Overweening Generalist

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On Bombing Syria: Obama, Red Lines, and Chemical Weapons

I remember one of the many reasons the Dadaists gave to their anti-art movement: it was a reaction to finding out that people were being bombed from airplanes. This was around 1915.

In that same War that so revolted the Dadaists, both sides used chemical weapons on each other. That was almost 100 years ago now. It seems like 1000 to me, but if you're dead you're dead, I guess. War being politics by other means, you can get shot through the throat and experience that sort of short death; you can explode in a bombing (I wonder what those experiences have been like? Virtually the same question as asking what's death like? A zen master was asked by a zen student, "What happens after death?" The zen master answers, "I don't know." The student replies, "But...you're a zen master." And the zen master says, "Yes, but I'm not a dead zen master.").

Before we resume, read (again) Wilfred Owen's "Dulce Et Decorum Est"

                                          Well, at least it wasn't a chemical weapon

It seems to me what Obama and the international community of global elites who agreed on this shit are  saying, if we look at what actually has happened: We believe in killing and war in our own interests. We'll kill you from the sky with drones, drop bombs on you, we've used Agent Orange and the atomic bomb. We've napalmed kids and civilians. And yes <cough> we...mistakes may have been made when we armed Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran and he used chemical weapons on the Kurds. It's just...this use of chemical weapons against civilians, by a little guy on the world stage like you, Assad? No! We will not stand for it! 
                                        Let us pray it wasn't chemical weapons here

Yes friends: death by chemical and biological weapons is pretty hideous. But that's life. And death. That's war! This invention of a "red line" that Assad wasn't to step over or the world-straddling Cop On The Beat Unistat will retaliate? It's fucking phony and misses the whole point. Once dropping bombs on civilians from planes was crossing a red line. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki the atom and hydrogen bombs were supposed to be red lines, but look at the tonnage of bombs dropped on little Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. More than seven million tons of bombs: more than twice that dropped on Europe and Asia during World War II. (And Unistat lost in Vietnam anyway.) Look at Iraq, fer crissakes. Hey my fellow Americans; who is this "we" we're talking about?

                                        Not sure how I feel about this...did they die by
                                        chemical weapons, or by the "normal" ways?

And: we torture. And no one who did the torturing or wrote laws justifying it were brought to justice. The tortures the United States is responsible for are, according to old fashioned Nuremburg Laws, crimes against humanity. But it's okay! Because we  are doing it. And we love freedom.

I suspect, but do not know, that Pentagon types think chemical weapons will become easier to obtain and use, and that they'll be used on "American soil," on civilians. And the panic and fallout will be too much. Worse: they fear this stuff will be used on themselves, the Actual Americans, the ones with Ivy League degrees and who sit on the Board of Directors of Fortune 500 companies. Because in Unistat in the 21st century, let's face it: if you don't have power and money, you are expendable, or at least a nuisance. 

This just in...I'm being handed a bulletin from the radical left-wing rag Foreign Policy. Sez here that C.I.A. files prove America helped Saddam as he gassed Iran. And I say: It's a new day! That's all water under the bridge, sometimes a freedom-loving society such as ours does, in its zeal to help the downtrodden of the Earth, makes mistakes, our hearts always in the right place, high atop the City on a Hill and and and....pffffffft!


A while back I blogged a bit on The Dictator's Handbook. Recently one of the co-authors, Alastair Smith, said Assad's chemical weapons attack was a shrewd move, and he explains why in this short article from Slate.

This makes a lot of sense to me. I have zero illusions about geopolitics, empires, wars, patriotism, bunting, the flag, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Chuck Norris or any of that bullshit. (Paradoxically to me: those I've met who seem to love all that are the same ones who tell me I need to "grow up.")

                                   Chemical weapons? Until we know, we won't
                                    know if her (his? their?) leader crossed a red line or 


Gawd, if we only had women running the planet! Eh? Huh? Who's with me on this? They know what it's like to bring life into the world; men kill because they blah blah can't give birth blah bleh...right?
I exchanged a few emails not long ago with Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Smith's co-author of The Dictator's Handbook. One of the questions I asked him was if he thought more women being elected to office would make politics saner, more peaceful. Here's his reply:

The evidence at least for women in national leadership positions is that they generally act no differently than men, at least on the foreign policy front. (I don't follow the research in this area so don't know what it looks like on the domestic policy side of things). The argument that women will be more "humane" seems more like wishful thinking than logically-driven or empirically-supported fact. We might, however, expect some selection effect. Probably on balance women politicians are more likely to get elected in liberal constituencies rather than conservative ones (this is rank speculation on my part) and so the sample of elected women is likely to reflect their constituencies and therefore be somewhat more liberal than the average politician who is drawn from a broader, more representative sample of political views.
I hope this is helpful.


According to standard realpolitick  Neo-Machiavellian politics, Obama will look "soft" now if "he" doesn't do anything to retaliate. "He" actually shakes out to something like "our armies of well-trained killers." I mean, Obama said if you cross my red line I'll kick your ass, Bashir. Because, apparently, despite all the Yale and Harvard degrees involved here, we're perpetually in 6th grade. 

And now I shift to old movie lines:

"Victims? Don't be melodramatic. [Orson Welles as Harry Lime opens the door and the camera looks down from the Ferris Wheel high above] Look down there. Would you feel any pity if  one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep the money? Free of income tax, old man, free of income tax. The only way you can save money nowadays."

[Harry Lime, again, to his old friend Holly Martin]: "Don't look so gloomy...Afterall, it's not that awful...In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed...they produced Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

[Charlie Chaplin as Monsier Verdoux is on trial because he got caught doing something illegal that he was very good at and highly paid: he lured rich women into marriage, then killed them for their fortunes. With this money he kept his real wife and child well-fed during wartime.] 

"Wars, conflict - it's all business. One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow!" 

And again, M. Verdoux on trial:

"As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison."

Shortly after the 1939-45 war, Chaplin and Welles were seen by the Unistat authorities as dangerous un-American types and they were virtually forced to live in Europe. Because, remember Dear Readers: the Americans know and love "freedom."

                                      Tell the truth: how much does it matter to you
                                       HOW they died?


tony smyth said...

Michael: why has everything I posted on your Sept 2 blog been cut out?

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific piece. Your comments about the Ivy League and the planning of wars reminded me of Halberstam's terrific book The Best and the Brightest.

I like your ideogrammic jump to The Third Man. You might like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-4PPr3r_r0

michael said...


All your info about concentrated solar, photovoltaics, acceleration of efficiencies of sun-energy-impounding tech? It's still there for me.

When you look at the comments for that blog, are your three blocks of text GONE?

They're there for me. I just looked. And I value your condensed yet thick info in the comments section there.

Let me in personal email what you see and I'll see if I can figure it out. Is anyone else here reading this missing Tony's comments for the Sept 2 blog on global warming? This is the first time someone has told me their comments are missing when I see them myself, as the curator.


michael said...


Wow, I hadn't seen D'Onofrio's film. Loved it! It looked great too. Prinzi as DP. Thanks for this. I quoted the Lime lines from memory, having seen The Third Man at least 12 times.

Anonymous said...

Moderne warfare lacks the elegance
of the days when it was invisible
to the populace of the victor until
the parades came marching home.

Today you see media footage of when
the Rus were in Afghanistan presented
as current news. This is the medias
fault, they are too lazy to tell the
truth about anything.

Bombing Syria will kill more Syrians and ruin more of Syria.
Trying to spin that into a human
rights issue is typical insanity.

I hear the 'messiah of change' has
a credibility problem. I assumed
it was easy to tell when he's
lying, his lips are moving.

The Tony stuff is there, just not
visible until you click on comments
either that or you have used fnord

I am glad to see that someone else
remembers the Nuremberg trials, I
wish someone in our government

Last time I looked the Rus ICBMs
were still locked on CONUS targets
so the empty rhetoric of being the
only superpower is BS. Mainland
China has more stylishly dressed
militia girls than we have citizens.

We don't need any more enemies in
other countries, what we need is
less enemies in our misguided
three letter agencies.

Smart folks don't want war in other lands.
We also don't want a war to come here, but we have to stop trying
to play the big cheese planetary

The trouble with a broad focus is
you see far too much which is far
too unflattering to your fellow

"IF we could feel what we are doing
we would stop." T McKenna

Women are horrific fighters if the
inner circle is threatened, they
are the last defense of the young.
Whether that would make them a
better commander in chief is open
to question.

The time to stop wars is before
they start, not grinding each
other into twisted caricatures
with very little human virtue left.

What might help is some transparency in government, because
the secret enclaves of those who
decide need to come into the light
and explain why they think these
things are a good idea, before the
world comes here with a rope for
their neck.


michael said...

This present Czar of the US campaigned partly on a platform of "sunshine" and transparency after the last Regime made if baldly, in-yer-face that they didn't have to show no one no steenkin proof of what they said in order to elicit mayhem. (Save for a vial of Sweet and Low held up by Colin Powell at the UN. Apparently no one tested his shit to check for purity?)

And this latest Czar has been nothing if not Orwellian in his use of language. "Transparency" apparently means "I can have a secret FISA court and kill lists and listen and read every message in the world and I don't gotta tell ya nothin!"

So...Toynbee, HG Wells, JM Roberts...every chronicler of world empires that I've read, says, in effect, "It doesn't get better."

There can always be a first time. Or things that come along to stave off the inevitable. We allowed Jim Forrestal and his ilk to win right after 1945. It didn't have to be that way, but the complexity of events and a shell-shocked, Depression-weary populace allowed themselves to be jerked around on labor unions, peace activists, racial egalitarians, Hoover, HUAC, loyalty oaths, and "communists" and it was all downhill from there.

The Soviets caved earlier because our system actually allowed for SOME freedom.

tony smyth said...

Michael - I can read it again. For some reason I couldnt when I checked. Gremlins? who knows. Anyway, - part of a book I've been working on for 2 and a half years.


tony smyth said...

PS 'Condensed and thick'? Im gettiung that feedback quite a bit. I'm starting to get worried that people wont be able to handle a whole bookfull written like that!!!
I dont write with 'padding',as it were. : )

michael said...

Tony- I think most readers would consider the form/media/context by which you were placing the dense info: in a comment section on a blog.

I for one would expect a book on your topic to use whatever resources its author could employ to seduce (not coerce: the former is what artists do; the latter is for gangsters) in order to change the nervous system of the reader. Your stuff can be condensed and thick with information, but HOW that information is presented will make a world of difference. (In my opinion.)

EX: for ultra-efficient solar: depict a world in which those are in operation? Elaborate how our lives would be better. What problems have been greatly diminished? What possible unforeseen problems have arisen because of this quantum leap in easy, cheap, lightweight, ephemeralized tech? Etc

tony smyth said...

LOL. Thanks for the reply. How would our lives be better? The world would not be fried, our coastal cities drowned, we would not be trying to live on dwindling increasingly expensive food, we wouldnt wake to news of millions starving, Bangladesh and Venice would still exist, as would Miami and New Orleans. Cos those are just few of the consequences if we continue on the present path. Moving to renewables doesnt suddenly create some wonderous new world, but it does move us away from the collapse of our current civilisation (coming to a planet under you if Exxon Mobile and the Koch bros get their way).

michael said...

Tony- I think your scenario(s) correct. What I meant was; make a strong case for all that w/o fudging facts as you understand/judge those facts, and choose a rhetoric that will seduce your readers (I should talk!); one of the big problems with books about global political issues is this" you tend to end up preaching to the converted. What wd be a real step-up is a highlight on "what you readers may not know already" or "surprising findings in the world of renewables" or "why conservatives should be LEADING the clamor for a new renewable world of cheap, efficient technology," etc.

I hereby volunteer to be a reader of an early draft, if ya wanna.

tony smyth said...

Yo. Sure, let me have a way of sending it to you. All research done. Its in readable form now, but needs cutting and polishing (esp cutting). But 8 chapters are close to as good as I can get them. Am farming some out to friends for feedback so would be delighted if you'd also do that. Let me know how I can send it to you.


tony smyth said...

By the way, the nuclear vs renewables, and also the climate change vs deniers are among the 2 most polarised debates going. They are BOTH in my book. I'm trying to counter this using lots of reputable scientific sources, but yes, it very quickly becomes a political argument. I see this over and over in the comments sections of the Guardian and Independent. Confabulation and blind belief City!!

michael said...

Tony- my email is at the end of my dorky "About Me" dealio over there ------->

Pick the one chapter that your other friends aren't reading/editing/proofing?

Also: forget the "money" line in my bio, of course.

tony smyth said...

OK Gotcha. Not sure how I missed it.