Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Over There: The Duality of War

It is difficult to imagine what Fox is up to: If they think their new series on FX “Over There” is a recruiting tool, I believe they are mistaken. If they think it will fill impressionable young minds with that gung ho spirit of patriotic fervor, they will surely be disappointed. Only the psychopathic would find this depiction of war attractive.

There is a lot wrong with Steven Bochco’s Iraq war series. Virtually everyone in the platoon is young and attractive, belying the fact that so many of the soldiers in this war are drawn from the Guard and Reserves. Check the latest casualty list: It is no longer an army of high school graduates, the young and na├»ve. There is probably more bravado and thoughtful reflection than reality allows but there is also something beneath the surface of this Hollywood production that strikes deep and rings true.

What comes across in “Over There” is a potent message concerning the duality of war, the same message that Stanley Kubrick delivered in the Vietnam classic “Full Metal Jacket.” It is the acknowledgment that no matter where the individual begins in philosophy, values and character, the experience of war will force every soldier to confront internal demons. In war, only a soldier’s duty is clear and even that may be called into question. It is the realization that the soldier on the far side of the field is not fundamentally different than the soldier on the near side. It is the understanding that words like democracy, insurgency, terrorist, freedom, occupation, liberation, good and evil have very little meaning in the line of fire. It is the reality that war is hell and no one escapes unscathed.

It will be interesting to see where the series goes from its beginning, whether it will temper the antiwar portion of the equation that compels the viewer to confront a moral dilemma. If it remains true and gains a growing audience, Fox will confront its own dilemma: Whether to kill a rare program with critical and popular appeal or allow it to raise the very questions its news division has fought so long and hard to deny.

If it lives up to its pilot, “Over There” has the power to reach many American hearts and minds. When both are engaged in sufficient numbers, the end of the occupation will be at hand.


Sunday, July 24, 2005


By Jack Random

An article on Common Dreams (“Rove Scandal Could Stick” by Mark Weisbrot) was the first I have seen to seriously ask the obvious question: What did the president know and when did he know it?

My own reading of this sordid affair (the exposure of a CIA agent and its subsequent cover-up) is that it will not reach the desk of the president but that is hardly a reason to relent.

If anyone in the White House were to have informed the president, the question would be: Why would he do that?

The elders among us may recall how forces conspired to knock out vice president Spiro Agnew (the president’s hatchet man) before Nixon took the fall. In a parallel twist of irony, if someone in Cheney’s office gave information to the president that exposed him to liability, it would be a vice presidential insurance policy. It would be Cheney saying to Bush: If you take us down, we’ll take you with us.

There is an enormous difference between Dick Nixon and George W. Bush. There are similarities as well: In psychoanalytical terms, both seem blessed or cursed (depending on your point of view) with the combination of gigantic egos and dwarfed super egos. The critical difference, however, is that Nixon did not need a Karl Rove because he was a Karl Rove. For all his moral shortcomings (or perhaps because of them), Nixon was a master politico and one can be sure that many Republican candidates consulted him even in exile.

Watergate would not have had a profound impact on American politics if it had not gone to the very top. Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichmann [1] may have been capable of any number of immoral deeds but they were not essential to the Nixon White House. The Chief Executive wore all the hats and had his finger in every pie. By contrast, our current president’s greatest virtue (again, a two-edged sword) is that he knows his limitations. He depends on others to formulate policy and guide the ship of state.

Colin Powell, George Tenet, John Ashcroft and (most curiously) Paul Wolfowitz have already jumped ship. With her promotion to Secretary of State, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney have effectively removed Condoleezza Rice as the president’s daily adviser. They can send her off on global publicity tours, leaving themselves to run the office.

As enamored as the president is with Condoleezza and Rummy (Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld), he is as dependent on Cheney and Rove as Rush Limbaugh is on pharmaceutical remedies. The president’s enormous ego gives them carte blanche to secure his legacy and record his pages in history. Without Cheney and Rove, he is what he is: A notoriously incompetent and ill-informed executive who has failed at every venture he has attempted short of politics.

Having won a second term in the last election, we might be tempted to think that Rove no longer has a function. We would be wrong. Aside from orchestrating White House spin, Rove has two critical items on his agenda: Building Republican dominance in the midterm elections and positioning the Republican Party to continue the Bush legacy. Dick Cheney’s agenda is to forward the current policies of free trade and expand the war on terror with all that entails.

To the extent that Rove and Cheney succeed, the horrors of the Bush administration will be visited on future generations not only in America but in the world at large.

The stakes are high and both men are short stacked with a diminishing supply of cards to be played. Rove and Scooter Libby (Cheney’s Chief of Staff) have fully exploited their access to privileged information and their connections in the media. While they may have pulled it off in Florida and Ohio, it is extremely difficult for politicos to operate in the spotlight. As long as the Plame-Wilson-Miller case hangs over them, they are compelled to spend most of their time and efforts covering their trails.

With Times reporter Judy Miller in jail, a parade of her colleagues under subpoena, and every other operative in Washington cowering in their executive suites, anyone who receives a call from Rove, Cheney or their minions is conveniently on vacation.

It does not matter if the president himself takes the fall. As long as the dirty underside of his manufactured case for war is fully exposed, a legacy will be secured. The younger Bush pages will combine with the Nixon pages in a chapter on infamy.

If Rove and Cheney take the fall, the legacy is mortally wounded and even the spineless Democrats may be emboldened to distance themselves from the policies of the Bush White House. Who knows but that they may even be so emboldened as to demand an end to the occupation?

If not, the door to an effective third party or independent political movement will swing wide open.


[Note: Attorney General John Mitchell resigned in disgrace. Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and Domestic Policy Advisor John Ehrlichmann were fired as intended fall guys.]