Archive for April, 2004

Open Letter to the Crackhead Who Stole the Tops Off Matt’s Motorcycle’s Sparkplugs

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

This is really pretty sweet. From craigslist.org, via some weblogger whose identity I foolishly misplaced: Hey crackhead.

Crying at Movies

Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

What with the logistics of kids and babysitters, I tend not to see too many movies during their theatrical runs. (Well, except for kid movies. I see pretty much all of those, whether they deserve it or not.) Eight or nine months after everyone else has finished discussing the latest cool movie, I finally get around to seeing it on DVD, and suddenly find myself wanting to discuss it with my friends, friends who are already all talked out about whether Matrix Reloaded sucked or not (not, unless you’re willing to stipulate that the first one sucked, too), or whether Lost in Translation was an aimless piece of nothing (sorry, no) or a masterful mood piece (a-yup).

So it was something of an aberration that my wife and I saw Love, Actually in the theater a few weeks before it officially opened, at a sneak preview in Santa Barbara. The audience was chock-full of Hugh Grant/Emma Thompson/Colin Firth fans from the city’s British-expat community, which may have helped it receive an especially warm reception, but even without the supportive crowd, I’m pretty sure I would have liked the movie a lot. Anyway, I did like it a lot, and now that it’s out on DVD and I’ve seen it again, I like it even more.

I’m quite the sucker for romantic comedies. An argument can be made that Love, Actually isn’t really a romantic comedy, but is more of an extended highlight reel from six or seven of them, but the fact remains that Richard Curtis (the film’s writer and director) has a distinctive sort of output that was very much in evidence in his previous work (he wrote the screenplays for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary), and if you liked his work there (which I mostly did) you’re probably going to like it here.

Not so, however, for Chris Orr, a writer for The New Republic. In a new review timed for the DVD release he pretty much pans everything about Love, Actually: Crap, actually. While I admit that his review’s title is kind of cute, he’s just completely, tragically wrong about the movie. It is a great film, a beautiful film, a hopeful, uplifting film. That a movie with nine (or so) separate storylines is not a mess is a tribute to Curtis’s deft writing and to his effective use of the stunningly good actors in his cast. Improbable as it seems, Curtis has taken the stuff of several light, frilly comedies, stripped it down and mashed it together, and delivered not only laughs, but a deeper movie that is actually about something.

Okay; I admit there are comic bits that aren’t going to work for everyone. For my taste, there were too many fat jokes, and the storyline about the loveless Colin (Kris Marshall), who goes to America to become a sex god and succeeds beyond any reasonable expectation, was pretty silly. (Though I liked it better on subsequent viewings.)

But those are minor quibbles, given the things the movie does right. The most unexpectedly powerful moment for me comes when Thomas Sangster, playing the 11-year-old stepson of Liam Neeson’s character, steps into Neeson’s arms to be hoisted and turned in the air, his arms spread wide in a moment of exultation that is pure, heartfelt, and thoroughly moving.

neeson_sangstrom.jpg

I don’t think I was particularly prone to crying at movies when I was younger, but since becoming a parent I’ve noticed a definite tendency toward emotional waterworks, especially in tear-jerking scenes involving children. I cried when I saw that scene in the theater, and cried again when I watched it on DVD, and again when I watched the DVD the second time to listen to the audio commentary. It’s powerful stuff, and it’s powerful because Richard Curtis and his cast and crew were willing to risk making a movie that talks honestly and openly about the most vulnerable of human emotions.

It’s easy to cut down a film that is sincere and hopeful about love. It’s easy to be cynical and snarky. Easy, but wrong.

This is a great movie. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, see it again. Go ahead and mock me in the comments for being a silly girly-man; I don’t care. I love this movie.

Found: Some really entertaining stuff

Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

I don’t remember what show I was watching yesterday, but I caught the tail end of an interview with Davy Rothbart, the founder and editor of FOUND magazine. I’d never heard of the magazine until then, but it sounds pretty cool. You see a few years ago, Davy found a strange note on his car (it was a case of mistaken identity) that spawned a fascination with “found items”, the random snippets of paper, photos, and other objects that litter the streets everywhere we go, telling a tale about society and the people in it. He turned his hobby into a magazine, and from there it’s spawned a new Book and a 50 state tour in which he’s driving all over the country, hosting parties to show of cool stuff, and encouraging people to bring in their own finds.

If nothing else, spend a few minutes checking out the website … they showcase some pretty kooky stuff.

Myths at Home and Abroad Cloud Prospects for Peace

Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

I’ve been thinking about movies lately. Like John Boorman’s Excalibur, when Nicole Williamson as Merlin is asked by Nigel Terry’s Arthur, “What is the greatest virtue of knighthood?” Merlin answers, “Truth. That’s it, yes, it must be truth, above all. When a man lies he murders part of the world.”

Well, these days, with respect to the war in Iraq, the murderers are clearly winning, both literally and figuratively. On both sides of the conflict, lies and myths are driving the public to support war and oppose peace, in part because a certain type of leader knows that by encouraging these beliefs he can cement his own hold on power.

Two stories I read recently highlight this. From today’s LA Times: Rumors thrive in a nation shaped by myth.

For decades under Hussein, Iraqis lived in a country perverted by propaganda. Little was known about the outside world or the dealings of the government. The people’s mood was controlled by innuendo planted by Iraqi intelligence operatives and by shreds of vague information that spread through alleys and boulevards. This created a parallel reality, which at its most outlandish featured last year’s televised proclamation by Mohammed Said Sahaf, then Iraq’s information minister, that U.S. forces were not in Baghdad, even as gunfire from advancing troops rang out behind him.

Street gossip is merging with a new phenomenon: satellite TV. Satellite dishes symbolized the end of Hussein’s regime and brought the unfolding of events into living rooms. Live broadcasts by Al Jazeera and other Arabic-language channels show what is happening in Iraq, from kidnappings to suicide bombings to gun battles between American troops and insurgents. U.S. forces claim that these outlets have stepped beyond the boundaries of news gathering and are inciting uprisings and sabotaging efforts to build a democratic Iraq.

On a visit to the Middle East this month, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said he “didn’t have enough fingers and toes” to count what Washington considers to be Al Jazeera’s numerous inaccuracies.

Al Jazeera is often first on the scene of a story. Its breathless commentary and images of dead Iraqi civilians undercut the U.S. message that the occupation is improving the country. The bloodshed the channel shows sometimes offers an eerie counterbalance to assessments by Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, who has described battles between insurgents and U.S. forces as “upticks” in violence.

Hamida Smaysam, dean of media studies at Baghdad University, said: “Everyone is watching Al Jazeera and other Arab TV stations. There’s a war of information going on, and the Americans have not been able to fill the gap.

“Al Jazeera is not intentionally distorting the facts — it’s just rushing into exciting news and making quick conclusions,” she said. “But at the same time, the Americans want to hide things.”

Meanwhile, back here in America, our own little Ministry of Information has been busy putting out its own twisted version of reality with a fair degree of success. For proof of that, look at this latest report (Americans continue to believe Iraq supported al Qaeda, had WMD) from the people at PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes:

According to a new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, a majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).

Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix and others, few Americans perceive most experts as saying the contrary. Only 15% said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). Only 34% said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

Not surprisingly, perceptions of what experts are saying are highly correlated with beliefs about prewar Iraq, which in turn are highly correlated with support for the decision to go to war.

Perhaps most relevant politically, perceptions of what the experts are saying are also highly correlated with intentions to vote for the President in the upcoming election. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had WMD, 72% said they would vote for Bush and 23% said they would vote for Kerry, while among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq did not have WMD, 23% said they would vote for Bush and 74% for Kerry.

It’s all very depressing. The truth would set us free, but we’re too busy wrapping ourselves in a warm, fuzzy cloak of tailor-made deception to notice. Will enough of us on each side of the conflict catch on, allowing us to craft a better future for our children? I’d like to believe so. But in the face of stories like these it sure doesn’t seem likely. I’m left with the embittered, defiant response that Daryl Hannah’s Pris gives in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, “Then we’re stupid, and we’ll die.”

To which my inner Roy Batty can only smile and say, “No we won’t.”

Richard Clarke on What We’re Doing Wrong on Terrorism

Sunday, April 25th, 2004

The guy served four presidents, the last two in the capacity of chief counter-terrorism person, until this current president drove him crazy with his indifference to hair-on-fire warnings. But if there’s such a thing as an expert on the subject, he’s it.

Yes, he’s something of a prima donna, an alarmist, and may even be (horrors!) gay, for all I know. Doesn’t matter. He has the one (1) qualification that in this case trumps all objections, including whatever snark-du-jour the Bush defenders fire off in their ongoing efforts to cut him down personally while avoiding his actual arguments. And that one qualification is this: his Cassandra-esque warnings were proven right on September 11. So cut the crap about how you just don’t like his taste in ties, or whatever, and go read what Richard Clarke has to say about how this whole War on Terror thing is going seriously wrong: The wrong debate on terrorism.

A Tale of Two Fallujahs

Sunday, April 25th, 2004

So, it looks like we’re reaching the later stages of our collective pre-emptive remorse over the additional innocent blood we’re going to spill in Fallujah. From the New York Times: Bush’s decision on possible attack on Falluja seems near.

Facing one of the grimmest choices of the Iraq war, President Bush and his senior national security and military advisers are expected to decide this weekend whether to order an invasion of Falluja, even if a battle there runs the risk of uprisings in the city and perhaps elsewhere around Iraq.

After declaring on Friday evening in Florida that “America will never be run out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers,” Mr. Bush flew to Camp David for the weekend, where administration officials said he planned consultations in a videoconference with the military commanders who are keeping the city under siege.

So, Bush is on the horns of a dilemma. Leaving the evil-doers of Fallujah unpunished would be intolerable. But killing them will result in the deaths of large numbers of innocent civilians, thereby turning Iraqi, Arab, and world public opinion more firmly against us, making our larger Iraq problem dramatically worse.

See, this is where having a president who was actually capable of introspection and the careful weighing of complex issues would be helpful. Because Bush’s decision on this one is completely predictable, and it’s going to suck. Faced with a choice between an intolerable current situation (a situation he created with his previous decisions, one should remember), and a “solution” that will actually make things much worse, he’s going to ignore the consequence and go with what feels right to his gut. Which will be to kill the bad guys. And make things much worse.

Meanwhile, I was struck by this item from war-supporter and überblogger Andrew Sullivan: Email of the day. It’s an email allegedly from a military chaplain in Fallujah who offers an extended analogy comparing the insurgents there to a street gang.

The part I find interesting is the contrast between this version of Fallujah and the ones I linked to earlier from the peace activists who visited the medical aid station there (see Firsthand account of Fallujah and Rahul Mahajan on Fallujah). Those earlier accounts essentially portrayed the insurgents as being in solidarity with the locals. It said the fighters consist essentially of all the able-bodied males in the city, banding together to protect their homes and families against the US invaders. It said the insurgents very much had the support of the city’s population.

Compare that with Sullivan’s anonymous military chaplain:

[I]n Faluja, the supposed hotbed of dissent in Iraq, countless Iraqis tell our psyopers they want to cooperate with us but are afraid the thugs will slit their throats or kill their kids. A bad gang can do that to a neighborhood and a town. That’s what is happening here.

So which is it? I mean, there’s doubtless some truth in each side’s account, but each side is also filtering its perceptions through a bigtime reality filter. Which one is distorting things more? If you and I could go there, live with the people of Fallujah for a while, and get to know them, which version would emerge as being more accurate?

I know which one is easier for me to believe. But I also know that the world is not under any obligation to behave in a way that minimizes my cognitive dissonance. War supporters like reader Thom will have the same problem, but with the arrow pointing the other way.

I don’t think it’s really possible to answer the question conclusively from here. But it’s an important question, and given the actions that are about to be carried out in our name in Fallujah, I think it’s a question that deserves serious thought.

McSweeney’s Does the Neocon Open Letter and the Saddam Interrogation

Sunday, April 25th, 2004

A couple of fun items from McSweeney’s: An open letter to William Kristol, Richard Perle, and President Bush’s other neoconservative puppetmasters. And Saddam’s interrogation logs.

Photo Mosaic of Bush

Sunday, April 25th, 2004

Joe at American Leftist created this interesting photo mosaic of Bush, using only the faces of American soldiers killed in Iraq. He calls the image “War President“:

War President

It’s mirrored here, and is also available in larger sizes that let you see each face in the mosaic more clearly.

Note that there are more than 1400 faces depicted in the image, while so far only about half that many US soldiers have actually died in Iraq. Some of the faces are duplicated in the image, a fact that its creator makes clear up front.

(Which reminds me that I’d meant to link to that other photo mosaic of Ashcroft’s face made with pornographic images. So I’ve done that now.)

Coors Identified as Klansman. Sort of.

Sunday, April 25th, 2004

Adam of the currently-on-hiatus Words Mean Things weblog likes to say that even if Bush were to kill a small child on national television, many of his supporters would find a way to explain it away. As far as I know Bush hasn’t done that yet, preventing us from testing the theory, but an amusingly similar media event has befallen Pete Coors, who’s running for Senate in Colorado. From the Rocky Mountain News: Oops! Coors’ photo used in Klan story.

Thursday’s New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper.

The Coors campaign found the error “so outrageous it’s kind of funny,” said spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.

Janus/onan’s reaction to the story? “I want a spokeswoman named Cinamon.”

Bartlett: Deep Misgivings on Iraq, Bush’s Decision-Making

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Bruce Bartlett isn’t the kind of guy I read every day, but maybe I should. The self-described political conservative has some choice words about how things are going in Iraq, and about the problems he sees with Bush’s decision-making process: My misgivings.

I realize I make my own arguments fairly easy for Bush-supporters to dismiss, what with the one-sided snarkery I engage in. So ignore me. What about Bartlett, though? He’s not some raving leftist. He’s a sober, intelligent, thoughtful conservative. And he’s got concerns. Maybe you conservatives who visit lies.com from time to time (both of you) might want to check out his remarks.

For my other nine readers, who presumably fall somewhat closer to my own position on things, notice something here: the guy is a political conservative, yet he’s thoughtful, honest, and willing to speak his own mind. Interesting, huh?

Iraq Pre- and Post-Mortem

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

So, much saber-rattling coming from the US military leadership in Iraq, about how we’re just about ready to unleash large-scale carnage on Fallujah again: Marines poised for Fallujah offensive. Just when it was looking like wiser heads were doing some prevailing, too.

Meanwhile, a couple of interesting looks back at the war’s justification and prosecution, from a few folks who recognized it was a catastrophe in the making from Day One. From Juan Cole, responding to some baiting from Christopher Hitchens: Hitchens questions on Iraq. And from Paul Krugman: What went wrong?

Bush and Kerry and Military Service, Still Yet One More Time Again

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Righties are doing their best on Kerry’s military record (like this from Donald Sensing, quoting from a Washington Times article: Three Purple Hearts and not a day of duty lost?). And Kevin Drum was goaded into going into a bit more detail about just why it is that Kerry’s released documents pretty much slay any questions one might raise about his service, while Bush’s do just the opposite: Bush vs. Kerry.

But the best summing up comes from Kos, I think: The shorter Bush/Kerry comparison.

I See Dead People

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

Everyone is going to keep mentioning this until I post about it, so here you go: the obligatory lies.com acknowledgement of the thing with the pictures of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq: From the NYT: Pentagon ban on pictures of dead troops is broken. From Joshua Micah Marshall: Yesterday I was going to post a link… From Kevin Drum: Coffins. And from the horse’s mouth, which in this case is thememoryhole.org: Dover AFB (unfortunately slashdotted, or whatever the equivalent phrase is for when the mainstream media does it to you, so you can also get it from the fine people at Warblogging, here: Dover AFB gallery).

The Salman Rushdie Poll

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

From perennial supplier of cool links Bravo comes word of this fun/interesting poll at ShiaChat.com: Salman Rushdie: What would you do if you saw him?

Vote for a Douchebag This Fall

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

From Hiro comes word of this site, which really sums things up quite nicely: http://www.johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com/.

Cole: Perle Carries Water for Chalabi at Senate Hearing

Thursday, April 22nd, 2004

Giving you a welcome break from my increasingly strident fuming about how George W. Bush has a deep-rooted desire to nuke little children, here’s some fuming about someone else: Richard Perle, who aroused Juan Cole’s ire with some testimony he gave Tuesday: Perle at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Interesting stuff.

Ye Shall Know Them by Their Fruits

Thursday, April 22nd, 2004

Kevin Drum offers up a nice comparison of the military records of Bush and Kerry, and the atttitude toward those respective records by the right-wing political set: A tale of two soldiers.

I’d say that pretty well sums up what our two presidential candidates were up to 30 years ago.

I really do find the double standard interesting. If Bush had Kerry’s military record, the right-wing machine would be engaging in public masturbation over it. But since it’s Kerry’s record, it’s grounds for criticism. (You know, there’s a rumor he really didn’t get injured all that badly in order to receive that first Purple Heart…) Meanwhile, Bush “served his country with honor and distinction” (by pulling strings to jump to the head of the National Guard line, getting a taxpayer-funded chance to fly jet planes as far from the fighting as possible, then losing interest, going AWOL, and being quietly discharged before serving his full term).

It isn’t surprising to see this double standard in action. Given the many other actions Bush and his team have been involved in more recently, things that dwarf, in their seriousness, the charges under which Republicans in Congress impeached Clinton, but that turn out to be no big deal when committed by the Bush people, it isn’t surprising at all.

But it sure is unseemly. Guys: you’re not fooling anybody. There’s no principle involved when you trumpet the one guy’s glorious service, while cutting down the other guy based on sly innuendoes. You’re just being craven tools of a particular agenda. Craven. Tools. Look the words up.

Oh, don’t bother. I’ll do it for you.

Craven:

adj : lacking even the rudiments of courage; abjectly fearful; “the craven fellow turned and ran”; “a craven proposal to raise the white flag”; “this recreant knight” –Spenser [syn: recreant]

Tool:

3: a person who is used to perform unpleasant or dishonest tasks for someone else [syn: creature, puppet]

Bush: Our Enemies Have No Souls

Wednesday, April 21st, 2004

During his recent campaign speech calling for renewal of the Patriot Act, Bush mentioned “souls” five times, leading up to this final, extremely curious (from a theological standpoint) mention:

And there’s only one path to safety and that’s the path of action. Congress must act with the Patriot Act. We must continue to stay on the offense when it comes to chasing these killers down and bringing them to justice — and we will. We’ve got to be strong and resolute and determined. We will never show weakness in the face of these people who have no soul, who have no conscience, who care less about the life of a man or a woman or a child. We’ve got to do everything we can here at home. And there’s no doubt in my mind that, with the Almighty’s blessings and hard work, that we will succeed in our mission.

The discussion of this at Corrente is pretty interesting (see this item: How can Bush say that his enemies have no souls?, as well as the item’s comments). It includes a link to an earlier Corrente posting (POTL — short for “People of the Lie”) that I also really liked.

The asssertion by Bush that our enemies have no souls raises some questions. Obviously, it doesn’t comport with the teachings of any mainstream Chrisitian religion. So, given Bush’s frequent allusion to his being, in fact, a born-again Christian, what does it reveal about him?

To me, it reveals that his religious faith is, to him, very much like every other aspect of his character. Fundamental questions (like whether evildoers have souls, or whether a unilateral pre-emptive invasion of Iraq will help or hurt US interests) hold essentially zero interest for him. He’s not an analyzer. He’s a gut-checker. He knows the truth, knows what’s right, and feels no particular need to examine the world to see if it matches up with his a priori beliefs.

I don’t think anyone’s going to bother correcting Bush on this theological point; people realize that the distinction really just isn’t important to him. Souls, shmouls, who cares? The important thing is that they’re our enemies, they’re sub-human, and we needn’t be concerned about moral complexities if we decide to hunt them down and exterminate them like vermin. Oh, and likewise submerged in the clutter of unimportant details: what one has to do to qualify for such morally-neutral extermination. Commit acts of terror? Sure. Be a Muslim living in a Middle Eastern country that lacks a pro-US foreign policy? Okay, you’re in, too. Oppose the president’s policies at home? Yup, you’re also soulless. Line ‘em up for the gas chamber, boys. We’re making a better world.

What’s that? You think I’m being unfair? I don’t think so. It’s completely consistent with how Bush operates. I honestly believe that the only thing holding him back at this point is his desire to win the upcoming election. If Bush wins a second term, such that that last restraint on his behavior is removed, I can’t imagine how far he’d go in pursuing his personal version of reality, both at home and abroad. I really don’t want to find out.

When you get right down to it, it’s just awfully convenient to grant onesself the power to imagine a world that matches all one’s preconceptions, and then to ignore the world’s real nature in one’s interactions with it. It’s what very young children do, as a rule. Among grownups, though, it’s considerably more rare. In a person who wields the power of the US presidency, it’s downright scary.

Corn on Woodward on Bush

Tuesday, April 20th, 2004

I haven’t being paying a whole lot of attention to the fuss surrounding Bob Woodward’s new book, in part because Woodward kinda gives me the creeps. But I read David Corn’s recent piece on Woodward in The Nation, and it struck me as interesting enough to warrant posting here. So there: I have officially done the lies.com coverage of Woodward’s new book: Woodward on Bush.

More Detail on Marines Sniping Ambulances

Monday, April 19th, 2004

There was a brief scuffle in the comments here recently between reader/author Craig, reader Thom, and me regarding the nature of US Marines’ and Sunni insurgents’ actions in Fallujah (see Firsthand account of Fallujah and More on events in Fallujah). It ended up that Thom was surprised I would take accounts of Marines sniping on clearly marked ambulances seriously, until I explained that I considered it likely that the insurgents might have used ambulances for transport, at which point Thom creatively spun my remarks to be somewhat stronger than I intended them, declared victory, and we let the matter drop.

Now I’ve come across a little more detail on the issue. Dahr Jamail (a peace activist who visited Fallujah a week ago, and who wrote one of the accounts I previously linked to) has this item on his weblog: Iraqi health minister presses authorities to explain U.S. targeting of Falluja ambulances. It includes the following:

I attended a press conference today at the Ministry of Health, led by the Iraqi Minister of Health himself. In short, he held the press conference to stave off criticism of not doing enough to assist (medically) the besieged and suffering residents of Falluja, as well as some of the areas down south where fighting has occurred.

Al-Iraqia television, the Coalition Provisional Authority-run propaganda station that most of my Iraqi friends call the “CIA Station”, was at the press conference. They packed up and left promptly after the minister and his two doctors finished their discussion, entirely missing the pointed questions that were to follow.

A stunning surprise, however, was that the minister acknowledged the U.S. military had been intentionally targeting ambulances in Falluja. He expressed his outrage over the matter, and stated that he had personally pressed the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and Bremer for explanations about why these human rights violations, as well as violations of the Geneva Conventions, are occurring.

He said that the U.S. military had accused mujahedeen in Falluja of using ambulances for fighting, and that is why Marines were firing on them. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but at the same time, ambulances that were being used legitimately are being targeted as well, and innocents are dying. My personal friends Jo Wilding and David Martinez were riding in one of these that received 5 sniper rounds through it. I can vouch that they are not mujahedeen.

Also, a number of outlets are carrying the message from a US military briefing announcing details of the latest cease-fire agreement between Iraqi and US forces. Among the terms of the agreement are these:

  • Coalition forces will allow “unfettered” access to Fallujah General Hospital for treatment of sick and injured.

  • All parties agreed to provide for the removal and burial of the dead, as well as providing food and medicine in isolated areas of the city.
  • The start of an evening curfew will be moved from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to enable Fallujah religious functionaries to conduct services.
  • Measures will be implemented to provide passage of official ambulances throughout the city via checkpoints.
  • Medical, technical and security personnel will be allowed access throughout Fallujah to conduct their work.

Examined in context, and taking into account the spin being applied by the various participants, I think the broad outlines of this ambulance-sniping behavior are pretty clear. Yes, Marines have been sniping ambulances, as described by activists in Fallujah a week ago and tacitly acknowledged by the US military in the latest cease-fire agreement.

Marines have justified shooting ambulances by claiming Sunni insurgents were using them to transport themselves. Were the insurgents actually doing that? I think it’s probable. These are guerrillas fighting an enemy who has overwhelming air support and heavy armor. Their only hope of surviving, to say nothing of inflicting harm on the enemy, is to be quick, stealthy, and, for want of a better word, “creative.” If ambulances are being treated as sacrosanct by the Marines, the insurgents would be stupid not to use them. And if they’re using them, the Marines would be stupid not to snipe them. And given those facts, those of us trying to figure out what’s going on from the outside would be stupid to expect anything other than what has taken place.

Now, to the extent the insurgents are using ambulances to get around, that would, I assume, constitute a war crime. To the extent they’re hiding among civilians, using them as shields against the US forces, that would constitute a war crime. Those crimes notwithstanding, to the extent Marines aren’t working particularly hard to distinguish between real ambulances and clandestine troop carriers, or to the extent they’re not making a good-faith effort to determine if any given 10-year-old boy is or isn’t toting a Kalashnikov, or a particular burqa-wrapped “woman” is or isn’t actually a male insurgent concealing an RPG, before shooting said ambulance/boy/”woman”, they’re also guilty of war crimes.

Of course, good faith isn’t the sort of thing one should expect to find in a war zone. War crimes happen on both sides in every war. When the war is over, the victors get to make a show of exposing the other sides’ perfidy, while sweeping their own under the rug. To believe that our side doesn’t engage in such things is naive.

War is the realm of pragmatism. It explicitly sets aside the usual norms of civilized behavior. Warriors kill people. They do it brutally, efficiently, and without compunction. Civilian casualties are minimized “to the extent that it’s possible and prudent.” Prudence, in this case, though, often means nothing more than not using up your bullets on people who don’t represent a real threat. In the position the Marines were in in Fallujah, not knowing who was a combatant and who wasn’t, which ambulances were carrying insurgents and which weren’t, and with no shortage of bullets, the international conventions that prohibit shooting unarmed civilians and ambulances were set aside. And it was completely predictable that that would happen when the decision was made to go in and make an example of Fallujah.

Which is why I continue to think that the decision to go into Fallujah with guns blazing was stupid. Sure, we can defeat individual bands of insurgents, and given the provocation of the four contractors/mercenaries’ killing and mutilation on March 31, I can see where the desire to go in and just impose our will on the city, “pacifying” it by killing anyone suspected of opposing us, along with anyone who happened to get in the way while we were doing so, was tempting, especiallly to someone like Bush. In that sense, as I’ve said before, Fallujah represents a microcosm of the larger Iraq war, and the overall “war on terror.” One can almost hear Bush, after watching footage of burned and dismembered Americans, saying, “Fuck Fallujah. We’re taking it out.”

Yeah, I happen to think that Bush’s quick resorting to blunt military solutions, without exhausting the messy, complicated solutions available short of war, is immoral, betraying as it does a tragic indifference to the innocent lives that war grinds into hamburger. But as I’ve also said before, I’m not basing my objection to the Fallujah action on a moral claim. I’m basing it on a more practical concern. It was completely predictable that it was going to descend almost immediately into this sort of ugliness, thereby driving Iraqis all across the country, not just in Fallujah, away from us and into the arms of anti-US radicals. Which makes the solving of our larger Iraq problem much, much harder.

We need Iraqi hearts and minds if we’re going to leave a friendly-to-the-US government behind. Fallujah was a huge failure in that regard. In the same way, we need the support, trust, and cooperation of other countries if we’re going to effectively combat terror around the world. By misleading the world about things like Saddam’s connections with al Qaeda and his stockpiles of WMD, and then launching a pre-emptive invasion over the objections of the UN Security Council, we’ve taken a huge step backward in that regard, too.

George W. Bush: Fuckup-in-Chief.