What We’re Not Talking About

This morning there’s endless speculation on the disappearance and alleged reappearance of Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. I say “alleged” because I’m not sure he has actually reappeared yet, but aides insist they will be able to conjure him up today. The most recent report I found says the governor took a quickie, unannounced vacation to Buenos Aires to “unwind.” His wife didn’t know where he was. I say the governor has some ‘splainin’ to do.

So far there’s much less chatter about civilians killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan. A drone fired missiles into a funeral of a Taliban militant, killing at least 45 Taliban militants, reports say, but also a number of civilians. The New York Times reports that the attack may have been conducted by the Pakistani Air Force, but “local news reports uniformly attributed it to a United States drone.” This will have been the 23rd drone attack carried out in Pakistan this year.

Pierre Tristam says that most of the casualties of the 23 drones have been civilians. Tristam’s commentary is very much worth reading. I don’t criticize using force to stop the Taliban; it has to be done, and it’s probably true that there’s no other way to do it.

But what does it say about us that we go into a several-day mourning frenzy over one young woman killed in Tehran, but shrug our shoulders over civilians killed in Pakistan? And do we really want the people of Pakistan to associate the U.S. with robot killing machines? Whatever happened to sending CARE packages?

Regarding the protests in Tehran, Juan Cole makes a good point

The kind of unlicensed, city-wide demonstrations being held in Tehran last week would not be allowed to be held in the United States. Senator John McCain led the charge against Obama for not having sufficiently intervened in Iran. At the Republican National Committee convention in St. Paul, 250 protesters were arrested shortly before John McCain took the podium. Most were innocent activists and even journalists. Amy Goodman and her staff were assaulted. In New York in 2004, ‘protest zones’ were assigned, and 1800 protesters were arrested, who have now been awarded civil damages by the courts. Spontaneous, city-wide demonstrations outside designated ‘protest zones’ would be illegal in New York City, apparently.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports,

Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.

Back in 2002 and 2003 when the Bushies were stampeding us into the Iraq war, one heard over and over again that Saddam Hussein had to be taken out because he “supported terrorism.” And I don’t doubt he did, although not al Qaeda, and his support was minuscule compared to that of the Saudis. But back then, whenever one brought this up, one was shouted down. We weren’t allowed to talk about it.

What else are we not talking about?

Update: Oh, what the hell — via Betsy Phillips at Nashville Scene, here’s a tribute to Mark Sanford. Enjoy.

Pathological Narcissism and the American Way

“He should point out this is not just an Iranian issue. This is an American issue.” This is John McCain, from the Rachel Maddow clip below. To me, this encapsulates the entire problem with the Right’s approach to foreign policy.

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On the clip Chris Hayes of The Nation said,

“In the long mythology of neoconservatism there’s a notion that Reagan single-handedly brought down the entire Soviet Empire because he said ‘tear down this wall,’ and somehow if you are, like, really willful and chest thumping that the world will sort of bend to your will. … There’s a tremendous pathological narcissism on behalf of people like McCain and [Lindsey] Graham, that everything revolves around the U.S. and revolves around our own, kind of, preening moral self-satisfaction, and it’s actually, it’s really destructive. I mean, if the president were doing what they wanted him to do, we would see things get worse in Iran, worse for the dissidents and protesters. It’s very hard to excuse.”

Of course, in a sense what’s going on in Iran is not just an Iranian issue; it’s the world’s issue. On the other hand, this is very much an issue the Iranian people need to work out for themselves, without outside interference.

And all manner of people keep saying that bellicose rhetoric from America is exactly what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei want, just as an American invasion of a Muslim country was exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted. The chuckleheads on the American Right are so easily manipulated it isn’t funny.

Today there is much self-righteous chest-thumping on the Right about bloodshed in the streets of Tehran. The chest-thumpers are, for the most part, the same crew who has been calling for bombing of Iran for years. They wail about the martyred Neda Agha-Soltan, but if Ms. Agha-Soltan had been killed by an American bomb or drone she would have been, to them, collateral damage and not given a moment’s thought.

A rightie reading this might accuse me of “blaming” America. No, I’m saying America needs to not do things that are blameworthy. It’s my country, right or wrong, but as a patriot I feel it’s my duty to nudge it toward the right and away from the wrong.

Today in Iran

There are fresh reports that Iranian police are cracking down on protesters in Tehran. I’m thinking of Prague Spring, 1968; Tiananmen Square 1989; Saffron Revolution, Burma, 2007. I hope we won’t be adding Tehran, 2009, to that sad list, and the result this time will be more democracy in Iran, not more brutality.

Juan Cole’s backgrounder on what’s been going on the past couple of days is a recommended read. Also, h/t Talking Dog, keep up with the latest at Al’s Place.

Zombies of the Twilight Zone

On the same day we learn that Dan Froomkin was fired from the WashingtonPost.com, WaPo runs separate op eds by Paul WolfowitzPaul Wolfowitz, mind you — and Charles Krauthammer. They both argue that President Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing and should more forcefully and directly come out in support of the demonstrating Iranians.

Jonathan Chait:

President Obama has taken a cautious tone toward the demonstrators in Iran, with his stated reason being that more open support would discredit their cause. This strikes me as a sensible position. The revealed preferences of both sides suggest a mutual belief that an American embrace would hurt the protestors. The regime is trying (so far, without much success) to tie the demonstrators to the U.S., and the demonstrators are embracing the symbolism of the Iranian revolution (the color green, chants of “Alluah Akbar,” and so on) in order to demonstrate their patriotism and mainstream cultural status.

… What’s remarkable to me is that those on the other side refuses to rebut it. Today’s Washington Post op-ed page has two more columns lambasting Obama for failing to embrace the demonstrators. Today’s offerings are by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. Neither one of them even mentions, let alone answers, Obama’s argument for why embracing the demonstrators would be counterproductive.

What’s remarkable to me is that Wolfowitz and Krauthammer have the chutzpah to be seen in public, never mind offer opinions on foreign policy, never mind actually get those opinions published in a major newspaper. Taking foreign policy advice from the likes of these two is like hiring Napoleon as a consultant for your Russian land invasion. Worse, actually, since I suspect Napoleon was smart enough to learn from mistakes and might have had some useful ideas.

Gary Kamiya wrote this week,

Like Rasputin, the unhinged “Mad Monk” whom they sometimes seem to have adopted as an intellectual role model, the neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq war refuse to die. Although they have been figuratively stabbed, poisoned, shot, garroted and drowned, they somehow keep standing, still insisting that history will vindicate George W. Bush’s glorious crusade. In a world governed by the Victorian moral code conservatives claim to uphold, they would be shunned, shamed and forbidden to appear on television or write Op-Ed columns. But because Beltway decorum apparently requires that disgraced pundits be given a permanent platform to bray their discredited theories, the rest of us are condemned to listen to their ravings.

I would argue that they haven’t been “figuratively stabbed, poisoned, shot, garroted and drowned,” or at least, not nearly enough. Major media (e.g., the Washington Post) still treats these zombies with respect, as if their opinions had credibility. Amazing.

I also want to point out, as others have, that the same neocons and their followers who are cheering for the demonstrators now (and may I say I am cheering for them, also; they are a genuine inspiration) have been urging us to bomb the smithereens out of Iran lo these many years. Do they not now see that they were wrong? That sometimes it’s wiser to stand back and let events take their course than to force an outcome with death and destruction?

Probably not. In 2005 the neocons couldn’t say enough about the glorious Cedar Revolution and the brave people of Lebanon. In 2006 the Cedar Revolution was quickly forgotten when Israel decided to initiate a military adventure into Lebanon, an action that by some miracle killed only Hezbollah Supporters, according to the Right Blogosphere at the time.

Of course, as Kamiya suggests, the real purpose of neocon bleatings now is not to offer any real advice on foreign policy. It is to undermine the Obama Administration. Period.

Iran: At Least They Care

Reuters reports that tens of thousands of Iranians are demonstrating in the streets of Tehran in protest of the recent election results, which look fraudulent to just about everybody (more on the exception below). People are demonstrating in spite of an Interior Ministry ban on rallying, which I assume means people protest at some personal risk.

I admire the protesting Iranians. At least they give a damn. Here, politicians steal critical elections and we shrug our shoulders and pretend it didn’t happen.

Of course, we have our own version of the Iranian security police, which are the wingnut bullies in media and elsewhere who abusively shout down anyone who dares point out, you know, facts. We also have some pretense at a mediating process, meaning cases are sent to courts. But we know how that turns out.

It’s been, what, seven months since the November elections? And has Al Franken been seated in the Senate yet? The endless dispute has nothing whatsoever to do with determining the will of the people, of course. It’s about using the courts and anything else to block the will of the people and advance a minority, extremist agenda.

This shows our political system is about as corrupt as Iran’s. The only difference is that we’re a little more subtle about it.

The wingnuts are screaming because CBS republished a New Republic article that compared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to George W. Bush. But if you read the article, I’d say the New Republic makes a good case for the comparison. In fact, I bet many of you can think of similarities between Ahmadinejad and Bush (rememeber when we used to call him “Bunnypants”?) without reading the article. And the similarities are getting more obvious all the time.

The Washington Post is running an article that suggests maybe the Iranian elections weren’t stolen, but I don’t think anyone is buying it. Juan Cole certainly isn’t.

“Us” Versus “Peace”

Petra Marquardt-Bigman makes a good point:

Anyone in Israel who is unhappy with Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo will have a hard time to come up with a good reason. Indeed, the quick and completely undignified reaction of the settler movement only served to underline the fact that beyond racist ranting about “Hussein Obama”, there wasn’t really much to object to. Inadvertently, the settler movement’s reaction also illustrated what Obama had accomplished with the speech: he had set up a litmus test that greatly improved on his predecessor’s formula “you are either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” In the Obama era, the choice is a different one – you are either for or against peaceful co-existence – and the consequences of the choice are clear: “America will align our policies with those who pursue peace”.

With the Bush Administration, everything always was about them. I dimly remember a news story (if you can find this and link to it, I’d be grateful) in which Condi Rice was in the Mideast, meeting with representatives of several Mideastern countries. She dictated to them what the United States expected from them, adding something to the effect of “this is what we want for you.” Someone spoke up and countered, “What about what we want for ourselves?”

At Salon, Gary Kamiya provides a good analysis of the Cairo speech. And not everyone on the Right absolutely hated it. Captain Ed had some good things to say. Max Boot also found some points to admire in the speech, which must have killed him.

On the other hand, this is just sickening. Be sure to read the commentary that goes with the video. The far Right of Israel has launched an anti-Obama campaign. At the Weekly Standard, Caroline B. Glick explains why allowing Israeli settlers to build whatever they want on the West Bank is essential to peace with the Palestinians. Next: The Fiji Mermaid!

The Unrelease

I’m about to butt heads, and not with righties. I understand there’s a lot of anger at President Obama because he changed his mind about releasing more prisoner abuse photos. I respect a difference of opinion on this matter.

But I also think the reason given for the reversal is understandable — commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops. Even if it’s only a small chance this would happen, I might have made the same decision President Obama made. If something could stir up more violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East, and doing that something isn’t absolutely imperative for the survival of the nation, I would think twice about it, too.

Thers writes, “So there will never be a “good” time to release them. Release them now and face the music.” The ones “facing the music” are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while there might never be a “good” time to release the photos, there ought to be a “better” time, which is after most troops are withdrawn.

I realize this isn’t going to happen right away. But, at the same time, it isn’t as if we don’t already know there was terrible prisoner abuse, some of which caused deaths. I don’t personally need to see any more photos. I can barely look at the ones that are in circulation already.

So, I don’t think the President’s decision necessarily means that he’s got a Dick Cheney microchip planted in his head. What’s more important is that there are investigations into who ordered what, and who knew what, and who approved what.

Swat Valley Blues

I haven’t been following events in Pakistan all that closely, but I take it that the Taliban has been allowed to take over the Swat Valley as part of an agreement with the government of Pakistan. No one seems even to be pretending this is going to settle anything.

By all accounts the Swat Valley is a lovely place, popular with tourists. Centuries ago it was the site of a thriving Buddhist civilization. It was said that at its peak of Buddhist influence, the Swat Valley was filled with fourteen hundred stupas and monasteries. Until very recently, museums of Buddhist art and the ruins of temples were drawing many tourists from places further east, such as Japan. There’s no news I can find about what’s happening to the relics of Buddhism remaining in the Swat Valley, and I assume they are being destroyed.

I wrote an article on the history of Buddhism in Pakistan and Afghanistan for the other website that some of you might find interesting. In a nutshell, Buddhism reached Pakistan-Afghanistan — an area once called “Gandhara” — during the reign of the Emperor Ashoka (ca. 304–232 BCE) and thrived there for well over a thousand years, until some time after the 12th century CE.

Among several things I learned while I was researching the article is that the artists of Gandhara were the first to depict the Buddha in human form. Most of the conventions common in depictions of the historical Buddha to this day were invented in Gandhara and then spread to east Asia. Early Gandharan art was in the style of Greek and Roman art and is especially beautiful.

The other thing I learned is that Buddhism and Islam peacefully co-existed in the Middle East for several centuries. Islam reached Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 7th century, and some Buddhist monasteries were still operating as late as the 12th century, although for how much longer after that no one knows. For the most part the Muslim rulers of the area left the Buddhists and their art and monasteries respectfully alone. Buddhism was not forcibly driven out of the Middle East, but seems to have just withered away.

Beside the lost Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan, there were no end of smaller stone Buddhas, cave paintings and other artifacts in the Middle East that survived mostly intact all these centuries — until the Taliban. The real concern is for the living people subjected to Taliban atrocities, of course, but I thought someone should say something about the art.