Iran

The Low-Bar Trope

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Democratic Primary Debate Participants, 27 June 2019: Michael Bennet, Joseph Biden, Peter Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernard Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang. (Credit: DonkeyHotey / Wikimedia Commons)

You have heard it said before. I’ve said it myself. As a colleague recently grumbled: “The bar is low. All I want is a return to the rule of law.”

Indeed, the bar is set low for the 2020 presidential election if it means Democrats should nominate the person most likely to defeat Trump, that candidates competing for the nomination should do no harm to one another in the primaries, and that they and their supporters should rally behind the Party’s eventual nominee on the assumption that winning the election will return the nation to the status quo ante.

Is a reset enough? Is restoring the state of affairs as it existed before Trump’s presidency the right goal and the likeliest way to win the election? (more…)

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Obliteration

Mushroom cloud of ‘Gadget’ over Trinity, seconds after detonation, 1945. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In these hyperbolic times, we should pause occasionally to reflect on the casual use of dangerous language.  President Trump’s choice of the word “obliteration” in the present context of tensions with Iran is a case in point.  It is a term fraught with deadly implications, especially in the midst of a heated dispute between adversaries.  That, by itself, is worrisome, even if it were an isolated instance of inflammatory language.  The fact that it is characteristic of this president is all the more disquieting.  “Obliteration” reflects an ingrained pattern—the rhetorical mannerism of his volatile disposition.  Beyond that, it invokes a cultural fantasy of nuclear extermination. (more…)

Playing Chicken

1024px-Flickr_-_Official_U.S._Navy_Imagery_-_USS_Abraham_Lincoln_transits_the_Arabian_Sea._(12)

ARABIAN SEA (March 6, 2012) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and the British Royal Navy Duke-class frigate HMS Westminster (F 237) transit the Arabian Sea. Abraham Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jerine Lee/Released) 120306-N-QN361-034

We’ve all seen video clips in recent news reports showing the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group (with a B52 bomber task force) dispatched to Iran for the purpose of sending a message.  It is an unsettling sight.  As a worried friend said to me last Tuesday morning, “I hope Trump doesn’t get us into a war with Iran.”

Yes, this is a worrisome development, not just because a war with Iran could happen on purpose (with war hawks John Bolton and Mike Pompeo wielding influence within an unstable administration), but also because it could happen accidentally.  The game the President is playing is commonly called Chicken. (more…)

Last of the Cold War Warriors

Senator John McCain, 1936-2018. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Even the tempests of Caliban’s island must pause at the passing of John McCain.

Writing about the three great Liberators of the Americas—Bolívar from Venezuela, San Martín from Río de La Plata, Hidalgo from México—José Martí once taught us:

Men cannot be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns with the same light with which it heats. The sun has spots. Ingrates talk only about its spots; grateful ones talk about the light.[1]

As a resident of Arizona, I have had occasion to witness John McCain’s services to his constituency with punctilious efficiency and graciousness. The tag of “maverick”—an unfortunate banality that often diminished the complexity of the man—has led commentators in the last few days to praise his memory as follows: “I disagreed with him on many issues, but …,” usually followed by a lengthy encomium. I will add my voice to this chorus of praise and condemnation. I will write, reducing “a person’s entire life to two or three scenes,” not only about my disagreements with John McCain, but also about the good that should not be interred with his bones.[2]

(more…)

Afterthoughts on the Iran Treaty

Apadana of Persepolis — in Persepolis, Iran. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Apadana of Persepolis — in Persepolis, Iran. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Is it not brave to be a King, Techelles?
Usumcasane and Theridamas,
Is it not passing brave to be a King,
And ride in triumph through Persepolis?

Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine

Now that the U.S. Congress cannot block the nuclear treaty between Iran, the United States and other world powers, one can exclaim along with Mark Twain, without fear of imperiling the agreement: “There are times when one would like to hang the whole human race, and finish the farce.” (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, chap. XXXI).

I have not read the agreement. One of the lessons to be learned from this recent process is that our politicians—and therefore we—do not need to read or know anything about anything before forming an opinion. Even before the agreement was drafted, 47 senators (all Republicans) wrote “an open letter to the leadership of Iran, warning them that any nuclear deal signed between Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama might not last beyond his presidency.” All we need now in these United States—if ever we needed anything else—is to consult God, and/or (the god) Money, not necessarily in that order, and our clear, firm opinion is given unto us. In that spirit, I offer the following maxims: (more…)

Tripping the Demonization Trap

“The Great Satan” by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff, 1 October 2003. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Does US Representative Seth Moulton slip or trip war culture’s demonization trap when he endorses the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran?

As mentioned in the preceding post, the congressman allows that the deal does not require the US to trust Iran and concedes that Iran is a determined enemy of the US and Israel that supports international terrorism and violates human rights. The basic premise of the case for rejecting the nuclear accord and its underlying Manichean mythos of good versus evil remains unremarked and unchallenged.

War culture remains rhetorically intact, whether one decides to support the nuclear accord on the congressman’s terms or reject it. The perseverance of war culture on this matter is reflected in the expression of public opinion. (more…)

An Unremarked Metaphor

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit:  Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit: Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Opposition to the nuclear accord with Iran is yet another occasion for putting US war culture on display. And what we see—if we choose to look—is a rationale for militarism grounded in an unrecognized and unremarked metaphor. We see a culturally compelling, naturalized image of the devil with whom we should never make a deal. The logic of opposing a nuclear deal rests on (and rhetorically derives from) this demonological image as if it is terra firma. Remarking critically on the image is taboo.

This self-justifying image appears in a video of a wounded soldier released in August by a group called Veterans Against the Deal. “Rather than refute the administration’s talking points or rehearsing specific objections to the deal, this [moving and powerful] spot speaks to the very nature of the Iranian regime,“ writes Guy Benson, who is Townhall.com’s political editor. (more…)

Atrocity

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taken by US armed forces while in dentention at Camp Bucca in 2004. (Credit:  U.S. Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons)

Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taken by US armed forces while in detention at Camp Bucca in 2004. (Credit: U.S. Armed Forces / Wikimedia Commons)

Stories of atrocity are compelling motives for war. They resonate to the myth of America’s special virtue. Our goodness exists by contrast with the enemy’s evil actions. As the enemy’s image darkens, our self-image shines (by implication). Shades of grey disappear.

Atrocity is a self-certifying story. Its psychological force and narrative function are sufficient both to persuade and to inhibit rebuttal. Its status as fact is presumed. Its verisimilitude is a cultural given. To question its authority is heretical.

It does not matter that stories of atrocity in past wars so often have proven, in retrospect, to be untrustworthy. We believe what we need to believe in the heat of the moment. Moreover, how can we tell that a given story is untrue, that it is mere propaganda? Especially when the story comes to us through the mainstream news media? Our only recourse seemingly is to accept all such stories on faith or reject all of them out of hand. Outright rejection reduces us to an untenable position of sheer cynicism. (more…)

One Nation Among Many

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy:  whitehouse.gov)

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy: whitehouse.gov)

Barack Obama’s capacious case for the nuclear accord with Iran (address at American University) contains an interesting treatment of the myth of exceptional America. “What separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional,” the President declared, “is not the mere fact of our military might” but our advancement, since World War II, of an evolving system of international law “to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security, and promote human progress.”

It is unclear whether President Obama means the US in not an empire or that the American empire, unlike others, is a force for good. This point of ambiguity marks a tension between diplomacy and military force that persists throughout the speech. The President manages this tension in a way that makes the US more alike and interdependent with other nations than independent, distinct, above, or apart from them. In his words, “we live in a complicated world” where, despite our power, “we are one nation among many.” (more…)

Unmaking the Devil

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran is drawing rhetorical fire. That’s not surprising. Conjuring the devil is a ritual that sustains the war state. It rehearses the narrative of good versus evil. Without the threat of evildoers, the country’s motivation to fight degrades over time.

Congressional war hawks and their neoconservative allies, observes James Carden, warn against being snookered by a despicable Iranian regime. Alluding to the Holocaust, Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee insists that the deal would march the Israelis “to the door of the oven.” Senator Lindsey Graham adds that the religious views of Iran’s Supreme Leader compel him to destroy Israel and attack the US. Iran is the devil incarnate, Hitler de novo.

Senator Dan Coats summarizes much of the critique that follows from the basic premise that they are evil and we are good. In a guest column published by various Indiana newspapers, the Senator says the more he reads through the text of the Iran deal, the more his concern grows. Why? Because “the deal will not permanently stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions” and “the negotiators conceded [far too much] in order to reach an agreement with a regime that calls America its enemy, brazenly violates U.N resolutions, sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel’s existence and is responsible for more than 1,000 American military deaths since Sept. 11, 2001.” (more…)