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Making Sense Out of Dangerous Nonsense

By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers

July 11, 2006

I try to make sense of politics -- it's what my doctorate implies I'm qualified to do -- but often I am defeated. Reality is just too damn weird. And satire these days is almost superfluous. Here are three examples.

History tells us that long-term military occupations don't work, but countries continue to invade and occupy lands belonging to others. Then the occupiers seem shocked -- shocked! -- that the natives don't want them there.

Israel, for example, has a love-hate thing going with its occupation of Palestinian land. On the one hand, it knows that military occupations are self-defeating sappers of Israel's moral, economic and military strength, and so it makes moves to pull back within its borders, as it did in Gaza (but not yet in the West Bank). But then it permits itself to re-occupy, or at least re-invade, land that it left.

Two thirds of Americans know that the occupation of Iraq three years after Bush declared "mission accomplished" is reckless and nonsensical, and want the U.S. military to start exiting Iraq. Iraqis overwhelmingly have indicated that they'd prefer the U.S. start leaving as well or, at the very least, present a rough timetable for when that might start to happen.

But for both Israel and America, their occupations continue and appear to grow even worse. The very presence of these foreign troops on the ground, in Palestine and Iraq, is a large share of the problem, a running sore that creates a deepening infection in the local body politic, engendering a nationalistic resistance to throw the occupiers out. But the two military giants, each possessing overwhelming firepower, are caught in a quagmire of their own devising in trying to deal with shadowy, lightly-armed guerrillas who simply won't give up.


In both Iraq and Palestine, the issue of humiliation is a constant. Israel continually, day after day, grinds the Palestinians' collective nose in their powerlessness; America uses its mighty arsenal to remind Iraqis who really controls their lives (and their deaths), and tries to impose a "democracy" from the outside.

If the U.S. is really interested in stabilizing the Middle East region, and diminishing the power of terrorist organizations that use that conflict as a rallying cry and recruiting tool, the logical first step would be to solve the Israel/Palestine conflict as quickly as possible. Instead, the Bush Administration does nothing, in effect serving an an enabler of the spiraling violence.

Both sides know roughly what needs to happen in order to effect a stabilizing peace: Israel withdraws from its settlements to its pre-1967 borders and is guaranteed security; a geographically and economically viable Palestinian state is created in West Bank/Gaza; treaties are worked out on right-of-return, jobs and water and so on; neither side permits the occasional terrorist act to deter its dedication to maintaining the peace; and Jerusalem is administered by an international body that shows no favoritism to any country.

That's the clear way to peace, but both sides make sure not to go there. The only logical conclusion is that they are not ready yet to travel that path; each believes that just one more military push will bring it what it wants. And, basically, what it wants is for the other side to vanish. Ain't gonna happen, but desire knows no logic.

When both sides are ready to accept that the Other is not going to disappear but has genuine needs and desires that need to be satisfied, which realization will require some very real and painful compromises, then and only then can the road to peace be taken. Either it happens now -- and, even amidst the current bloodshed, there are hopeful signs -- or the slaughter continues for another generation or two, until both sides realize enough is enough.


With regard to Iraq, the U.S. (finally!) has to learn the lesson of Vietnam: When occupying a foreign nation, with no outlook other than endless stalemate, you either leave on your own, with as much dignity and face-saving gestures as possible, or you get drawn further into an endless quagmire (death by a thousand cuts) and eventually have to leave anyway looking like a muscle-bound superpower defeated by a ragtag guerrilla army.

Even Bush's generals know all this, but the policy has been otherwise decided by arrogant, ideologically-driven civilians, in this case mainly by Cheney and Rumsfeld. They will "stay the course" and the U.S. will have to leave ignominiously later. Why? Because they want those permanent military bases in that area of the world, they want that oil and gas, they want to try to impose their will and idea of the future on that volatile region of the world, and because Bush and his bunker crew are psychologically incapable of admitting they were wrong from the very beginning.

If the war results in tens of thousands more killed and wounded, and bankrupts the nation, so be it, according to Bush&Co. In any event, Bush has told us, winding up the Iraq war will happen on his successor's watch, so the Bush Administration doesn't have to accept any responsibility for the debacle and the deaths.


With less than four months to go until the November mid-term election, it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi said. Karl Rove simply opens his fright playbook, the same one he used in 2000, 2002 and 2004, and attempts to play the electorate -- and especially the putative opposition Democrats -- like a xylophone. Terrorists here, terrorists there, terrorists everywhere. And, by and large, the mainstream media publishes the fright stories straight, without seriously raising any major questions, and the Democrats, terrified of being labeled "soft on terrorism," buy into the Republican agenda. I don't get it.

How else to interpret the major, unrelenting news coverage given to the supposed Miami cell of hardcore jihadists planning on blowing up Chicago's Sears Tower, or the Islamist conspirators allegedly planning to blow up the train tunnels leading into Manhattan?

In the first instance, a paid informant inside the group got them interested in the Sears Tower idea, and, voila!, they're busted for "planning" to bring down that massive structure -- quite by "coincidence" just as the American election campaign moves into its final 100 days. In truth, it appears that there were no Sears Tower "plans," just a lot of bloviating about what these wannabe jihadists would like to do someday to the dastardly Americans.

With regard to the New York City story, apparently untrained Islamists, most of whom didn't even know each other, shared online ideas about exploding a device inside the tunnels, the effect of which would be to cause chaos in the New York subway system. (The Bush forces raced to the microphones to predict that Lower Manhattan, especially the economic centers, would be flooded, forgetting the laws of physics that would keep the water in the river since in order to flood the city, there would have to be strong pumps pushing the water up above sea level, which is where Manhattan resides.) Further, the FBI is relying on a captured Islamist militant picked up in Lebanon; until we know whether he was psychologically or physically tortured, what he "confessed" to means next to nothing.

No, friends, the timing and especially the lack of specifics and evidence -- indeed, about all we have are allegations of what some Bad Guys were talking about doing, some day, maybe -- appears to be just part of the pre-election fear-building machinery cranking up in rather cumbersome and obvious ways. Warning: Karl Rove construction ahead; proceed with caution and lots of grains of salt.


Here are Rove and his minions warning about Islamist terror-cells, even telling a tale that the would-be New York tunnel-bombers got their go-ahead from the leader of al-Qaida, but they're closing down the CIA's anti-terrorist unit whose function is to locate and neutralize Osama bin Laden. Explain that one. See what I mean about reality outstripping the possibilities of satire? (Same goes with the U.S. military hiring out-of-work skinheads to fight in Iraq. And then Bush&Co. are puzzled by Iraqis' negative reactions to having Muslim-hating, racist American troops on their soil. You can't make this stuff up.)

Either the pre-election fright stories being told are riddled with untruths, or the Bush Administration needs the bogeyman of Osama bin Laden out there helping scare the U.S. population into submission. It's been that way since 9/11.

Without bin Laden on the loose, Bush&Co. would not have virtual free rein to do whatever it feels it needs to do in its so-called "war on terrorism" -- a permanent war against a political/military tactic, which permits virtual carte blanche domestically (police-state powers) and more wars abroad (Iran? Syria? Venezuela? North Korea?). Similarly, bin Laden needs a clumsy, rampaging America so that he can build his base of support and foment more Islamist mischief around the world. Osama and George -- the dance of the tarantulas.

(Am I discounting that there are terrorists out there who really want to, and maybe even are planning, to do American harm? Of course not. But the way the Bush Administration goes about its business -- torture, occupations, bombings, violations of law, extra-constitutional authoritarianism, appointing incompetents in key positions, etc. -- makes us citizens less secure, not more secure.)

It's a crazyquilt world and all you and I can do is try to make some sense of it, even though I know it's virtually impossible to piece it all together. Welcome to the hunt.

Copyright 2006, by Bernard Weiner


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: >> crisispapers comcast.net << .

Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances