Bush’s Black and White Ball – he’s threatening to take it on home.

A lot of stuff in the press – news, analysis and opinion – about opposition to Bush’s wiretap and torture plans from leading Republicans like Colin Powell. It is interesting though that even when these pieces seek to address substantive issues they nearly always end up analysing policy as posture rather than policy as content: Bush as defiant or Bush as backed into a corner.

Bush Untethered – New York Times Editorial:

Watching the president on Friday in the Rose Garden as he threatened to quit interrogating terrorists if Congress did not approve his detainee bill, we were struck by how often he acts as though there were not two sides to a debate. We have lost count of the number of times he has said Americans have to choose between protecting the nation precisely the way he wants, and not protecting it at all.

On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it can be.

Analysis: Bush Sees Fewer Policy Options – Washingtonpost.com:

WASHINGTON — When President Bush addresses world leaders at the United Nations this week, he will have fewer options and lower expectations on almost every major foreign policy front than a year ago.

The United States is relying more readily on international institutions and alliances for help in Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan and elsewhere. Yet, according to analysts, the Bush administration has less room to maneuver. Bush and his foreign policy advisers have tried with some success to dispel the caricature of Bush abroad as a Texas cowboy riding alone and herding the U.S. into an unpopular war in Iraq.But the war, now in its fourth year, devours resources and energy for other global objectives and feeds mistrust about U.S. intentions, experts say.

“I’m not sure they have changed their mind about to what extent to proceed unilaterally and how much to use military force so much as they have run out of options,” said Richard Stoll, a political science professor at Rice University who studies foreign policy and national security.

With Bush nearly halfway through his final term, time is dwindling for him to accomplish his signature goals of confronting terrorism and spreading democracy, and he faces more distractions at home, said Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University.

When the president speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he plans to carry a strong message, “based upon hope, and my belief that the civilized world must stand with moderate, reformist-minded people and help them realize their dreams.

”I believe that’s the call of the 21st century,“ Bush told reporters Friday.

ABC News: Bush and Congress Butt Heads

In the Rose Garden Friday, President Bush was loud and clear: If Congress doesn’t agree with him, the hunt for terrorist plots will be crippled.

”The bottom line is simple,“ he said. ”If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules, if they do not do that, the program is not going forward.“…

”The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,“ Powell wrote to lawmakers. Redefining the Geneva Conventions ”would add to those doubts“ and ”put our own troops at risk.“

The president dismissed that argument — and some attempts from reporters to ask him about it.

”But sir, this is an important point,“ NBC’s David Gregory said in one exchange.

”The point I just made is the most important point,“ Bush replied.

President Bush was feisty and confident. Experts say his attitude is sure to bolster the mood at the White House.

Ana Marie Cox, Time.com’s Washington editor, commented on the White House’s strategy.

”I think they’re banking on the American public liking to see that strong president, liking to see someone be decisive,“ she said.

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The Vietnamization of Bush’s Vacation – New York Times

In another installment of blistering analysis Frank Rich writes of the Vietnamization of Bush’s Vacation. It’s an astute look at Bush’s stubborn refusal to face the reality of the dismal state of the conflict in Iraq. He’s just going to stay the course with his stay the course line, it would seem. Given he doesn’t have to get re-elected maybe he just intend to wait out the next three years. But as Rich points out the Democrats aren’t doing much better. One striking image stands out:

If there’s a moment that could stand for the Democrats’ irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games.

In another collusive fantasy the Pentagon is marketing the memorial of September 11:

The marketing campaign will crescendo in two weeks, on the anniversary of 9/11, when a Defense Department “Freedom Walk” will trek from the site of the Pentagon attack through Arlington National Cemetery to a country music concert on the Mall. There the false linkage of Iraq to 9/11 will be hammered in once more, this time with a beat: Clint Black will sing “I Raq and Roll,” a ditty whose lyrics focus on Saddam, not the Islamic radicals who actually attacked America. Lest any propaganda opportunity be missed, Arlington’s gravestones are being branded with the Pentagon’s slogans for military campaigns, like Operation Iraqi Freedom, The Associated Press reported last week – a historic first. If only the administration had thought of doing the same on the fallen’s coffins, it might have allowed photographs.

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News, Community Service and TV drama

Monday’s episode of 24 began with a casually dressed Kiefer Sutherland and a message for viewers:

“Hi. My name is Kiefer Sutherland. And I play counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer on Fox’s ‘24’. I would like to take a moment to talk to you about something that I think is very important. Now while terrorism is obviously one of the most critical challenges facing our nation and the world, it is important to recognize that the American Muslim community stands firmly beside their fellow Americans in denouncing and resisting all forms of terrorism. So in watching 24, please, bear that in mind.”

The episode continued the story line of an American Muslim sleeper cell who had been planning a massive attack on the nation’s nuclear power plants for years. One of the focuses of the episode was the attempt by one of the lead terrorists to find and kill his fifteen year old son who had begun to have cold feet. He says to his distraught wife: “We can allow nothing to interfere with what we have worked for. We will have time to mourn later.”

The episode was as usual punctuated with ads for the news, which concerned terrorism. This connection to wold events was firmly made with the extended “news break” that was shown at the end of the program. The lead items included: the arrest of one of the London bombers and discussion of his statements that the second attacks were only meant to scare, this was disputed by a legal expert who speculated that this was only a ploy to establish a good story for court. This was followed without a break about the case of a local muslim Qantas baggage handler who was being tried for terrorist links, he was shown handcuffed and in arabic garb. Next we were told that PM JH had contested the assertion of those on trial for the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta that the attack was payback for Australian involvement with Iraq.

Where as 24 presents its transitions between the simultaneous events being narrated with breakout frames and multiple screens, the news coverage of these three events was presented with a continuous stream of images and voice over and only verbal transitions such as: “In London/In a sydney court/in Indonesia”. One of the effects of this breathless presentation is to collapse the events into a single narrative and the narrative is not about possible motivations or the events themselves it is about the overarching story line of “Muslim Terrorists”.

The news then segued into another program: Threat Matrix, also about an elite counter-terrorism unit and in one of the early ad breaks Kiefer Sutherland was again urging us not to stereotype Muslims.

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War of the Worlds

With the Australian media preview of War of the Worlds last night SMH film writer Gary Maddox has an intriguing little piece in today’s paper. It’s not really a review, it’s not really a comment piece, it’s a short reflection on post 9/11 culture and the new film:

Panicking crowds fleeing down streets. Buildings collapsing. A coat of grey dust on Tom Cruise’s face. A crashed passenger jet. And the first thought when the explosions and killing starts: is it a terrorist attack?….

Other War of the Worlds adaptations tapped into fears about Nazis and the Soviets. While remembering the past, Spielberg has tapped into the new fears about terrorist attacks.

The strength of the movie is the resonances with other wars on humanity, including the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Spielberg is reminding us there have been many threats over the generations, but humanity can survive.

It’s not the first time this connection has been made. In fact Spielberg has been drawing people’s attention to it in many of his publicity interviews. He seems most articulate in this interview with the Chicago Sun Times:

“In my mind, there is that image of everyone fleeing from Manhattan across the bridge after the Sept. 11 attack,” Spielberg says. “That’s a searing image that will never leave our minds.

”This movie is also about people being attacked for no reason. They don’t know why they’re being attacked. We certainly went to great lengths in the movie not to explain any reason for these attackers.“

His screen writer David Koepp says in the same piece that although the reference was explicit they worked hard to make sure the politics were not:

”Certainly, there are a lot of political undertones and overtones,“ Koepp says. ”But we tried consciously to never lead with the politics. That’s a guaranteed way to make a piece of crap.

“The political tones of this movie will emerge for themselves. In the ’50s, ‘War of the Worlds’ was, ‘My God, the commies are coming to get us.’ Now it’s about fear of terrorism. In other parts of the world, the new movie will be fear of American invasion. It will be clearly about the Iraq war for them,” says the screenwriter.

Koepp and Spielberg also makes some interesting comments about the visual and plotting choices that were made:

Spielberg was clear about what film he wanted to make with “War of the Worlds” and what film he refused to do. The rules included: No U.S. landmarks in flames, no beating up on New York City, and no politicians, scientists or generals leading the way to victory. There would also be no shots of world capitals.

There could be airplanes crashing into houses, alien tripods sending a ferry boat the way of the Titanic and dead bodies floating sadly down a river and seen through the eyes of a child (Fanning), who comes across the horrifying site in the woods.

I’ll wait to see how successfully he avoided some of those easy cliches – or rather if he did what others he replaced them with – the frustrating thing about Spielberg is that he is a bleeding heart liberal with an overtly American mythical view of family and nation. His rule about no generals/scientists leading the way to victory will undoubtedly be matched by a parable about the heroic little guy protecting his family. Of course neither point of view really comes to terms with the complex issues of individual and communal agency in the face of disaster.

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Blair gradually softens language

The Guardian navigates changes in Tony Blair’s language about Saddam and WMDs:

How PM’s language changed

Saddam Hussein’s regime is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked
April 10 2002, House of Commons

There are literally thousands of sites. I have no doubt that they will find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction
June 4 2003, House of Commons

I don’t concede it at all that the intelligence at the time was wrong. I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes
July 8 2003, evidence to Commons liaison committee

But I have to accept, as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy
July 14 2004, statement on the Butler report

The information, some of it, the intelligence on which we founded our case, has turned out to be wrong
September 26 2004, BBC Breakfast with Frost

The evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong.I acknowledge that and accept it
Yesterday, Labour party conference

The new iron curtain

In more rhetoric that draws parallels between our current sense of crisis and the cold-war Pakistan’s President Musharraf warned the United Nations General Assembley of a new ‘iron curtain’:

The president said the causes of terrorism had to be tackled, pointing to international disputes such as the “tragedy of Palestine”.

“Action has to be taken before an iron curtain finally descends between the West and the Islamic world,” he said.

“The major powers of the West have yet to show movement by seriously trying to resolve internationally recognised disputes affecting the Muslim world.”

More on Cat Stevens fiasco

Good article by American Muslim journalist and editor, Hasan Zillur Rahim from AlterNet about US banning of Yusaf Islam and other moderate Muslims. He points out that even the 9/11 commission recently recommended working with moderate Muslims as a key to the “defeat of terrorism”:

Time and again, sane voices remind us that to defeat the terrorism unleashed by groups like Al Qaeda, America must build the trust of moderate Muslims around the world. The recently released 9/11 Commission Report states as much (p. 375-376): “The small percentage of Muslims who are fully committed to Usama Bin Ladin’s version of Islam are impervious to persuasion. It is among the large majority of Arabs and Muslims that we must encourage reform, freedom, democracy, and opportunity ….” The report recommends that the United States “offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors … If we heed the view of thoughtful leaders in the Arab and Muslim world, a moderate consensus can be found.”

How can Muslims help reach a “moderate consensus” if America continues to arbitrarily pull the rug from under their feet? How can we fight the real terrorists if Muslim teachers and scholars who preach pluralism and peace continue to be demonized before the whole world?

Kennedy Says Bush Makes US More Vulnerable to Nuclear Attack

This AAP report, posted on Common Dreams, makes explicit the simmering connections between the cold war era and the current war on terror and brings back the cold war bogey of nuclear attack into post-cold-war discourse.

The Bush administration’s failure to shut down al-Qaida and rebuild Iraq have fueled the insurgency and made the United States more vulnerable to a nuclear attack by terrorists, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said Sunday.

In a speech prepared for delivery at George Washington University on Monday, Kennedy said that by shifting attention from Osama bin Laden to Iraq, Bush has increased the danger of a ”nuclear 9/11.”

”The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely,” he said in the remarks released late Sunday.

Expanding on earlier suggestions that Iraq is Bush’s Vietnam, Kennedy said U.S. soldiers are bogged down in a quagmire with no end in sight.

He said it was a good thing Bush was not in charge during the Cuban missile crisis, one of the darker periods of his late brother’s John Kennedy’s time as president.

In terms of the politics of personal image it is of course fascinating that this is done by Ted Kennedy and is part of an ongoing recreation of a Kennedy image/legacy.

I am becoming increasingly fascinated by the interplay of presidential images: Kennedy; Nixon; Reagan; Clinton; Bush. They each make certain claims on one another’s legacies and are part of a continually circulating set of symbolic codes.

The strange case of Cat Stevens

The refusal of US border patrol to allow Yusaf Islam, the singer and Muslim peace activist formerly known as Cat Stevens, to enter their country is weird and troubling on a number of levels.

This little incident exposes in a very stark way the confusion over what is a threat, or rather the pervasiveness of the sense of threat in the minds of the American security establishment. And this is border patrol of another kind as well.

Islam/Stevens is a hybrid figure. A pop star/Islamic activist. A celebrity/Muslim. A peace activist/ Muslim. He immediatley calls into questions the easy dichotomies that produce the “war on terror”. He can’t be allowed to enter the country. He can’t be allowed to enter the public immagination.

But of course this incident has actually produced a new powerful image of Stevens/Islam. It has also produced a powerful image of the paranoia of the US security establishment.

“Half of me wants to smile and half of me wants to growl. The whole thing is totally ridiculous,” Islam said on return to Britain.

I’m totally shocked.Everybody knows who I am. I am no secret figure. Everybody knows my campaigning for charity, for peace. There’s got to be a whole lot of explanation.”

There are elements of the comedic in the sense that comedy plays in the border lands between the believeable and the unbeleivable, the expected and the unexpected.

The official rehtoric surrounding the WOT, right from the early days when straight after September 11 President Bush spoke at a Washington Mosque, has always strategically tried to pronounce itself as against Islamic extremism not against Islamic people. This has always been an uneasy fit. And now the pretense of “bridge building” seems to have been dropped

As Mohammad Abdul Bari, deputy general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain said of the Islam/Stevens incident:

“He is a very moderate man. We have absolutely no idea why this has happened. He is very well respected in the Muslim community. We are really appalled at what is happening. It is a slap in the face of sanity. If prominent, well-known personalities are treated like this, then how can there be bridge building?”

This it seems is part of a pattern. CNN also reported that US authorities had recently tried to stop an Islamic professor taking up an American appointment. The Muslim Association of Britain spokesman Anas Altikriti told CNN that such actions prevented “open, constructive and positive dialogue” between the U.S. and Muslims around the world.

“It seems that the U.S. officials would rather that the untrue and distorted images of Islam and Muslims persist in the minds of its own citizens,” Altikriti said.

This action is as more about symbolic border patrol, that in effect is the real security threat.

But at the moment this looks like another incident where the blowback for the American security establishment will be more significant than any intended “security” effect.