes you wonder how either will ever recover, but the American mainstream media hardly has any attention span at all.

  • James Bamford: [03-23] The Trump Campaign's Collusion With Israel: "While US media fixated on Russian interference in the 2016 election, an Israeli secret agent's campaign to influence the outcome went unreported." This is a big story, but for many of us it's anticlimactic: of course, Israel actively sticks its nose into American politics. I never had any doubt that Israel was more deeply involved in the Trump campaign than Russia could dream of being. All you need to know is that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson was also Netanyahu's main backer. What this article adds to such common knowledge is that it involves more spies, and it makes the quid pro quo explicit for Israel's support of Trump.

  • John Wagner/Hannah Allam: [03-24] Trump warns of 'potential death & destruction' if he's charged in hush-money case.

  • Laura Jedeed: [03-22] Trump Asked Supporters to Take to the Streets. This Was the Sad Result. "Outside a courthouse in New York City, it was difficult ot tell who had come to protest the pending indictment of the former president and who had come to troll." Tori Otten adds: [03-21] The Pro-Trump Protest Was So Small Organizers Are Pretending They Wanted It to Be "Low-Key".

  • Dan Solomon: [03-24] Why Is Donald Trump Kicking Off His 2024 Campaign in Waco? "During the thirtieth anniversary of the Branch Davidian tragedy, no less." Sounds like an homage to Reagan's launching his 1980 campaign at the site of the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers, except that the appeal is less to plain racists than to even crazier militants (the late Timothy McVeigh would surely be impressed).

  • Zack Beauchamp: [03-22] Yes, Trump's indictment could cause a constitutional crisis. Just look at Israel. I don't really get either point. Israel doesn't have a constitution: Ben Gurion didn't want to pin himself down on principle, plus he like the idea of keeping British colonial law around without really owning it. And Israel has a history of sending politicians to jail. Netanyahu has avoided that fate by exploiting the fundamental weakness of democracy in Israel, and that's come as a shock to a lot of Israelis -- even ones who don't have a problem with Netanyahu's politics. But an indictment of Trump isn't even that.

  • Matt Ford: [03-24] Florida's Attempt to Muzzle the Press Could Hurt Fox News the Most: "Ron DeSantis and the Republican legislature want to make it easier to sue journalists. But right-wing outlets will be the ripest targets if defamation laws are loosened." Still, this is a pretty appalling bill.

  • Susan B Glasser: [03-23] Trolled by Trump, Again: "Thoughts after a week or waiting and waiting for the indictment that the former President promised."

  • Ed Kilgore: [03-26] Donald Trump Thinks America Is a Sh*thole Country: "In Waco, he denounced America more than any alleged super-patriot ever." With quotes so long, the article practically wrote itself. No Trump quotes (just one from a "conservative columnist" defending DeSantis) in Kilgore's [03-25] Can America Survive a Second Trump Presidency, Emotionally? I don't know about emotionally, but he makes a good case that we're in for a serious cognitive breakdown if Trump wins, because he's so far out of whack from everything we're disposed to believe about America.

  • Nicole Narea: [03-25] Would Trump's indictment help or hurt his 2024 campaign? Four "political strategists and pollsters" comment. They're split, but none of their opinions are very convincing.

  • Heather Digby Parton: [03-24] Donald Trump in Waco: It's a signal to the darkest elements of the far right. For more background, see Tara Isabella Burton: [03-23] The Waco tragedy, explained.

  • Areeba Shah: [03-23] Ex-prosecutor warns Trump to get a new lawyer over potential "conflict of interest" in Stormy case. It turns out that Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina previously represented Daniels on the same case. It's amusing to compare his press statements then to now.

  • Walter Shapiro: [03-23] The Trump Indictment Is Bringing Out the Worst in People. Here's a List of Them.

  • Alex Shephard: [03-23] Ron DeSantis Looks Like a Loser: "The Florida governor and presumptive presidential candidate is falling in the polls and making the same mistakes as Trump's past rivals." As James Baker once put it, "we don't have a dog in that fight." The thing is, DeSantis has adopted the Trump policy world in toto, assuming that it holds sway in the party. But Trump's hold over the Republican base has nothing to do with policy -- policy is just something Trump hands over to the donors and party operatives, in exchange for not getting in the way and cramping his style. His hold is his style, and DeSantis doesn't even have a style, much less one that can win against Trump. So if Trump implodes, which always seems like a possibility, is his successor going to be a cardboard cutout with Trump policies, or something else which we haven't seen yet, because nobody dares imitate Trump yet?

  • Kenny Stancil: [03-24] Critics say DeSantis move to expand "Don't Say Gay" exposes law's true intentions. As originally sold, it only covered grades K-3, where it seemed to be prohibiting virtually nothing. Having gotten away with that, extending it to grades 4-12 is something else.

  • Michael Tomasky: [03-26] Why Trump '24 Is Far More Dangerous Than Trump '16: Argues he's added two new "arguments" this time "that make him a much bigger threat to the republic than he was in 2016: revenge and apocalypse." Revenge I get: he started 2016 with his bad ideas about how to "make America great again," but he's so self-centered, and so thin-skinned, that all he can remember now is the people who have wronged him. But apocalypse? Tomasky quotes him: "Our opponents have done everything they can do to crush our spirit and break our will. But they've failed. They've only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle. That's gonna be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over, and America will be a free nation once again." No doubt a Trump win in 2024 would be a major bummer, but only an incredibly concentrated ego could imagine that it would be so fateful. If he wins, we'll resist him, like we did in 2017, though perhaps more desperately, given that in many respects time is running out.

    I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- people who while away their hours scouring the Bible for signs that the world is coming to an end, where all die but the elect are rewarded with heaven, while the rest are dispatched to hell. I've never understood such macabre fascination, nor the strange politics such a mindset breeds. We increasingly live in a world of plenty, where most people could escape the hardships and misery of the past. And while human justice may never be as perfect as God's is presumed to be, it could be vastly improved here and now, while we're still alive to enjoy it. Alas, not if Trump or his disciples can help it.

Climate: I'm still surprised at how little comment the U.N. report has resulted in.

  • Kate Aronoff: [03-24] Why Optimism Can't Fix Our Climate Politics: "This week's U.N. report shows how hard it is to save the world when capitalism is working against you." Aronoff also wrote: [03-17] Who Is Biden Trying to Please With His Middle-Ground Energy Policy? "He's pissing off environmentalists, and oil executives are still donating to Republicans."

  • Ketan Joshi: [03-21] The U.N.'s Disturbing New Climate Report Is a Call to Battle.

  • Hannah Ritchie: [03-21] We need the right kind of climate optimism: "Climate pessimism dooms us to a terrible future. Complacent optimism is no better." Aronoff cites, and critiques, this piece in her article above. It's tempting to fight back here with the Gramsci quote ("pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"), but even that strikes me as a panacea. Optimism doesn't work -- doesn't mean anything, whether complacent or contingent -- and isn't even necessary. Maybe I'm betraying my Calvinist upbringing, but you do what you can, what after due consideration you think right, and that may or may not suffice, but as long as you act, it doesn't matter how you feel about it. In fact, feelings can just get in the way. Or perhaps you should consider the second law of thermodynamics: entropy is going to win, but if you work hard enough, you might be able to hold it back a while. Indeed, isn't that the model for life?

Israel: A couple items, no attempt to go deep, but one bit of context comes from a Peter Beinart tweet: "Yes, it's beautiful to see Israelis fighting a fascist government. But we can't forget that if this was a Palestinian protest in Tel Aviv against Israeli fascism, the protesters would likely end up j ailed, maimed or dead."

Ukraine War: Unless war breaks out with China, this remains the most serious story in the world, at least in the short term, yet the media is still asking, not what they can do to impress on everyone how urgent a peaceable solution is, but on furthering the propaganda aims of whoever they're most aligned with. Meanwhile, I filed some non-Ukraine pieces here, because they involve the broader neo-Cold War scenario.

  • Connor Echols: [03-24] Diplomacy Watch: The heavy price of a new cold war: Blinken wasted no time in condemning Xi Jinping for meeting with Putin in Moscow, even though Xi's public remarks were all in favor of a negotiated peace. Although I get the feeling that Zelensky is more hard-line than Biden, at least he doesn't go out of his way to butt heads with China. The US seems to view pushing China into an alliance with Russia as a positive step.

  • Gilbert Achcar: [03-17] There's No Settlement of the War in Ukraine Without China. Actually, there's no settlement without the US and Russia, assuming they can come to a settlement that is acceptable to Ukraine (possibly with the threat of bouncing some blank checks). China might have a bit of influence with Russia, if they want to press it, but the US is mostly reacting negatively to Chinese diplomatic efforts, and there's not much China can do about that. Still, it's good to have China in the mix.

  • Dave DeCamp: [03-22] Seymour Hersh: CIA Planted Nord Stream Cover-Up Story in the Media. (Hersh's article is: The Cover-Up.) Imagine the New York Times falling for such a thing. DeCamp also wrote: [03-23] Pentagon Leaders Say New Budget Will Help Prepare for War With China.

  • Connor Echols: [03-21] UK to send controversial 'depleted uranium' rounds to Ukraine: "The weapons are exceptionally good at breaking through armor but carry risks of long-term harm to civilians." I think the risks are well documented, especially in Iraq, where the US used uranium bullets extensively. "Depleted" means most of the U-235 isotopes have been removed, leaving the only slightly more stable but still radioactive and toxic U-238. There's nothing to stop Russia from reciprocating.

  • Fred Kaplan: [03-22] The Big Takeaway From Xi's Summit With Putin: Not a very clear one, but it boils down to: China will not help Russia fight its war, but China will also not help America strangle the Russian economy. So while China professes to want peace, it will not pressure Russia to surrender on America's terms.

  • Peter Rutland: [03-24] Why pushing for the break up of Russia is absolute folly. I'd go a step beyond this in insisting that the US has no right, and should have no desire, to interfere in the internal politics of any other country. (And yes, I would include Israel as a country we shouldn't interfere with, although the billions we give them to help finance their colonial project is also a form of interference.)

  • Justin Scheck/Thomas Gibbons-Neff: [03-25] Stolen Valor: The U.S. Volunteers in Ukraine Who Lie, Waste, and Bicker.

  • Trita Parsi: [03-22] The U.S. Is Not an Indispensable Peacemaker. I was going to wonder how long it's been since the US was any kind of peacemaker, but the first paragraph here starts with the 1978 Camp David Accords, where the US helped end conflict between Israel and Egypt, not least by promising each a substantial future stipend. Parsi also mentions the 1993 Oslo Accords, where the settlement was less generous, and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland. More recent deals are harder to find, mostly because the US has been too intimately involved in creating the conflicts. China, on the other hand, is large enough to offer a steady hand and some economic perks, much like the US once did. Hence the Saudi-Iran deal.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [03-24] US launches airstrikes in Syria after American killed in drone attack: The US still has 900 troops in Syria. It's hard to think of any rationale for keeping them there, other than to provide targets for triggering pointless reprisal attacks like this one.

Iraq: A few more pieces related to the 20th anniversary.

  • Gordon Adams: [03-25] Has America's 'Vietnam syndrome' ever gone away? What a strange thing to ask. The phrase was a supposed ailment caused by completely sensible efforts to learn lessons from the mistakes made in Vietnam. Those who wielded the phrase wanted to deny those lessons (as they advised caution and concern for consequences), which they saw could limit the future use of US military power. So they devised a series of tests, where they meant to show that the US military could engage and win, without generating the popular outcry they blamed for their failures in Vietnam: hence, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq. By the end, what returned wasn't "Vietnam syndrome"; it was reality, where people fight against alien invaders, even American ones. If Ukraine seems to be working out better, it's because the roles are reversed. This time, the US is supporting a people trying to dislodge a foreign invader, much as the Soviet Union supplied arms and support to the Vietnamese defending themselves against an encroaching empire.

  • Anthony DiMaggio: [03-24] 20 Years of Iraq Denialism: The New York Times Continues to Get It Wrong on U.S. Empire: A response to last week's article, 20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade?

  • Melvin Goodman: [03-24] Still Spinning the Iraq War 20 Years Later.

  • Branko Marcetic: [03-23] For Putin, Iraq War marked a turning point in US-Russia relations: "Leaked diplomatic cables show an increasingly skeptical Moscow, souring by the day on Washington's determination to impose its will."

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [03-23] Selling the Iraq War: a How-to Guide. Essay adapted from his book, Grand Theft Pentagon, provides a lot of detail on the PR firms the Pentagon and CIA hired to promote the invasion of Iraq, as well as the revolving door between those firms and their clients. For instance, I recall Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, but forgot (or never knew) that they were set up as a front by John Rendon, who had previously shilled for the Kuwaiti royal family.

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [03-24] American Dream, Global Nightmare: On the Origins of the Iraq War: Mostly consists of a piece from 2003, which is exceptionally detailed on the impact of sanctions and periodic bombings between 1990 and 2003. As the introduction notes, "One of the problems with commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War is that the Iraq War didn't start 20 years ago. It had been going on for more than a decade before Shock and Awe." He also includes a long list of quotes from 2001 to 2017, "a kind of oral history of the war (mostly) from the perpetrator's point of view."


Other stories:

Zack Beauchamp: [03-24] India's ruling party just kicked a major rival out of Parliament -- and sparked a new crisis: Narenda Modi's government "has rewritten election rules in its favor, assailed the rights of the Muslim minority, jailed anti-government protesters, and reined in the free press." Now they expelled Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, after he was convicted of defaming the "Modi community" and sentenced to two years, for making what's generally understood to be a joke in a campaign speech. You'd think the "cancel culture" decriers of the US right would be up in arms over this attack on free speech, but Modi is a member of Steve Bannon's International Fraternity of Fascists, so I guess not. (That, by the way, was a joke, as well as an admission that I'm not traveling to India any time soon.)

Kyle Chayka: [03-24] The TikTok hearings inspired little faith in social media or in Congress. By the way, the New Yorker cartoon shows two people sitting on top of a flooded house, one looking at a phone, with the caption: "Looks like Congress might finally do something about TikTok."

Ellen Ioanes: [03-25] America's hypersonic arms race with China, explained. The problem with hypersonic missiles is that they can't be defended against. They make previously defensible targets, like aircraft carriers, vulnerable. Moreover, building more of your own hypersonic weapons doesn't change this. Hence, an arms race only makes you more vulnerable.

Ian Millhiser:

Win McCormack: [03-17] The Thucydides Trap: "Can the United States and China avoid military conflict?" I don't know. Suppose maybe they're overthinking this a bit? Before Britain, there never was a world hegemon, and even at its peak, Britain had rivals and blind spots. After WWII, the US took over and had more size and a bit more range, but still counted Russia and China as rivals, and the international working class as a threat. After 1990, some Americans thought they were had won, coining terms like hyperpower, but then they got tripped up in places as backward as Afghanistan. And then, while Russia imploded, China pulled it self up and came to be viewed as a formidable rival. Over the past 20 years, has any subject collected more stupid and histrionic verbiage than US-China? What makes this especially strange is that while Americans see a rivalry for power, Chinese are much more likely to think in terms of defense of autonomy. Of course, China is not the only nation threatened by American hubris, so it's always possible that they could create alliances with other nations so-threatened. I wouldn't bet against them, especially given how American power has been crushed by inequality and militarism. The best answer is to give up on the dreams of ruling the world (perhaps most explicit in Henry Luce's "American Century" of 1941, and in the Iraq hawks' Project for a New American Century). Pretending that trap is as old as Thucydides is nothing but an evasion.

Timothy Noah: [03-22] GOP's Idea of Youth: Little League? Proms? Try Working in a Slaughterhouse and Marrying at 10. "Republicans have declared war on children, and Democrats should talk more forthrightly about it."

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [03-23] Bernie Sanders Keeps Us Focused on What Matters: Review, sort of, of Sanders new campaign memoir/political manifesto, It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

  • [03-13] Every Libertarian Becomes a Socialist the Moment the Free Market Screws Them: "If the rich customers of Silicon Valley Bank deserv to be protected from economic hardship by the government, what about the rest of us?"

  • [03-04] Why Centrism Is Morally Indefensible: Review of Tim Urban's big book, What's Our Problem? A Self-Help Book for Societies. Urban seems to like to explain his ideas with drawings, so Robinson reproduces a few (of some 300). One is called "The Illiberal Staircase," which descends from "Liberal Environment" to "Even Worse Shit" as it becomes "More Dictatorship-y." They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but all this diagram is exhausted after 26 (including the less "worse shit" I skipped over).

  • [03-24] The Problem With AI Is the Problem With Capitalism. Something I saw about AI last week reminded me of Robert Reich's The Work of Nations (1991), where he reassured us that American workers need not worry about trade sucking manufacturing jobs overseas, because all those lost jobs will be replaced by higher-paying jobs as "symbolic manipulators." (Clinton was so enamored with Reich's reasoning that he picked Reich as his Secretary of Labor, to preside over the great NAFTA exodus.) I can think of a lot of jobs that AI won't be able to degrade much, but it should easily wipe out "symbolic manipulators" -- as if Reich's thesis hadn't been demolished enough already.

Jon A Shields: [03-23] Liberal Professors Can Rescue the G.O.P.: A self-described conservative professor of government begs his liberal colleagues to assign readings from Edmund Burke, David Hume, and Adam Smith, so their impressionable young students will get some exposure to "good conservative thinking." After all, "It's hard to imagine how the next generation of Republican leaders will become thoughtful conservatives if all they've ever been tutored in is its Trump-style expressions." After all, he pairs his assignments with "books by progressive authors" (but doesn't name any in the article). Still, the conservative cause he leads with is the defense of marriage. I don't have a problem with marriage; in fact, I recommend it. My problem is with a legal system that penalizes people who aren't married, and one that traps people (mostly women). Lots of conservative "virtues" are just that, and people who embrace them deserve respect. But that changes when they're used to attack and/or degrade other people who don't conform to conservative ideals -- of which the one that really matters is the belief in a hierarchical social and economic order. Give that a fair hearing, and most people will reject it. As for the rest, lots of complaining and pleading: conservatives are powerless because most professors are liberals, and students are mostly liberal too, so conservatives feel left out. Boo-hoo.

Selena Simmons-Duffin: [03-25] 'Live free and die'? The sad state of U.S. life expectancy: As the chart shows, life expectancy is dropping, so fast that the last two years have wiped out all previous gains since 1996, which had been trailing most "comparable" countries at least since the 1980s. Pandemic is only the most obvious cause: it caused a drop pretty much everywhere, but nowhere near as much as in the US. Moreover, other countries have started to bounce back, but not the US. As noted elsewhere, Republicans not only decided that deaths due to pandemic are acceptable, they've vowed never to allow public health officials to do their jobs again. Still, many other factors add to the problem, and most of have a Republican political component. It's as if they read Hobbes' description of 17th century life as "nasty, brutish, and short," and said, "yeah, that's freedom."

Paul Street: [03-24] Lost and Found: The Republicans Haven't Lost Their Conservative Minds: Review of Robert Draper: Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind. Every time I look at Draper's book, the thing that strikes me as most odd is how he only looks as far back as the 2020 election to date his subject moment ("when the Republican Party lost its mind"), when evidence of deep irrationality and dangerous psychoses has been plain for anyone to see for decades. For example, Dana Milbank's The Destructionists sees Gingrich as pivotal. David Corn's American Psychosis goes back earlier still, to McCarthyism, the Birchers, and Goldwater. Street's a little effusive with the F-word, but I can still figure out what he's talking about.

Prem Thakker: [03-24] Michigan Becomes First State in 58 Years to Repeal Anti-Union "Right-to-Work" Law: But the law in question was only passed in 2012, when Republicans temporarily seized control of state government.

David Wallace-Wells: [03-17] The idea that pandemic response went too far is no longer confined to the margins: Republicans all across the country are trying to pass laws to make sure that public health officials can never again use their offices to protect public health. Linked to by Dean Baker, who has his own point to add: [03-17] NYT Can Trash Trumpers for Leaving Us Less Prepared for Next Pandemic, but Not Drug Companies. Baker also wrote: [03-16] The Cult of Intellectual Property Has Taken Over Our Leading News Outlets.

Sharon Zhang: [03-24] GOP is seeking rich, self-funding candidates as party is outraised by Democrats: If this is true, it flips what has long been standard policy of the two parties. Republican elites are famous for recruiting ambitious young lawyers to run for office, much like they hired help for their businesses (Richard Nixon and Bob Dole are famous examples; Nelson Rockefeller and Pierre DuPont were the exceptions). Meanwhile, Democrats have pined for candidates who could pay their own way, and generally blackballed anyone who couldn't.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Daily Log

Hank Shteamer posted this list of "fave Blue Notes": "10 + 10 runners up." He didn't provide the artist names, so I'll try to fill in from memory:

  • Point of Departure [Andrew Hill] [A-]
  • Real McCoy [McCoy Tyner] [A-]
  • Evolution [? Grachan Moncur III] [B+]
  • Destination Out [Jackie McLean] [A-]
  • Out to Lunch [Eric Dolphy] [A-]
  • Unity [Larry Young] [A]
  • Complete Communion [Don Cherry] [A-]
  • Free for All [Art Blakey] [B+]
  • Search for the New Land [Lee Morgan] [A-]
  • Components [Bobby Hutcherson] [-]
     
  • Basra [Pete La Roca] [A-]
  • Blue Train [John Coltrane] [A-]
  • Contours [? Sam Rivers] [B+]
  • Judgment [Andrew Hill] [B+]
  • Inner Urge [Joe Henderson] [A-]
  • All Seeing Eye [Wayne Shorter] [B+]
  • Genius of Modern Music 1/2 [Thelonious Monk] [B+/A-]
  • Andrew!!! [Andrew Hill] [A-]
  • Idle Moments [? Grant Green] [A-]
  • Juju [Wayne Shorter] [B+]

First pass I got 18 artists. Added my grades when I checked, and found one album unheard (Components). He also mentions: Song for My Father [Horace Silver] [A-], Sidewinder [Lee Morgan] [A-], Maiden Voyage [Herbie Hancock] [A], Somethin' Else [Cannonball Adderley] [A-], "anything else by Rolins, Dexter, Jimmy Smith, etc."

Did a quick search through my database, and came up with more Blue Note albums graded A+ or A, omitting compilations and anything after 1970:

  • Roots and Herbs [Art Blakey]
  • Minor Move [Tina Brooks]
  • Cool Struttin' [Sonny Clark]
  • At the Golden Circle Stockholm: Volume One [Ornette Coleman]
  • Money Jungle [Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach]
  • New Soil [Jackie McLean]
  • Swing Swang Swingin' [Jackie McLean]
  • Let Freedom Ring [Jackie McLean]
  • Soul Station [Hank Mobley]
  • Fuschia Swing Song [Sam Rivers]
  • The Jody Grind [Horace Silver]
  • Prayer Meetin' [Jimmy Smith/Stanley Turrentine]

I'd also add a couple compilations first released as albums:

  • The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Vol. 1
  • The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1

After 1970:

  • From the Soul [Joe Lovano, 1991]
  • Breakthrough [Don Pullen/George Adams, 1986] [A+]
  • New Beginnings [Don Pullen, 1988]
  • Ode to Life [Don Pullen, 1993]

Others mentioned:

  • Smoke Stack [Andrew Hill] [A-]
  • Speak No Evil [Wayne Shorter] [B+]
  • Demon's Dance [Jackie McLean] [***]
  • Herbie Nichols Trio [in "The Complete" A]
  • Fuschia Swing Song [Sam Rivers] [A]
  • A Night at the Village Vanguard [Sonny Rollins] [B+]
  • Conquistador [Cecil Taylor] [B+]
  • My Conception [Sonny Clark] [***]
  • The Scene Changes [Bud Powell] [A-]
  • Workout [Hank Mobley] [B+]
  • Live at the Golden Circle V1 [Ornette Coleman] [A]
  • Grant Green Complete Quartets w/Sonny Clark [B+]
  • Cornbread [Lee Morgan] [A-]
  • Dialogue [Bobby Hutcherson] [A-]
  • Page One [Joe Henderson] [B+]
  • Blowin the Blues Away [Horace Silver] [**]
  • Our Man in Paris [Dexter Gordon] [A-]
  • The Worm [?]
  • Soul Stirrin' [Bennie Green] [B+]
  • Time on My Hands [John Scofield, 1989] [B+]
  • Passing Ships [Andrew Hill [A-]
  • The Phantom [?]
  • One Flight Up [Dexter Gordon] [B]
  • The Imagined Savior [Ambrose Akinmusire, 2014] [B-]
  • Time for Tyner [?]
  • The Rahjah [?]
  • Ethiopian Nights [?]
  • The Congregation [Johnny Griffin] [A-]
  • Mode for Joe [Joe Henderson] [B+]
  • The Prisoner [Herbie Hncock] [**]
  • Some Other Stuff [Grachan Moncur III] [B]
  • True Blue [Tina Brooks] [A-]

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Music Week

Expanded blog post, March archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 57 albums, 11 A-list,

Music: Current count 39836 [39787] rated (+49), 50 [48] unrated (+2: 22 new, 28 old).

I want to write more about the weekend posts, but let's get the music out of the way first. Old Music continues to work through the Penguin Guide unheard 4-star list, which netted six A- records and eleven high B+'s. Also a fair amount of new music, mostly because I started looking for records I knew existed (three from Christgau Consumer Guides, and several more I received PR on but had been waiting, hoping that a CD might appear in the mail: most obviously, previous chart-toppers East Axis and James Brandon Lewis). More finds there from Intakt and Mahakala Music, which are on Spotify. Four five more A- records there, plus seven high B+, so a big haul this week.

Minor bookkeeping news: I've finally decided I should start a tracking file. It's not even caught up yet, and I doubt I'll pursue it aggressively, but it's clear that it would help as a prospect list, and it will eventually be necessary if/when I do another Francis Davis Jazz Poll. I still don't plan on doing any metacritic/EOY aggregate lists this year (or ever again), but eliminating the tracking file seems to be a bit too much.


I thought I'd dust off a few of my old blog pieces around from the first year of the Bush War in Iraq. We saw a bunch of pieces last week on the 20th anniversary of the war, and there's always a temptation to say "I told you so." I've always been a bit proud of my opposition not just to the Iraq war and to the Afghanistan war that preceded it and made it not just possible but probable.

But also I can claim to be one of the few people who saw the writing on the wall as early as 1989, when I got a letter from a generally apolitical cousin accepting the assertion that Saddam Hussein was really "another Hitler." That was part of GHW Bush's war propaganda, and it implied that Americans couldn't let it go until he was dead. It was a particularly stupid thing to say, especially given that the deal with the Saudis and most of the UN was to simply clear Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, then let them be. That solution never sat well with Cheney, Powell, and the other "vulcans" in Bush's war entourage, not so much because they admired FDR's resolve as because they thought letting him go made America look weak. Their whole idea was that America should be so strong, so imposing, that the rest of the world would fall meekly in line. Yet, for thirteen years and counting, they took Hussein's very existence as a grave insult.

Even if you hadn't figured that out by 1990, when US troops twiddled their thumbs while Hussein brutally suppressed a Shiite revolt egged on by Bush just a few miles away, it should have become clear through the machinations of the Project for a New American Century in the 1990s, which Clinton not only went along with but accented with his sanctions, "no fly zone" and periodic bombings of Iraq. I was so upset with Clinton over Iraq that I wrote letters urging conviction even though the charges he was impeached over were bogus. He was dangerous and needed to be stopped (not that Gore was clearly better).

It took until Sunday night before my Speaking of Iraq was ready to post. I wrote a fairly long introduction, edited and annotated the blog posts (nothing substantial, but the originals were posted immediately, so could use some tuning), then added a pretty comprehensive reading list at the end, which both puts the year in context and provides a rough update to the present. My blogging at the time was pretty sporadic, so I missed a bunch of details, but in the end, I was pretty pleased with the piece, both as an "I told you so" and for the deeper analysis underlying it. So I tweeted my usual announcement, and also put up a Facebook post (something I rarely do; my Facebook is mostly limited to food pics and family matters).

Then, well, nothing happened. Neither post showed up in my feed, and when I tracked down Twitter a day later, I found that fewer than 10% of my followers had seen it. I wrote that story up in the introduction to yesterday's Speaking of Which. While I could have rested on my first post of the weekend, a couple things suggested I should spend Monday collecting links and commenting, instead of rushing out this Music Week. Aside from unfinished business in the introduction, I wanted to note many of the other Iraq 20th anniversary articles, especially ones that spurred me to make further points. Plus, for future reference, I took note of many other stories, even if just barely (like the climate report, the anti-abortion madness, and the long-anticipated Trump indictment -- which he's playing up like a campaign stunt).

There was lots more I skipped, especially the rather fascinating story of bank bailouts and the Fed's quixotic campaign against inflation -- which like everything the Fed does was initially meant to help banks. (It is, after all, a fully captured regulatory agency.) Also, the first week in many with nothing on Israel, but more will surely follow. Smotrich is back to claiming that Palestinians don't exist, and that both banks of the Jordan River are "ours." As always, see Mondoweiss for the latest.

One thing I've been thinking about is the comparison between Iraq and Ukraine. Both, regardless of previous complaints, were clear acts of aggression, wars that everyone should condemn. There's another similarity that's been little commented on: both invasions started with a separatist toehold -- there is little difference between the Kurdish area in Iraq pre-2003 and Crimea/Donbas in Ukraine pre-2022. But there are two big differences. One is that no other nation nor the UN stepped in to help Iraq repel American aggression, whereas the US and NATO have jumped in, and largely taken over, the fight against Russian aggression. Consequently, many people -- including many on the left whose first instincts are for peace -- have come to support the armed response. Second, the antiwar movement has been squashed brutally in Russia, where it is most needed. Due to these two factors, and the isolation Russia was subjected to before it started the war, it's been impossibly hard to formulate an antiwar movement in the US and Europe.

Back in 2003, I took heart in the size of the prewar antiwar protests, both in the US and in Europe, and expected a movement to build from there. That didn't happen, for reasons I can't fully explain (I can think of lots of reasons, but none fully convincing). And while most Americans readily admit that Iraq and Afghanistan have been disasters, the lessons we should have learned from those wars haven't sunk in. We're still stuck in the same mindset that led to those wars, which is one reason the hawks then are still hawks now (the Kagans are an especially good barometer). It's dismaying that they haven't been stripped from power, but the simplest reason is that no one else has come up with a different approach to take their place.

The Patrick Cockburn quote near the top of yesterday's post is revelatory. Putin actually beat Bush to the War on Terror, and he's survived longer because until Ukraine he never overplayed his hand.

Next irregular post will probably be a Book Roundup.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Sarah Bernadette: Sad Poems on My Phone (2023, Blujazz, EP): [cdr]: B
  • Jim Black & the Schrimps: Ain't No Saint (2022 [2023], Intakt): [sp]: A-
  • Ludovica Burtone: Sparks (2020 [2023], Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sara Caswell: The Way to You (2019 [2023], Anzic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Che Noir: Noir or Never (2023, Poetic, EP): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Cyrille: Music Delivery/Percussion (2022 [2023], Intakt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • DJ Black Low: Impumelelo (2023, Awesome Tapes From Africa): [sp]: B+(***)
  • East Axis: No Subject (2023, Mack Avenue): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Ghost Cat (2022 [2023], Intakt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Floy Krouchi/James Brandon Lewis/Benjamin Sanz: Cliffs (2022, Off): [sp]: A-
  • Bill Laurance & Michael League: Where You Wish You Were (2022 [2023], ACT): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Joëlle Léandre: Zurich Concert (2022 [2023], Intakt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Leap Day Trio: Live at the Cafe Bohemia (2020 [2023], Giant Step Arts): [sc]: B+(***)
  • James Brandon Lewis Trio: Eye of I (2021 [2023], Anti-): [sp]: A-
  • Andrew Moorhead: Interleaved (2022 [2023], OA2): [cd]: B
  • The Necks: Travel (2023, Northern Spy): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Aymée Nuviola: Havana Nocturne (2022 [2023], Worldwide): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Christopher Parker & the Band of Guardian Angels: Yeah Yeah! (2019 [2023], Mahakala Music): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris: Elliptic Time (2021 [2022], Mahakala Music): [sp]: A-
  • Dave Sewelson/William Parker/Steve Hirsch: The Gate (2022, Mahakala Music): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Steve Swell/Joe McPhee/Chris Corsano: Sometimes the Air Is (2022 [2023], Mahakala Music): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Stephen Ulrich: Music From This American Life (2023, Barbès): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Nadia Washington: Hope Resurgence (2023, New): [cdr]: B-
  • Wednesday: Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling 'Em Up (2022, Orindal): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World (2023, Matador): [sp]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

None.

Old music:

  • Stefon Harris/Jason Moran/Greg Osby/Mark Shim: New Directions (1999 [2000], Blue Note): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Butch Morris: Homeing (1987 [1989], Sound Aspects): [sp]: B+(**)
  • New Winds: Potion (1997 [1998], Victo): [sp]: B+(**)
  • New Winds: Digging It Harder From Afar (1989-94 [1995], Victo): [sp]: B+(***)
  • David Newton: 12th of the 12th: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1995, Candid): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Anita O'Day: Anita O'Day's Finest Hour (1954-62 [2000], Verve): [r]: A-
  • The Original Dixieland Jazz Band: The First Jazz Recordings 1917-1921 (1917-21 [1998], Timeless): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Greg Osby: Zero (1998, Blue Note): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Greg Osby: Inner Circle (2002, Blue Note): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Greg Osby: St. Louis Shoes (2003, Blue Note): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Oslo 13: Off Balance (1987 [1988], Odin): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Tony Oxley: Ichnos (1969 [1971], RCA): [yt]: B+(**)
  • Tony Oxley: 4 Compositions for Sextet (1970, Columbia): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Tony Oxley/Derek Bailey: Quartet (1993 [2008], Jazzwerkstatt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Tiny Parham: Tiny Parham 1928-1930 (1928-30 [1996], Timeless, 2CD): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Evan Parker/Keith Rowe: The Dark Rags (1999-2000 [2000], Potlatch): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Evan Parker Trio & Peter Brötzmann Trio: The Bishop's Move (2003 [2004], Victo): [sp]: A-
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Zafiro (2006, Maya): [bc]: A-
  • Evan Parker/Matthew Wright/Adam Linson/John Coxon/Ashley Wales: Trance Map +: Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (2017 [2019], Intakt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Partisans: Max (2004 [2005], Babel): [bc]: A-
  • Rich Perry: Beautiful Love (1994 [1995], SteepleChase): [sp]: A-
  • The Rich Perry Quartet: What Is This? (1995 [1996], SteepleChase): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Rich Perry Quartet: So in Love (1997 [1998], SteepleChase): [sp]: A-
  • Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley: Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley (2002, Victo): [sp]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Canadian Jazz Collective: Septology: The Black Forest Session (HGBS Blue) [03-31]
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Lonely Man and His Fish (L&H Production, 2CD) [04-28]
  • Vince Ector Organotomy Trio +: Live @ the Side Door (Cabo Verde) [03-17]
  • Nick Finzer: Dreams Visions Illusions (Outside In Music) [04-14]
  • Bára Gisladottir: Silva (Sono Luminus) [01-27]
  • Las Vegas Boneheads: Sixty and Still Cookin' (Curt Miller Music) [04-01]
  • Steve Smith and Vital Information: Time Flies (Wounded Bird) [05-05]
  • Ben Wendel: All One (Edition) [04-21]

Monday, March 20, 2023

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

I'm pretty upset at Twitter and Facebook. My initial tweet on yesterday's Speaking of Iraq didn't even show up in my feed. On closer examination, it appears it has only been seen by 75 of my 589 followers. It looks like my Music Week announcements usually get close to 300 views, but Speaking of Which rarely (and then only barely) tops 200. I complain about Matt Taibbi flooding the feed with multiple links to his Substack pieces, but maybe he's just fighting the algorithm. I decided to try again:

Why is it that what's remembered of Bush's war on Iraq is the lies, which were obviously lies at the time? Deeper question is why did anyone buy the logic that the lies supported going to war. I look back at 2003 here. If I knew better, why didn't you?

I also tacked a comment onto a Rick Perlstein response to a gripe about "2000s progressive blogs" messing up. Clearly, I didn't, but while there were a few putative leftists backing the war (Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman; less known at the time was Peter Beinart), they were few in number. The real test of principles and understanding was Afghanistan, one that was failed by a lot of people who should have known better (including Bernie Sanders; Barbara Lee was the only one in Congress to object).

I rarely post notices to Facebook (aside from Music Week, which I send to the Expert Witness group), but I put a lot of work into this one, and thought this was important enough to share. So I posted this. It, too, hasn't showed up in my feed, nor do I see any evidence (comments, likes) that anyone else has seen it. I was less pressured for space, so I wrote a bit more there:

For the 20th anniversary of Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, I thought I'd dust off my old blog posts and see how they've held up. I cut the blog posts off on the 1st anniversary, but you can follow links to the rest. I also added a new introduction and some notes on later events, to check how much I got wrong (very little -- even without all the info, my gut reaction that Bush didn't know what he was doing, and would screw even that up, was pretty sound. I also went through the book notes file and pulled out a reading list for Iraq, so you'll find more there, both background and direction.

By the way, in looking through my old notes, I found this quote from Patrick Cockburn's 2006 book, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq:

Much of this book has been about the peculiarities of Iraq and the mistakes made by Americans when occupying it. But not all the reasons which led Washington to invade were unique to the US. For the two years before 9/11 I lived in Moscow. I had seen how Vladimir Putin had risen from obscurity in 1999 in the weeks after four apartment buildings were mysteriously bombed in Moscow killing 300 people. Putin had presented himself as Russia's no-nonsense defender against terrorism. He used this threat to launch his own small victorious war against Chechnya and manipulated a minor threat tot he state to win and hold the presidency. He speedily demolished the free press. George W. Bush followed almost exactly in Putin's footsteps two years later in the wake of the September 11 destruction of the World Trade Center. Civil liberties were curtailed. The same authoritarian rhetoric was employed. War was declared on terrorism. The American and Russian governments, the two former protagonists in the Cold War, latched on to the same limited 'terrorist' threat to justify and expand their authority. Putin and Bush, though neither were ever in the army, started to walk with the same military swagger.

Bush, of course, was retired by term limits, not that his 21% approval rating at the end of his second term would have gotten him a Rooseveltian third term. Putin escaped that fate, mostly because Chechnya was better contained (although the war wasn't without its embarrassments, including some terror incidents). In short, Putin lived to fight another day, which he did in Georgia, in Syria, and now in Ukraine. The first two worked out OK, for reasons I won't go into. What matters, of course, is once a leader gets a taste for war, that will be favored as an option until it leads to disaster.

The problem we've seen both in Bush and Putin is that both had trouble recognizing disaster when it struck, which has only led to further pointless suffering. There's a story about when they met, when Bush claimed to look into Putin's soul. He seemed to like what he saw. As far as I know, Putin isn't on record about Bush's soul, so one can only speculate.

Given the amount of time I spent on Iraq, I skipped over economic issues (including bank bailouts) completely. Also Israel, train wrecks, and I barely noted the big climate disaster (bad as Iraq is now, I hate to imagine it in 2030).


Top story threads:

Climate: This should be the week's top story, but I've only barely seen it reported:

Trump, DeSantis, et al: Trump's getting most of the press this time, in anticipation of his first indictment. But also I skipped a bunch of DeSantis links, because they seemed too lame. It's clearer than ever that he's running, and straight up the Trump lane.

Iraq: 20 Years In: Scattered topics then and now, the past much better reported than the present, although there are still big gaps in our understanding of the past.

  • Ben Burgis: [03-20] The Invasion of Iraq Wasn't a "Mistake." It Was a Crime.

  • Robert Draper: [03-20] Iraq, 20 Years Later: A Changed Washington and a Terrible Toll on America: This always worried me more than the terrible things that war would do to the Iraqi people, partly because it's hard to discern and evaluate. Could be a long subject, and I'm not sure this even scratches the surface.

  • Connor Echols: [03-17] A requiem for a lost Iraq: "Two decades after the invasion, the Iraqi people are still struggling to pick up the pieces."

  • Max Fisher: [03-18] 20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade? Huh? His "Searching for Motive" parades a lot of crap which has been thoroughly debunked. He quotes Wolfowitz as admitting WMD was picked as "the one issue that everyone could agree on." Yet he has no clue why that should matter. There is a simple reason that nobody talks about: Saddam Hussein's very existence was an insult to American power. Bush's mob saw the US as the world's supreme superpower, and expected everyone to kowtow to their wishes. Perhaps elsewhere (say, North Korea) they could have ignored him, but past history, as well as oil and Israel, precluded that. So they felt they had to destroy him, to reassert the natural order of American world power. And the people who still defend that decision, who take pride in it, do so because they can claim a measure of victory in destroying Hussein. Sure, it shows they cared not a whit about anything else, least of all the cost and waste of their hubris. But the original goal says as much. If you didn't hear that at the time, it just shows how sheltered you were from the idea that these guys were pure evil.

  • Nicholas Guyatt: [03-20] Twitter thread: "For those too young to have lived through what happened twenty years ago, a thread of the self-styled left/liberal types endorsing the invasion of Iraq." Image is The New York Times Magazine cover story by Michael Ignatieff, called "The American Empire (Get Used to It.)." Additional entries include snaps of key quotes from Ignatieff, David Remnick, Bill Keller, Leon Wieseltier, Lawrence F Kaplan, Elie Wiesel, Paul Berman, Joseph Nye, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Thomas Friedman endorsing the war. He also shows book covers of: Noah Freedman: After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Diplomacy; and Kenneth Pollack: The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. And an additional quote from Jonah Goldberg. One of the commenters also nominated: Dan Savage, Peter Beinart, Sam Harris, George Packer, Christopher Hitchens, and Jonathan Chait. Many more good comments.

  • John B Judis: [03-19] Iraq, the U.S., and The New Republic: 20 Years Later, Lessons Not Learned: "I was one of the few TNR staffers in 2003 who opposed the invasion. The magazine's case for war has not aged well."

  • Louisa Loveluck/Mustafa Salim: [03-18] U.S. veterans won justice for burn pit exposure. Iraqis were forgotten. Link title was: "How a cancer-causing environmental debacle looms over the U.S. legacy in Iraq." But somehow the actual title put the Americans first.

  • Ray McGovern: [03-20] The Uses and Abuses of National Intelligence Estimates: Cites Robert Draper from 2020: Colin Powell Still Wants Answers.

  • Alissa J Rubin: [03-20] 20 Years After U.S. Invasion, Iraq Is a Freer Place, but Not a Hopeful One.

  • Nadine Talaat: [03-20] The Bloodbath in Iraq Shows the US Can Never Be a "Global Policeman": Not the way I'd put it, but the phrase "global policeman" has always been a source of confusion. The problem is that American soldiers are rigorously trained to kill people and blow things up, and really aren't much good for anything else. Put them in a situation the don't understand, and threaten them, and they'll kill people and blow things up. That's their nature. A subhed here is "International Law in Ruins": That should be elaborated on more. International law was never in very good shape, but suffered a massive setback when Bush gave up on the UN and decided to form his "coalition of the willing."

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [03-20] How the U.S. broke Iraq.

  • Peter Van Vuren: [03-16] How I spent a year losing hearts and minds in Iraq.

  • Robert Wright: [03-17] Bush's lies weren't the problem: We now know that WMD was never the reason Bush wanted to invade Iraq. It just seemed like the easiest (which is to say scariest) story to spin to the masses. But it required a mountain of lies, which were unraveling almost as fast as they could be concocted. But also, invasion was the worst possible way of keeping Iraq from using WMDs (which really only ever meant chemical weapons, as that was all Iraq had the technology for). Much better to have an agreement to dispose of them (which had been in place since 1990) and inspectors on the ground to verify conformance (which had happened for several years, and again for several months under threat of war). The problem is that the inspectors didn't find any. If eliminating WMDs was the goal, inspections already had that covered. So clearly that wasn't the reason for launching an invasion.

  • Responsible Statecraft: [03-20] Symposium: Aside from Bush & Cheney who is at fault for the Iraq War? They asked twenty-some notables, who singled out (some named two, which I've generally split): Joe Biden (2), Laura Bush, Douglas Feith, Thomas Friedman, Michael R Gordon and The New York Times, Jacob Heilbrunn, Christopher Hitchens, Saddam Hussein, Robert Kagan (2), William Kristol, Bill Luti, Richard Perle (2), Ken Pollack, Colin Powell (2), Abram Shulsky, Woodrow Wilson, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, David Wurmser, unknown mastermind behind the Niger memo forgery, the Israel lobby.

    Before I comment on the list, my pick would have been Bill Clinton, who failed to solve the problem with Iraq, and who made it worse with his capricious bombing runs and his support for the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998. I also blame Clinton for his pro-war stance in 1989, which once he was elected in 1992 politically vindicated the hawk wing of the Democratic Party, notably Al Gore Jr. and Joe Lieberman (who share significant blame for the later war, and legitimized those who voted for the war in 2003, including Biden, Richard Gephardt, Hillary Clinton, and most egregiously John Kerry).

    As for the rest: I blame Wilson for lots of things, but his attempt to turn America away from isolationism is only loosely relevant here. Moreover, Wilson pointedly refused to join the war against the Ottoman Empire, or to participate in the colonial carve up of the Middle East. If you want someone from that vintage, Winston Churchill is your man. The British invaded Iraq, used poison gas, and installed a puppet king, a dynasty that controlled the country until 1959. The Baath was largely a reaction against British misrule, and Americans never forgave them for breaking the Baghdad Pact (CENTO). Blaming Hussein because Americans never figured out how to deal with him is also silly. After GHW Bush likened him to Hitler, no American dared deal with him. The failure to get rid of "Hitler" in 1990 did more than anything to make a second war inevitable.

    There are three other non-choices: Why pick Laura Bush, who had very little public profile (other than allowing herself to be trotted out to promote women's rights in Afghanistan)? Why pick some anonymous CIA functionary for the instantly discredited Niger memo when George Tenet was still waiting on the sidelines? And why the Israel Lobby? Well, there, at least, Israel had singled Hussein out as public enemy number one, and practically everyone else was carrying their water.

    The rest are a conspicuous but incomplete rogues gallery of neocon functionaries and media supplicants (Hitchens is an outlier, but tried so very hard to get in). All contributed, as did many others (Donald Rumsfeld is the most glaring omission). It strikes me that this list is light on generals (other than Powell; although I've seen reference that some prominent ones, like Anthony Zinni, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Barry McCaffrey, had misgivings; the current brass went along, although some of them got out quick after the "mission accomplished" banner). Also politicians: the aforementioned Democrats (who should have known better), but also the even more hawkish Republicans, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Oh, and let's not forget Tony Blair. Without him there wouldn't have been a "coalition of the willing." And Ahmed Chalabi, who did so much to seduce Washington? I also recall writers like Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, and Samuel Huntington -- hacks who were taken seriously as "experts."

  • Matt Taibbi: [2016-03-22] 16 Years Later, How the Press That Sold the Iraq War Got Away With It: Four-year-old excerpt from his book, Hate, Inc. And why there were no consequences for getting it wrong, as long as they erred on the side of the official line.

Ukraine War: Continues, of course, with intransigence on both sides.

Abortion: The "pro-life" terror continues. I skipped over a link about a South Carolina bill that wants to establish the death penalty for women who have abortions. There's no limit to what they'll demand.


Other stories:

Daniel Bessner: [03-06] Does American Fascism Exist? Review of Bruce Kuklick: Fascism Comes to America: A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture. After noting various definitions and their discontents, asks the question: "Should we on the left use the term 'fascism'?" As someone who knows a fair amount about the history of fascist movements in Europe between the wars, I find it helps with comparisons, but as a label for organizing against the far right, I doubt it's all that useful. And sure, part of the problem is that the right has been extremely sloppy in using the term, which at least they have the decency to regard as a negative (mostly using it on the left). Also see the comment on this review by Jonathan Chait: [03-13] The Republican Party May Not Be Fascist, but It's Definitely Getting Fasci-er, subhed: "The left-wing case for downplaying authoritarianism is not convincing." More proof that Chait never misses a chance to disparage the left, apparently complaining that we're the ones who don't call Republicans fascists enough.

By the way, there's a link here to a 2020 piece by Bessner: America Has No Duty to Rule the World This is a review of Steven Wertheim: Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy. I've read that book, which shows how quickly influential Americans came upon the idea of American global supremacy as soon as the US declared war on Germany and Japan. For details of how those ideas played out, you'll need to turn to later histories, like the works of Gabriel and Joyce Kolko: The Politics of War and The Limits of Power.

Jonathan Chait: [03-20] Why Joe Biden's Honeymoon With Progressives Is Coming to an End: "Expect a lot more Democratic infighting." It's true that Biden has disappointed on several issues lately. Maybe this has something to do with Jeffrey Zients replacing Ron Klain as chief of staff. If so, it might get worse, but unless a serious challenger emerges -- like Teddy Kennedy going after Jimmy Carter -- I expect the disputes will be strictly over issues. And the democratic wing of the party has issues that are too popular for Biden to ignore.

Matthew Cooper: [03-15] Let's Retire the Word "Woke": Fine with me. I doubt I've ever used the word, except when quoting right-wingers ritualistically decrying it (which, to be sure, is often absurd enough to be amusing). As I understand it, the word was meant to convert a negative (not sounding or acting racist) into a positive (being anti-racist). While that seems laudable, the proof is often in pointing out how other people are racist, sometimes subtly or even subconsciously. I don't doubt that there are times when that is called for, but these days I'm more inclined to let minor slights slide (unless, of course, they are embedded in power, as with cops and judges). White people don't have to become woke. As long as they can avoid public displays and/or respond positive to shaming when they don't, racism will continue to fade into the past (as it's been doing for decades now, even if not fast enough).

For more on woke, see:

  • Nathan J Robinson: [03-17] Time to End the Use of "Woke" as a Pejorative: Starts with a bit of interview between Briahna Gray and Bethany Mandel ("the editor of a series of right-wing children's books"), where the latter couldn't define "woke," then follows that up with various other clueless right-wing definitions of "woke." The advice is to the right, but they're unlikely to take it.

Whizy Kim: [03-17] Prices at the supermarket keep rising. So do corporate profits. "Is it really inflation? Or something else?" Every sector of industry has been concentrating for years, but were restrained from raising prices because no one wants to look too greedy (except to stockholders). However, once word got out that we were in for a round of inflation, companies moved fast to reap their monopoly gains, a self-fulfilling prophecy. At least that's what I see happening, and that's most the consistent explanation for profits increasing along with prices. Of course, rising prices also mean costs, but big monopoly retailers have more leverage to cap their costs.

Mike Konczal: [03-17] A Better AEI Graphic of Inflation Over the Past 20 Years.

Nathan J Robinson: [03-20] The French Understand That Work Sucks: French president Macron is trying to push through a bill that raises the retirement age from 62 to 64, and it's very unpopular. It's worth remembering that you don't have to stop working when you retire, but you do gain the freedom to work as you want, without having to work for a living, and without having to work under someone else's control.

Dylan Scott: [03-17] Medicare is being privatized right before our eyes: "The enormous success of Medicare Advantage -- and the potential risks -- explained." The program costs more than regular Medicare, and delivers less. Why is enrollment growing? For one thing, the extra costs are largely hidden from the public. The advantage is that while the plans are more restrictive, they often offer relief from the co-payments and limits built into Medicare (supplemental insurance can eliminate those, but costs quite a bit extra).

Ian Ward: [03-19] The fringe group that broke the GOP's brain -- and helped the party win elections: Interview about the John Birch Society with Matthew Dallek, author of Birchers: How the John Birch Society Radicalized the Far Right.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Speaking of Iraq

Blog link.

On the 20th anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq, I thought I'd dust off some writings from the time, written for my online notebook before I got around to organizing a formal blog. (Not sure when that was, but I found a note about "new blog software" in January, 2005.) I later collected all of the political writings of the Bush years under the title of Last Days of the American Empire, and followed that up with three more volumes: on Obama's first and second terms, then an even longer one on Trump; I haven't gotten around to opening a file on the Biden years, partly because I briefly hoped I might be able to move on).

This starts with a couple earlier posts, but picks up on March 18, 2003, the day of the ultimatum that kicked off the war. I've picked out more pieces up to March 20, 2004: the one-year anniversary of the actual invasion. As history, this leaves something to be desired: I wasn't trying to document the war, just to register my reactions and thoughts as the war unfolded. So I missed lots of important things -- there's very little here on the WMD debate, nothing on "shock and awe" or "mission accomplished," just one passing reference to Paul Bremer and his ill-fated administration, lots of other things. I did write on the Jessica Lynch affair, but didn't think it was worth keeping here.

I skipped over entries on 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan -- which I've always regarded as the cardinal sin, the first gross error of many -- and the initial formulation of a Global War on Terror, all of which is essential background. The delusion that Afghanistan had been handled gave the war planners confidence to move on to Iraq. What they hadn't anticipated was that most people would see Iraq as disconnected from 9/11, which turned the hard sell of the war into an uphill fight.

The Feb. 2, 2004 entry starts to sketch out a "history of the U.S.-Iraq conflict," which I divided into "three major stages." I should have included a "stage 0" for the pre-1990 period. GHW Bush's decision to launch "a splendid little war" was not an arbitrary whim (although Thatcher's phrase was). Rather, it has been brewing since first Iraq and then Iran dropped out of the Baghdad Pact (CENTO), leaving the "regional defense pact" without any regional members. As I've stressed many times, wars don't just erupt: they are the result of repeated and cumulative failures. American contempt for Iraq dates back to the 1959 coup that split Iraq off from the American side in the Cold War.

Similarly, one cannot make sense out of the 2001 Bush invasion of Afghanistan (and its subsequent troubles, up to the Taliban sweeping into power before the US could fully withdraw) without looking back at history, especially the Carter-Zbigniew decision in 1979 to fund a jihadist insurrection against a communist-led coup: as boneheaded a decision as any American president has ever made, one that makes no sense unless you look back to the Vietnam War debacle for context, which itself looks back to Harry Truman's decision to turn against his WWII ally, the Soviet Union.

In all these cases, the common denominator is the notion that the preferred way of dealing with conflicts is to project greater force. Sure, there have been occasions where both sides have opted for some kind of diplomacy, or at least the mutual respect of détente. But after the Soviet Union dissolved, a significant faction of America's security "thinkers" organized to push the limits of power projection. The Global War on Terror was their baby, especially the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There was plenty of evidence of what they were up to in the 1990s. Although I wrote little at the time, I was very critical of Clinton's handling of Iraq during that period, regarding it as the signal failure of his administration. Ironically, the Republican favored by most of these neocons (or "new vulcans") in 2000 was John McCain, but nearly all of them got jobs under Bush (or Cheney), allowing them to plot wars that were in the works well before Al Qaeda gave them a ready-made carte blanche. (Bush ordered a bombing run on Iraq in his first days, and seems to have decided to support the Northern Front in Afghanistan before 9/11 -- stories that were poorly reported, because they had become second nature.)

Although the writings below display much foreboding about the fate of Bush's misadventure in Iraq, the really serious problems emerged in the months just after the one-year anniversary (my cutoff date). Fallujah exploded, and initial American efforts to recapture it failed. More ominously, America's alliance with the Shiite clerics teetered, as the Sadr faction threatened to link up with the Sunnis in Fallujah. With the 2004 presidential campaign in full swing, Bush's agents dialed their punitive impulses back a bit, and concentrated in driving a wedge between the Shiite and Sunni faction, the old divide-and-conquer strategem that poisoned any chance of reconciliation and peace for years to come.

After Bush managed to win a second term, he sent the military in to level Fallujah, only to find the Sunni revolt explode all over the west and north of Iraq, with a newly-created Al Qaeda taking a staring role. Bush escalated, sending additional troops into the fight, something they billed as "the surge," which is now remembered as some kind of success, although for most of its intended duration produced nothing but more casualties. What did finally turn the tide was a diplomatic maneuver that turned the Sunni tribal leaders against the Al Qaeda militants, allowing the latter to be picked off. While bribe money had much to do with the turn, the real driver was the civil war the US had fomented, which allowed the US to offer protection to Sunnis not just from itself but from the Shiite majority.

While the hawks could spin this as some sort of victory, few if any Americans recognized it as such. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government eventually insisted that the US remove all of its troops, so Obama finally complied. A year later, most of northwest Iraq had revolted against Baghdad, joining northeast Syria in a self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS). US troops were invited back by Iraq to fight ISIS, which they did, but under terms which gave Iraq's independent government effective control. Bush's dream of creating a new Texas-like petrostate had failed completely.

Then, of course, Afghanistan turned out even worse for the neocons. They had, by then, grown weary of losing battles over nations of minor importance. Without admitting any culpability, they harkened back to the fat days of the Cold War, and plotted to pivot to opposing traditional rival powers like Russia and China. You hear less about "hyperpower" and "unipolar moments" these days, but the same basic ideas hold sway: to stay safe, America has to impose its will and (certain parts of) its way of life in as much of the world as possible, while cordoning the rest into untouchable ghettoes (e.g., North Korea since 1953). You would think that their dismal track record -- aside from the big wars, we could talk about Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and much more -- would have forced a rethinking by now, but administrations of both parties are stuck in their mental rut. Even the Ukraine war is being touted as a major victory, although it still looks like a complete disaster to me.

I've done some light editing, mostly dropping bits that seem redundant and/or tangential (not indicated by ellipses, which strike me as clutter, although you're welcome to follow the links to the unadulterated pieces). New introductory and comment text is in italics, and inline expansions in brackets. Finally, I'm adding a selection of book roundup notes, which cover more history, both before and after.

February 14, 2002

We now know that Bush was looking for an excuse to attack Iraq the day of the 9/11 attacks. The evidence may have steered him toward Afghanistan, but the instinctive response to address the attacks by lashing out militarily was his -- not his alone, to be sure, but he alone was responsible for the decision to go to war in Afghanistan. Obama later tried to make a distinction between Afghanistan as "the right war" and Iraq as "the wrong war," but they were really the same war, the same instinct and decision for war, for the same reason: to punish anyone who refuses to roll over for American power. In that regard, Saddam Hussein was as culpable as the Taliban. Iraq, however, was a harder sell, because it had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks.


I'm still surprised that so little attention was paid to this piece when it came out. This was largely forgotten until September, 2002, when the Bush administration launched its campaign to promote the war. That's when Bush spokesman Andrew Card admitted, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

The main headline in yesterday's paper announced that Bush has decided to go to war against Iraq: that the US would commit 200,000 ground troops, and that Cheney was out of his foxhole and touring the Middle East to tell whoever needs to know what the US is going to do. Today there was not a single mention of it, no follow-up, no comments. I don't know which is more striking: the casualness with which one nation decides to destroy another, or the indifference of the people presumably represented by the first party.

December 9, 2002

Oddly enough, while I noticed the February piece, I wrote very little about the propaganda campaign until December, when I wrote quite a bit, starting with a lengthy, point-by-point critique of George Packer's piece, "The Liberal Quandary Over Iraq." Toward the end:

Arguably the worst thing the U.S. has done in the Arab world has been the containment policy against Iraq, which despite imposing great hardships on the Iraqi people has utterly failed to dislodge Saddam Hussein, and given the fact that the U.S. and its allies consciously chose to leave Saddam in power in 1991, this vicious policy appears to be little more than a cynical ploy in the run of American domestic politics. That this cruelty is condoned by the American populace is not something that the Arab populace can be expected to ignore.

The ultimate problem that liberals have in being hawks is not merely that their ideas are ill conceived but that they depend on people who are not liberals to carry them out. Bush's program to invade Iraq does not offer a shred of hope that anything positive might come out of it for the Iraqi people. It seems clear that Bush couldn't care less; that for him this is just about the U.S.'s prerogatives as the last great world power, and that it would be nifty if he could strut into his reëlection campaign with Saddam's shrunken head on his spear.

January 8, 2003

This begins with another long list of reasons war with Iraq is a bad idea. The Bush administration did notoriously little planning for a postwar Iraq, but I sniffed out one such leaked piece, before they tried to brighten it up with a coat of liberal democracy. One forgets, but at the time there was a lot of hype on how successful the US was at building democracies in Germany and Japan (more recent examples not offering much optimism, but even if you look back to Germany and Japan, you find much more luck than design).

After doing this I found a New York Times article with some details on U.S. plans for post-war Iraq, which sort of answers some of these questions. The plan is for something like an 18-month military occupation, with a two-headed military/civilian administration, and the whole thing (at least financially) dependent on securing the oil production areas so that the occupation and reconstruction can be paid for out of Iraqi oil production. There was nothing that I could see in the plan about democracy, there was an emphasis on keeping Iraq whole, and there was a plan to limit trials or executions of whatever to high government officials, so the game plan appears to be to try to keep the Baathist military dictatorship largely intact, while lopping off Saddam's head.

The scary thing about this plan is not that it's crazy but that it makes [just enough] sense. This more than anything else convinces me that they'll convince themselves that they can pull it off. That, of course, puts a lot more faith in Rumsfeld, the military, and the CIA than they've ever earned. (The article itself admitted that they'd have to do a lot better job than they did in Afghanistan.) It also depends a lot on whether the Iraqis wind up blaming Saddam for their defeat. Reading [John W] Dower's book on Japan [Embracing Defeat], it seems clear to me that the success of democratization there had less to do with what the U.S. did than with the changing consciousness of the Japanese -- the fact that a long period of war, with extreme sacrifices, led to utter defeat. Until Iraq falls it will be hard to gauge that, but I am very skeptical that most Iraqis will make that shift, and if I'm right, that means that every little thing that the U.S. fucks up (and you know that's going to happen, a lot) will just ratchet up the resistance. Which also leads us to how long the American public, mired in recession and war-hype and mounting debt will put up with Bush's kind of adventurism.

March 14, 2003

John W Dower has me thinking further about the question of how reproducible the post-WWII reconstruction of Japan is in Iraq. As he notes somewhere, Iraq isn't Japan, and for that matter Bush's US isn't FDR's 1945 New Deal.

One key element of Japan was its isolation. No other nation was remotely like it: none shared its language or religion or history. Iraq, on the other hand, is one of a dozen or so independent Arab nations, one of several dozen predominantly Muslim nations. The U.S. was able to control the media in Japan, and few outside of Japan had any real interest in the occupation there. Isolation was a function of the times: the world is much more closely, instantly in fact, connected today. This is also in large part a matter of means: the U.S. economic capacity to occupy and reconstruct a defeated country is now much reduced compared to post-WWII, regardless of the political will to do so. Also, note that Japan was required to pay the U.S. for seven years of occupation, a fact that they largely hid from their own people -- instead of making it a political issue, like the Germans after WWI. Even if U.S. occupation and reconstruction of Iraq can be paid for with Iraqi oil, that is one fact that cannot be kept secret, and will inevitably garner resentment and opposition.

March 18, 2003

This is the day the war started in earnest. I knew all along that when the day came, I'd use FDR's opening line. The analogy doesn't have to be perfect for the word to fit the bill. Neither attack was unprovoked, and neither was excusable. But the key line was the one that starts, "As I write this, we cannot even remotely predict how this war will play out . . . " Yet while the numbers may have been unpredictable, that the results would be disastrous for all concerned was pretty obvious at the time.

Yesterday, March 17, 2003, is another date that will live in infamy. On this date, U.S. President George W. Bush rejected the efforts and council of the United Nations, and the expressed concerns of overwhelming numbers of people throughout the U.S. and all around the world, and committed the U.S. to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq, to prosecute or kill Iraq's government leaders, and to install a new government favorable to U.S. interests.

That Bush has given Iraq's Saddam Hussein 48 hours to surrender in order to spare Iraq inestimable destruction is clearly intended to shift blame for this war to Saddam. While this particular ploy may have been intended cynically, we must be clear that this war would not be looming were it not for numerous acts that Saddam and Iraq have committed, including aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait, use of poison gas both against Iran and against the Kurdish minority within Iraq, and long-term efforts to obtain horrific weapons. We should also be clear that after a broad U.N. coalition drove Iraq out of Kuwait and brokered a cease-fire that left Saddam in power, his government failed to show good faith in implementing the disarmament specified in the cease-fire and U.N. mandates. Even now, Saddam's character is put to severe test, where he has within his power one last chance to put his country's welfare about his own. If he fails to do so, we must conclude not only that he is a long-standing war criminal, but that he is the essential cause for this war.

However, the proximate cause for this war lies squarely with the Bush administration, aided and abetted by the so-called "coalition of the willing." They are the ones who rejected concerted efforts by Iraq and the U.N. to complete and verify Iraq's mandated disarmament, who pushed the new agenda of regime change, and who locked this agenda into a final ultimatum. In pushing for regime change, Bush continued and escalated policies of previous U.S. presidents, especially Bill Clinton, during whose administration the U.S. worked deliberately to sabotage the inspections process, to promote Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein, to prolong sanctions which inflicted great hardships on the Iraqi people, to engender much ill will. Especially complicit in this war is the Republican-led U.S. Congress, which passed a law in 1998 directing that U.S. policy toward Iraq work toward regime change, and Democrat President Bill Clinton, who signed that law, and who repeatedly ordered air strikes against Iraq. But the actual push to war, the setting of the time table and the issuing of the ultimatum, was squarely the responsibility of George W. Bush. In this act, which he was completely free not to do, Bush has placed his name high on the list of notable war criminals of the last century.

As I write this, we cannot even remotely predict how this war will play out, how many people will die or have their lives tragically transfigured, how much property will be destroyed, how much damage will be done to the environment, what the long-term effects of this war will be on the economy and civilization, both regionally and throughout the world. In launching his war, Bush is marching blithely into the unknown, and dragging the world with him. It is generally believed that U.S. military might is such that it will quickly be able to subdue resistance from Iraq's depleted and mostly disarmed military, and that the U.S. will quickly dispose of Saddam Hussein and his top people. However, it is widely speculated that over the course of U.S. occupation there will be continuing resistance and guerrilla warfare to burden the expense of occupation, in the hope of sending an exasperated occupation army packing. It is expected that the fury over the war will lead to new acts of terrorism directed against U.S. citizens and interests elsewhere in the world, possibly including the U.S. homeland. It is already the case that Bush's insistence on going to war, along with many other aspects of his foreign policy, has soured relations between the U.S. and a great many nations and people of the world, including many traditional allies, and that this situation will get progressively worse the longer and nastier the war and occupation goes on.

There is, I think, one hope to minimize the damage that inevitably comes with this war. This is for the Iraqi people, at least those who survive the initial onslaught, to roll over and play dead, to not oppose or resist invasion and occupation, and to play on the U.S.'s much bruited "good intentions" -- the dubious argument that the U.S. is invading Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. To do this they must not only not resist, they must collaborate to prevent others from resisting. Moreover, they must adopt the highest principles of their occupiers: embrace democracy and respect the civil rights of minorities. They should in fact go further: to denounce war, to refuse to support a military, to depend on the U.N. for secure borders, and not to engage in any hostile foreign relations. The reasons for this are twofold: in the long-run, these are all good things to do; in the short-run, they remove any real excuse for the U.S. to continue its occupation, and will hasten the exit of U.S. forces.

It is, of course, possible that the U.S.'s "good intentions" are cynical and fraudulent. Over the last fifty years, the U.S. has a very poor record of promoting democracy, and has a very aggressive record of promoting U.S. business interests. (And in this regard, Bush has proven to run the most right-wing administration in U.S. history.) Many of the same people who in the U.S. government promoted war on Iraq clearly have further names on their lists of enemies -- Syria, Iran, even Saudi Arabia -- and a number of fantastic scenarios have been talked up. But the aggressive projection of U.S. military force depends on having enemies that can only be kept at bay by such force. An Iraq, with no Saddam Hussein, with no military, with no way to threaten its neighbors, with its own people organized into a stable, respectful democracy, provides no excuse for occupation. If those conditions prevail, which is within the power of the Iraqi people to make happen, even the Bush administration would have to pull out.

There are, of course, other things that will be necessary to overcome the inevitable damage of this war. Presumably the war and occupation will at least get rid of one set of war criminals: Saddam Hussein and his crew. The other set of war criminals, the Bush administration in particular, need to be voted out of office. The consequences of Bush's foreign policy, even if they luck out and yield a democratic Iraq, bear extraordinary costs and engender international distrust at the same time Bush's tax policy bankrupts the U.S. government and undermines the U.S. dollar while Bush's domestic policies lay workers off and degrade the environment. But also the world community needs to come to grips with conflicts in ways that look beyond self-interest to provide systematic means to peacefully resolve conflicts that might otherwise turn into injustice and war. That Saddam Hussein was allowed to turn into a monster, the essential cause of Bush's Iraq war, was the consequence of a great many failures along the way -- serious mistakes on the part of nations, including the U.S., who promoted him politically, who armed him, who encouraged him to wage war with Iran, and so forth. The U.S. must recognize that it cannot alone solve conflicts such as these; the many nations of the world must in turn step up to the responsibility.

I believe that this is in fact the way the world is, unfortunately too slowly, moving: despite the immense amount of terrorism and war of the past few years, people all around the world are, in their hearts, actually moving to a much firmer realization of the need for peace, order, respect, fairness, and opportunity for all. The worldwide reaction of shock and horror at the toppling of the World Trade Center was one expression of this; the worldwide protest against Bush's Iraq war was another. The only way to have peace is to be peaceable.

If I were to write this today, I'd tone down the blame laid on Saddam Hussein, not because it was wrong but because it detracts from Bush's total responsibility for launching the war (and perhaps because the consequences of his decision have been even worse than I anticipated). I'd also be aware the the massive protests against the Bush war haven't been repeated since.

March 19, 2003

The one section I've sometimes regretted was the "play dead" suggestion. I double down on it here, but it's still just a thought experiment. As it turned out, most Iraqis did surrender peacefully, but it was inevitable that some would not, and when they resisted, Americans would prove incapable of isolating them, thus fomenting ever deeper resentment.

After writing yesterday's entry, I didn't know what to do with it. In this particular rush, it makes one feel very helpless trying to communicate with anybody. The notion that one's opinion matters in any way is sorely tested. But rather than try to polish what I wrote into something publishable -- again, what's the point? -- today I'll just add some explanatory notes. One thing that I find in my polemical writing is that the need I feel to compress very complex issues and to carefully balance the arguments tends to run cryptic. This (I promise) will be looser.

The only news report of significance since yesterday is Saddam Hussein's rejection of the ultimatum. That is no surprise; it is, in fact, what you'd expect of someone who thinks of himself as a warrior, which clearly Saddam does, and just as clearly is his great flaw as a politician. That he is putting his nation and his people at great risk, and to do so is part and parcel of his immorality, is both obviously true and is a judgment based on a standard of morality that is foreign to him. It should also be noted that almost all of our political and military folklore runs against that same standard of morality. Where yesterday I suggested that Iraq should roll over and play dead, and that Saddam should abdicate, it is easy to imagine how difficult and how unlikely that is by reversing the roles, by asking what we as Americans would do if some alien power (from outer space, no doubt; at least there are a lot of movies that we can reference as case examples) were to issue such an ultimatum to us.

Consider this, though: in rejecting the ultimatum, Saddam Hussein passed up a golden opportunity to remake himself as Neville Chamberlain, to assure "peace for our time" by caving in. Chamberlain is, of course, reviled for capitulating to Hitler at Munich, which was no doubt easier for him to do given that all he gave up was Czechoslovakia. Saddam would have had to put his own hide onto the silver platter.

I also read a report by Robert Fisk in Baghdad, noting that everyday life continues with little regard and very little imagination of the imminent war. I don't have any idea what this report beholds. On TV tonight Baghdad was described as eerily quiet, with more defenses in place.

It should be obvious that the main point of yesterday's writing is that both Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush are enemies of peace, that they are and should be viewed as criminals, and that neither one in any way justifies the other. It is, of course, Bush's view that his actions are justified by Saddam Hussein's past and present behavior, and it is important that we reject this claim.

The second point is that the best way out of this mess is still peace, and the more firmly and resolutely the people involved practice peace, the better. Unfortunately, with the U.S. on the warpath, the brunt of this responsibility falls on the Iraqi people. Admittedly, there is little reason to be optimistic at this stage. We know for certain that there will be resistance. We know that Saddam Hussein and his party do not believe in or practice peace. We know that jihadists like Osama Bin Laden do not believe in or practice peace. We also know that when faced with danger, military forces all the world over, all throughout history, kill and destroy unnecessarily, often deliberately, sometimes just inadvertently, which feeds a vicious cycle of resistance and retribution. We also know that alien occupation armies misunderstand things, communicate poorly, grow impatient and resentful, get spooked easily, and often with little provocation resort to force, sometimes viciously. Even if we accept the proposition that the U.S. has nothing but good intentions toward the Iraqi people, remaining peaceable is going to be a tall order. So while it's what I prescribe, it's not what I expect to happen.

As for the intentions, you tell me. One thing I've noticed is that over the last 2-3 weeks we hear more and more about how the U.S. will liberate the Iraqi people. Part of this seems to just be an attempt to push the argument for war over the top: to set some sort of requirement that only war can fulfill, as opposed to disarmament which was clearly being implemented by inspections. But it does set up some at least rhetorical expectations that can be tested by peaceable acceptance of occupation, embracing democracy, etc., which is part of the rationale for my prescription. If the rhetoric was different -- e.g., colonial exploitation, settlement -- it would be much harder to urge acquiescence. But I think that even Bush recognizes that long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq is not in the cards: that it is not something that the U.S. can even sustain the costs to maintain. Given this, it is expected that sooner or later Iraq and its natural resources will return to local control. Given this it is better that this happen within the framework of a democracy which can serve the broad interests of the people instead of through another exploitative strongman arrangement. Again, regardless of actual U.S. intentions, the rhetoric du jour provides an opportunity.

The point about peaceful acquiescence to occupation is also derived from my reading of the U.S. occupation of Japan, described in John Dower's book. It's clear to me that the key to the "success" of the reformation of Japan was that the Japanese people deeply wanted much of this reformation. I've written several skeptical accounts about why Iraq is much less likely to embrace similar reform, but the advantages of doing so are still clear. Iraq has pretty good prospects to develop if its substantial oil resources cannot be diverted to war and/or corruption, and the key to doing that is adopting peace and democracy (i.e., democratic socialism). One thing we really have no idea about is what the true feelings of the Iraqi people, but even if we did, the real question is more like how will they break when the effects of the war and invasion become manifest. In the case of Japan, the Japanese people up to the day of surrender would, if polled, no doubt have remained resolute, but once the Emperor surrendered, their exhaustion and resignation became manifest, as did their assignation of fault for the debacle to Japan's militarists. It is likely that some such effect will appear in Iraq as well -- eight years of war with Iran, followed by defeat in Kuwait and twelve years of crippling sanctions, the Iraqi people have much to blame on Saddam Hussein. Whether they in fact do so is the short-term question; not clear that they will do so, given that the U.S. is also responsible. Then there is the longer-term question, whether U.S. occupation will itself generate resentment to the extent of lengthy guerrilla resistance, and the answer there may largely depend on how the short-term question is answered. Which we'll only know once Iraq sees the destruction of the war and feels the sense of defeat or liberation as the U.S. occupation moves into place.

March 20, 2003

I guess the war is under way now. Life in Wichita is not affected in any serious way. This is, of course, most Americans' experience of war: as news, as entertainment, as something that happens far away, something that you can bemoan or cheer but which doesn't directly affect you. The immediacy of the media somehow makes us feel personally involved in events that happen on the far side of the world, like we have a vital interest there, yet the distance insulates us from the consequences of actions done in our name.

March 21, 2003

I guess the war is coming along swimmingly: people killed on both sides, buildings blown up, oil wells set afire, Saddam still smiling on TV. Numerous antiwar protests yesterday, including a small one in Wichita, which as much as anything else was an opportunity to blow off a little steam. This is going to be a long haul. There is no chance right now that the U.S. will change course, and little need to convince anyone else. On the other hand, it is important to remember that George W. Bush is responsible for this war, that this war was not in any way necessary for the safety or security of American citizens, and that it was done in utter contempt of the United Nations and most people around the globe. But then we all know that, right?

March 22, 2003

Read the "Letter from Baghad" piece in The New Yorker, which only reinforces the point that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is going to be resisted and resisted and resisted, and that eventually the U.S. will get tired of it and leave. At least unless it provokes terrorism elsewhere, which gives the U.S. excuse to make war on Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and whoever else is on Ariel Sharon's (err, George W. Bush's) enemies list.

Another thing that occurs to me is that all this talk about how the U.S. is liberating Iraq, with nicely posed pictures of happy Iraqis, etc., has us entering a wormhole where the other end is Vietnam. During the Johnson administration, all we heard about was how we had to stand by our friends in Vietnam, save them from communism, etc. Nothing but moral high ground, when in fact -- a fact that became naked with Henry Kissinger -- the war was about projecting American power. That's exactly what the war against Iraq is about too, and trying to wrap it up and palm it off as something else is disingenuous to say the least. More important, it's a trap: all these friends the U.S. is recruiting now are going to be liabilities in the future, people who will wind up wondering why the U.S. double crossed them when the U.S. never really gave a shit about them anyway.

March 25, 2003

The war grinds on. The fantasy that expected the Iraqis to roll out the red carpet for their American liberators has been dashed. Nobody expects that Iraq will be able to repulse the U.S. invasion, but the level and form of resistance pretty much guarantees that eventually the U.S. will leave Iraq without having accomplished anything more notable than the perverse satisfaction of serving up Saddam's head on some platter.

As I said earlier, the level of resistance will be telling. If you want a rule of thumb for neocolonialist wars of occupation, it's that once you can't tell your friends from your enemies in the native population, you're fucked. At its simplest level, that's because the occupiers get nervous and make mistakes. The mistakes, in turn, compound, pushing more and more people from the friendly side to the hostile side. That in turn reinforces the nervousness, the mistakes, the alienation. In turn, the resistance gets bolder; as this happens, the occupation digs in, becoming more brutal, vicious, capricious. The high-minded rhetoric is exposed as pure hypocrisy, and the occupation becomes more nakedly about nothing more than power. Such wars become vastly unpopular, and eventually the occupier has to cut its losses and go home. This is what happened in Vietnam, and we're going to be hearing a lot more about the similarity as this war bogs down.

So, let's face it, the U.S. war against Iraq is a colossal failure. The only question remaining is how long it will take the U.S. to give up and get out, and how much destruction the U.S. will leave in its wake. So remember this: This war did not have to happen. No one who has died, been injured, been captured, been terrorized by this war had to suffer. This only happened because of one mad tyrant: George W. Bush. Even today, if sanity were to suddenly overcome him, all he'd have to do is cease fire and order the troops home. Every day, every minute that he does not do this just adds to the grossness of his crime.


The press, unable to recognize a quagmire before they're stuck a couple years, or perhaps afraid to jinx the occupation, never warmed up to the Vietnam analogy. Perhaps because the neocons spent the last couple decades lecturing us that reason the US was forced to withdraw wasn't because the war was going badly, but because the hippies back home didn't have the will to see it through.

March 28, 2003

There hasn't been much to say lately about the war. The notion that Iraq would just lie back and enjoy it, of course, is no longer in play. But once you get past the fantasies, the evidence seems to favor both pro-war and anti-war interpretations. The basic difference is not the evidence -- it's how much war you can stand. Those of us who oppose the war can point to overwhelming, damning evidence of irreversible damage to all sides, and can assert with certainty that if the war continues and most likely escalates we can only expect more and more irreversible destruction. We can also argue with compelling logic that the cycle of aggression, resistance, and escalation is a hopeless whorl that will suck all sides into one hell or another, regardless of whether the aggression ultimately fails, as in Vietnam, or even if it "succeeds" -- the only U.S. example I can think of here is the conquest of the many Native American tribes.

I can't speak for the pro-war interpretation, but the media does plenty of that. I don't doubt that the U.S. is making significant progress toward completing its conquest of Iraq. I don't doubt that the U.S. will prevail, at least in the limited sense of securing the ability to go anywhere and do anything they want in the country. But I also don't have any idea how much firepower and manpower will ultimately be required to do so, how many Iraqis will die in the process, or how much of the country will be viable afterwards. And I don't have any idea how many Iraqis will flock to support their new U.S. masters. The latter is especially important, because without significant active Iraqi cooperation U.S. occupation will be a nightmare. And even then, such cooperation will force a schism within the Iraqi populace that will long tear at Iraq's social fabric, and which, if/when Iraq reverts to form, may result in many of our Iraqi "friends" seeking asylum in the U.S. (Which is where most of our Vietnamese and Cuban "friends" wound up living.)

Pretty much everyone agrees that one of the side-effects of the Iraq war will be more terrorism in the U.S. Few people take the time to recall that, until 9/11 [2001], the most destructive terrorist to come out of the Gulf War was Timothy McVeigh. (Now, of course, the answer to that quiz is George W. Bush.) I've often said that I think the threat of Al Qaeda/Arab terrorism is much overrated -- not that there is no risk, but that the real risk doesn't warrant such desperate measures as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that in fact the risk could be significantly lessened if the U.S. were to start to act decently, especially regarding Israel/Palestine. But one thing I do worry about is how these wars work to generate domestic right-wing terrorists, and even more so how they reinforce right-wing tendencies toward racism, militarism, and plain old viciousness. One thing we see throughout U.S. history is one war leading to another, often with pronounced swings to the right in the postwar period, such as the Red Scare after WWI and McCarthyism after WWII. (It took a few years for the sting of defeat in Vietnam to wear off and let Reagan in, but in many ways that was the worst.)


The fears of Iraq generating future terrorism have mostly faded, aside from a few ISIS-related incidents much later, and (of course) the occasional war-damaged U.S soldier going berserk.

April 9, 2003

It turned out that the video reacted to here was staged, to imply that Iraqis were welcoming American troops as liberators, which wasn't the case at all.

I have to admit that I found myself enjoying the video of Iraqis dancing on Saddam Hussein's statues. The rest of the day's news is harder to evaluate, and nothing that's happened gives me any second thoughts about the fundamental evilness of the Bush War. In particular, I don't think that any American opponent of this war expected Saddam Hussein's government to hold out against the American war machine. Nor do we feel any sympathy or remorse for Saddam Hussein himself or his government. On the other hand, the practice and effects of this war have proven to be as horrible as expected -- of course, it feels even worse, since no matter how well you may have conceived of it, the actual events hit you far more viscerally.

Still, even though much has happened, we still have very little real understanding of what has happened, let alone what it will all mean. Another thing that we predicted was that this would be a nest of lies and blatant propaganda, and while that much is certainly true, it will take quite a while for honest people to sort this out. It is, of course, clear that the lens that we are looking through in the US is far different from what people in other countries are seeing.

April 11, 2003

There was a period back in the Afghanistan war when the Northern Alliance started reeling off a quick series of victories -- not so much that they were defeating the Taliban in confrontations as that the Taliban was high-tailing it out of the cities, allowing Herat, Kabul, and Kandahar to fall in quick succession. The hawks then made haste to trumpet their victory and to dump on anyone who had doubted the US in this war. Back then, I referred to those few weeks as "the feel good days of the war." Well, we had something like that in Iraq, too, except that use of the plural now seems unwarranted. So mark it on your calendar, Wednesday, April 9, 2003, was the feel good day of the Iraq war. The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has proceeded apace, but there seems to be much less to feel good about. One big thing was the killing of the bigwig shia collaborators that the US started to promote, combined with the unwillingness of other shia bigwigs to collaborate. One of the problems with this is that it suggests that the US, as always, is looking for religious leaders to control the people -- which in turn threatens to roll back the one thing Saddam had going for his regime, which was that it was strongly secular. The fact is, if you want to introduce something resembling liberal democracy in Iraq, you have to promote secularism. (Of course, given the contempt that Bush has for liberal democracy in the US, it's hard to believe that he really wants that.)

Bigger still is the whole looting thing, as well as mob reprisals against Baath leaders, which threaten to turn into the much predicted Iraqi-on-Iraqi warfare. The looting itself basically means that what infrastructure the US somehow managed not to destroy will be taken down by Iraqi mobs. The likelihood that those mobs are anything other than just isolated hoodlums is small, but collectively the damage that they inflict is likely to be huge. And given how unlikely it is that the US, its allies, and the rest of the world who were so blatantly disregarded in this whole affair, are to actually pay for anything resembling real reconstruction, this is just digging an ever deeper hole. While right now, given that there is still armed (if not necessarily organized [this is where Rumsfeld said, "stuff happens"]) resistance to the US, it's hard to see how the US could keep order even if it wants to (a mixed proposition), but failure to do so is already setting the US up as responsible for the looting, and adding to the already huge responsibility that the US bears for the current and future misery of the Iraqi people. And when the US does start to enforce order, what is bound to happen? More dead Iraqis. And who's responsible for that? The US. If this had just happened out of the blue, I might be a bit sympathetic, but this is exactly what we had predicted as the inevitable given the US course of action.

So happy last Wednesday. That's very likely to be the last one for a long time now.

April 14, 2003

Watching some Iraqi politicos on TV the other day, it occurs to me that one difference between Afghanistan and Iraq is that Iraqi political figures are much more sophisticated. By this, I may just mean that the US will be dealing with people who know better how to deal with Americans. It may be as simple as that they speak better English, but in general there's a bit of hope for shared knowledge and understanding. How much of a difference that will make is hard to say, but it's something. The other advantage that Iraq has is that it has the raw and human resources to, theoretically, build a viable economy. On the other hand, between Iraq's wars against Iran and Kuwait, the long period of economic sanctions and other depredations by the Baath party leaders and their predecessors, an astonishing amount of improverishment has been inflicted on Iraq, and overcoming that will be a huge task. There is also the question of Iraq's debts, which with interest are large enough to be unmeetable. (It's been proposed that much or all of the debts incurred by Sadaam Hussein should be written off as "odious" debts -- the idea there is that anyone who loaned Saddam money deserves to lose it.) The question of whether the US is going to hand Iraq some sort of bill for the costs of destroying it, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't even been raised, but that's often been the case (e.g., for the US occupation of Japan).

On the other hand, watching Iraqi mobs looting, and hearing reports of revenge killings and accidental killings and all that, it sure doesn't look good. I don't know what the extent of looting damage actually is, but it merely adds to the considerable damage inflicted by the warfare, primarily by the US military. And again, since the US has no business being there, this all goes on the US tab. The sacking of the museums is particularly appalling, but when you look at what has happened to government offices, the palaces, etc., it becomes clear that a vast amount of our ability to ever understand and eventually manage Iraq has vanished with it. It's already being admitted now that we will never get an accurate death toll -- among other things this means that there will always be disputes over numbers, which will make it all the harder to reconcile anything in the future, but it also means that we will never fully be able to map out this destruction in human terms. One thing I would dearly like to see is a systematic international (neutral) attempt to assess the physical and human damage that this war has inflicted.

August 19, 2003

I haven't written much about the US in Iraq, probably because it has all unfolded so predictably. Iraq is caught between two pincers: one is the inevitability of Iraqi resistance, the other the arrogance and ineptness of the American occupation. The former was presaged by the 1991 war, and by the long, cruel regime of sanctions that followed, punctuated by further bombing attacks, which only had the effect of punishing the Iraqi people for leaders who in turn were able to use the siege to oppressively tighten their control. Those policies, pursued by three US presidents for more than a decade, implemented with indifference, indeed total contempt, for the Iraq people, have specifically destroyed any possible credibility that the US might have claimed to be seen as a liberator or benefactor of the Iraqi people. But even beyond the history of specific US policies dealing with Iraq, US policies elsewhere in the Arab world and throughout the third world have made it seem highly implausible that the US can be trusted to do anything of long-term benefit to the Iraqi people.

What's happened since Iraqi resistance emerged has only served to make it appear stronger and more viable -- not, of course, in the sense that they can hope to drive the US out but in anticipation that they can make it painful enough that the US will eventually choose to quit the struggle. The US has managed over the last 20+ years to fight wars with so few casualties that now none are expected, which gives them a very low pain threshold. The response is both to button up and to lash out, both of which make US forces appear to be more alien and more hostile, while at the same time making them less effective as security forces and less responsible as administrative forces. Recent sabotage of oil and water pipelines are something we can expect to see regularly, especially as long as the Iraqi people hold the US responsible for infrastructure failures.

On the other hand, the US appears to be nearly clueless in its occupation. There are many reasons for this: most obviously that the US military's core competency doesn't extend far beyond the art of blowing things up. Even logistical support of US troops seems to be a strain -- the death of a US soldier due to heatstroke is a particularly poignant sign of failure and incompetence. Language (the need to mediate virtually every communication through translators) is obviously a huge problem, which burdens every effort to work with and through the population. And the lack of security makes it all but impossible to bring in civilian help to repair critical infrastructure. But these are the sort of problems that any occupier would face, even one that could reasonably be viewed as benign.

The US faces far deeper problems, which are rooted in the delusions that the Bush administration entertained in selling the war and in conceiving of its solution. As an MBA, Bush should be aware that the single most effective prerequisite for selling anything is the ability to project conviction. The rationales for the Iraq war never had much merit, and the risks associated with the war have always loomed large, but Bush et al. somehow managed to convince first themselves and then key parts of the power structure that their rationales were sound and that the risks were manageable. In doing so they have become trapped in their own lies and delusions. Most obviously, this is why they didn't plan for contingencies that they had to discount in order to sell their case. And now, given the actual level of Iraqi resistance, and given the collapse of their delusions about popular and international support for their war and occupation, about all that Iraqi oil that was supposed to pay for the venture, they find themselves swamped in a mess that offers no way out.

But this gets worse for Bush, because Iraq isn't the only thing he and his posse are deluded about: Bush's handling of crises in America has faired little better. After all, the stories about blackouts and water shortages and snipers aren't all postmarked Baghdad. Bush's ideological straightjacket not only doesn't work in Iraq -- it doesn't even work here. The examples are numerous -- far too numerous to go into here. But some idea of the enormity of the problem, and how clueless Bush is regarding it, can be gleaned from a fairly simple and self-evident rule of thumb: that the only viable direction for change is toward greater equality and freedom. Freedom alone he might be able to handle, since freedom suggests the right to do what one wants, and Bush definitely likes the idea of doing what one wants -- so long as "one" is Bush or at least a big campaign donor. But that sort of freedom inevitably tramples on the freedom of everyone else; it's only in moving toward greater equality that more people benefit from the system and thereby become part of the system. The core fact is that without the earnest participation of workers nothing really works in complex technological economies, and that everyone who inhabits those societies depends on their ability to trust those workers. What we're seeing in Iraq is a society where trust has been completely undermined by the presence of a foreign, hostile military culture. In the US we rarely see such active hostility, but the indifference and contempt of those who hold power toward those who merely work (in contrast to those who move capital) is spreading rot more slowly, but just as surely.

The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad today, and last week's bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, are especially troubling acts. Both are attacks on groups that might have worked to mediate and ameliorate the US occupation. Consequently, they serve to make it all the harder for the US to withdraw at all gracefully. It's hard to tell what the intent might be in selecting such targets, and it's far from clear that there is any real coordination between these bombings and other more clearly targeted forms of resistance. But the suggestion is certainly raised that if/when the US withdraws there will be a bloody civil war in Iraq. (That shouldn't come as a surprise; indeed, that's always been a potential risk in this conflict, which to my mind was one of those worst case scenarios where the sheer magnitude of the downside swamps out its improbability. Not that it ever was all that improbable: in effect there pre-existed a civil war truce between the Kurds and the Baathist regime, which could be destabilized at any time; it's also worth noting that Afghanistan is already in a state of civil war, only marginally realigned with the US intervention.)

August 20, 2003

The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad came as a surprise, but the post facto comments by Bush and Ashcroft couldn't have been more rote. We are hopelessly mired in ruts of rhetoric, and nothing is likely to change unless one can start to recognize real changes in the world around us. That the UN bombing came as a surprise may just be an illusion based on the recent war debate, where Bush and Powell failed to secure UN blessing for the US invasion of Iraq. From that, and the fact that the US and UK went ahead and invaded anyway, we tend to think that the UN is a different, broader, fairer, more reasonable force than the US/UK "coalition" -- and we tend to see it as a much better alternative: that handing the occupation over to the UN would be more welcome to the Iraqis, and would permit a more stable, less poisoned reconstruction effort. Still, try to imagine how the UN is viewed by Iraqis: the UN supported the 1991 war; the UN imposed the sanctions that have gone so far to strangle the Iraqi economy; the UN weapons inspection teams never certified that Iraq had eliminated its WMD, thereby prolonging the sanctions and providing excuses for the US to further punish and ultimately to invade and occupy Iraq. How wrong might ordinary Iraqis be to view the UN as US stooges? In the US, we find it easy to dismiss this argument because we're aware of the long-running right-wing political critique of the UN, which has basically become dominant with the ascendancy of the neocon hawks.

November 1, 2003

Most of this long post is a thought-experiment on how a more thoughtful occupation of Iraq might work out, not least by permitting its own dissolution. Before getting into that, I wrote:

It is impossible to know what is really going on in Iraq, at least in terms of assessing the "progress" and prospects for the U.S. occupation. Most news reports depict a level of resistance that is sufficient to seriously disrupt American plans. Moreover, it seems likely that this level of resistance can be sustained indefinitely -- at least as long as the U.S. is a convenient target. On the other hand, U.S. officialdom is strenuously trying to paint a rosier picture. But, then, the credibility of U.S. officialdom has been strained so severely that even mainstream media, which usually devours whatever is fed them, is looking askance. Or maybe they just smell blood; they are, after all, good at that.

To some extent this is one of those half-empty/half-full divisions. What is generally agreed on is that the current state -- the "half" if you will -- is unstable and transitional. The disagreement is on where it is going. Your half-fulls here figure that when the occupation is able to get Iraq into some sort of functional state -- once the infrastructure works and the oil flows and the economy starts moving and ordinary Iraqis start to see some tangible improvement in their lives -- the resistance will fade away. On the other hand, your half-empties will argue that the resistance will keep most or all of those things from happening, and that by doing so it will harvest enough resentment against the occupation that it will sustain itself, until eventually the U.S. gives up and leaves.

This division has less to do with the available facts than with a pair of perceptions. The half-fulls believe that the resistance is the work of a small and finite number of intractable evil-doers, who merely need to be drawn out and dispatched; the half-empties believe that the resistance is the inevitable fruit of occupation, and that any efforts to suppress the resistance will only deepen it. The half-fulls also believe that the U.S. has the skills and good will and generosity to make the occupation work for the betterment of the Iraqi people; the half-empties have grave doubts about those very skills, not to mention what all that American good will and generosity did for ordinary Iraqi people even before the invasion. The half-fulls, of course, believe that even if their optimism has been a bit excessive, there is no choice but for America to "stay the course" until a better Iraq emerges, and see withdrawal as not only callous but ultimately as tragic for the Iraqi people. The half-empties, on the other hand, figure that even as bad as the occupation has already proved itself to be, continuing it is only going to make it worse, and that even though immediate U.S. withdrawal would probably lead to short-term chaos and possibly to long-term tyranny, those risks are preferable to the certain failure of occupation.

December 16, 2003

Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003, with the capture of Saddam Hussein, was the second feel good day of the Iraq war. The first, of course, was the day the US entered Baghdad, resulting in the staged toppling of Saddam's statue. Both were days when Saddam's tyranny fell; both were days when the fall of Saddam at least temporarily eclipsed the tragedy of Bush's war. Of course, that says as much about the media as it does history: we focus so much on immediate tangible events that the broader context, "the big picture," gets lost, much as the moon doesn't actually set each morning -- it just gets overwhelmed by the relative brightness of the sun. Still, the sun does inevitably set, returning us to the dim light of the moon. What's left for Saddam Hussein is just to pick over the bones, of which there are plenty. Removing Saddam Hussein from power is the one positive accomplishment of the Bush War. It's not a justification, just a welcome respite.

The local paper had several pieces, plus one of Randy Schofield's me-too editorials and even a Crowson cartoon, on how best to bring Saddam to justice. Or more precisely, who gets to execute him. One of the pieces was a chart of possible courts, which were mainly distinguished by which have the option of capital punishment. That seems to disqualify the World Court. (One option missing from the list is turning him over to Iran, which can safely be counted in the pro-capital punishment camp.) I don't care much one way or the other. After some twists and turns, I finally came to the opinion that I'm opposed to capital punishment -- ultimately because I don't want to give governments the option of killing citizens, and I don't want to deny citizens the right not to be killed by their government, even when they have seriously transgressed against their fellow citizens. Abuse is obviously a worry here, but even if somehow abuse could be guaranteed against, the mere option of capital punishment distorts discussion over how to punish and how to secure against further crimes.

But that's just the general principle. In the matter of Saddam Hussein, I don't care much one way or the other. In defense of not executing him, I'll point out that there are many other people who have committed comparable crimes without even getting prosecuted -- Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are good examplesr. (George W. Bush is another, and his father wasn't much better -- merely less foolish.) Stalin was another, and the list goes on and on. For such people, the most critical thing we can hope for is exposure -- and ironically, keeping Saddam alive is more likely to facilitate exposure than summarily killing him. On the other hand, Saddam has been pretty much exposed already, and he is pretty much history at this point. Killing him is not likely to make much difference one way or the other. Maybe it would make him a martyr, but it's hard to make much of a martyr out of such an unprincipled lout. Certainly it would close one door on history -- the finalitude that argues against most capital executions is a plus here.

Back when I was kicking the principle around in my mind, I conceded that there was one case where I did approve of capital punishment: when Romania revolted against Ceausescu, they executed the dictator and his wife (a bad figure in her own right), then outlawed capital punishment. That put a stake in the heart of Ceausescu's cult of personality, depriving his diehard supporters of any reason to continue the war, and no doubt saving many lives. It also put an end to any temptation to further purge Romania's communist leadership. And it set a clear standard that separated the true monsters from even their rank and file supporters. I'm willing to accept that Saddam was such a monster that he should be singled out for execution. But it is a sobering thought that the ultimate price he might pay is no more than that paid by thousands of ordinary Iraqis mowed down in Bush's quixotic effort to remake the Middle East in the image of West Texas. And whereas killing Ceausescu brought Romania's revolution to a definitive close, killing Saddam will have no real effect on Iraq's resistance to US occupation -- the killing will continue there, even though the prime reason why the US started this war is no longer in play. The only hope we have for a third feel good day in Iraq is if Bush decides that Saddam's skull is victory enough.


The Americans soon handed Saddam over to a Shiite-controlled court to be tried for crimes against their fellow sectarians. They made quick work of him.

February 2, 2004

Last week I saw a clip on TV where Howard Dean criticized John Kerry for voting for the 2002 Iraq War resolution and voting against the 1990 Iraq War resolution. Dean argued that Kerry had gotten it backwards. I don't know what Kerry's reply (if any) was. Lately, Kerry has been arguing that he voted in favor of the 2002 resolution because he wanted to help make George W. Bush's threat of force against Iraq more credible to Saddam Hussein. That seems naive, at least as regards Bush, who has turned out to be the much graver threat to world peace. But the more interesting question is whether Kerry still defends his 1990 vote. He could plausibly contend that had he prevailed in 1990 none of the following events would have transpired. However, he's unlikely to do so, because the 1990 war is now conventionally viewed as a right cause. [Or at least it's viewed as the politically savvy choice for a Democrat, as both Clinton and Gore supported the war, and won the nomination in 1992. Nearly all of the serious 2004 Democratic candidates voted as Kerry did, as did the junior senator from New York, waiting her turn to run in 2008.] Dean, for instance, seems to view it as a triumph of measured, multilateral defense of international law, even though it left a festering scar. The Neocon hawks, in turn, saw it as a mere half-victory, demanding a second round of war. Only the Pragmatists, which would include the ruling Saudi and Kuwaiti families, saw it as wholly satisfactory: an extension of their license to rule and exploit.

It's unsettling that the two more prominent opposition party critics of Bush's conduct of the Iraq War -- and Wesley Clark would certainly make it three -- can't even settle on what went wrong, or why. Indeed, the more theories you read about why the U.S. undertook this war, the more confusing their stories get. A big part of this is due, of course, to the current Bush administration: the reasons they give -- the WMD threat, the war on terrorism, the liberation of Iraq -- are far and away the easiest to discard. But the bigger problem is that, at least in the U.S., the search for reasons has shown a blind eye both to history and to structure and dynamics of domestic political debate in the U.S. I want to propose a framework here to help us sort out the real causes of this war.

The history of the U.S.-Iraq conflict should be broken down into three major stages:

  1. The 1990 War (U.S. Operation Desert Storm): This starts not with Iraq's 1989 invasion of Kuwait, which was done in the context of official U.S. indifference (at least as expressed by the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq at the time), but with the U.S./U.K. decision to wage war against Iraq to forcibly expel them from Kuwait. This stage was completed when Kuwait was returned to its previous rulers, and Iraq agreed to cease fire terms.

  2. The Containment Period: This continues up to the ultimatum preceding the U.S.-led "coalition" invasion of Iraq in 2003. This could be subdivided, but the whole period is marked by consistent efforts by the U.S. to destabilize the Iraqi regime, especially by impoverishing the Iraqi people.

  3. Invasion and Current Occupation: From the ultimatum and invasion through the "end of major hostilities" and the subsequent occupation and resistance. During this period, almost all of the prewar claims by U.S. hawks have been discredited.

The build-up to the 1990 war was critical to everything that followed. It is important to remember that this debate occurred in the wake of the collapse of the Cold War, at a time when significant disarmament was on the table -- this was a time when even politicians could be heard talking about a "peace dividend." The net effect of the decision to go to war was that the U.S. military saved itself by discovering a new enemy. The antiwar debate at the time was centered not on what Iraq had done, but on what role the U.S., weary and battered by the long and brutal battle against Communism, should take in the coming, undivided world. The Bush administration was tactically split -- the "pragmatists" happy to act as mercenaries as long as their Saudi buddies footed the bill, the "neocons" itching for the U.S. to take advantage of its victors' spoils in the Cold War. The pragmatists won the war, but it was George H.W. Bush himself who ceded the post-war to the neocons, by his hard sell of Saddam Hussein as "another Hitler." In doing so, his "failure" to prosecute the war all the way to Baghdad -- the logical end expected by an American public who grew up on WWII and Roosevelt's insistence on Hitler's unconditional surrender -- cast him as the new Neville Chamberlain. Republican etiquette, of course, didn't dwell on such comparisons, but Democrats like Al Gore didn't feel compelled to be so delicate.

Given that the 1990 war left the villainized Saddam Hussein in power, containment of Iraq and eventual "regime change" remained on the agenda -- a "make work" program for the U.S. military and spook agencies. Bush, having hung the Hitler tag on Saddam, didn't dare try to negotiate a resolution that would have left Saddam in power. Clinton soon found that he could always score safe points by bombing or badgering Iraq: the containment and impoverishment of Iraq cost him nothing politically, either viz. the Republicans or viz. America's sordid allies in the region. The irresistible impulse of Republican rhetoric, in turn, moved them ever more under the neocon spell. This is the period when it became commonplace to talk about the U.S. as "the world's only superpower" -- and what's the good of being a superpower if you can't boss other countries around?

Having failed to stop the march to war in 1990, the antiwar movement lost its opportunity to demilitarize America. A big part of the problem that they ran into was that much of the argument against war was based on fear of a Vietnam-redux quagmire. The ease of the initial military triumph over Iraq seemed to put those fears to rest, even though the triumph was partial, and portended a long war of containment. The latter was largely unchallenged in American political discourse: the universal acceptance of Saddam's pariah status precluded any resolution that would have left him in power, while the war took place largely out of sight, costing nothing in U.S. casualties, and largely tolerated by the U.N. and all other world and regional powers.

The net effect of the villainization of Saddam Hussein, the build-up of U.S. military forces aimed at his containment, the indifference of the American citizenry to the human tragedy caused by sanctions, and the increasingly desperate desire to assert America's superpower status -- challenged and inflamed by Al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- led directly to the second Bush administration's resolve to invade and occupy Iraq. Bush was also much impressed by how easily the U.S. military had achieved apparent victory in Afghanistan -- an assessment which now seems to have been premature and at risk.


Note that nowhere in this was any consideration given to the difficulty of building stable economies and popular governments, other than to keep the whole question out of the public eye. During the 2000 campaign, Bush had developed a critique of "nation building," and had talked quite a bit about how the military should only be used to destroy the enemy, and not for rebuilding. Bush changed his mind when success looked easy, but his crew (especially Rumsfeld) didn't, and they tripped each other up. Still, there was nothing in the Republican view of the world that could have worked. (Peter Beinart tried flipping this, arguing that liberals could do the job, but he, too, was wrong. See his book, below.)

March 21, 2004

This is my summary at the end of year one, with another ten or twenty to come, depending on where you want to slice the cake. (As of today, there are still American troops in Iraq, as advisers in case the ISIS revolt flares up again, and in Syria, presumably for the same reason but it's hard to tell as the US is also still opposed to the Syrian government.) One thing I should stress is that when I wrote "it could have been a lot worse," within three months it did in fact get a lot worse: Fallujah was lost to Sunni insurgents, and East Baghdad, controlled by the Sadr faction of Shiites, was also in revolt, and threatening to ally with Fallujah. That crisis was narrowly averted by turning the two factions against each other, so for the next several year civil war became a more pressing problem for most Iraqis than the inept US occupation, increasingly isolated in the Green Zone and operating opaquely through Iraqi intermediaries. Also on the near horizon was the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

Demonstrations yesterday marked the first anniversary of the Bush War in Iraq. Many observers and pundits have marked this anniversary by trying to sum up what the war has accomplished or wrought. This is, of course, difficult to do, not least of all because the war is nowhere near over, but also because we have so little reliable information about what has happened, or why. We are still deluged with spin: the hawks are as hawkish as ever, the doves are as dovish as ever, and an awful lot of what has happened can be taken to vindicate whatever predispositions you have. That's certainly true from where I peer out at the world. And you've no doubt already heard what Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer and Richard Perle and their ilk are saying about the subject.

We have some answers to those questions now, but even though we can cite precise figures for Americans sacrificed and much rougher figures for Iraqis, the only thing that we can really be sure of is that today's figures will be short tomorrow. The fact is that Bush is still marching blithely into the unknown, and he's dragging us with him. I don't have anything approaching a comprehensive analysis of the state of the war and its impact on the world today. But I will jot down a few quick observations:

  1. However bad what's happened is, it comes up far short of the worst case projections. This doesn't mean that the war isn't so bad; it just means that it could have been a lot worse. And it doesn't mean that the people who worried about worst case scenarios were misguided; it mostly means that the perpetrators of this war have had some good luck. Iraq's total lack of WMD has proven embarrassing for the war planners, but it would have been worse had they actually existed and been used, and especially had they been redeployed through international terrorist networks -- the danger being not merely the damage that WMD can do, but also the inevitable escalation of retaliation. Iraq was in fact completely incapable of extending the war outside its own borders, so the scenario where Iraq might try to recast the war by lobbing a few WMD-filled missiles at an apoplectic, nuclear-armed Israel never came close to materializing. Iraq's defense was very undisciplined, making virtually no use of sabotage to amplify the damage attributable to the invaders or to deny them resources. The post-occupation resistance has also been less extensive and less popular than it might have been, while more Iraqis than might have been expected have been supportive or at least tolerant of US occupation. (This observation is relative to expectations: the proposition that the US liberators would be welcomed with flowers was at least as far off base, and while the resistance could have been much worse, it's thus far been sufficient to isolate and destabilize the occupation.) About the only thing that did follow a worst case scenario was the post-liberation looting, which severely tarnished the US occupation from the very start. The main reason that things didn't turn out worse than they did is that Saddam Hussein's regime has proven to be much weaker and much more inept than anyone expected.

  2. It appears likely that the standard of living of many of the Iraqi may have improved slightly over pre-invasion, at least as measured by consumer goods spending. (How much improvement, for how many people, is an open question.) This is primarily attributable to the ending of the sanctions imposed on Iraq. Other pluses are the elimination of taxes effectively imposed by Saddam Hussein's regime, and an influx of money for reconstruction, but these are more than offset by the destruction of the war itself (which continues) and massive unemployment. It goes without saying (and in fact I've never heard this said) that a greater improvement in the Iraqi standard of living would have occurred simply by relaxing the sanctions while leaving Saddam Hussein in power. So this doesn't amount to a very good reason for going to war.

  3. It is clear now that the US/UK case for going to war against Iraq was founded on little more than arrogance and ignorance, and presented as nothing more than a blatant list of lies. It is clear that this happened because the US/UK had decided on a course of war for other reasons, and that they single-mindedly marshalled their case to support their predispositions. Especially revealing here is the Bush administration's unwillingness to credit the UN WMD inspections process or to consider any of the efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically. (It is less clear what those other reasons were, in large part because the suppositions make so little sense. I'm almost inclined to think that the real reason is that the US likes instability and poverty in the region, which are the main things that this war has accomplished -- although it's still more credible to believe that the Bush administration is simply run by evil idiots.)

  4. The US occupation of Iraq has been remarkably incompetent. Planning for the occupation was somewhere between non-existent and delusional. The initial chaos that allowed extensive looting shattered any prospect that the US might be powerful enough to conduct an orderly transformation of Iraq's political economy. For political reasons, the US also chose not to do the obvious thing, which was to keep existing Iraqi governmental agencies intact and rule through them. Abolishing the army and police forces fed the resistance, while belatedly forcing the US to reconstruct its own Iraqi army and police forces. The resistance itself soon attained a sufficient level of activity to force the US occupiers to hide behind their security barricades, disconnecting from the people they allegedly came to liberate. By failing to hold elections, the US never made an effort to establish a legitimate Iraqi political presence. (Presumably this was because they realized that such a political body would soon ask them to leave.)

  5. I suspect that if you go back and look at the figures, you'll find that there have been more significant terrorism events outside of Iraq in the past year (especially the past six months) than in the year before the Iraq invasion. It is at least arguable that US preoccupation with Iraq has allowed Al Qaeda to regroup. It also seems likely that the US invasion of Iraq has been a boon to Jihadist recruiting. And this is just looking at events outside of Iraq. Obviously, the amount of terror in Iraq has increased substantially. It's not clear how much of that is attributable to non-Iraqi Arabs flocking to the new opportunity to kill Americans on home turf. Nowadays Bush administration mouthpieces usually defend the invasion and occupation of Iraq as the "front line in the war against terrorism." They created a "front line" where none existed before, and what they've created is totally additional to what exists elsewhere.

  6. It is arguable that Bush's eagerness to savage Iraq over suspected WMD proliferation has contributed to diplomatic agreements with Libya and Iran to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs. It's also possible that diplomatic efforts that didn't involve the threat of invasion may have had the same effect. No such deal has been forthcoming with North Korea, perhaps because Bush likes to keep Japan feeling like a hostage. (Or perhaps because Bush is a dolt. One thing that is clear though is that the US military doesn't relish the prospect of invading North Korea, regardless of the Bush doctrine on preëmptive wars.) [A deal was cut with Libya, but the US overthrew the Libyan government a decade later, leaving chaos and insurgent Islamists in its wake. Iran didn't have a program, and didn't get a deal. Urged by Israel, Obama did finally sign a deal with Iran, but giving into Israeli demands, Trump trashed it. The US continues to treat Iran as an enemy. Negotiations with North Korea fell apart, and North Korea went on to test nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them to the continental US. North Korea sees Libya and Iran as further proof that the US cannot be trusted.]

  7. The idea that building a vibrant Iraqi Democracy would revolutionize the Middle East is still pretty much in the wings, since no such thing exists. And it's likely to stay there, given that Democracy is not one of Bush's stronger subjects. The idea that US military success in Iraq will embolden us to tackle terrorist-friendly rogue states like Syria and Iran is also in the wings, since even with Saddam Hussein's evident decrepitude the US military has already bit off more than it can chew.

  8. The prewar powwow in the Azores between the US, UK, and Spain, where they made their joint declaration against Iraq, also promised renewed efforts at a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine along the lines of the "Road Map." Aside from some early photo-ops, this has led exactly nowhere, not least of all because the Bush administration has done exactly nothing to prod Sharon toward a settlement.

  9. Although the polls offer somewhat confused and contradictory data, overall the Iraq War has not played well in the US politically. Despite constant media trumpeting of administration story lines and "feel good" stories, most Americans seem to feel that something is fundamentally wrong with this war. The WMD issue has become fair game, and it clearly exposes how cynically the Bush administration sold this war. The body count continues to inch upward. The cost continues to climb, at a time when the economy is at best stagnant and for many people has tanked, while the deficit mushrooms. The elections in Spain have defied the common assumption that terror attacks = right-wing victories, but one reason for that is that so many people see Iraq as a totally separate issue from Al Qaeda-style terrorism. The one political bump that Bush got was from the capture of Saddam Hussein, but that's old news now. At this point even the Bush administration seems to want to shift the focus back to Afghanistan and Al Qaeda to get away from Iraq, hoping no doubt that they can pull Osama Bin Laden out of a hat just in time for the election. To which, I'm sure, Kerry will respond, "What took you so long? Could it have been Iraq?"

  10. Conversely to the first point, almost nothing that has happened in Iraq during the past year has happened according to the plans of the perpetrators of the war. It is not unusual for people to guess wrong about the future, but it is rare for so many people to be so totally off base. The principals in the Bush administration cling to a set of assumptions -- above all the invincibility and rectitude of American power -- that are simply invalid, and consequently they find themselves constantly struggling against the real trends in the world today. Not least of which is that few people outside of the US's imperial theorists have much taste these days for war as a method of resolving conflicts. (Even within the US military the prospect of getting shot at seems to be more than most people think they've signed up for.)

Still, one year is a short time, and only a tiny percentage of all of the ultimate consequences of Bush's wars have emerged. Just to take one example, in the 1990 Iraq war far fewer US soldiers were killed than this year, but the set of longer term illnesses and maladies that ultimately afflicted US soldiers in that war has now taken its toll on something in excess of 20%, and we've also seen huge increases in the cancer rate among Iraqis. We have no comparable data on that now, but the same depleted uranium munitions were used this time, and as the years go by we will be hearing more and more about such things. For another example, we now know that most of the fighters for the Taliban, which we now hate so much [and who increasingly have reason to hate us], started off as young children in refugee camps that were created as a result of our proxy war against the Soviet Union, which ravaged Afghanistan for ten years, and continued for thirteen more before we jumped back in and are still fighting there. We have no idea now what will eventually happen to the children of the US occupation in Iraq, but the likelihood that some will come back to haunt us sooner or later is fairly strong.

Given all that the US has done in the Islamic world, the thing that I find most remarkable is that there is so little anti-US activism (as opposed to sentiment or mere opinion). There are, I'm sure, lots of reasons for that, not least of which is that Jihadism isn't a very attractive use of one's life. Any political movement that depends on its adherents being willing to undertake suicide missions is bound to burn itself out, unless by some colossal act of stupidity some force continuously drives more and more people to extreme desperation. We've seen that especially with Israel, and it's clear that the US is doing the same thing in Iraq.

But, and again we can look to Israel for plentiful examples, what we do in Iraq also affects who we are in the US. We are now a country so drunk with our own power that we have become insensitive to how we lash out and hurt others. And this will grow worse before it can possibly get better, in large part because Bush is now facing an increasingly desperate political campaign to gain a second term despite the cauldron of lies and cruelties that his administration has brewed. He will pursue this with the largest advertising budget ever assembled for a political election, and more dangerously he will pursue it with the full power of the US presidency -- with his ability to take action and create news. Moreover, he has a near-fanatic cadre of supporters, who have established that they have little respect for the freedom or rights or others, or for democracy in general, and they will only become more militant as this election unfolds. So, of course, will his opponents. This promises to be the most divisive election in the US since 1860. There's much more at stake, of course, but the wedge that drives this division is Iraq. And it raises a question which still isn't really part of the political dialogue in America, which is whether we are really capable of being a benevolent superpower -- indeed, of whether we are really benevolent, or even a superpower. I think that the answer to that is obvious. What's not clear is when, and how, the day of reckoning comes.


After the early Summer crisis, Bush managed to cool Iraq down enough that he could run for reëlection on clichés like "stay the course," and Kerry was so busy primping to become "commander in chief" that he let Bush off the hook. Meanwhile, Karl Rove cooked up a massive campaign of gay bashing, which motivated the Republican base vote. The result was a narrow win -- the most disappointing election for me since the first one I voted in, 1972, again because it failed to remove one of the worst war criminals in modern history.

Bush then ordered the total flattening of Fallujah, which kicked the Sunni revolt up to ever higher levels. Shiite militias, with US backing, then purged all mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad, locking in a vicious civil war. Meanwhile, Bush squandered the political capital his reëlection supposedly gained him with a stupid scheme to cripple Social Security. A bit later, his administration grossly mishandled Hurricane Katrina, and by the end of his term, major banks had gone bankrupt, and many more had to be bailed out.

The Valerie Plame affair ended with Scooter Libby convicted for obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to jail, and pardoned by Bush before he could follow through on threats to expose more wrongdoing. Oddly enough, Cheney became much less effective after Libby was forced out. Colin Powell quit, Rumsfeld was forced out, and Paul Wolfowitz was dispatched to the World Bank, so the swagger of the first term all but vanished. Meanwhile, Afghanistan went from bad to worse. At least Iraq allowed an exit that wouldn't be totally embarrassing (although after the ISIS revolt, US troops returned in a more limited role, where they remain to this day.

Book Roundup

This is a selected bibliography, largely cribbed from my reading list and book roundups, although I've had to rewrite a bunch of them (especially earlier books). I've actually read the overwhelming majority of these books (aside from the "Long List" at the end; aside from the section on the surge and ISIS, where I felt like I knew enough to skip the books, the only items I haven't read are Robert Draper (came out in 2020), Aram Roston (I had no illusions about Ahmad Chalabi), and the second Riverbend (noted for completeness).

Post-Cold War Militarism:

Of course, it helps to know a lot about American history before this period. I got a fast start by reading William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko (among many others), and I know a fair amount about world history as well. Americans have long had a soft spot for their generals (e.g., presidents Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower), although the wannabes have often proved more gung ho (Madison, Polk, and both Roosevelts). It was only after WWII that Americans realized they had an unquenched taste for war, so re-armed to search out "monsters to destroy." After the Cold War, which left the Soviet Union in ruins without gaining America much of anything, the question of demobilizing was barely raised.

Andrew Bacevich: The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005; paperback, 2006; updated, paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press): Colonel-turned scholar, explains how the US military got its mojo back after Vietnam. Bacevich went on to write a number of critical books about American military or foreign policy, including: American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (2004); The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II (2007); The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008); Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010); America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016); The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory (2020); and After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transformed (2021). The 2016 book is a good overview of the War on Terror.

Max Boot: The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002; paperback, 2003, Basic Books): A useful synopsis of dozens of "small wars," including the ones that added "Tripoli" and "Montezuma" to the Marines anthem, but skipping ones like Korea and Vietnam that got out of hand. The thesis is that we shouldn't fear even ill-conceived, poorly understood wars because they work out fine in the end anyway. As such, this was meant as a brief against the Powell Doctrine, which held that we should never enter a war without a clear understanding of aims, complete dominance of force, and an exit strategy. Panama and Persian Gulf were examples of Powell wars. At the time this was published, Afghanistan was arguably an example of a successful small war, and Iraq was next up.

Rosa Brooks: How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon (2016, Simon & Schuster): Daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich went to law school, married a Green Beret, and got sucked into the State and Defense Departments, winding up with this insufficiently critical but rather perceptive analysis of the all-too-true title.

James Carroll: House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power (2006, Houghton Mifflin): The big building was built during WWII, and has housed American military command ever since, providing a framework for exploring its lore and insular culture through the ages. Although Carroll is critical of militarism and war, he has a personal connection in that his father was a general, who worked there and gave his son tours. Carroll also published a valuable collection of columns, Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War (2004, Metropolitan).

John W Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (2010, WW Norton): Historian of Japan (WWII, post-war occupation), got involved in the Iraq debate when hawks tried to invoke WWII as a model of how America rebuilds countries it destroys. This collects the pieces I cite above. Later wrote The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books).

Tom Engelhardt: The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (1995; second edition, paperback, 2007, University of Massachusetts Press): The "victory" was in WWII, which seeped into every poor of popular culture, and fueled the subsequent Cold War -- which disillusioned many of us, but not enough to dismantle the permanent war machine and its deep political influence. Engelhardt responded to 9/11 by creating his TomDispatch blog, which has published many of the writers I mention here. Early posts there, which put Iraq in the broader context of American empire, were collected as Mission Unaccomplished: TomDispatch Interviews With American Iconoclasts & Dissenters (paperback, 2006, Nation Books), and The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (2008, Verso). Engelhardt's later books were compiled from his posts: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (2010, Haymarket); The United States of Fear (2011, Haymarket); Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014, Haymarket); and A Nation Unmade by War (2018, Haymarket).

Chalmers Johnson: The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004, Metropolitan): Former CIA officer, popularized the term "blowback" in his 2000 book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (revised, paperback, 2004, Holt). One of the most perceptive books ever about the downsides of trying to control an empire. He wrote two more valuable books: Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2010, Metropolitan); and Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010, Metropolitan Books).

Fred Kaplan: Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power (2008; paperback, 2008, Wiley): A history of the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, which gripped the Pentagon in the 1990s and convinced them that they fight wars faster and more decisively than ever before, encouraging a degree of recklessness that veterans of the Vietnam debacle (like Colin Powell) had struggled to contain. When Bush campaigned in 2000, he was almost giddy in anticipation about what this new military could do. After 9/11, he could put it to the test. It failed. Or perhaps I should say, it failed to solve the problems he wanted it to solve.

Anatol Lieven: America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (2004, Oxford University Press): A journalist who specializes in Russia's foreign affairs takes an outsider view of American nationalism, informed by Europe's own disastrous affair with nationalism (what Arnold Mayer refers to as "the thirty years war of the 20th century").

James Mann: Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (2004; paperback, 2004, Penguin): Group biography of Bush's top warmongers: former Defense Secretaries Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, former Joint Chiefs Chair Colin Powell, and others (pictured on cover: Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Armitage). Not all are proper neocons, but all have a long history of wargaming, and all believe in strengthening the military for projection of power.

On 9/11, Before and After:

Some basic books on the emergence of salafist-jihadist Islam, its particular manifestation in Al Qaeda -- where Bin Laden's concept of a "far enemy" is distinctive -- and America's knee-jerk reaction (anticipated by Bin Laden, who like many others saw Afghanistan as a "graveyard of empires"). There is a lot more on the subject, as well as important background on colonialism (back to the Crusades, but mostly British -- David Fromkin: A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Middle East (1989. Henry Holt) remains a standard history) and Cold War politics.

Also, nothing on Israel, which was a persistent thorn in the side of the Arab world (which I've read close to 100 books on). By the way, I read a number of books on Islam and older Arab history, including Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples, but they're not especially relevant here. Also note that while jihadism led to 9/11, and later to ISIS, the reasoning that drove Bush to invade Iraq had virtually nothing (other than perhaps deep-seated prejudice) to do with Islam. Oddly enough, I can't think of a single book that manages to balance out the Cold War residue, oil politics, and peculiar schizophrenia when torn between their supposed allies (Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey) and those allies' enemies (Iran, but also each other).

Ira Chernus: Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin (paperback, 2006, Paradigm): This is a powerful critique of the neoconservative mindset -- not a term I would normally employ, but it really does appear to be set deep in the psyche, unlike most political ideologies, which are easily reduced to perceived interests.

Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004; paperback, 2004, Penguin Books): The standard work on the CIA intervention in Afghanistan, going back before the Russian invasion in 1979.

Dilip Hiro: The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide (second edition, paperback, 2003, Carroll & Graf): A veritable encyclopedia on the whole region, one I still keep in arm's reach on my closest reference shelf. Hiro's books specifically on Iraq are included in my "Long List" below (including one written before the invasion), but he's also written extensively on Iran, Pakistan, and central Asia, and the broader impacts of Jihadism and the American War on Terror, including After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World (2010, Nation Books).

Gilles Kepel: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2000, Belknap Press): The definitive book on the various threads of political Islam as they developed from the 1970, when they were cultured as useful tools by Islamist governments in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, into the 1980s when they were weaponized by the CIA, and through the 1990s, when they got a bit out of hand and turned on their previous masters. Kepel felt they were in eclipse when he wrote his big book, and that 9/11 was an act of desperation, a last effort to get noticed. Thanks to Bush and Putin, they succeeded, which kept Kepel writing his sober and sensible books, from The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (2004, Belknap Press), to Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (2017, Princeton University Press).

Michael Scheuer [Anonymous]: Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (2004, Potomac Books): CIA agent (actual name revealed much later), specifically involved in tracking Al Qaeda, which he deals with matter-of-factly. After he made his name, he continued to churn out books like Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq (2008, Free Press), which (of course) wasn't really "after Iraq."

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Knopf): Easily the most readable background history on where Al Qaeda came from and how they provoked the US into the gargantuan act of self-harm known as the Global War on Terror.

On Iraq: Up to Invasion

This period is poorly represented in books. Many journalists just copied what they were told, leaving them little that wasn't embarrassing to compile -- the most notorious, Judith Miller, waited until 2015 to write her book, by then about herself: The Story: A Reporter's Journey (2015, Thorndike Press). Others were too busy chasing new lies on top of old lies. By then the war had been launched, and the lies were overwhelmed by further atrocities (like Abu Ghraib). Draper's book, written to plug this hole, only came out in 2020.

Tariq Ali: Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq (2003, Verso): Quickie review of US-Iraqi history, not forgetting Britain's original colonial project there. Ali, a Pakistani who moved to England and became an editor of New Left Review, previously wrote The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002, Verso), which peeled back the layers of conflicting interests on all sides, and has since written many more useful books, including: Rough Music: Blair Bombs Baghdad London Terror (2006, Verso).

Larry Beinhart: Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (2005; paperback, 2006, Nation Books): Only partly on Iraq, which looms large among many other examples of propaganda spin from the period. Beinhart previously wrote the screenplay for Wag the Dog, a speculative movie about a president faking a war for political opportunism (and distraction). Bush's presidency was widely viewed as a disaster until 9/11 rallied public support for his bellicosity.

Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020, Penguin): Written so long after the fact that I haven't bothered to read it, but this is probably the most definitive accounting we have of the runup to Bush's war. Draper previously wrote one of the most insightful books on Bush: Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W Bush (2007, Free Press).

Rashid Khalidi: Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance of the Middle East (2009; paperback, 2010, Beacon Press): Shows how the US imposed its neuroses onto the Middle East -- a paranoia over communism that put us in bed with Islamic jihadists, a messianic embrace of Israeli and apocalypse that put us on the outs, an obsession with oil and money, and with our own military's conceit of omnipotence, no matter how often it failed. Khalidi mostly writes on Israel/Palestine, which is the main (but not the only) subject of Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (2013, Beacon Press).

Scott Ritter: Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein (2005, Nation Books): UN weapons inspector, made it clear before the war that Iraq had no active WMD programs, and that the Bush administration claims were pure propaganda.

Aram Roston: The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi (2008, Nation Books): The much-hyped public face of anti-Saddam Iraq, he was already known as a crook and charlatan, but there were war planners who wanted to install him as puppet dictator (like Syngman Rhee, who also campaigned in the salons of America to run his home country). For a few brief months he was everywhere, but Americans started having second thoughts as soon as they got to Baghdad, finding no one there in favor of Chalabi, and evidence that he might be too friendly with Iran.

Nicholas von Hoffman: Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies (paperback, 2004, Nation Books): One of the best books at unpacking the Bush marketing campaign for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

On Iraq: The Invasion and Early Occupation

The invasion was well publicized, with many reporters embedded in military units all the way up to top command, bonding with troops and faithfully jotting down the stories they were fed. The Bremer period was also very friendly to reporters, while back at the Pentagon Rumsfeld gave daily press conferences to his swooning admirers. It took a couple years to sort reports into books, and by then many reporters had become skeptical if not downright critical.

But at least for this period, information was available. After Bremer got kicked out, the Iraqi frontmen (mostly Iyad Allawi) and the Americans behind the scenes (John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad) became inaccessible, and the news dried up.

Ali A Allawi: The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace (2007, Yale University Press): Report from a member of Iraq's political class, one who advised UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to push for a provisional government of apolitical technocrats. The US didn't want any such thing.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage): Journalist who covered the war cheerfully for PBS, but who realized, when he got around to cashing in with a book, discovered the picture all along had been pretty grim. Ends when Bremer departs, after which it became much harder for journalists to collect stories of such gross ineptitude. He moved on to write a similar book about Afghanistan: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf).

Patrick Cockburn: The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006, Verso): British journalist well-versed, in Iraqi history and politics, having co-written (with Andrew Cockburn) the 1999 book Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein (British title in 2002: Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession). He had previously covered Russia, so noted the similarities between Bush's War on Terror and Putin's rise from obscurity to fight terror in Chechnya, thus consolidating his hold on power. Cockburn went on to write Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq (2008, Scribner), and several books on ISIS (below).

Michael R Gordon/Bernard E Trainor: Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006, Pantheon): New York Times correspondend "embedded" in command headquarters, guided here a Marine General, so this gives you an insider account of the initial invasion and its military and political objectives. The latter are of most interest, as they show the extent to which Bush's delusions permeated the supposedly more sober thinking of the generals. At the end of the war, the duo followed up with Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq From George W Bush to Barack Obama (2012, Pantheon; paperback, 2013, Vintage), referencing "still-classified documents."

Seymour Hersh: Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib (2004, Harper Collins; paperback, 2005, Harper Perennial): Journalist, broke the story of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, then looks back at Guantanamo, then further back to "how America's spies missed September 11th," and forward again through "the intelligence stovepipe" to the invasion.

Dahr Jamail: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007, Haymarket): As the title indicates, one of the few American journalists in Iraq who wasn't confined to the Green Zone, and one of the few who kept reporting well after the Americans calling the shots stopped meeting with the press.

Thomas E Ricks: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006; paperback, 2007, Penguin Press): Washington Post Pentagon reporter, embedded during the invasion, usually a reliable spokesman for his subjects but dawdled enough on this account that he started to recognize that things weren't going quite as hoped.

Riverbend: Baghdad Burning (2005, paperback, Feminist Press at CUNY); and Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog From Iraq (2006, paperback, Feminist Press at CUNY): Collection of remarkable reports on the occupation, as experienced by a fairly privileged young woman in Baghdad. As I understand it, the posts ended when she left the country, initially for Syria.

Nir Rosen: In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006, Free Press). Freelance journalist, fluent in Arabic, one of the few able to see both sides of the growing insurrection.

Anthony Shadid: Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005, Henry Holt): Washington Post writer, one of the few who spoke Arabic, which helped to make him one of the first to have a clue how the occupation was failing.

Evan Wright: Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004; paperback, 2005, Berkley Trade): Rolling Stone correspondent, embedded with Marines for their initial push to Baghdad, probably the best such account, mostly because it's the most irreverent, making him one of the few embeds to notice the absurdity as well as the random violence of the invasion. HBO made a series out of it.

Later Iraq, From the "Surge" to ISIS

I've only read a few books in this section (Michael Hastings, Thomas E Ricks, Nir Rosen). At this time, even before Obama took over, there was a shift to increasingly dire Afghanistan, with a corresponding wave of books. I've only included Hastings here because it tells you as much about late military thinking in Iraq. I've included books on the formation of ISIS, but there doesn't seem to be much on the US return to Iraq to fight ISIS, including the ongoing intervention in Syria.

Phyllis Bennis: Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (paperback, 2015, Olive Branch Press): A short, succinct introduction, from the author of a number of these primers, including Ending the Iraq War and Ending the US War in Afghanistan, viewing these wars from a firm understanding of history and a strong commitment to the idea of international law.

Patrick Cockburn: The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (paperback, 2015, Verso): Expanded edition of a 2014 book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, the first of several books he wrote on ISIS: Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East (paperback, 2016, OR Books); The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East (2016, Verso); and War in the Age of Trump: The Defeat of ISIS, the Fall of the Kurds, the Conflict With Iran (2020, Verso).

Michael Hastings: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan (2012, Blue Rider Press): Not specifically on Iraq, but this is where the counterinsurgency ideas of Petraeus and McChrystal hit the fan, failing spectacularly, less because their approach to the Afghans didn't make sense than because American soldiers proved incapable of implementing them. Book is famous for getting Obama to fire McChrystal for badmouthing him, but that's unfair to Obama: the guy with the really bad mouth was Michael Flynn, who Obama promoted to head of Defense Intelligence Agency (before having to fire him too).

Fred Kaplan: The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (2013; paperback, 2014, Simon & Schuster): Through luck and PR skills, Petraeus came out of the Iraq "surge" as the best-known, most-esteemed general in the Army. He then used his prominence to recycle a set of tired platitudes on counterinsurgency as the doctrine that would save the mission in Afghanistan. The guy who got stuck with that task was Stanley McChrystal, who failed miserably: so bad that when Obama brought Petraeus back to take over, he ditched the theory completely.

Thomas E Ricks: The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (2009, Penguin Press): He surprised me with his candor in Fiasco, but it was clear there that he was a Petraeus fan, so this may have come out too early to be properly recognized as Fiasco II.

Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Includes reporting from Lebanon and Afghanistan as well as from Iraq: the "surge," the "awakening," the emergence of ISIS.

Joseph E Stiglitz/Linda J Bilmes: The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (2008; paperback, 2008, WW Norton): Economists attempt to provide a full accounting, including future health care for veterans, and macroeconomic costs (interest on deficit, etc.). Abid Amiri wrote a similar book with same title: The Trillion Dollar War: The US Effort to Rebuild Afghanistan, 1999-2021 (paperback, 2021, Marine Corps University Press). Recent cost estimates top $7 trillion.

Bing West: The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (2008, Random House): This is what "the surge" brought: America as just another warlord, albeit the one with the most firepower, ergo the one that can regulate the balance in the Sunni-Shiite civil war, and thus perpetuate it, but not end it. That extended the war, which for the Americans was better than flat-out losing it.

On Iraq: The Long List

Other books from the file, by no means complete (e.g., I collected long lists of soldier memoirs, but didn't bother breaking them out). I've read a few of these: Juan Cole, Aaron Glantz (first), Chris Hedges/Laila Al-Arian, Dexter Filkins, Barton Gellman, Dilip Hiro (first), Eugene Jarecki, Jane Mayer, George Packer, William R Polk (first), Paul William Roberts, Robert Scheer, and the last-mentioned Noam Chomsky (and possibly others). They are all generally good books, although sometimes you want to hit Packer.

John Agresto, Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions (2007, Encounter Books).

Fouad Ajami: The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq (2006, Simon & Schuster).

Nadje Al-Ali/Nicola Pratt: What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq (2009, University of California Press).

Matthew Alexander/John Bruning: How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (2008, Free Press): Zarqawi.

Christian Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand: Why We Went Back to Iraq (2006, Doubleday).

Anthony Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (2007, paperback, Henry Holt).

Raymond W Baker/Shereen T Ismael/Tareq Y Ismael, eds: Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered (2010, Pluto Press).

Peter Beinart: The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006, Harper; paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial).

Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010, Harper; paperback, 2011, Harper Perennial).

David Bellavia: House to House: An Epic Memoir of War (2007, Free Press): Guilt-free soldier memoir of razing Fallujah.

Daniel P Bolger: Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (2014, Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Three-star general concedes, "we never really understood our enemy."

L Paul Bremer III: My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope (2006, Simon & Schuster): Public head of the early occupation government in Iraq.

Susan A Brewer: Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (2009; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).

Christopher Cerf/Victor Navasky: Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak (paperback, 2008, Simon & Schuster): A compendium of quotes from those who launched the war, and those who cheered them on.

Noam Chomsky/Vijay Prashad: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (2022, New Press): Of course, many of Chomsky's many books touch on Iraq, as well as explore the general mentality that led to Iraq. E.g.: Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (2003, Metropolitan); Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2007, Henry Holt); Who Rules the World? (2016; paperback, 2017, Metropolitan).

Andrew Cockburn: Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (2015, Henry Holt).

Andrew Cockburn: The Spoils of War: Power, Profit and the American War Machine (2021, Verso).

Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World (2009; paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Historian -- Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (2007, Palgrave Macmillan) -- turned blogger, not limited to Iraq.

John Crawford, The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq (2005, Riverhead; paperback, 2006, Penguin).

Mark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (paperback, 2004, New York Review Books).

John Diamond: The CIA and the Culture of Failure: US Intelligence from the End of the Cold War to the Invasion of Iraq (2008, Stanford Security Studies).

Larry Diamond: Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq (2005, Times Books).

Charles Duelfer: Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq (2009, Public Affairs): Head of UNSCOM 1993-2000, and post-invasion of Iraq Survey Group search for WMD.

John Ehrenberg/J Patrice McSherry/José Ramón Sánchez/Caroleen Marji Sayej: The Iraq Papers (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): 656 pp of primary sources on the WMD scam.

Kurt Eichenwald: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (2012; paperback, 2013, Touchstone): Covers 18 months from 9/11 to invasion of Iraq.

Peter Eisner, The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for War in Iraq (2007, Rodale Press).

Richard Engel: A Fist in the Hornet's Nest: On the Ground in Baghdad Before, During & After the War (2004; paperback, 2005, Hachette): NBC correspondent.

Richard Engel: War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq (2008; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster).

Sam Faddis: The CIA War in Kurdistan: The Untold Story of the Northern Front in the Iraq War (2020, Casemate).

Richard Falk/Irene Gendzier/Robert Jay Lifton: Crimes of War: Iraq (2006, Nation Books).

James Fallows, Blind Into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq (paperback, 2006, Vintage): Atlantic Monthly correspondent.

Noah Feldman: What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building (2004; paperback, 2006, Princeton University Press).

Noah Feldman: The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (2008, Princeton University Press).

Charles Ferguson: No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent Into Chaos (paperback, 2008, Public Affairs): Tie-in to a fairly good documentary.

Dexter Filkins: The Forever War (2008, Knopf): New York Times correspondent.

Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East (2005; paperback, 2007, Knopf): British journalist, covers the whole Middle East, his Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (1990) is definitive.

Robert Fisk: The Age of the Warrior: Selected Essays (2008, Nation Books; paperback, 2011, Bold Type): An early one is titled: "Be very afraid: Bush Productions is preparing to go into action."

Peter W Galbraith, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End (2006, Simon & Schuster): Advocated partitioning Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite states.

Peter W Galbraith: Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies (2008, Simon & Schuster).

Lloyd C Gardner/Marilyn B Young, eds.: Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past (2007, New Press).

Lloyd C Gardner: The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of US Foreign Policy From the 1970s to the Present (2008, New Press).

Anne Garrels: Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War and the Aftermath as Seen by NPR's Correspondent (2003, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2004, Picador).

Barton Gellman: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (2009, Penguin).

Marc Gerstein/Michael Ellsberg: Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental (2008, Union Square Press): Iraq among widely scattered examples, like Chernobyl and Katrina.

Aaron Glantz: How America Lost Iraq (2005, Jeremy P Tarcher/Penguin).

Aaron Glantz: Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Reports from Iraq Veterans Against the War. Glantz followed up with: The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans (2009, University of California Press).

Philip H Gordon: Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (2020, St Martin's Press): Obama's Coordinator for the Middle East (2013-15).

Philip Gourevitch/Errol Morris: Standard Operating Procedure (2008, Penguin): Companion book to Morris's documentary, focusing on the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Richard N Haass: War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (2009, Simon & Schuster): Functionary in both Bush administrations, unable to see the connection.

Haider Ala Hamoudi: Howling in Mesopotamia: An Iraqi-American Memoir (2008, Beaufort Books): A cousin of Ahmed Chalabi.

Chris Hedges/Laila Al-Arian: Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians (2008; paperback, 2009, Nation Books).

Dilip Hiro: Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm (paperback, 2002, Thunder's Mouth Press).

Dilip Hiro: Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and After: A Prelude to the Fall of US Power in the Middle East? (paperback, 2003, Nation Books).

Russ Hoyle: Going to War: How Misinformation, Disinformation, and Arrogance Led America Into Iraq (2008, Thomas Dunne).

William Hughes: Saying "No" to the War Party: A Collection of Essays and Photos in Opposition to Iraq War No. 2 (paperback, 2003, iUniverse).

Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (2006; paperback, 2007, Crown).

Eugene Jarecki: The American Way of War and How It Lost Its Way: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril (2008, Free Press): Director of documentary, Why We Fight.

Robert D Kaplan: Imperial Grunts: On the Ground With the American Military, From Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq (2005, Random House; paperback, 2006, Vintage).

Tony Lagouranis/Allen Mikaelian: Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq (2007, NAL).

Frank Ledwidge: Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (2011, Yale University Press).

Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008, Doubleday).

Michael J Mazarr: Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America's Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (2019, PublicAffairs).

George McGovern/William R. Polk, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (paperback, 2006, Simon & Schuster).

T Christian Miller, Blood Money: A Story of Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq (2006; paperback, 2007, Little Brown).

Greg Mitchell: So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed in Iraq (paperback, 2008, Union Square Press): Sorts the details out in good form for reference.

Greg Muttitt: Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012, Free Press).

Richard North: Ministry of Defeat: The British in Iraq 2003-2009 (2009, Continuum).

George Packer: The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq (2005, Farrar Straus Giroux): One of the more prominent liberal hawks, turned out to be profoundly disappointed by the way the war went.

Paul R Pillar: Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (2011, Columbia University Press): Ex-CIA.

William Rivers Pitt/Scott Ritter: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know (paperback, 2002, Context): 92 pp.

William R Polk: Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, from the American Revolution to Iraq (2007, Harper): Ten case studies.

William R Polk: Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, from Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation (paperback, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan).

Kenneth M Pollack: The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (2002, Random House): Ex-CIA, DOD, think tanker, this book was very influential at the time. Followed up with Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy (2013; paperback, 2014, Simon & Schuster), where he belatedly advised us not to make the same mistake with Iran.

Kenneth Pollack: A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East (2008, Random House): Major promoter of Iraq WMD hysteria, tries to make amends.

Samantha Power: Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World (2008, Penguin Press): Profile of the UN mediator who was killed in one of the first big terror attacks in post-invasion Iraq.

Sheldon Rampton/John Stauber: Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq (paperback, 2003, Tarcher Perigee): Editors of PR Watch, also wrote books like Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! and Trust Us, We're Experts!.

Sheldon Rampton/John Stauber, The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq (paperback, 2006, Tarcher).

Joel Rayburn: Iraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance (2014, Hoover Institution Press).

Paul William Roberts: A War Against Truth: An Intimate Account of the Invasion of Iraq (2005, Raincoast).

Linda Robinson: Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq (2008, Public Affairs): Part of the Petraeus press blitz.

Aram Roston: The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi (2008, Nation Books).

Timothy Andrews Sayle/Jeffrey A Engel/Hal Brands/William Inboden, eds: The Last Card: Inside George W Bush's Decision to Surge in Iraq (2019, Cornell University Press).

Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007, Nation Books).

Robert Scheer: The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (2008, Twelve).

Michael Schwartz: War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books).

Jim Sheeler: Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (2008, Penguin Press): Short bios, stories, and/or obits of dead US soldiers from the Iraq war.

Nancy Sherman: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers (2010, WW Norton): Taught ethics at US Naval Academy.

Nancy Sherman: Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers (2015, Oxford University Press).

Kevin Sites: The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (paperback, 2013, Harper Perennial).

Emma Sky: The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (2015, Public Affairs): British, worked in occupation, e.g., as political adviser to US Gen. Odierno.

Peter Sluglett: Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country (2007, Columbia University Press): History of British Mandate in Iraq.

Jonathan Steele: Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq (2008, Counterpoint): British author. Most American authors just ignore Britain's contribution.

Rory Stewart, The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq (2006, Harcourt; paperback, 2007, Mariner): British diplomat, later Conservative MP, "did his bit," as they like to say.

Steven Strasser, ed, The Abu Ghraib Investigations: The Official Independent Panel and Pentagon Reports on the Shocking Prisoner Abuse in Iraq (paperback, 2004, Public Affairs).

Craig Unger: The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future (2007, Scribner).

Peter Van Buren: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011, Metropolitan Books).

HC von Sponeck: A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq (2006, Berghahn): Former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, oversaw sanctions program from 1990 to 2003.

J Kael Weston: The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (2016, Knopf).

Marcy Wheeler: Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy (paperback, 2007, Vaster Books): The spy was Valerie Plame.

Bob Woodward: Bush at War (2002; paperback, 2003, Simon & Schuster).

Bob Woodward: Plan of Attack (2004; paperback, 2004, Simon & Schuster).

Bob Woodward, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (2006; paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster).

Bob Woodward: The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (2008; paperback, 2009, Simon & Schuster).

Bob Woodward: Obama's Wars (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster).

Monday, March 13, 2023

Music Week

Expanded blog post, March archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 57 albums, 6 A-list,

Music: Current count 39787 [39730] rated (+57), 48 [50] unrated (-2: 20 new, 28 old).

Again, mostly old jazz from the Penguin Guide unheard 4-star list. The K-M section has produced fewer A-list albums than the J section did, and I got so frustrated trying to look up entries on the M list I temporarily brought up some new 2023 albums. However, since I'm not keeping a tracking list this year, I only had a few names ready in mind.

I will note that I'm generally skipping over long box sets that are available, like Stan Kenton's Retrospective and MJQ 40. I'm also skipping past many compilation of old jazz, which are rarely available as such (e.g., Classics has mostly vanished, and many European archival labels aren't available). Obscure works from European avant-gardists are also very hard to find (although sometimes I'm surprised). On the other hand, to check items off the list, I sometimes synthesize listed compilations from various sources. (Unfortunately, three John Lewis twofers on Collectables were only half-available to stream.)

I'm able to add two more movies to the short list of 2022 releases from last week:

  • Enola Holmes 2 -- imagine if Sherlock had a smarter sister A-
  • She Said -- NY Times reporters chasing Harvey Weinstein A-

That brings the A- movies list for the year up from zero to two. We also rewatched the original Enola Holmes (Laura had missed it). Both were great fun, albeit (especially 2) with an excess of fighting (and bomb throwing from the mother).

She Said was as expertly constructed and paced as any newspaper/intrepid reporter film I can remember, and the lead reporters managed to keep their ambitions wrapped in decency. Too bad the New York Times can't bring such diligence to their political reporting. I doubt we'll ever see a movie about Judith Miller's Iraq propaganda (but if we do, I bet it's played for laughs).

I watched the opening and first couple Oscar awards, then decided I'd better get back to work. My distaste for all the nominated films probably had something to do with that. I had read a couple prediction pieces, and as best I recall they were all exactly right. I'm not sure why they were so accurate, but it can't think of any reason that might suggest that's a good thing. [PS: I now see Alissa Wilkinson proclaiming this "the end of predictable Oscar winners," but who didn't predict that EEAAO would win big?]

Laura still wants to see To Louise and Aftersun, so we'll probably get to them this week. Neither of us are keen to see The Whale, but a friend who sometimes comes over to watch movies with us thought it was very good. I have an interest in a couple more movies, but I'd probably prefer to spend our limited time watching crime series (Beyond Paradise is enjoyable so far; we've also been into The Nordic Murders and have just started Bloodlands).


New records reviewed this week:

  • Robert Forster: The Candle and the Flame (2023, Tapete): [r]: A-
  • Ingrid Laubrock: The Last Quiet Place (2019 [2023], Pyroclastic): [cd]: B+(***) [03-31]
  • Liv.e: Girl in the Half Pearl (2023, In Real Life): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Scott Petito: Many Worlds (2022 [2023], Planet Arts): [cd]: B
  • Mason Razavi: Six-String Standards (2021-22 [2023], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rich Thompson: Who Do You Have to Know? (2023, Origin): [cd]: B+(*) [03-17]
  • Triogram: Triogram (2023, Circle Theory Media): [cd]: B+(**) [04-07]
  • Kali Uchis: Red Moon in Venus (2023, Interscope): [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Balka Sound: Balka Sound (1981-83 [2022], Strut): [sp]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Wild Bill Davis & Johnny Hodges: In Atlantic City (1966 [1999], RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barry Guy & the London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Harmos (1989, Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barry Guy & the London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Double Trouble (1989 [1990], Intakt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Barry Guy & the London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Portraits (1993 [1994], Intakt, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orchestra/Irene Schweizer/Marilyn Crispell/Pierre Favre: Double Trouble Two (1995 [1998], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra: Castle Rock (1951-52 [1955], Verve): [sp]: A-
  • Johnny Hodges: Duke's in Bed (1956 [1957], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Johnny Hodges and the Ellington Men: The Big Sound (1957, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra: Not So Dukish (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Johnny Hodges: Sandy's Gone (1963 [1964], Verve): [r]: D+
  • Egil Kapstad: Cherokee (1988 [1989], Gemini): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Egil Kapstad: Remembrance (1993 [1994], Gemini): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jan Kaspersen Quintet: Live in Sofie's Cellar in Copenhagen/Vol. 1 (1991, Olufsen): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Stan Kenton: Innovations in Modern Music (1950, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Stan Kenton: New Conceptions of Artistry in Rhythm (1952 [1989], Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Stan Kenton: Easy Go (1950-52 [2001], Capitol): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Stan Kenton: City of Glass (1947-53 [1995], Capitol): [sp]: B
  • David Kikoski: Almost Twilight (1999 [2000], Criss Cross): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Rebecca Kilgore With Dan Barrett's Celestial Six: I Saw Stars (1994 [1995], Arbors): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Rebecca Kilgore: Harlem Butterfly: A Remembrance of Maxine Sullivan (2000 [2001], Audiophile): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jonny King: The Meltdown (1997, Enja): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Ryan Kisor: Power Source (1999, Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hans Koch/Martin Schütz/Fredy Studer & El Nil Troop: Heavy Cairo Traffic (1995 [1997], Intuition): [sp]: A-
  • Steve Kuhn: The Best Things (1999 [2000], Reservoir): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: The Hottest New Group in Jazz (1959, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Sing Ellington (1960, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: High Flying (1961, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: The Hottest New Group in Jazz (1959-62 [1996], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Joëlle Léandre's Canvas Trio: L'Histoire De Mme. Tasco (1992 [1993], Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Joëlle Léandre & Kevin Norton: Winter in New York (2006 [p2007], Leo): [sp]: B+(***)
  • John Lewis: The John Lewis Piano (1956 [1957], Atlantic): [sp]: B+(***)
  • John Lewis/Bill Perkins/Percy Heath/Chico Hamilton/Jim Hall: Grand Encounter: 2° East - 3° West (1957, Vogue): [sp]: B+(***)
  • John Lewis: Improvised Meditations & Excursions (1959, Atlantic): [sp]: A-
  • John Lewis: Essence (1960-62 [1964], Atlantic): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Ove Lind Quartet: One Morning in May (1975 [1991], Phontastic): [r]: A-
  • Joe Lovano: Sounds of Joy (1991, Enja): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Junior Mance/Martin Rivera: For Dancers Only (1983, Sackville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mat Maneri Trio: So What? (1998 [1999], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mat Maneri Trio: For Consequence (2001 [2003], Leo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Albert Mangelsdorff Trio: Triple Entente (1982 [1983], MPS): [r]: B+(***)
  • Albert Mangelsdorff: Three Originals: Never Let It End/A Jazz Tune I Hope/Triple Entente (1970-82 [1995], MPS, 2CD): B+(***)
  • Michael Mantler: More Movies (1979-80 [1980], Watt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Mantler: Movies/More Movies (1979-80 [1980], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bill Mays Trio: Summer Sketches (2000 [2001], Palmetto): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ron McClure Quintet: Closer to Your Tears (1996 [1997], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Howard McGhee/Milt Jackson: Howard McGhee and Milt Jackson (1948 [1955], Savoy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Marian McPartland: Contrasts (1972-73 [2003], Jazz Alliance, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Misha Mengelberg: Mix (1994, ICP): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Helen Merrill: At Nalen With Jan Johansson (1959 [2012], Riverside): [r]: B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Marian McPartland: Plays the Music of Alec Wilder (1973, Jazz Alliance): [r]: [was: B] B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Konrad Agnas: Rite of Passage (Moserobie) [03-17]
  • Daniel Bingert: Ariba (Moserobie) [03-31]
  • Mark Lewis: Sunlight Shines In (Audio Daddio) [03-24]
  • Peter Smith Trio: Dollar Dreams (Real Magic) [03-03]
  • Steve Swell's Fire Into Music: For Jemeel: Fire From the Road (2003-04, RogueArt, 3CD) [04-07]

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

I opened this file on Thursday, feeling very bad about my inability to get any meaningful writing done, but having a couple of links I figured I'd note just for continuity's sake. I was feeling even worse on Saturday morning when I wrote the long comment on China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, then as I found further links wrote more and more. The Saudis, like the Israelis, have been throwing wild punches at Iran for more than a decade, and the US (especially under Trump) had so little sense of its own interests that it just let others call the shots. The agreement promises to defuse one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints. And, needless to say, America had nothing to do with resolving the problem, after spending decades of trying to bully Iran into some kind of submission it couldn't recognize even when it was possible. So, tell me again, who's the world's "indispensable nation"?

And while you're at it, tell me why we have to spend $900 billion or more a year to beef up a containment barrier around China, when the latter is doing nothing beyond normal business and diplomacy to ingratiate itself with trading partners around the world? The dumbest words in the English language are: "peace through strength." Wikipedia credits the phrase to Hadrian, and I can see some merit there, in an age when wars were about nothing more than loot and plunder, to building a strong defensive barrier. However, the other examples, which are exclusively American, are hard to vouch for as defensive (e.g., the motto of Eighth Air Force in 1944, or the motto of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier).

Strength of that sort is meant to intimidate (the sophisticated term is deter), but can just as well be read as a taunt. Wars for quick spoils largely went out of fashion by 1900, if not well before: they became too expensive to fight just for the loot one could carry off. Wars for imperial glory continued until 1945, when Germany and Japan expired, although it took a few more decades for the existing store of colonies to be unwound. As Jonathan Schell put it, the world had become unconquerable.

But if that's the case, if people recognize that there's nothing to be gained by going to war, why do we need all this "strength" to intimidate or deter? Sure, there have been some cases where rulers (like Saddam Hussein) thought they could defy the odds. Israel has held onto land they seized in 1967, despite the UN finding their act "inadmissible." Some nations have claimed to be rescuing their own fellows (Turkey in Cyprus, the US in Grenada, Russia in Ukraine). And some tried to pass themselves off as liberators (the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither remotely credible). For the most part, these ventures have failed. And while some may have started off with the perception that their targets were weak, there is little reason to believe that strength would have deterred them. The US was pretty clear what the consequences of Russia invading Ukraine would be, yet that didn't stop Putin. If anything, it provoked him to overreach.

It amazes me how little Americans have learned from their many military debacles since 1945. Time and again, failure after failure, you hear the same hackneyed clichés (like "peace through strength") again. The doublespeak is befuddling: changing the War Department name to Defense Department has only resulted in more offensive wars, not less. We should be wondering what we did to get into the war in Ukraine. (I'm not excusing Putin, but he wasn't the sole author of the context in which he decided Russia would be better off fighting than backing down.) And we should be wondering where the saber-rattling with China is taking us.


Top story threads:

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia: I had this as a second section piece when I wrote the Baker comment, but then I found more links and had to promote it.

  • Peter Baker: [03-11] Chinese-Brokered Deal Upends Mideast Diplomacy and Challenges US: "The agreement negotiated in Beijing to restore relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran signaled at least a temporary reordering of the usual alliances and rivalries, with Washington left on the sidelines." Isn't this what China should be doing? (Especially given that the US has abandoned the role it could have had as a peacemaker, in favor of being the world's leading arms supplier.) Revolutionaries often imagine exporting their values, as France did after 1789, and Russia after 1917. In 1979, Iran's dominant Shiite clerics saw an opportunity to extend their influence among Shiite minorities throughout the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia offered two obvious targets: a substantial Shiite minority in the east, which has long chafed under Wahhabi rule, and the symbolic importance of the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina, which the Saudis had long exploited to assert their moral leadership over the Muslim world.

    Since then, the Saudis and their Gulf despot allies have been uremittingly hostile to Iran, especially in the 1980s when they helped finance Saddam Hussein's war against Iran. Hostilities have heated up again in the last decade, as Saudis have intervened in Yemen against a local Shiite faction in one of the world's most brutally pointless wars. Israel has its own reasons (completely bogus, in my opinion) for implacable hostility to Iran, and the American arms industry profits from stoking both Arab and Israeli fears of Iran, so the US has had little (if any) interest in reducing hostilities. (Obama and Kerry did make an effort to work out a deal with Iran answering Israel's oft-stated fear that Iran could develop nuclear weapons, but Israel killed the deal through Trump, as much as admitting that they never had any such worry.)

    One problem is that the Saudis never got much out of fighting Iran, especially when doing so looked to make them a pawn in an American-Israeli plot they had no control over. Similarly, Iran's so-called proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen were more of a drain than a resource, and exercising them (to the extent they did, which isn't clear) just isolated them further. So it should be easy to see why China offers an exit ramp from a conflict that hurts both sides. And why is China doing this? Well, it's obviously good for business. China's a net oil importer, and has lots it can trade. While the Saudis are cash-rich, Iran is hard-strapped for finance, which China can provide. And China is a big enough market that Iran can finally see a way around US sanctions.

    As for sidelining Washington (and Israel), none of the parties are likely to shed any tears. Still, when you think of what a superpower should be doing, either on its own or through the UN, it is smoothing over conflicts and stabilizing the world market. Immediately after WWII, the US considered assuming that role, but soon got distracted by the ever-polarizing Cold War, and never extricated itself from that mentality, even after the Soviet Union dissolved itself -- partly because the arms industry had become so politically influential, and because the mass military needed threats to keep the funding going (and, of course, turning the US into a threat that stimulates more arms races, including one with China).

  • David Pierson: [03-11] China's Role in Iran-Saudi Arabia Deal Shows Xi's Global Goals: "Brokering a rapprochement between the Middle Eastern rivals underscores the Chinese leader's ambition of offering an alternative to a U.S.-led world order." Why shouldn't they? The US does two things that should bother China greatly: one is that the US divides the world into hostile camps, mostly based on whether countries buy arms (and pay other forms of tribute, like patent rents) to the US and/or its preferred companies, which almost by definition precludes countries with their own legacy arms manufactures, like Russia and China; the other is that the US is given to making arrogant moral judgments about how other countries run their business, with China a common target. (While the US likes to regard itself as a guardian of democracy and human rights, its track record shows many convenient exceptions.)

    China is far less judgmental, willing to do business with pretty much anyone (except for a rather glaring blind spot regarding Taiwan, although even that's mostly cosmetic: they actually do a lot of business with Taiwan). That clearly gave them an opening to Iran, which the US regards as treif (not just forbidden but an object of disgust). And while the Saudis have done enough business with the US (including buying arms) to grant them official wavers, they must have noticed that most Americans look down on them as well. Aside from the Khashoggi murder and the Yemen War and residual anti-Islamic bias (17 of 21, you know what I mean?), Biden got directly into their business when he pressured them to turn on their OPEC ally Russia to help keep gas prices cheap. With friends like US, maybe they should consider other options?

    It's notable that China is also floating a proposal to end the Ukraine War, which is more than the US and its European allies can say, but is more in line with what other nonaligned states (like Brazil and South Africa) are proposing. (The Ukraine War has drawn Europe closer to the US, but has estranged the US from virtually every other nation, thus opening doors for China.) It's less likely to fly because China has less to offer either side, but it's there if/when the belligerents realize they need to stanch the bleeding.

    Especially since WWII, a favorite term is Pax Americana. Like its Pax Romana and Pax Britannica predecessors, peace only resides within the imperium; the margins are still likely to flare into war, and the controlling empires had to deploy huge armed forces, even if they characterized them as defensive. If such empires were truly benign, you'd expect the margins to melt away as others sought safety from war, but they never were, and America's isn't. Rather, they are constantly engaged in border wars -- and not infrequently wars against their own people -- which they fight, like most warriors fight, for the spoils. They would have you think that a global hegemon is necessary to keep the peace, and that you're lucky it's us this time. They would also have you think that anyone who challenges Pax Americana is only out to establish their own imperium. (Hence you hear absurdities like we have to fight Iraq over there so we won't have to fight them here.)

    Such people find China alarming: they refuse to submit, then they build up defenses, then they imagine they might stave off attack through deterrence. But most alarming is when they undermine the whole game by showing that it isn't necessary, by showing that unaligned nations can cooperate and prosper without paying tribute to Pax Americana.

  • Michael Crowley/Vivian Nereim/Patrick Kingsley: [03-11] Saudi Arabia Offers Its Price to Normalize Relations With Israel: "The Saudi crown prince is seeking a civilian nuclear program and security assurances from President Biden, a steep price for an agreement long sought by Israel." If nuclear power is what Saudi Arabia is after, Iran and China offer an alternative to having to deal with an increasingly difficult Israel (and its puppet US).

  • Jonathan Guyer: [03-10] Why Iran and Saudi Arabia making nice is a very big deal: Among other things, introduces the phrase: "post-American Middle East."

  • Daniel Larison: [03-10] Why the Iran-Saudi agreement to restore ties is so big.

  • Richard Silverstein: [03-11] Iran, Saudi Arabia Renew Relations Under Chinese Auspices. This doesn't seem to preclude better relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, although just a week ago, Silverstein wrote: [03-08] US Ambassador Tells Israel "We've Got Your Back" If You Attack Iran.

  • Robert Wright: [03-10] Trading places with Xi Jinping. Wright has been pushing something he calls "cognitive empathy" -- basically, it means trying to understand someone else's viewpoint -- as a way of unlocking many of the thornier problems in American foreign policy. Xi complains that the West, led by the US, has "implemented all-around containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country's development." Wright gives examples, including "odd and gratuitous anti-Xi rhetoric." While you can argue that he's being a bit paranoid, you can't say there's no substance to the charges, or no menace behind them. Wright quotes Noah Smith: "What's scary to me is that we heard similar rhetoric from Germany before WWI and Japan before WW2." Wright follows up on the German case, but I've been more struck by how US sanctions against Japan provoked the Pearl Harbor attack (presumably the opposite of their intent). In both cases, fears of eventual war led to the calculation that one should attack first, while the enemy was still relatively weak. Both aggressions were unwarranted and catastrophic, which China should take as a cautionary tale, but the US should also learn a thing or two from such past misunderstandings.

  • Blaise Malley: [01-27] Can China and America Live and Let Live? Review of Van Jackson: Pacific Power Paradox: American Statecraft and the Fate of Asian Peace. I'm starting to grow tired of the word "détente," as it implies a continuing adversary relationship even if a less hostile one. While one should be able to coexist peacefully with others you are nonetheless critical of, it would be better to minimize threats than to reserve your right to oppose. I think a big problem with the JCPOA with Iran was that Obama/Kerry refused to do anything beyond the treaty's narrow aims to normalize relations with Iran. (By contrast, the Saudi-Iran agreement starts with normalization, leaving many details to be resolved in that new context.)

Trump, DeSantis, et al: Trump not indicted yet, but lots of rumors, and even more revelations that should be embarrassing. Meanwhile, DeSantis has his campaign book out.

On DeSantis's campaign book, I wrote a note for an upcoming Book Roundup:

Ron DeSantis: The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival (2023, Broadside Books): "He played baseball for Yale [while most were studying?], graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, and served in Iraq and the halls of Congress [not just Congress? he was a hall monitor?]. But in all these places, Ron DeSantis learned the same lesson: He didn't want to be part of the leftist elite." Nah, he wanted to be part of the far-right elite (although between Yale, Harvard, Iraq, and Congress, I doubt he met very many actual leftists. This, of course, is his campaign brief. (Amazon's "frequently bought together" offer adds Mike Pompeo's Never Give an Inch and Mike Pence's So Help Me God), so one would normally expect it to be long on homilies and short on details. Of course, his homilies are pretty dark, like "The United States has been increasingly captive to an arrogant, stale, and failed ruling class." And also: "Florida has stood as an antidote to America's failed ruling class." The table of contents not only includes chapters on "For God, for Country, and for Yale" and "Honor, Courage, and Commitment," but also "The Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism" and "The Liberal Elite's Praetorian Guard." And if you have any doubt that he's running, the books ends with "Make America Florida." All this in a succinct 286 pages. He's every bit as seductive as Satan.

Biden: Headline in Eagle on Biden's budget plan is: "Biden calls for trillions in tax hikes and new spending." That leaves out that the tax hikes are on the rich, the beneficiaries of Republican tax cuts, with few making up for lost revenues. Also that the spending, aside from more fodder for the military, offers net gains to the very people who need help most. Omitted from the headline is the deficit question, which Republicans use as a cudgel to attack any government spending that helps people, while conveniently forgetting to mention any time they get a chance to cut taxes on the rich.

Fox and Company: I'm not a fan of defamation suits, but the Dominion Voting case is prying open some secrets, as the dissembling and pandering sometimes catches them up:

A Bank Collapses: Silicon Valley Bank, in, well, you know where.

Derailing: We're not done with the toxic train derailment in Ohio. But also note a horrific train collision in Greece that killed 57.

Israel:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [03-10] Diplomacy Watch: Tensions grow in West as brutal war drags on. Lots of posturing on all sides, little if any indication that any are ready to negotiate. One hint is that both US and Zelensky are insisting on Russia being tried for war crimes, which however just in the abstract (the entire war should be considered criminal) is an indication that you're not (yet) thinking clearly about the real world.

  • Fred Kaplan: [03-06] Why the Russian Army Isn't Learning From Its Mistakes. No idea whether this is true or not (it certainly relies on a selection of reports), but I noted early on that superior numbers of tanks didn't seem to be helping Russia much, and I've wondered whether more tanks would help Ukraine much either. I can't help but think this war matters less to Russian conscripts than to Ukrainians, at least at present. Perhaps the tables will flip as Ukraine approaches territory where ethnic Russians voted to break away from Ukraine.

  • Jen Kirby: [03-09] A Ukrainian city is on the verge of falling to Russia: "If Moscow takes Bakhmut, it may be a hollow victory." Having lost territory to Ukraine southeast of Kharkiv and around Kherson, Russian forces have made Bakhmut -- formerly Artyomovsk, a city of 75,000 (70-29% Ukrainian-to-Russian) well inside breakaway Donetsk Oblast) the focus of their counteroffensive, effectively depopulating and destroying the city.

  • Anatol Lieven: [03-07] A looming crisis in Moldova's breakaway state: This is about a sliver of land called Transdniestria (i.e., the east bank of the Dniester River), The region broke off from Moldova almost immediately after independence. It has been stabilized by Russian "peacekeepers," whose position has been made more precarious by war in Ukraine.

  • Choe Sang-Hun: [03-05] They're Exporting Billions in Arms. Just Not to Ukraine. "As traditional weapons suppliers like the U.S. face wartime production shortages, South Korea has stepped in to fill the gap, while trying not to provoke Moscow."

  • Artin DeSimonian: [03-09] Ukraine war unleashed similar West-Russia divide in Georgia: Like Moldova and Ukraine, Georgia has breakaway provinces (Abkhazia, South Ossetia) that have appealed to Russia for protection. In 2008, Georgia tried to move military to recover those provinces, provoking a Russian intervention. You may recall that in the midst of his 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain wanted to go to war with Russia to back Georgia -- one of many needles leading to Ukraine. The conflict persists, although for now it's dormant. It would be smart for negotiations over Ukraine to provide a peaceful model for resolving the Georgia dispute. Author has written more on the region, where Azerbaijan is trying to take back control over the Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region: [01-11] How great power conflict is affecting the looming Caucasus crisis.

  • Juan Cole: [03-09] When We Were Vladimir Putin: "How Washington Lost Its Moral Compass in Iraq," 20 years ago. It lost its moral compass long before, but few cases are more easily comparable to Putin's invasion of Ukraine than Bush's invasion of Iraq. Both start with the arrogant supposition that one is entitled to dictate to another country, and with the belief that overwhelming force can mold others to your liking.

  • Yves Smith: [03-07] Wall Street Journal: "US Is Not Yet Ready for Great Power Conflict" Yet Still Plots Against China. Pretty much pure speculation viz China, followed by a report on the Ukraine War that is significantly at odds with official American thinking: Smith is unimpressed with Ukraine's US-backed performance, and concludes "it's hard to see any reason for Russia to end the war before its aims are met." What aims? I don't know, and I doubt Putin knows either. My view is that both sides can look forward to nothing but losses from here on out, so the only sane thing to do is to ceasefire and negotiate. Americans (and Zelensky) are deluded if they think victory is just a few tank advances away. But they're even more deluded if they think that a big win in Ukraine is going to intimidate China and back it down to an acceptable sphere of influence. Wins only breed more arrogance, until someone else knocks you down to size.


Other stories:

Ryan Cooper: [03-09] Might We See a Bipartisan Agreement to Scale Back the Bush-Obama Security State?: "Segments of both parties want to do it. But obstacles are high."

Dave DeCamp: [03-08] Sen. Lindsey Graham Says He Will Introduce Legislation for Military Intervention in Mexico. Who was it who said, "poor Mexico; so far from God, so close to the United States"? Max Boot, in The Savage Wars for Peace (2002), tried to make the case that America's "gunboat diplomacy" of the first third of the 20th century was all good, but his description of Pershing's posse chasing Pancho Villa shows both how futile his quest was and how lucky he was that it didn't turn much worse. Since the 1930s, the US has generally preferred to hire local goons to do its dirty work, but it's hard to imagine how that could play out in Mexico. Graham may be right that if you want a job done, you have to do it yourself. But he is surely wrong that the US military has the skills and resources to do it.

Jeannie Suk Gersen: [03-12] The Expanding Battle Over the Abortion Pill: "Republican state attorneys are threatening actions against pharmacies that dispense it, as a federal lawsuit challenges the F.D.A.'s authority to approve it."

Rae Hodge: [03-08] Biden's FCC nominee backs out after Joe Manchin says no: Gigi Sohn, whose nomination has been held up for 18 months. And it's not personal with Manchin: industry lobbyists hate Sohn, and he's just doing their bidding.

Ed Kilgore: [03-08] No Labels Has a Genius 2024 Plan That Would Kneecap Biden: That assumes that anyone beyond the organizers would fall for it. Their plan is to nominate a "centrist" third-party ticket for the 2024 presidential election, and put them on the ballot in "at least 23 states" (focusing on competitive ones). While approximately a third of the electorate likes to identify as independent, the actual middle ground between a rabid Republican and a relatively sane Democrat is pretty slim. For more on No Labels, see [03-08] Could these hacks really put Trump back in the White House? For one thing, this piece puts some names on the group, like Nancy Jacobson, whose husband (Mark Penn) did more damage to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign than Steve Bannon and Vladimir Putin put together.

Ezra Klein: [03-12] This Changes Everything: Bad title for a piece about AI. In many respects, it changes nothing, but it presents an image of change that can be pitched to the desires and fantasies of those in power, usually by promising them more power. Will it deliver on those promises? Or will it just expose their quest for more power to be in vain? Klein writes: "I cannot emphasize this enough: We do not understand these systems, and it's not clear we even can." I'd amend that to say: "it's clear that we cannot." I've spent 30 years struggling with the problem of how do you write computer code that works as intended. What I've found is that proving code scales with complexity by some large order of magnitude.

Given how complex AI has to be to appear intelligent, it can never be known, and can only be programmed through layers of abstraction that themselves are imperfectly known. Nor is this mere theory. We've already run the empirical test, and conclusively shown that billions of intelligent automatons create all sorts of problems beyond our capacity to understand let alone remedy. (Before I got into programming, I studied sociology.)

It's not clear how AI will change things, but unless we are very deliberate, its initial application will be to intensify relationships of power, both commercial and political. I rather doubt that AI will produce much in the way of genius breakthroughs, but what it should be able to do much better than humans is to muddle through data. For instance, it could be used to solve the surveilance problem: there are never enough people to surveil everyone, but collect the data and let computers sift through it. Is this something we really want? And who decides? (China seems to be heading that direction.) Perhaps what we should really be asking isn't what AI will change, but what we want it to be used for, and what not?

Klein is inching his way toward these same questions, even if he phrases it in one dimension ("accelerate its adaptation to these technologies or a collective, enforceable decision must be made to slow the development of these technologies").

[PS: I noticed this piece by mathbabe, which says much of what I just tried to say, and a few things I was just thinking (like if you're worried about ChatGPT-written papers, try oral exams). Final line: "Galactica can do all the easy stuff but none of the hard stuff, and so why should we be impressed?"]

Andy Kroll/Andrea Bernstein/Nick Surgey: [03-09] Inside the "Private and Confidential" Conservative Group That Promises to "Crush Liberal Dominance": "Leonard Leo, a key architect of the Supreme Court's conservative supermajority, is now the chairman of Teneo Network, a group that aims to influence all aspects of American politics and culture."

Ian Millhiser: [03-12] No one knows when it is legal to perform medically necessary abortions in Texas.

Nicole Narea/Fabiola Cineas: [03-10] The GOP's coordinated national campaign against trans rights, explained: "Republicans are unleashing a torrent of anti-trans bills at the state level ahead of 2024." Any excuse for haters to hate, and this seems to be the one Republican strategists think they can still get the most mileage out of -- not least because it takes so damn much effort to resist, especially when they are other threats that also need defense (e.g., see the child labor stories, and what the anti-abortion fanatics are doing).

Timothy Noah: [02-28] The Shocking, Sickening Reality of Child Labor in America: "Large corporations have made the enforcement of labor protections for frontline, low-wage workers other people's problem." Needless to say, Republicans are in the forefront of bringing child labor back (including one Wisconsin bill that seeks to ban the term).

Julia Shapero: [03-08] Most in new poll view 'woke' as positive term. Divide was 56-39, but the partisan split is pronounced. It's often said that Americans of all stripes live in their own bubbles, but the Republican one is pretty extreme. How else do you explain major efforts within the GOP to gain political traction by defending Jan. 6 rioters, or to vilify public health officials and make sure they can never respond to any future pandemic? Marjorie Taylor Greene tipped her hand when she revealed that "everyone I talk to" wants a "national divorce." That can't be many people.

Quinn Slobodian: [03-12] What Really Controls Our Global Economy: "After decades of giddy globalization, the pendulum is swinging back to the nation. . . . But what if globalization has progressed so far that it exists even within national borders, and we just haven't had the right lenses to see it?" Slobodian introduces us to the "zone": an enclave with rules and other perks tailored to serve businesses, one so ubiquitous that no company would even conceive of opening a plant or office without shopping it around to politicians to bid on. I see this happen with appalling regularity even in poor, backwards Kansas. Slobodian has a new book about this: Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy. After all, that's what your politicos are really sacrificing.

Jeffrey St Clair: [03-10] Roaming Charges: The Man Who Came Out of the Darkness. Opens with long-term Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan. Then he points to articles meant to provide a counternarrative to Seymour Hersch's piece on how the US Navy blew up the NordStream pipelines: the obliging publishers being the New York Times and the Washington Post (of course they were). Among many other items, there is a chart on "How much governments spend on child care for toddlers." The US is dead last. Even neo-fascist states like Israel and Hungary spend much more per child (6 times for Israel, 14 times for Hungary).

Joseph Stiglitz: [01-10] Milton Friedman Set Us Up for a 21st Century Version of Fascism: Aside from the dates, I'm not sure what's new about 21st century fascism; that is, what distinguishes it from the 20th century fascism of Pinochet in Chile that Friedman inspired and consulted in.

Katy Waldman: [03-10] What are we protecting children from by banning books? As far as I can tell, a growing interest in reading. When I was young, I had very little sense of what I was prohibited from reading, but I did quickly and thoroughly learn to hate pretty much everything I was directed to read. Fortunately, I dropped out of high school, and started reading on my own. Or unfortunately, depending on your point of view. But one thing I was left with was an intense distaste for the viewpoint that the purpose of education is to train people to follow directions and mind their manners.

Craig Whitlock/Nate Jones: [03-07] Former top U.S. admiral cashes in on nuclear sub deal with Australia.

Robert Wright: [03-09] Skeptical of the lab leak theory? Here's why you should take it seriously. Not an issue I have any particular interest in -- least of all when a Chinese and/or American origin story is presented as evidence for escalating military tensions -- but it seems pretty obvious that secret labs researching pathogens are inherently dangerous, and if justified at all should be subject to public scrutiny. Also:

Monday, March 06, 2023

Music Week

Expanded blog post, March archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 50 albums, 18 A-list,

Music: Current count 39730 [39680] rated (+50), 50 [40] unrated (+10: 22 new, 28 old).

Fairly substantial Speaking of Which yesterday. Here's a shortcut to the Jimmy Kimmel monologue on Trump as President Karen (whole monologue, but the relevant parts go from from 0:28 to 5:46). Also, again, I want to urge you to read the Spencer Ackerman piece. Much of what I link to is there because I want to say something different about it, but this is actually a tip.

I feel like I should write something more substantial on China, but it's a big question to try to wrap my head around. For now, the big thing to understand is that Americans are almost always talking out of their ass about China. They don't understand China, least of all how they think, including how they feel when they hear Americans lecturing them on democracy and human rights -- knowing as they do what imperialist depredation does to a country. Americans also don't have any sense of the scale and depth of China, even if they know that it's about the same land area as the US, with four times as many people. They're used to being able to push around smaller, weaker countries, and that's no longer an accurate description of China.

On the other hand, China doesn't understand Americans very well, but it would be a mistake simply to dismiss that as their problem. When dealing with others, it's important to make extra effort to hear what they're saying, and to respect the context it comes from. Nobody does that very well, but when you're as powerful and as arrogant as the US is, that turns into a huge risk. If anything should have become clear from the last 20+ years of war (including Ukraine), it's that nearly every belief we have in how military and international policy works is wrong. And that's something we need to realize and correct before we make even more catastrophic blunders with China. But a true reckoning there is a long ways off. It needs to start with looking in the mirror, something we never dare do.


Continuing to work through my list of unheard 4-star Penguin Guide albums. Most of the records only get one spin, so my grades tend to be reserved, but Milt Jackson seemed to demand further study, and the whole J-section kept coming up aces. I often found extra albums of interest where I looked -- some were Penguin Guide 3.5 albums, others just caught my eye. For example, I was looking for a different Illinois Jacquet, but noticed a Black & Blue Sessions album, and I generally like that series. Billy Jenkins has long been one of my interests, so it's tempting to fill in there. After the first Jazz Tribe album, I didn't need much persuasion to try the other two.

I had a problem with Jan Johansson: Penguin Guide reviewed later twofer compilations, but I found the albums broken out separately, so reviewed them as such, then added the twofers so I could check them off the list. A second Quincy Jones album struck my eye, and it turned out I liked it even more than they one they recommended.

Then when I got to Louis Jordan's Swingsation entry, I decided to see what else that particular series of CD compilations had to offer (the only one I had previously picked up was Red Prysock, which I had down as a B): the Hampton and Lunceford discs were subsets of records I already rated highly (I couldn't find the Count Basie Swingsation, but that would have been an easy A- or higher -- I have the 3-CD The Complete Decca Recordings, as well as the 1-CD The Best of Early Basie, as solid A).

After a couple lax weeks, I got quite a bit of mail (with a couple more packages arriving today, not yet logged), so I'm falling behind on new work. I'm also paying very little attention to new releases elsewhere. I'll catch up eventually, but I'm in no hurry. The way things are going, formerly simple things like replacing windshield wipers seem like accomplishments.


My wife has been on a kick to see 2022 Oscar nominated films, We hadn't gone out for one in 3-4 years. We stopped a year or two before the pandemic, when the local Warren chain sold out to Regal (not that we were big Warren fans). Perhaps a bigger reason is that I've been in a long funk over movies, finding them too long and hacnkeyed, but I've tried to be a good sport as long as we can stream the things. These are ones I remember seeing (Oscar-nominated):

  • All Quiet on the Western Front -- German WWI. B+
  • The Banshees of Inisherin -- Irish rural. B
  • Elvis -- Baz Luhrman on Presley. B+
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once -- kaleidoscopic quantum mechanics, or something like that. B-
  • The Fablemans -- teen filmmaking sage. B+
  • Tár -- classical music. B
  • Top Gun: Maverick -- USAF promo. C
  • Triangle of Sadness -- "a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again." B
  • Women Talking -- pacifist "me too." B+

That's all but Avatar: The Way of Water. Laura went out to the theater to see it (in 3-D), while (not wanting to be a wet blanket) I stayed home. She thought it was better than Top Gun, but didn't rank it above anything else on the list above. I haven't been keeping track, but scanning through the lists reminds me of a few more 2022 movies I've seen:

  • The Bob's Burgers Movie -- animated. B
  • Causeway -- PTSD. B+
  • Death on the Nile -- Kenneth Branagh remake. B+
  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery -- B+
  • The Sea Beast -- animated. B
  • The Woman King -- Dahomey. B-

On the other hand, scanning through the list, I did see some films that looked possibly interesting and/or enjoyable (not necessarily): Aftersun; Argentina, 1985; Babylon; Downton Abbey: A New Era; Empire of Light; Enola Holmes 2; Living; Till; To Leslie; Where the Crawdads Sing. On the other hand, I've seen quite a bit of TV in the past year, and much prefer the pacing and character development. A rundown of that will have to wait another time.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Brad Goode: The Unknown (2022 [2023], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Manzanita Quintet: Osmosis (2021 [2023], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dan Trudell: Fishin' Again: A Tribute to Clyde Stubblefield & Dr. Lonnie Smith (2019-21 [2023], OA2): [cd]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

None.

Old music:

  • Sil Austin: Swingsation (1957-61 [1999], Verve): [r]: A-
  • Charlie Barnet & Jimmy Dorsey: Swingsation (1936-46 [1999], GRP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tommy Dorsey & Artie Shaw: Swingsation (1950-53 [1999], GRP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ella Fitzgerald With Chick Webb: Swingsation (1937-39 [1998], GRP): [r]: A-
  • Benny Goodman: Swingsation (1956 [1999], GRP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lionel Hampton: Swingsation (1942-47 [1998], GRP): [r]: A-
  • Italian Instabile Orchestra: Litania Sibilante (1999 [2000], Enja): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Milt Jackson: Ain't but a Few of Us Left (1981 [1982], Pablo): [sp]: A-
  • Milt Jackson: Wizard of the Vibes (1948-52 [2001], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • Milt Jackson: Early Modern (1949-54 [1999], Savoy Jazz): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Milt Jackson/Coleman Hawkins: Bean Bags (1958 [1959], Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Milt Jackson & John Coltrane: Bags & Trane (1959 [1988], Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Milt Jackson: Memories of Thelonious Sphere Monk (1982, Pablo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Milt Jackson/Ray Brown/Cedar Walton/Mickey Roker Quartet: It Don't Mean a Thing if You Can't Tap Your Foot to It (1984, Pablo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Milt Jackson Meets the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Explosive! (1999, Qwest): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Illinois Jacquet: Jacquet's Street [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1976 [2003], Black & Blue): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Ahmad Jamal Trio: Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 (1958-61 [1998], Chess, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Ahmad Jamal: À L'Olympia (2000 [2001], Dreyfus Jazz): [sp]: A-
  • Jazz at the Philharmonic: Best of the 1940s Concerts (1944-49 [1998], Verve): [r]: A-
  • Jazz at the Philharmonic: J.A.T.P. in Tokyo: Live at the Nichigeki Theatre 1953 (1953 [1990], Pablo, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jazz at the Philharmonic: Stockholm '55: The Exciting Battle (1955 [1974], Pablo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jazz at the Philharmonic: J.A.T.P. in London, 1969 (1969 [1989], Pablo, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Jazz Tribe: The Jazz Tribe (1990 [1992], RED): [sp]: A-
  • The Jazz Tribe: The Next Step (1999, RED): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Jazz Tribe: Everlasting (2008 [2009], RED): [r]: B+(**)
  • Billy Jenkins: Beyond E Major (1984 [1985], Allmusic): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Billy Jenkins: Motorway at Night (1987 [1988], De Core): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Billy Jenkins With the Voice of God Collective: First Aural Art Exhibition (1984-91 [1992], VOTP): [r]: A-
  • Billy Jenkins With the Blues Collective: Life (2001, VOCD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Leroy Jenkins: Themes and Improvisations on the Blues (1992 [1994], CRI): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jan Johansson: 8 Bitar (1961, Megafon): [r]: A
  • Jan Johansson: Innertrio (1962, Megafon): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jan Johansson: 8 Bitar/Innertrio (1961-62 [1989], Heptagon): [r]: A-
  • Jan Johansson: Jazz På Svenska (1962-64 [1964], Megafon): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Charlie Johnson's Paradise Band: Harlem in the 1920s (1925-29 [2018], Digital Gramophone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Etta Jones: Sings Lady Day (2001, HighNote): [sp]: A-
  • Etta Jones: Don't Go to Strangers (1960, Prestige): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Etta Jones: Lonely and Blue (1962, Prestige): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Etta Jones: My Buddy: Etta Jones Sings the Songs of Buddy Johnson (1997 [1998], HighNote): [sp]: A-
  • Etta Jones: All the Way: Etta Jones Sings Sammy Cahn (1999, HighNote): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Etta Jones: Easy Living (2000, HighNote): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Quincy Jones: This Is How I Feel About Jazz (1956 [1957], ABC-Paramount): [r]: B+(***)
  • Quincy Jones: Go West, Man! (1957, ABC-Paramount): [r]: A-
  • Louis Jordan: Swingsation (1939-53 [1999], GRP): [r]: A-
  • Theo Jörgensmann & Eckard Koltermann: Pagine Gialle (1995 [2001], Hatology): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jimmie Lunceford: Swingsation (1934-37 [1998], GRP): [r]: A-
  • Sam "The Man" Taylor: Swingsation (1954-56 [1999], Verve): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Michael Blake: Dance of the Mystic Bliss (P&M) [05-26]
  • Hailey Brinnel: Beautiful Tomorrow (Outside In Music) [03-17]
  • Ludovica Burtone: Sparks (Outside In Music) [03-03]
  • Michael Dease: The Other Side: The Music of Gregg Hill (Origin) [03-17]
  • Rachel Eckroth: One (Blackbird Sessions) [04-21]
  • Kaze & Ikue Mori: Crustal Movement (Libra) [03-17]
  • Brandon Lopez: Vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile (Tao Forms) [04-14]
  • Alex LoRe & Weirdear: Evening Will Find Itself (Whirlwind) * [05-19]
  • Andrew Moorhead: Interleaved (OA2) [03-17]
  • Aymée Nuviola: Havana Nocturne (Worldwide) [02-24]
  • Scott Petito: Many Worlds (Planet Arts) [02-24]
  • Dan Rosenboom: Polarity (Orenda) [04-28]
  • Rich Thompson: Who Do You Have to Know? (Origin) [03-17]
  • Nadia Washington: Hope Resurgence (New) [02-24]

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

I made some comments about a couple of these pieces back in Monday's Music Week, so I'm revisiting them below (Linker on DeSantis, Babbage on China, neither piece recommended but they expose thinking that needs to be shot down. One piece I do recommend you check out is Spencer Ackerman's.

So I got an early start, but still found myself running out of time and patience. Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.


Top story threads:

CPAC: Initials stand for Conservative Political Action Conference, which used to be an annual meeting of the luminaries of the political right, but is increasingly seen as a circus side show -- a transformation which suits Trump fine. But also note that the Koch network's Club for Growth is holding their own confab at the same time, and is easily the bigger draw for Republicans looking for big donor money.

DeSantis, Trump, etc.: Trump went to CPAC, so his speech there tends to land above, while his general inanity (much in evidence in the speech) belongs here.

Inflation: Fed chairman Jerome Powell may or may not be looking at the mixed bag of inflation stats, but seeing employment remain robust still believes we haven't suffered enough.

  • Dean Baker: [02-25] Is Inflation Out of Control, Again?

  • Mike Konczal: [02-28] How the US can stick the landing, beat inflation, and avoid a recession.

  • Paul Krugman: [03-03] Peering Through the Fog of Inflation: And not seeing very much, I'm afraid. He argues that the picture is so unsettled that all the Fed can do is keep raising interest rates. But short of inducing a recession (and causing widespread misery), how does raising interest rates lower inflation?

  • Seth Ackerman: [02-27] Why Joan Robinson Blamed Unions for Inflation While Milton Friedman Did Not: Interesting article on economic theory in a past world -- one where unions exerted significant power over wages and prices, in part because corporations were every bit as concentrated -- although the irony isn't especially important. The residue is that central bankers from Volcker to Powell are stuck in a mindset that blames wages for inflation. The real problem may be that everyone has their own distinct hammer: for unions it is the power to raise wages; for companies, to increase prices; and for bankers, the tool manipulates interest rates, allowing it to suppress employment. In this framework, it is impossible for workers to achieve real wage gains, because each step up will be undercut by the pricing power of firms and interest controls of the bankers.

Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu has presided over right-wing governments in the late 1990s and for most of the last 15 years, but we need a new term for this one, so how about ultra-right? (After the peculiarly Israeli ultra-orthodox, who provide much of the ultra-right's support.) Back during the height of the Sharon anti-intifada, someone asked me what I thought the likelihood of Israel committing genocide was. I thought chances were very small then, but they've obviously increased considerably in the last 20 years (let's say 2% then, more like 20% now, but those are the sort of numbers I'd assign to Germany in 1923 and 1932; and the word "genocide" is a very high bar: the atrocities of the last few weeks are roughly comparable to the first wave of Nazi assaults on Jews, so admitting that it's not genocide yet in no way excuses what's happening).

Of course, whatever Israel does will wind up being different from what Nazi Germany did, or from any of the other well known cases. It's become commonplace to liken Israel's caste system to Apartheid, but one difference stands out: both regimes brutally suppresses any sign of political dissent, but South Africa (like the "Jim Crow" South) still depended on cheap black labor, so there was an economic brake that kept state-sanctioned violence from escalating to genocide. On the other hand, Israel's doctrine of "Hebrew Labor" (which dates back to Ben Gurion in the 1930s) makes Palestinian labor dispensible. For an increasing number of Israelis, the final solution is to drive all Palestinians into exile (as many were in 1947-49, in 1967, and in smaller numbers ever since). A major focus of the new ultra-right government is to strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship rights and force them into exile, so the mechanisms for massive "ethnic cleansing" are quickly being put into place.

The fundamental logic of expulsion and/or extermination has been baked into Zionism from the beginning, but it's always been tempered by the understanding that Israel is a small country, dependent on the US and Europe for good will and protection, so Israelis took pains to cushion and minimize their frequent atrocities and affronts to public opinion. However, a series of US administrations (you can start with Clinton, who was chummy with the Labor governments, or Bush, who gave it all up to Sharon) have abdicated any possible oversight role, leaving Israelis free to indulge their worst impulses. Ironically, Biden seems even more completely under Israel's thumb than Trump, even as many Democrats are horrified by the ultra-right regime. (Republicans were quicker to recognize Israel as racist, militarist, and fanatically fundamentalist, because those are traits they want America to embrace.)

Of course, the real problem with genocide as a final solution in Israel isn't that the world will object and recognize Israel as a pariah state (although there's a movement to do that), or that the Israelis themselves will develop a conscience (although some have), but that there are just too damn many Palestinians. That's always been the problem. Settler colonies have succeeded only in places where the numbers favored them (America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina). They failed where the settlers weren't able to muster majorities (South Africa, Algeria, lots more). Israel has always been the borderline test case, and while sometimes they appear to have won, their refusal to grant Palestinians rights to coinhabit their territory keeps their project in peril. In recent years, Palestinians have put their faith in mobilizing international sentiment to their cause, and as such have avoided returning to the violence of the second intifada. Israel, on the other hand, appears convinced that the best way to sway the world is to provoke an armed uprising. As the final solution approaches, that will surely happen. We should prepare ourselves for that eventuality, and make sure that blame is accorded properly.

Ukraine War: The St Clair piece, above, includes excerpts from the Biden and Putin war anniversary speech, which are highly revelatory.

  • Blaise Malley: [03-01] Diplomacy Watch: Is this India's moment on the world stage -- as mediator? Grasping at straws, as neither side feels they can admit they did anything wrong, or compromise in any way.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [02-26] Here's what arming Ukraine could look like in the future: "France, Germany, and the UK proposed a new defense plan -- that might be a subtle bid for peace negotiations." Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made it practically impossible to consider dismantling NATO. However, the NATO-backed defense of Ukraine suggests a reform posture that could be better than NATO: the Western nations promise to provide very substantial arms and economic support to repel a Russian invasion, as has happened in Ukraine, but don't require key elements of NATO membership that make the organization appear provocative: no NATO troops would be stationed in the client country (as is the case with Ukraine), the client's troops would not be deployed in other NATO members, and would not be obligated to come to the common defense. This isn't exactly what the troika are proposing, but represents an intermediate position between full NATO membership and neutrality.

  • Tamar Jacoby: [02-22] After Biden's Visit to Kyiv, Ukrainians Welcome US Aid but Plead for More: Zelensky's appetite for arms seems insatiable. After Russia's strategic retreats southeast of Kharkiv and around Kherson, Zelensky seems to have concluded that the only thing holding Ukraine back from driving Russia back to their pre-2014 borders is the need for more arms. At least that's an argument that appeals to Washington, but it's probably unrealistic. Russian defense is likely to become more committed (and desperate) as Ukrainian forces approach pre-2022 borders, where they'd be fighting on home ground (assuming Russian majorities in Crimea and Donbas haven't had a change of heart, which seems like a safe assumption). Moreover, while the supply of arms from the west can well continue indefinitely (assuming US/Europe are still interested in protracting the fight), Ukrainian soldiers are a finite resource, one likely to be depleted faster than the much larger Russia. Moreover, motivation, which was so critical in the defense of Kyiv and Kharkiv, shifts the closer the lines get to Russia. There is also a whole meta-level to the arms requests, not least the excuses they offer for failures. If Ukraine stalls, they can always blame the west for holding back. As failure is by far the most likely outcome of any war, one can view the interchanges as an elaborate blame-shifting operation. In the end, that's all there will be.

  • Christopher Mott: [03-03] Tell me how this ends: If recent history is a guide, not with a knockout blow: "Maximalists look at WWII and think the Ukraine war can take a similar path." It's hard to see how anyone can even imagine such a thing. The insistence on "unconditional surrender" was a consequence of fighting "total wars." The Ukraine War is devastating, but it is also contained within the pre-2014 border of Ukraine (aside from minor, deniable sabotage within Russia; I'm not aware of any similar sabotage in NATO countries). Total war became unthinkable with the advent of nuclear weapons. What I think the maximalists are aiming for here is more like the endings of WWI, when first Russia and then Germany capitulated not so much due to battlefield losses as to popular upheavals against the war governments. (The only similar case in WWII was in Italy, but Germany moved quickly to keep Italy from surrender.) There are certainly Americans who imagine the Russians removing Putin from office, then surrendering. That strikes me as unlikely, but I also have to caution against the lop-sided surrender terms of Russia and Germany in WWI, which may have seemed like a good deal at the time, but led fairly directly to further wars.

    As for Mott's other examples, one fact that stands out in my mind is that neither the US nor the USSR felt they could allow client-state conflicts to fester (especially the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, which were ended -- if not exactly resolved -- within 1-3 weeks). On the other hand, we don't have a superpower (even China) who can bully the US and/or Russia into seeing sense, so we're stuck waiting for Biden and Putin to chill out. That wait has already been a long one.


Other stories:

Spencer Ackerman: [03-05] The Iraq War Unleashed an Age of Grift. We're Still Living in It: "This month marks the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, a giant con that heralded a thousand more." Jim Mattis and Elizabeth Holmes are threads in a broad mosaic:

Obviously, fraud in America didn't begin with the invasion of Iraq. The country that gave the world P.T. Barnum, Ivan Boesky, junk-bond king Michael Milken, and Trump (who pardoned Milken) is no innocent babe constantly committing well-meaning blunders. Iraq belongs in a lineage of wars, American and otherwise, waged on false pretexts, from President Polk's 1846 lie that "American blood has been shed on American soil" to invade Mexico . . . to the inciting Gulf of Tonkin non-event in Vietnam.

Ross Babbage: [02-27] A War With China Would Be Unlike Anything Americans Faced Before: Unfortunately, this article doesn't do a very good job of explaining why -- although he has some fanciful ideas of how China might fight, he misses lots of things, including basic strategy. Worse, he insists "building a stronger deterrence by addressing such weaknesses is the best means of averting war." Deterrence is a fine theory if neither side has any desire to fight the other, as was the case in the Cold War, but it's just daring otherwise, and mistake-prone. Israel, for instance, has used its nuclear deterrence as a shield for low-grade offensive operations against Syria and Iran, confident that isolated, infrequent acts of war won't be reciprocated. Deterrence has limited the war in Ukraine, but didn't keep Russia from invading, and won't force it to withdraw. And if deterrence has worked so poorly against Russia, what about a far stronger opponent like China, where the theory cuts both ways? That's unknown, unfathomable territory?

Liza Featherstone: [02-27] Here's Proof That Gas Stoves Are Overrated: "As the end of a study that gave people induction stoves to try, not a single person wanted their gas stove back." I grew up with a gas stove, but have lived in several places with electrics, and managed to cook some pretty good dinners on the latter -- including Chinese, which really demands the ability to raise and lower the heat dramatically (something electrics cannot do, although induction electrics are better in that regard). So when we remodeled the kitchen in 2008, I shopped around seriously. At the time there was a trend in high-end stoves for gas burners on top and an electric oven -- they were called "dual-fuel ranges." I also read a bit about induction ranges, which had just came out, but I gave them little consideration, partly because I understood that I'd have to buy new cookware (and I was very happy with what I had). So I wound up spending $5,000 on a 36-inch, 6-burner Capital, plus a couple thousand more on a range hood and a second oven (an LG electric -- I was originally considering a warming oven, but got a good deal on a full-size wall unit).

It turns out that I mostly use the electric oven, although the gas is good for large roasts, and the broiler is better. No complaints about the gas range top, other than that it takes a fair amount of work to keep it clean. If there's an air pollution problem, that's never been evident -- although since this controversy flared up, I'm more conscientious about running the hood fan. Since then, I've read good things about induction stoves, and can well see this article's claims being true. If I was redoing the kitchen now, I may wind up making the same choices, but I'd certainly consider induction. (That clean glass top is attractive.) If I were building new houses or apartments, I probably would go electric. But it's no big deal being a bit out of step with the world. Some years back, there was a big push to get people to switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and there was an idiot backlash against the change. Still, it wasn't long before LED bulbs made compact fluorescents obsolete, and there was hardly any controversy about that. As it happens, we have all three types around the house. The world may change fast, but most of us tend to lag behind.

Kurt Hackbarth: [03-04] No, AMLO Is Not Undermining Mexican Democracy. The last couple weeks have seen a sudden propaganda tirade to scratch Mexico off the list of the world's democracies. Similar broadsides have occurred whenever America's self-appointed guardians of democracy have taken offense at a world leader who has proven insufficiently pliable for global business interests. So it's not easy to get some straight reporting on the subject. For another case where the propaganda got way ahead of the horse:

Richard Heinberg: [03-03] Why News of Population Decline and Economic Slowdown Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing. Long ago, I read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, and it's had a long impact on my thinking, even as I came to realize that much of his argument was wrong. The thing he's most often faulted for is not realizing that technology (especially the "green revolution") would create resources that could support much more population. But a bigger error was in his assumption that resource usage would scale with population increase, or conversely that people would all get relatively equal shares of resources. Even then it should have been obvious that resource distribution was extremely inequal, so he was depending on a liberal political reform that never happened. But what brought this home to me was a chart that showed China's population approaching a plateau, while Chinese use of materials and energy continued a steep rise. What happened was that Chinese got richer, and that effect was all the more dramatic because they didn't have all those extra people to support. The most interesting part of this piece is that virtually every nation with a declining population "is seeing stable or rising wages and historic lows in unemployment." Brad DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia makes this same point, even more globally. Heinberg sees this as a shift to a post-growth economy, and wonders whether China will handle it better than the rest of us.

Jake Johnson: [03-02] 'Time to End the Greed': Sanders Vows Bill to Cap Price of Insulin at $20 Per Vial: After having raised insulin prices "up by over 1000% since 1996," Eli Lilly got a lot of good press last week for pledging to "cut the list prices of its most commonly used insulin products by 70%." This explains why, and why that isn't enough.

Dylan Matthews: [03-01] Joe Biden is pretty good at being president. He should run again. Well, he's been better than I expected (although I'm not very happy with his foreign policy, where he seems to have married the blob, while gently applying the brakes against its worst excesses). He's supported generally progressive legislation. He's avoided appointing some of the Party's worst neoliberal hacks (especially economists who did so much damage to Obama's administration). Still, it doesn't automatically follow that he should run for a second term. Age is the obvious problem: he was gaffe-prone in his 30s, but past 80 every slip up is going to pounced on as a sign of dementia. The Democratic Party could use a leader who can articulate a vision, and he's not really up to that. On the other hand, the question isn't whether he can hang on for another 4-5 years -- that's what the VP and cabinet are for.

The real question is: can he win in 2024? I'm not particularly worried about the election itself -- any Republican will be a fat target that any Democrat should be able to overcome. The real problem is that an open primary will pit the progressives against the neoliberals, and the latter (e.g., Mike Bloomberg and whoever he tabs as his billion-dollar proxy) hate the left even more than they fear Republicans. Biden bridges that gap better than I imagined he could. Still, someone needs to solve his crisis-prone foreign policy. Democrats will be easily preferable on the economy, on rights, on freedom, but they can't afford to be viewed as the globalist war party. Biden needs to settle the Ukraine War, and to reach some accommodation with China. And fixing easily solvable standoffs with North Korea and Iran would be a plus. Some balance on Israel is probably too much to ask for, especially as the current regime seems to be intent on provoking a third intifada, confident that will provide a pretext for massive collective punishment.

Ian Millhiser:

Kim Phillips-Fein: [02-27] The Betrayal of Adam Smith: "How conservatives made him their icon and distorted his ideas." Review of Glory M Liu: Adam Smith's America: How a Scottish Philosopher Became an Icon of American Capitalism.

Brittany Shammas/Maham Javaid: [03-05] Another Norfolk Southern train details in Ohio.

Maxwell Strachan: [02-21] Companies Can't Ask You to Shut Up to Receive Severance, NLRB Rules: This is good news, but you have to wonder that companies ever thought they had the authority to enforce it. If "freedom of speech" is to mean anything, it has to cover the right to dis a company that did you wrong.


Feb 2023