To skip this introduction and go directly to read Jeff Weintraub’s In-Depth Analysis “Some Partial, Preliminary & Unfashionable Thoughts Toward Reassessing the 2003 Iraq War – Did Anything Go Right and What Were The Alternatives?” click here.
I was sure in the lead up to the Iraq War that it wouldn’t happen. It seemed obvious to me that it made no sense, and I couldn’t believe that the U.S. would embark on such foolishness. One of my big mistakes, obviously. While Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden and American capacity to wage two wars, one clearly by choice, seemed to be a huge strategic mistake, the war proceeded and escalated, and we have paid.
Nonetheless, I did understand why deposing Saddam was desirable. His regime was reprehensible. I respected those who called for opposition to its totalitarianism, from the informed Kanan Makiya to my Central European friends, Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel, et al. I even said so at an anti-war rally.
Yet, connecting the means at our disposal with the desirable end of a free and democratic Iraq seemed to me to be an extraordinarily difficult project, and I had absolutely no confidence that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Company could pull it off. How could my intelligent friends who supported the war not see that? I actually had a number of heated public discussions with Michnik about that.
Once begun, I hoped that the intervention would be short and sweet, and hoped that a democratic transition could be managed, but as we now know these hopes were frustrated. From every point of view, the war was a disaster: for the Iraq, the region, the U.S., and the project of democracy, and the way the war was fought, as it was part of a purported global war against . . .
Read more: Some Partial, Preliminary & Unfashionable Thoughts Toward Reassessing the 2003 Iraq War: Introduction
A friend on Facebook declared: “if you want to know everything wrong in the world, all you have to do is watch the stupid bowl.” Written during the course of the great event, I missed the comment in real time, as I missed the game. But I suspect she is right. And for this reason, I generally stay away, though with some ambivalence.
As a good American boy, I enjoyed playing the game and watching, and the memories of pleasures past linger (including watching games, in the less distant past, with my son, who was without my provocation a fan). Yet, football is more and more clearly brutal, with its special cult of violence becoming increasingly problematic. And the Super Bowl is not just another game; it has specific repulsive dressing. The ads are a spectacle of consumerism and all I hate about capitalism. Even though I begrudgingly offer capitalism two cheers, seeing no practical alternative in our world, I see no reason to see virtue in necessity, and it is off putting to celebrate. Super Bowl Sunday is a media event from which I abstain.
Last night, I followed my Super Bowl tradition, and went to the movies. I finally pushed myself to go see Zero Dark Thirty, with less than ten other people in the audience. I very reluctantly went. Following the debates about the film, I didn’t want to support a work that apparently credited torture for the killing of Osama bin Laden. I expected to be repulsed, not by the gratuitous violence of the film (in football’s spirit). It was the violence of the message that concerned me. Proponents of torture applauded this Hollywood production as the exception that proves the rule of Hollywood’s liberal bias. Opponents of the use of “enhanced interrogation” denounced the film. And esthetes of various sorts, including the film’s director, claimed that as a work of art, one based on our very recent past, Zero Dark Thirty is intentionally without a clear political message, depicting the facts, opening discussion. I decided to decide for myself, . . .
Read more: Zero Dark Thirty on Super Bowl Sunday
I was in New York at the end of April in the days preceding the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, there to take part in a conference on Memory Studies at The New School for Social Research. An American colleague of mine, Alexandra Delano, along with Ben Nienass, presented a paper on the invisible victims of 9/11: the illegal Mexican workers who were in the towers at the time. During the conference, Alexandra movingly declared that these illegal workers had not had rights, alive or dead. Their names are not listed on the sides of the two big pools, which constitute the memorial for the victims of the terrorist attack of 9/11.
I really loved the idea of giving a voice to the invisible, so I decided that it was time to pay a visit to the 9/11 National Memorial. I set out for a long walk across Manhattan to reach downtown. I hoped that the walk would prepare me for what I was about to confront. Once I got to the vicinity of the commemorative site, I found countless signs that explained to me where to book my tour. Everything was organized in a very efficient way, and after waiting for less than an hour, I was able to enter.
I found myself standing in line together with many visitors, thoroughly watched by many kind and smiling policemen, and when I say many, I mean that they were so numerous that it came to mind that there must be a clear and present danger to watch out for. They asked me to let them scan my purse into a metal detector in order to make sure I did not carry a weapon. Finally, after walking along a closely watched path, I stepped into a garden.
There were two enormous water pools, as if they were two gigantic swimming pools with high walls from which two immense water falls flowed down with tremendous force and energy. I noticed that there was absolutely nothing one could tamper with, so I kept on . . .
Read more: On the National 9/11 Memorial: An Italian Perspective
The new Obama campaign video, “The Road We’ve Traveled,” is a compelling piece of political expression. It’s not art. It’s not news. It’s a form of effective political speech. The Obama campaign calls the video a documentary, and that it is: a documentary advocating a partisan position that is meant to rally supporters, and convince opponents and the undecided.
Partisan Republicans have criticized the video for being propaganda: a serious charge coming from people who often label President Obama, a moderate left of center Democrat, as a socialist, and speak ominously about the end of America as we have known it if the President were to be reelected. Mitt Romney, more lightly, perhaps in fact revealing that he is a moderate, dismissed the video as an infomercial. I understand the Republican objections. They see a political move and are trying to counter it by suggesting it should be dismissed and not watched.
Less understandable is the performance yesterday of CNN talk show host, Piers Morgan, who aggressively criticized Davis Guggenheim, the director of the film, for not balancing its advocacy with any criticisms of the President. This baffles me. Just because the video is the creation of an award winning filmmaker doesn’t mean that his political expression in this work should be measured by the same standards as his art. Guggenheim, as he tried to explain last night in his interview with Morgan, is politically committed and the work on the video is his way of being politically active.
When I go to the movies, read a novel or see an art exhibit, I think it is important to distinguished between art and politics. Works that have noble messages do not necessarily make fine art. As Malgorzata Bakalarz examined in her last post, there is a difference between good and politically important art. On the other hand, and this is central here, it is just as important to . . .
Read more: “The Road We’ve Traveled”: A Serious Political Argument
Sitting quietly at my desk yesterday, thinking my thoughts about earthquakes, hurricanes, and the glorious Libya campaign, I was awakened by a phone call. A radio reporter from one of our major Chicago stations called, asking for my opinion about a newly minted coloring book that is designed to help children remember the “truth” of 9/11. This effort from a company named “Really Big Coloring Books” is what they describe as a “graphic coloring novel.” Perhaps we should think of this as a “Mickey Maus” effort.
While the coloring book, rated PG by corporate description, aims at teaching children “the facts surrounding 9/11,” it is not without its red-state politics. The company claims proudly that “Our Coloring Books are made in the USA. Since 1988.” The production of coloring books has not, yet, been outsourced to Vietnam. The book, We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom, has as its target audience a group that can, in fact, never remember 9/11, but only know of the day through the visceral accounts that we provide. According to the publisher, “The book was created with honesty, integrity, reverence, respect and does not shy away from the truth.” When a publisher (no author is listed) suggests that a work does not “shy away” from the truth, he is suggesting that others are doing that very shying and that the truth is both unambiguous and uncomfortable.
The book is filled with accounts of brave Americans and dangerous Arabs, and the text reminds its readers, “Children, the truth is these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.” Nice touch, particularly on the page in which “the coward” Bin Laden is shot, while using women and children as a shield. One wonders which age child is captivated both by Crayolas and by the moral philosophy of human shields.
But my argument is less about . . .
Read more: Forgetting 9/11
Watching Others Watching
Osama bin Laden has been killed and what do we get to see? A group of distinguished spectators watching an invisible screen. Vice President Joe Biden is close to the screen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen covering her mouth with her hand, perhaps in horror. President-elect Barack Obama is leaning forward. A New York City subway newspaper has speculated that this was “the moment the president watched bin Laden die.” The visibility of an event has been replaced by the image of a group of officials who are watching what is invisible to us.
Bin Laden’s death is one of this year’s major events. Transpiring less than a week after the British Royal Wedding, it reveals the futility of the London bash. It reminds us that from time to time there are events that are truly historic, events that end a period of intellectual and affective unrest. Yet, there is something puzzling about the death of bin Laden. Important events tend to be visible. Can we believe in their magnitude if visibility is missing? In fact, can we believe they truly happened? Why do we feel short-changed, almost disappointed, waiting for the rest of the event to occur? Perhaps because bin Laden’s death was a deed but not a discourse, a blow but not an expressive event. Or perhaps we are not used to events that are both blind and mute.
A Blind Event
In the absence of images, testimonies and narratives curiously vacillate. They start to stutter. During the raid, bin Laden attempted to resist and was shot in the head. Bin Laden threatened the American commandos with a gun and was shot in the head. Bin Laden hid behind a woman, using her as a human shield, and was shot in the head. Bin Laden’s wife rushed the assaulter and was shot in the leg. Bin Laden was unarmed but shot and killed.
Here is another example of an indecisive account. “Bin Laden was buried at the North Arabian Sea from the deck of a US aircraft carrier at 2 am EST . . .
Read more: Osama and Obama: One Death, Four Invisibilities
We continue our discussion about the killing and its implications in this, the third post of DC contributors reactions to the killing of Osama bin Laden and its aftermath. In the first post, we considered reports from different places, in the second, different perspectives were offered. In this one, Kreider-Verhalle, Narvaez and Carducci, offer compelling judgments, although they are competing. I will add my reflections on these discussions later in the week. -Jeff
When President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, I tried to imagine the deadly scene in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where the elusive terrorist had been surprised by a group of American fighters, most likely while he was asleep. We are accustomed to being continuously exposed to an avalanche of images of what happens in the world around us. The possibility to see happenings, either live or through photos and video, gives us a first row seat at the world’s events, both intimate and distant. Most people also have a bent for fairytale-like stories, with good guys and bad guys, suppressing the confusing complexities of daily life.
Now we have to cope with a lack of images. All media organizations have reprinted and rebroadcast the few available photos and videos of the terrorist leader a thousand times. Because the Obama Administration will not release the material that shows the lifeless body of Bin Laden, we are instead presented with exclusive photos of ransacked rooms in the secretive compound with unmade beds and bloodstained floors. We are offered an inside peek into Bin Laden’s life with some shots of his cooking oil, a couple dozen unused eggs, some nasal spray and petroleum jelly.
We also have been allowed to see the expressions on the faces of President Obama and his team, watching the operation to kill ‘Geronimo’ unfold. Amidst all the secrecy of the operation, the oddest details have become news. The whole world . . .
Read more: DC Forum: The Killing of Osama bin Laden – Part Three