Obama prepares for War

Posted August 30, 2013 on 4:34 pm | In the category Obama, syria, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. …All nations are tempted — and few have been able to resist the power for long — to clothe their own aspirations and action in the moral purposes of the universe. …There is a world of difference between the belief that all nations stand under the judgment of God, inscrutable to the human mind, and the blasphemous conviction that God is always on one’s side and that what one wills oneself cannot fail to be willed by God also.”
― Hans J. Morgenthau

Morgenthau’s comments (above) are useful reminders of some of the realities in play as the United States stands on the threshold of using military force in Syria.

Morgenthau was driven out of America’s foreign policy establishment because of his disapproval of America’s folly in Vietnam and some 10 years later when – after some 58,000 American and over a million Vietnamese deaths – Morgenthau turned out to be right, we walked away from the war while one of its last main architects, Henry Kissinger, stayed on as Secretary of State until 1977. Today Vietnam is a favorite stopover for American tourists.

The lessons of Vietnam lingered until the early 2000’s when the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center opened a Pandora’s Box of national self pity, false belief in America’s omnipotence, and a belief that we know how to help other countries move toward re-inventing themselves in our image.

We went into Afghanistan originally to seek revenge for the 9-11 attacks and in a short period drove the Taliban into a relatively short-lived exile, installing in its place our almost comically corrupt ally, Hamid Karzai as President. But almost at once, the George Bush administration saw 9-11 as an excuse to do something neocons had wished for some time – the removal of Saddam Hussein from the world stage. There is no need to review the fiasco that became the Iraq War, nor its dreadful consequences. The decision to invade Iraq was built at least partially on the delusions that we were doing God’s work in bringing democracy to Iraq, that Saddam was an evil person that we needed to punish, and that we would easily carry the day. Today Iraq has an ongoing civil war, lacks democratic ideals, is unable to function even as well as it had under Saddam, and thousands of American troops and millions of Iraqis, have died or suffered irreparable damage.. If that is not enough, we can reflect on the results of over ten years’ effort to bring democracy to Afghanistan.

But here we are, trying to figure out the best way to punish the president of a country who has done something of which we disapprove and on the other hand wondering how best to help countries, including Syria move toward “democracy”.

President Assad of Syria is a nasty person and his apparent use of chemical weapons on his own people is a despicable act. But does it really warrant a military intrusion by the U.S.? Or, more importantly, is it in our national interest to intervene militarily in a civil war in which we do not have anyone to support, that we know that the rest of the world does not support our getting involved, and that the only American support for getting involved rests with the same tired, old neocons and internationally naive warriors like Senators McCain and Graham. I see nothing good coming from this unless you count Obama’s polishing his power credentials as worth the present and likely future costs. It is perhaps useful to remember that the chemical attack killed ca. 1000 civilians, the more traditional and “acceptable” weaponry like bombs, shrapnel, bullets, etc. have killed upwards of 100,000 Syrians. Dead is dead, whether by chemical or bomb, or bullet and there is considerable recent evidence that whenever we get militarily involved in that part of the world we make matters worse. (It is instructive to remember our complicity in Saddam’s use of chemical warfare on Kurds in 1988 – go to the link for more detail). The immediate result of U.S. bombing in Syria would be to add to the dead. We can only guess at the long-term results but might reflect on life in Iraq today for some suppositions.

Today it seems that the administration has decided to intervene in Syria in some way and is putting together a rationale to support a decision already made but apparently based on our God given right to punish sinners and not on America’s core national interests.

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Hommage to Alex Colville

Posted August 7, 2013 on 6:32 pm | In the category Canada | by Mackenzie Brothers

It signalled the end of an era last month when Alex Colville passed away in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the age of 92. His wife of 70 years, who had been the model for almost all the women in his paintings, had predeceased him by only a few months and there was a certain sense of order and correctness when Alex died at home  in the old family home in a small town in Nova Scotia.  Like several of the elite formers of modern American literature – we’ll just mention the great American poets Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht and the novelist Norman Mailer – Colville had experienced the horrors of the Second World War first hand, where it really counted, as a young lieutenant with the Canadian troops that fought their way from Juno Beach in Normandie through the Netherlands to the concentration camps of Central Europe.

Like Hecht he had been there when a concentration camp was freed – in his case it was Bergen-Belsen – and witnessed a scene he could never forget. And he was commissioned to catch that for the historical record, for he was a war artist. He was under orders to use the primitive painting materials in his pack to make the sketches on site that he could later turn into oil paintings. Years later, when he was considered one of the elite world artists and his painting were sold for small fortunes, he would indicate that he felt that those sketches, now almost all in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, captured something of the nightmarish horror he was witnessing but that he could not transform them successfully into oil paintings. The colour itself was so out of place that it destroyed even the painterly illusion of reality by its very existence.

And then Hecht would go on to write splendidly controlled presentations of an ordered world that on occasion ended with a messenger of death and concentrations camps knocking at the door.  Wilbur would go on to be one of the best classical poets in the English language, a complete master of linguistic form, but the reader  often  had the strange feeling that something threatening loomed just below the surface of the beautifully described things of this world.  Mailer offered the naked and the dead in all their helplessness in  the battles of the South Pacific islands, before himself becoming an anarchic self-destructive wanderer in an inebriated universe.

As for Alex Colville – He returned to his roots, rarely leaving his Maritime home base with all its beauty and idyllic familiarity.  He would soon become a reasonably celebrated artist of this world, often drawing on family, animals and the sea for his compass.  But beneath the surface of an apparently tranquil scene of beauty, a kind of terror emerged from the beginning of his career and never disappeared.  Often it was conveyed by the unexpected presence of a gun on a table or a potential weapon in a hand and sometimes it was the due to the dramatic  presence of  a horse he railroad tracks running straight at a roaring train.  In all of his great works Colville displayed a masterly control of the scene on the canvas, often geometrically prepared in advance, that  drew on old and new masters of realism like Vermeer and Hopper and made no attempt to join the popular movements toward abstract expressionism.  With the exception of a year spent in Berlin at the invitation of the German government (in this time he painted one of his greatest works, The Woman on the Spree) he spent no time in the art centres.   In his professional isolation and family centrality, he knew that he was gathering together an oeuvre of superlatively painted super-realistic works containing more than a strain of explosive power that  could erupt at any time and destroy the idyll.    just as the march to Bersen-Belgen would destroy the old hope of basic human decency and a superior European culture.



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