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Archive for June, 2014

Mississippi’s Runoff and Memories of Freedom Summer

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1950)

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On the night of the Mississippi GOP primary runoff between U.S. senator Thad Cochran and state senator Chris McDaniel, PBS aired Freedom Summer, a powerful American Experience documentary of the summer of 1964. Fifty years ago, on the invitation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), some 700 college students, mostly white and mostly from the North, volunteered to work in Mississippi to register black people to vote and to teach children and adults. The contrast, and the overlaps and continuities, between Tuesday’s election and 1964’s Freedom Summer are striking.

Many Americans do not know that in the early 1960s black people in Mississippi (though not only in Mississippi) risked being murdered simply for registering to vote. At the least, they could be fired from their jobs or driven from their homes. At the time, only 7 percent of the African American population of Mississippi was registered to vote, compared to about 50 to 70 percent in other southern states. Cochran won, but McDaniel has not conceded. It was widely reported before the election that the Cochran campaign realized they must appeal to Democratic voters, which in Mississippi means primarily black voters, to come out and vote for longtime senator Cochran. Mississippi has open primaries, which means that anyone of any party can vote for any candidate. The McDaniel supporters—mostly Tea Party conservatives who regard Cochran as a Democrat-like sell-out—are furious, and some are urging a break from the Republican Party, which they see as not much different from the Democratic Party.

Is It OK to Vote in Another Party’s Primary?

We confess to having some misgivings about the idea of large numbers of citizens who usually vote for one party getting involved in a primary election organized by a different party. We did not like it when, apparently, GOP operatives were behind the 2010 candidacy of an unemployed African American veteran in a senate primary in South Carolina ultimately won by Jim De Mint; this unemployed veteran’s candidacy drew Democratic votes away from other, more serious Democratic contenders. (Then–House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, also found the whole affair very suspicious.) In short, Republicans have played so many dirty tricks on each other and on Democrats over the years that we have no sympathy when fair play brings about a result that displeases one of their candidates. (And, anyway, the McDaniel campaign was behind the sneak-in photographing of elderly Mrs. Cochran in a nursing home for an anti-Cochran video—in connection with which a Tea Party activist has now committed suicide—and just after the June 3 primary several McDaniel supporters were found after hours in the Hinds County Courthouse where the ballots were kept; that still has not been explained.)

In any case, though, it strikes us as reasonable that in a state with an open primary law, which allows any registered voter to give their ballot to any candidate they choose, to vote against a candidate who one has reason to believe will be harmful to oneself or one’s state. It was clear that McDaniel would not continue the flow of federal funding that Thad Cochran has succeeded in bringing to the very poor state of Mississippi, which needs all the money it can get for better roads, schools, water purification systems, and the like. An anti-government Tea Party firebrand like McDaniel somehow did not instill the same confidence as the 36-year veteran of the Senate. So, if you legally could, why not vote against him?

As reported in Talking Points Memo, McDaniel said, “Naturally sometimes it’s difficult to contest an election, obviously, but we do know that 35,000 Democrats crossed over. And we know many of those Democrats did vote in the Democratic primary just three weeks ago which makes it illegal.”

Who Is This Chris McDaniel?

chris mcdanielMany Democrats voted in the primary runoff to keep a Tea Party Republican from replacing a traditional conservative (but comparatively moderate) Republican who at least believes that government can play a beneficial role in public life. McDaniel said he was not sure he would have voted for federal relief funding after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in late August 2005. He has pointed out that education is not mentioned in the United States Constitution. This time last year McDaniel delivered the keynote address at a gathering in Jackson, Miss., of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group that contends that the wrong side won the Civil War. A spokesman for the group said McDaniel has addressed the Sons of Confederate Veterans on other occasions as well. Mr. McDaniel is certainly free to address any group he pleases, at any time, but what does this affinity of his say about someone who seeks to represent an entire state in the nation’s capital? It seems to us that he is more likely to be anti-government, certainly unfriendly to the concept of the federal government, and will have pro-secessionist inclinations. How well would such a person “play with others” in an institution whose work, at least historically, calls for occasional cooperation and compromise? And—just one more question—how sympathetic can such a friend of the Confederate Sons be to the aims of Freedom Summer?

Red State Republicans ‘Free at Last’

“The Court’s finding reflects well on the progress states like Mississippi have made over the last five decades.  I think our state can move forward and continue to ensure that our democratic processes are open and fair for all without being subject to excessive scrutiny by the Justice Department.”Senator Thad Cochran, June 25, 2013

Freedom Summer handshakeAlmost exactly one year to the day after the Supreme Court narrow-mindedly struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and thus opened the way for new restrictions on likely Democratic voters in the former Confederacy—which GOP-led legislatures in southern states began taking advantage of by introducing new voter I.D. laws and other restrictions on the very day the ruling was issued—a Republican candidate finds himself depending on the votes of the very people his party has worked so assiduously to discourage from the polls. Because the mostly white Republican voter base is increasingly a minority, the party must find ways to prevent the other side from going to the polls in substantial numbers.

[ See “Supreme Conservatives Drag U.S. Ceaselessly into the (Jim Crow) Past,” LNW 6/26/13  •  “How Many White Folks Does It Take to Pass a Jim Crow ‘Brain-Teaser’?” LNW 6/30/13  •  and “The (GOP-Driven) Decline of Black Power in the South,” LNW 7/11/13. ]

Now, Mr. Cochran, Stand Up for Voting Rights Act’s Protections

New York Times editorial, “Thad Cochran’s Debt to Mississippi,” asserts that Cochran owes it to the people of his state—particularly those who helped him keep his job—“to return the favor by supporting a stronger Voting Rights Act and actively working to reduce his party’s extreme antigovernment policies.”

Last year, Mr. Cochran praised the Supreme Court decision that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act. He can now make it clear that bipartisanship goes both ways by crossing party lines to support a new measure that would restore the act’s protections, becoming the first Republican senator to do so.

It remains to be seen what William Thad Cochran will do with the power he continues to wield, and whether McDaniel will contest the election, or form a third party. McDaniel has signaled that he has no interest in remaining in a timid, “pastel” GOP that is sometimes willing to compromise (or even to speak) with Democrats. He is clever, articulate, photogenic, and he has a strong base of support—not only in Mississippi: allies include talk radio hosts Glenn BeckMark Levin, Sean Hannity, and a former GOP vice presidential candidate this blog prefers not to mention by name. Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner

Early on, a tragic pall was cast over Freedom Summer by the disappearance on June 21, 1964, of civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (left). Goodman and Schwerner had come to Mississippi earlier than most of the other volunteers and met their SNCC partner James Chaney. It was later found that the three were murdered by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County’s Sheriff Office, and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

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Photo of Thad Cochran (top) by Joe Ellis/AP; photo of Chris McDaniel from campaign website.

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Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

ISIS supporters Mosul

ISIS supporters rally in Mosul, Iraq. BBC photo.

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White House Considers Special Forces to Advise Iraqis; Smells Like “Early Vietnam” Again

“The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has rushed hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. A second round of counterterrorism training between American Special Operations commandos and Iraqi troops started in Jordan this week.”New York Times (6/11/14)

The Guardian and other news outlets report that President Obama yesterday notified Congress that the U.S. is sending “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” The president’s letter to Congress continued:

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added this:

The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

Sectarian LinesThis action is a response to the sudden offensive last week by the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that charged through Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and central Iraq to within 75 miles of Baghdad, routing the Iraqi army, robbing banks, and executing Iraqi soldiers and police, and freeing Sunni prisoners. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant Sunni group founded in 2006 with ties to al Qaeda (though al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme), and the area it has swept through is also Sunni, thus sympathetic and more likely to cooperate than to resist.

The security situation is dire enough that the U.S. and Iran, already holding talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, have discussed the possibility of joint diplomatic efforts to halt the insurgents’ advance through Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry initially would not rule out military cooperation, but other administration officials quickly downplayed the likelihood of military cooperation. In another sign of Iran’s alarm at the threat, the (Shiite) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call to arms for all able-bodied men to resist ISIS’s advance toward Baghdad.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, is ruled by a Shiite government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who, to the U.S. administration’s dismay, has refused to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives within the governing elite. President Obama has been criticized for not leaving a residual force in Iraq when U.S. troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but al-Maliki refused to allow any U.S. forces to stay behind. “Matters worsened after American troops left in 2011,” writes The New York Times’s Serge Schmemann, “effectively turning the Iraqi Army into a hated and corrupt occupation force in Sunni areas. When ISIS forces approached, most Iraqi Army soldiers simply shed their battle fatigues and fled, leaving behind huge stores of American arms, including helicopters, for the rebels to harvest.”

“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” —President Obama, letter to Congress, June 16

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

This move by the Obama administration, only days after the president vowed not to send U.S. combat forces back to Iraq, is in itself is not necessarily cause for alarm, but it does raise serious concerns, especially when we hear the too-familiar flapping of the wings of neocon war hawks (see below). The U.S. has a vast embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. must show that it intends to protect its assets (people, property, files, etc.).

Rumsfeld-Hussein handshake 1983We are not alone in seeing the United States—or the five or so most forceful members of the George W. Bush administration, anyway—as responsible for igniting a conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, dismantled the central government and effectively split Iraq into three autonomous regions. For all of his faults, the Sunni strongman, long a friend of the U.S., did keep a lid on sectarian tensions in Iraq—often brutally (see also former Yugoslavia). But we will always believe that the “liberation” of Iraq, cynically branded “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” had more to do with U.S. access to Iraqi oil, and that the chaotic forces loosed by the American-led war are something that Bush-Cheney Inc. never bothered to prepare for. Defense was king, and the nuances and subtleties of the State Department’s diplomats were scorned by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, & Co. (The illustration above shows Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greeting Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 1983.)

Then, compounding countless other errors already made through arrogance, lack of planning, and shunning of the State Department’s expertise, the U.S. through its Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and sought to neutralize the Ba’ath Party that was Saddam’s. A formerly proud and cohesive military—after all, with some help from Uncle Sam, Iraq held tough in a war against Iran for eight years in the 1980s—was scattered, and the ex-soldiers, many of them, became fierce fighters against the U.S. occupation forces. This is one reason why the U.S. had to stay as long as it did, training a new army. (Why the Iraqi army had to be disbanded was never clear, and none of the brains behind the operation will take responsibility for the decision.) You may recall former president Bush saying, over and over, “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the worst of many disastrous decisions made by the U.S., and it haunts us—and Iraq—still.

“The Past Is Never Dead,” or, Beware the Neocon “Experts”

neocon1At the same time Obama is vowing not to send combat forces but is sending 275 embassy guardians, neocon hawks such as John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Kenneth Pollack, who in 2002 and 2003 pushed relentlessly for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, are again appearing on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, in The New York Times, and on other mainstream network news talk shows and urging strong action against the jihadist forces. McCain has said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and has called for the ouster of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

John McCain also said, in April 2003, that there was “not a history of clashes that are violent” between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, “so I think they can probably get along”—he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time—and he told MSNBC that he had “no doubt” that U.S. troops would be “welcomed as liberators.” McCain also said repeatedly in his 2008 campaign for president that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, had been training and supplying al-Qaida, a Sunni Islamist organization. Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said in congressional testimony, “we have no idea what kind of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I’ve noted it has not been the history of Iraq’s recent past,” and said that money from Iraq’s oil would pay for the (brief) war. William Kristol said “it’s going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” It turned out to be a nearly nine-year war (2003–11), and it may not be over. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is invariably identified as a Middle East expert, wrote in his very influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

“. . . critics tend to exaggerate the likely costs to the United States of pursuing the Reconstruction Approach. In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. . . . it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime . . .” [Emphasis per Mondoweiss, where this quotation was found.]

These guys—always wrong, always called back and still taken seriously by the news producers.

James Fallows at The Atlantic puts the point nicely:

“. . . we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. 

“. . . we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”  [LNW’s emphasis]

new rule titlenew rule

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One more thing: Ominously, the U.S. aircraft carrier that has been sent into the Persian Gulf in case any air strikes are deemed necessary is the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

USSGHWBush-bbc

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Further Reading

The New York Times Middle East index

The Guardian on the ISIS crisis in Iraq

New York TimesThe Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video

New York Times, “Rebels’ Fast Strike in Iraq Was Years in the Making” (6/15/14)

New York Times, U.S. Said to Rebuff Iraqi Request to Strike Militants” (6/11/14; quoted in epigraph above)

Nafeez Ahmed, “Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction” in The Guardian

The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave” by Matthew Yglesias

Juan Cole, “Seven Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq

Steve Benen @ MaddowBlog, “[Neocons] have earned the right not to be listened to

James Fallows in The Atlantic, “The Return of the Iraq War Hawk

Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative

Enter Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman– the Iraq experts!” James North at Mondoweiss

The Best and the Brightest: (Former Clintonite) Kenneth Pollack” by Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss (6/1/06)

Levees Not War posts on the Iraq War

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Omigod! Infinite Iraqi Freedom! We’re Never Leaving!  (4/7/08)

OMG! Operation Iraqi Freedom Isn’t Free!  (11/11/07)

Let the Eagle Soar . . .”  (10/23/07)

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