The Oscars and History

Posted January 14, 2013 on 4:51 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Canada, Iran, McCain, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

So no less than four films being considered for Best Film at the Oscara supposedly portray US history. One of them is relatively harmless. “Lincoln” is probably going to win everything because it does not, as far as any layman can tell, falsify history in any kind of serious way and features enough bearded men to make old testament prophets feel jealous. And it has a very Lincoln-looking British actor, no doubt thanks to terrific makeup help, who has the wrong accent but is as good at portraying a decent common man who acted well under pressure (Bob Newhart called this “The humble bit”), as were Raymond Massey – also a foreigner – Henry Fonda and others who have portrayed Honest Abe in the past. So we can give this a pass on the honest history front, although Spielberg once again demonstrates his fascination with brutal hand to hand combat and dead soldiers, though not at the level of “Saving Private Ryan”.
But what should we make of “Zero Dark Thirty” , supposedly a factual presentation of the CIA’s role in the assassination of bin Laden, or Ben Affleck’s “Argo”, another alleged representation of actual CIA operations.  And there is no doubt that “Argo” is an exciting film, especially in the opening scenes depicting the attack on the US embassy in Teheran.    But what’s going on?  Since when do films get such serious consideration that are made with government support and obvious comic-book plots  – a CIA female warrior  in one, and  a devil of a fearless handsome CIA agent in the other carry out awesomely dangerous missions for good old Uncle Sam – and against all odds succeed.  If they didn’t do that, there would certainly not be a film.  The first  has been attacked on the US Senate floor, by senators who actually personally know how torture functions, since the film seems to suggest that torture by US agents actually led to the discovery of the whereabouts of bin Laden.  From all accounts this is not true, and the very suggestion that it is  acceptable for the US  to gather information in this way, is more than offensive for those who suffered under such methods.

And “Argo” is “so full of bullshit it might as well have been a Charlie’s Angels episode” to quote Steve Burgess. The heroic people who really risked their lives and  those of their families in rescuing those US diplomats who managed to escape the chaos in the attack on the US embassy in Teheran , were of course the ambassador and the attache of Canada, who died last week.  They did what the diplomats of no other country – including some of the US’ supposed closest allies like the UK – were unwilling to do: risk their own lives to save those of US colleagues.   In real life the US citizens were hidden in two different Canadian diplomatic residences for a lengthy period before they were smuggled out, perhaps even with some input from the CIA operative who is made the hero of “Argo”: Affleck directing Affleck in the role.   One of these Canadian  diplomats, the  Ambassador, actually appears fleetingly in the film, but does not seem very important; the other  is never mentioned.    A postscript was added to the film, after howls of protest about an obvious insulting falsification of reality,  which  threw  a few crumbs  to the ambassador but never mentioned the attache, not to mention the Canadian prime minster, who allowed this mission to take place. It was all too reminiscent of how President Bush managed to  thank half the countries of the world for having helped during the 9/11 attack, but forgot Canada, the only one that had really done anything.

And then there is the fourth film”Beasts of the Southern Wild” a tale of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrine on the  Louisiana coast, which features an  amazing performance by an 8-year old girl who amazingly is also up for best actress, as is the director.  None of the above will win, because they don’t present a phoney version of history, that ranges on propaganda, but rather offer a mythic story of outsiders who have no desire to return to the society from which they have been cut off by the inundations.  This is the film of the year.  Go see it, and skip cartoon history



Lies, Leaks and the Press

Posted July 26, 2010 on 10:54 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Pakistan, Press | by Jeff

The press has moved on from its lamentable performance in the Shirley Sherrod – Andrew Breitbart fiasco in which much of the TV, radio and print press helped get an innocent black woman fired by jumping to believe and promote a heavily-edited video from a thoroughly discredited scumbag posing as a real journalist.  After a certain amount of “omigod we should have checked our facts” breast beating, general opinion moved to blaming the NAACP and the Obama administration for believing what they had helped promote. Go figure.

But now, with the leak of some 90,000 documents describing the United States’ lack of success in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s double-crossing behavior in Afghanistan, the press has something to sink its teeth into. But are they chewing on the vagaries of our Afghanistan policy and its apparent failure? Well, their first issue is whether the information should be leaked. Used to be that we counted on the press to tell us what was going on and whether it was working in our favor; now the issue is whether essential state secrets might have slipped through the government’s net of secrecy. But much of what was leaked simply reinforces already existing knowledge with no clear evidence of anyone publishing anything that damages national security. What are damaged are the reputations of those who have planned and implemented and voted for a losing war effort.

The press itself was guilty in the past of passing on secrets leaked by self-serving members of the government – e.g. Valerie Plame’s identity as a high level spy, or the totally discredited “intelligence” claiming Iraq was purchasing large quantities of uranium from Africa. These were pure and simple political leaks used to foment political and public opinion to start a war that we now know was unnecessary, unaffordable, wasteful and – in the end – damaging to America’s interests. But the current leaks are not supportive of another war and the issue has become whether the press should report on legitimate, authenticated documents describing the ugly realities of what looks increasingly like a lost cause war. As in, why should the American people be trusted to deal intelligently with the truth when we (the press) can help the nation by hiding the truth and promoting a fantasy?

Early in John Kennedy’s presidency, the New York Times learned of the upcoming Bay of Pigs invasion being organized by the CIA. Times editor Scotty Reston refused to publish it, believing to do so would be against the national interest. We know how that all worked out and that Kennedy and the nation would have been better served with publication of the story perhaps leading to an avoided disaster. The great Times reporter Tom Wicker believed at the time that the Times should have published the story and were he alive today he would be proud of the Times’ reporting on the latest “leak”.

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Oh Canada, where did you dig up these leaders?

Posted December 14, 2009 on 8:37 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Canada, Environment, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

It used to be that Canada punched above its weight in foreign affairs, an honest broker that could be counted on to consider options carefully before dedicating itself to finding a just solution to a difficult situation, even if it meant sending in its troops. Thus Canada entered the Second World War within a week of the Nazi invasion of Poland, more than two years before the United States did and had already suffered many thousand casualties in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and the skies over Europe by the time the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour forced the US hand. After that awful war, nowhere captured more dramatically than in the on-the-spot sketches by Canuck war artists A.Y. Jackson and Alex Colville, Canadian Prime Minister Mike Pearson got a Nobel Peace Prize that was actually deserved, for his tenacious negotiations leading to an end to the Suez crisis.

Now that hard-earned reputation risks being eradicated by a government intent on doing nothing contrary to its economic interests which is more than satisfied to follow the dictates of the super heavyweights on matters like climate change, border controls and diplomatic independence. At the Copenhagen climate change conference Canada has received the fossil of the year award, on the Afghan file, it has received a letter signed by almost 100 of its former ambassadors protesting the treatment of one of its middle-level diplomats in Kabul, who was called before parliament and publicly demeaned by the Minister of Defence for having sent a number of reports to Ottawa warning them of something that was public knowledge – that prisoners passed on to the Afghan army by Canada and other western powers were routinely tortured by the Afghans – and which Canada for a lengthy period denied before its memory improved. In China Prime Minister Harper was publicly rebuked by the Chinese president for insulting Chinese sensibilities by taking too long to come and visit, for hosting the Dalai Lama and for not having attended the Beijing Olympics. Harper also had no plans to attend the Copenhagen Climate Conference until President Obama said he would be there. It is a long way from Pearson to Harper, and it seems safe to predict that it will take a long time for Canada to repair its international image so that it can begin punching, if not as a heavyweight, at least above the flyweight class it now occupies.

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Oh Afghanistan

Posted December 1, 2009 on 11:06 pm | In the category Afghanistan, McCain, Press | by Jeff

A. J. Liebling wrote about Afghanistan as the place the press wrote about when they had space to fill, no news to fill it, and a subject to write about that absolutely no one gave a shit about. So again time changes and we not so suddenly have to worry about Afghanistan, a place few of us has visited and even fewer of us really wish to visit.

President Obama has now presented his plan for our continued involvement in that country and it was a pretty slick presentation. The press is beating its collective something or other about it but basically he said it is over. We will send 30,000 troops there to fill in for the Bush-Cheney failure and then start to get all of them out of what has turned out to be a monster mess. The focus of the press after the speech has been on the selling of whatever he is doing to all the political players. John McCain, a man wrong about every major issue he has discussed is uneasy – that is a good sign for the Obama decision. Some Republicans think he should never had indicated we might actually be smart enough to leave in good time – I guess better to believe we are a bunch of morons.

But it was a refreshing speech that did not talk down to us, did not bullshit us through false patriotism from neocon chicken hawks and – for a change – did not lie to us about our safety and the strength of our enemies. The battle against terrorists remains in play but there is new evidence that we have leadership that is smart, sophisticated and unwilling to pander to the underbelly of American society.


Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Senator McCain

Posted February 27, 2008 on 5:02 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Election 2008, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Recent and ongoing events in Pakistan and Afghanistan highlight in new ways the disastrous effects of the United States’ misguided Iraq invasion and the delusionary nature of Senator McCain’s commitment to continuing a bankrupt policy in Iraq.

The War in Afghanistan is not going well. The Taliban is back in force, the poppy fields are again feeding America’s cocaine habit, America’s allies are beginning to question their willingness to continue in Afghanistan, violence against civilians is on the increase and the U.S. cannot bring enough force to bear because its military is bogged down in Iraq.

If there is a failure in Afghanistan – which appears possible, if not likely – the blame can go directly to the Bush decision to commit to an unnecessary war in Iraq. By not committing the needed forces to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan in favor of invading Iraq, Bush allowed the Taliban to withdraw into Pakistan and form a new commitment to take Afghanistan back. This in turn led to a stronger terrorist structure in Pakistan which has destabilized much of that country and which runs the risk of leading to the loss of major portions of Pakistan to the Taliban and its Al Queda allies. This is doubly worrisome given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Afghanistan was a major training ground for Al Quada and the opportunity to eliminate that from happening again now seems lost.

Which brings us to Senator McCain’s delusions. His campaign is based largely on his belief that the so-called surge has worked and that victory is in sight. While those are extremely questionable opinions, it is clear that even were they true any such victory would come at terrible cost – in human life, American treasure, diminished American influence in the world, increased Iranian influence in the region, a destabilized Pakistan and in all probability a failed state of Afghanistan.

The U.S. president has enormous powers in foreign affairs – reviewing the disastrous impact of President Bush’s foreign policy reminds us of that. And it reminds us that choosing the next president can send the United States further into decline if it sends into office a man (or woman) unable to understand the difference between genuine American national interest, and jingoistic political slogans. Senator McCain clearly is determined to wage a campaign aimed at continuing the failed Bush policies in Iraq and the voters will need to decide whether it wants what would amount to a third Bush term.

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Whose war is this, anyway?

Posted February 10, 2008 on 1:53 am | In the category Afghanistan, Canada, Europe, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

Who knows? Maybe Senator McCain will overcome all odds and become the next president of the United States, in which case the war in Iraq, which has become a forlorn US war as the few original allies head for the hills, may not be over. But the war in Afghanistan, supposedly a NATO war with some help from Australian special forces, is anything but over. But for most of the NATO countries, it has never started.

In a scenario that nobody could have imagined even five years ago, Canadian Minister of Defence Peter MacKay knocked on the doors of all of his colleagues at the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Lithuania this week, and asked a simple question. “Are you willing to order your soldiers to actually fight in Afghanistan, or do you plan to keep them in safe havens under orders to not engage in combat while Canadian, British, and US troops do all the dangerous work, with some limited help from the Netherlands and Denmark?” For the Canadian government has announced that it has had enough of this charade of a NATO army and will pull its 3000 troops out of dangerous Kandahar, where 78 Canadian soldiers have been killed, if other NATO countries don’t contribute at least 1000 actual fighting soldiers by next year. The US Secretary of Defence inadvertently added his salt to this wound by stating that while US soldiers knew how to fight Taliban forces, other NATO soldiers didn’t. Later he admitted he hadn’t meant to include Canada, the UK and the Netherlands in this condemnation, but by then it was too late.

MacKay met with lots of encouragement but little success, though the US promised marines on a temporary basis, and France seemed to vaguely suggest it might send 700 fighters. The real disgrace is that supposed leading powers in NATO like Germany, Italy and Spain have ordered their armies to not engage in combat, while their Canadian, US and British colleagues, all supposedly part of the same army, are suffering heavy casualties. Can such a supposed political union really survive such a breech of loyalty?

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A Trip to Bush’s Fantasy Land

Posted November 9, 2007 on 5:13 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Iraq, The Bush Watch | by Jeff

Here is a kind of scary excerpt from a George Bush interview with German TV:

Q Do you think there’s a point where you’d say only a military option is a possibility for us?

THE PRESIDENT: I would never say that. I would say that we would always try to try diplomacy first. In other words, I — I’ve committed our troops into harm’s way twice, and it’s not a pleasant experience because I understand the consequences firsthand.

Firsthand???? When and where was that? Cheerleading for Yale at Harvard?

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Bush’s Foreign Policy: The Perfect Storm

Posted November 8, 2007 on 11:41 am | In the category Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Pakistan, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

President Bush continues to wallow in the consequences of his own arrogant miscalculations. The situation America finds itself in can be traced to his and Cheney’s so-called tough guy approach to the world, as evidenced in the insane war in Iraq. Among what “Shock and Awe” and “Mission Accomplished” missed were the ripple effect consequences that followed and that continue to arrive.

Turkey asked that the U.S. avoid invading Iraq for reasons of its own security and their recognition of the likely bloodbath to follow, but agreed to work with the U.S. in providing staging areas for U.S. troops. At the same time it warned of the potential difficulties with the Kurds, a warning of which the U.S. apparently took no note. So having considerable responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis AND the increased power and influence of Iran in the region (incl. Iraq) the U.S. now has the problem of a possible micro war between two of its allies – the Iraqi Kurds and the Turks. Bush is saying that he will help Turkey flush out the PKK (Kurdish rebels) but that is clearly an empty promise given our incompetence and unwillingness to put the thumbs to the Iraqi Kurds, who will at least passively support the PKK. It is a dog’s breakfast.

Pakistan has been presented as the bulwark of our “war on terrorism” which is beginning to sound a bit like the help that our friends in Saudi Arabia have given us leading up to and following 9/11. Pakistan is a nuclear power led by a dictator who views himself as the country’s savior while the majority of his citizens seek the democracy that Bush has presented as his foreign policy’s grandest wish. We continue to provide massive defense aid to Pakistan while it allows al Quada to operate more or less unfettered within its borders, the Taliban to operate out of its borders into Afghanistan and its peoples’ dream for democracy to wither and die. It is impossible to know what would happen in Pakistan without Musharraf but the best long-term hope is for a true democracy to develop while finding a way to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear arms remain out of the hands of extremists. So, does the U.S. continue to support Musharaf or pull the plug and risk democracy? There are echoes of what the U.S. did in Iran by shoring up the Shah, providing massive military aid, turning our eyes from the Shah’s human rights abuses and getting pretty much what we deserved – a belligerent Iran with whom we continue to squander diplomatic possibilities to a point where it might be too late. Another dog’s breakfast cooked up by this administration.

Afghanistan is the place that might have been a success for the administration but that too is being pissed away largely because of our Iraq folly. Pakistan passively provides cover for the Taliban which continues to operate at considerable strength in the South and increased strength elsewhere in Afghanistan while most of the U.S.’s troops are spinning their wheels helping to build a stronger Iraq which will probably eventually ally politically with Iran. Were it not for the Canadians, the British and the Dutch, Afghanistan might very well be lost already (no thanks to the Germans, French, Spaniards and Italians who hide their troops in the relative safety of the North). Defense Secretary Gates commented on this as recently as 25 October speaking to a group of unimpressed European generals:

”A handful of allies are paying the price and bearing the burdens,” he said in remarks that were notably critical of European governments. He spoke hours after leaving a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Netherlands, where he pressed for more troops for Afghanistan. There were no promises. ”If an alliance of the world’s greatest democracies cannot summon the will to get the job done in a mission that we agree is morally just and vital to our security,” he told the European generals, ”then our citizens may begin to question both the worth of the mission and the utility of the 60-year-old trans-Atlantic security project itself,” meaning NATO, which was created in 1949. His remarks drew little reaction from the generals, who applauded politely when he finished.” – AP

Clearly the U.S. will need to step up its commitment to Afghanistan but cannot do so as long as it is mired in an endless war in Iraq – that is, as long as G. Bush is president and no one with Rudy Giuliani’s views is elected in his place.

That leaves every president’s greatest challenge – the Middle East. Bush has all but ignored the Middle East for seven years – barring the talk of a “roadmap to peace” (remember that one?), his refusal to accept that the democratic election in Palestine was valid because the people elected the wrong guys, and of course his support for Israel’s disastrous bombing of Lebanon. Secretary Rice is now spending more time in the Middle East than in Washington and according to David Brooks in the NY Times – not exactly an objective observer – she is putting together an anti-Iran alliance, which would include Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. He goes on to say that:

“It’s slightly unfortunate that the peace process itself is hollow. …But that void can be filled in later. The main point is to organize the anti-Iranians around some vehicle and then reshape the strategic correlation of forces in the region.”

This alliance will then face off against the alliance that will include Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and – in all probability – Iraq. This is a hope and a wish but certainly not a foreign policy based on reality.

1/20/09 – that is the key date – the time when sophisticated, intelligent people can begin to dig us out of Bush’s Perfect Storm created from a rare combination of American incompetence, arrogance, ignorance, and naiveté.

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