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Read more in Solstice Fire and the Art of Service, by Eric Francis.
It was difficult to know which story to focus on today, given a frenetic news cycle offering so much selection. There’s the ever-expanding clown car of the Republican presidential field that squeezed in union-killing Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, this week; the President smacking a former FOX Reporter on the snout with a rolled up newspaper; an official in San Francisco calling out FOX News in no uncertain terms; and the response to the possibility that fictional American hero, Atticus Finch, was more a man of his times than an idealistic Freedom Rider. And that’s the short list.
Getting a sure grip on the topic is a primary exercise on my Friday mornings, since I start to dig under that banner, tapping bits of information I’ve collected over the week and scooting around the web in search of more. Once I’ve got the general theme — and have invited Spirit in to ensure that what ‘needs saying’ gets said — then I bring my gaming skills to the project. I play Mahjong with the news, looking for the connections. In truth, all the topics above are connected in one big sociopolitical game board.
Most people have a game they prefer, perhaps a guilty pleasure, that is the equivalent of white noise, a mind-clearing, heart-calming exercise. Mine is Mahjong in various forms, always solitaire. If you don’t know the game, it’s simple enough. The board offers hundreds of tiles piled upon one another. The goal is to find pairs, eliminating them to reveal another layer of tiles and more pairs. The games I prefer are timed, the gamer racing to beat the projection. When my granddaughter was younger she was fascinated.
“How do you find them so fast, Grammie?” she asked.
My answer satisfied her. “You pick off the easy ones first and then you unfocus your eyes, just a little, to see the patterns.” Turns out that’s a valuable life skill.
So let’s pick off a few tiles, shall we? This week John Kerry made up for prior political stumbles by securing a deal with Iran, along with his place in history. House Leader John Boehner has indicated that the agreement “blows his mind,” that such an arrangement is “wrong for America,” and that his party will do everything in its power to stop it.
The warmongers are beside themselves that they might miss an opportunity to further their agenda, especially as the President has threatened to veto any attempt to kill the agreement. Lindsey Graham has his panties in a twist, doing an Aunt Pittypat impression that — especially for a presidential candidate — just ain’t pretty, making me grateful we were spared another run by his co-hawk buddy, John McCain. Essentially, this is a smack-down between the neo-conservatives and the neo-liberals (which is why so many of us think there is no difference between parties).
Thanks to Dubby and his pal Uncle Dick Cheney, we mostly know what a neo-conservative is: someone dedicated to free market capitalism and international (for profit) interventionism (a 21st century form of colonialism). A term used less often, neo-liberalism, more often describes our sitting president’s temperament, if not entirely his policies: someone dedicated to the free market who by-passes traditional liberal doctrines and seeks progress by pragmatic means. There’s our first pair, then — the free market.
I’m sure that somewhere on our news board, we’ll find tiles that more explicitly define those doctrinal issues. Privatization of government, for instance, is also shared by the neos, as is hostility to safety nets or ‘socialist’ policy. Apparently you can slap the prefix ‘neo’ — a.k.a. new — on ideology of self-interest as old as the human species in order to put lipstick on that pig. This, I suppose, is the essence of marketing itself, blindsiding the public for ultimate profit. See how the tiles connect?
Hillary 2.0 is consistently more neo-liberal than Obama, and that’s easy enough to track. Although she’s come out in favor of the Iran deal, she recently wrote a letter to a large donor regarding the perception that Israel is practicing apartheid in Palestine, seeking input on how to put that image to bed, especially considering the growing wave of anti-Semitism in Europe. This follows an earlier pledge she made to be a better friend to Israel than Obama. Hillary just can’t win with real progressives on this one. It’s difficult to embrace anti-nuclear diplomacy with Iran and still support a nation so completely (and hysterically) at odds with such a venture. Harder still to avoid the truth that perhaps the world wouldn’t accuse Israel of apartheid if they’d quit practicing it.
Now — perhaps courting ire — let me once again insist that there is a difference between the parties, their purpose and tradition. The Pubs’ purpose is simplicity itself: kill government. I found a quote recently, attributed to the #occupy movement, that makes their tactics obvious as well, and if you squinch your eyes just a bit, the pattern will come into view:
First they create the mess.
Then they do everything possible to keep others from fixing the mess.
Then they blame others for the mess they created.
Then they propose the same policies that created the mess in the first place as the way to fix the mess they created.
First they create the mess. In 1953 — the Eisenhower years — the CIA succeeded in toppling the democratically elected Iranian Premier, a dedicated nationalist whom the U.S. feared would befriend their Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union (an action for which Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton issued an apology in 1997). They then re-installed the West-friendly Shah of Iran, who rewarded them by signing over 40 percent of Iran’s oil fields to U.S. companies. (My uncle from Oklahoma was in management with one of the big oil companies, lived in Tehran for a few years and loved to tell the story of how he and a group of friends taught the Shah and his family how to square-dance. I’m not kidding. This is still a family point of pride.)
Money and military aid poured into Iran for thirty years until, in 1979, anti-American protest grew into theocratic militancy to bounce the Shah out and seize the U.S. embassy, holding as many as 60 hostages for 444 days. If Carter bungled the situation initially, along with a failed rescue attempt, then Reagan — ever the showman — capitalized on Jimmy’s apparent ‘softness’ to catapult into power.
Carter had come to an agreement with the moderate Iranian President Ban-Sadr over the release of the captives, held by radical students, but the Ayatollah Khomeini, consolidating power, made a covert deal with Reagan’s campaign to withhold any positive resolution until after the election. The hostages were released just moments after Reagan’s inauguration and less than six months later, Ban-Sadr was overthrown by the new theocratic government. (You may not have heard about this betrayal of democratic principles, but you’ve surely heard the term “October Surprise.” This is a reference to down-low negotiations that turn the tide of an American election).
All of us remember when our Dubby described Iran as the major player in an “Axis of Evil.” By the nature of the beast, there can never be an agreement among adversaries that does not depend upon intense negotiation, trade offs, and verifications, and CERTAINLY no agreement if we refuse to talk to the opposition at all.
Dub’s position — that we never negotiate with terrorists (but we can sell them arms on the sly, yadda ad nauseum) — put up a wall on any diplomatic activity for much of a decade. Although seemingly oblivious to the religious schism between the Shia and Sunni factions that divide the Mideast, the Bush administration launched Shock ‘n Awe, resulting in a destabilized region and handing Iran a number of options about how to renew influence in a newly fractured Iraq.
Neocons everywhere, along with an eager Netanyahu, have been sure for over a decade that there would be eventual strikes against enrichment facilities. Imagine their disappointment when the black guy won, and that now — against all odds — he’s secured an actual agreement in Vienna.
Isn’t this cause for celebration? Can’t we welcome a win/win, even if it’s less than perfect, and isn’t it possible that Israel will benefit from a plan to verify, verify, verify? Buried under trivia and details we’ll find the ancient tiles of conflict and tribal intrigues, the same ones that colored the Cold War blood-red and attempt to keep us in the zero-sum game.
Clearly, there is plenty of hysteria over the ‘naïve’ action of this administration and the Western accord to bring a nuclear arms race under control. There is plenty of it reflected in Republican commentary, and if you need to wallow in it, go over to FOX News where there is a level of angst on display that would make even a drama queen blush.
There seems no actual intelligence involved in soliciting Dick Cheney’s opinion on this accord, given his dismal failure at predicting the result in Iraq, but it was Hannity, after all, that invited this comment that the agreement “… will, in fact, I think put us to closer to use — actual use — of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.”
Be afraid, my dears. You know the mantra that drives us. Be very afraid! I swear, someone must — MUST! — define FOX network as not just a vehicle for propaganda (as happened in San Francisco) but a major source of hate speak. Tuning in today, my son and I briefly listened to zealots screech about open-carry options in order to defend against the inevitability of attacks from radical Islamists (presupposed in Chattanooga) and decided if we were forced to arm ourselves, it would likely be in defense of those very hotheads speaking.
Fear is still leading the way in the Iranian deal, of course. In whatever world we inhabit, the ‘enemy’ is not only mandatory, but demands respect and attention. Both the Ayatollah and Obama urge caution on the particulars of a final arrangement, and so, until Congress has its say and there are further assurances from Iran, the deal is still just ‘on the table.’ But, as Eric mentioned in his podcast, there is plenty of corporate profit at stake, which creates issues for politicians who are suddenly looking at renewed access to oil. We are distressingly predictable, are we not?
We must continue to look for patterns, connect the dots. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want a nuclear Iran, and Israel doesn’t want a nuclear Iran, and somehow — odd partners, it seems — that’s a connected pair of tiles on the board, requiring further assessment. FOX pundits yelping like excited hounds over the need for more guns match the tiles represented by this front page of The New York Times, as chronicled by Digby yesterday. And Obama’s pardoning a prisoner who received a life sentence for pot lines up with the tile that reports a 90-something-year-old Auschwitz guard receiving four years in prison for being found complicit in 300,000 deaths (although a little late in the game).
Here’s another thought, the one that lingers in my mind and has since the beginning: how is it that we think we can, or even should, deny a sovereign nation nuclear capacity? Is the Nuclear Club just for those with a long reach and big budget? L’il Kim doesn’t think so. And why aren’t we huffing and puffing about Pakistan, clearly a danger seldom discussed?
There is threat here but not the obvious. It is threat to an old system that must fade if we’re to survive. Where would an old War Horse like Netanyahu be without an enemy? How would the conservatives keep their voters in line without an enemy? How could the evangelicals raise money and keep political influence without an enemy?
Certainly we must all mind the awesome possibilities of nuclear misuse, and surely it’s in the best interests of those who want to rid the world of nukes to curtail them, but who decides who gets a nuke and who doesn’t? As a representative of humankind, I’m not happy that North Korea has nukes and a developing delivery system, but neither am I happy that we have a technically flawed and all-too-human system of our own.
So where’s the virtue in all this? Is Iran the most threatening enemy? Or is it FOX News, a danger from within? Are the guys selling weapons to ISIS the problem, or is it the errors that allowed an insufficient background check to arm Dylann Roof? Perhaps it’s the notion that we can kill an idea and take vengeance on wrongs done us? Or could it be that the challenges of a 21st century world call for a higher level of consciousness than we’ve displayed lately?
While we should prepare ourselves for strident rhetoric and a continued campaign for militarism on the right as well as from Israel and her defenders, if we are to be part of the solution rather than the problem, we need to speak for peace and defend diplomacy. We must propose the spiritually mature concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation.
We need to keep picking off the tiles hiding the darker energies of old paradigm aggression that keep violence in the forefront of our thoughts and our politics. As Pogo the possum said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Until we get on to ourselves, the question of who can or who can’t arm, shoot, kill is moot — it’s us.