Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Online Encounter with Michael Schiavo

My Online Encounter with Michael Schiavo

You never know who you're going to get the opportunity to chat with when you belong to an online community.

Last July, Michael Schiavo bashed U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave at a campaign event for "inserting herself in the wrenching national debate" over the prolonged death of his wife, Terri Schiavo.

This week, Rep. Musgrave had authorities physically remove Mr. Schiavo from a public campaign rally, a long-practiced and extremely undemocratic George W. Bush tactic.

Musgrave could make a three ring circus out of Mr. Schiavo and his family, but she couldn't take public accountability for doing so. Instead, like a coward, she asked others to remove the man from her queen-like sight.

Who knew I'd get an opportunity to tell Mr. Schaivo directly that I'm sorry for what he had to go through - then and now -and that he would send an acknowledgment back?

That's precisely what happened yesterday at Daily Kos.

Seymour Hersh Keynotes at S.U. Nuclear Iran Symposium

Seymour Hersh Keynotes at S.U. Nuclear Iran Symposium

There was a symposium hosted by the Law School at Syracuse University on Friday where an esteemed and knowledgeable panel gathered to discuss why Iran wants to be a nuclear power; whether Iran has a legal right to become a nuclear power; the regional ramifications of such newly acquired technology; the U.S. policy of preemption; the capability of the U.S. military to take action against Iran; the extent to which the U.N. Charter would allow a U.S. preemptive strike, or military action by any country, in the absence of Security Council authorization; and the various actions that countries other than the U.S. might take in confronting a nuclear Iran.

Seymour Hersh was the keynote speaker at the afternoon session where, immediately after he spoke, there was a subsequent panel discussion about U.S. options titled: From Preemptive Military Action to Diplomacy and the Use of Sanctions. A hypothetical situation was proposed in which the U.S. and the global community learn that Iran has developed weapons-grade nuclear material, and panelists were asked to debate the range of legal and policy options that the U.S. has in confronting Iran.

The Next 815 Days

Mr. Hersh, whose article appear in the pages of the magazine The New Yorker, came to the podium with an admittedly anti-feel-good message. He began by stating the fact that there are 815 days left with President George W. Bush as president, and each day that passes is an opportrunity lost. In his words, "We have a real problem." Any plan to deal capably with a nation like Iran would have to:

- assume rationality in leadership
- assume the intelligence used has not been stovepiped or subject to manipulation
- assume good faith in leadership

The spectre of strategic disaster in Iraq overshadowed those assumptions. You could get a sense of near-complete acquiescence in that "connect" throughout Grant auditorium as Mr. Hersh stated his professional belief that, between 9/11 and the Iraq war, American leadership was taken over by what he called a "cult" of about 8 or 9 major players - all neoconservatives. He asked what happened to Congress; to our military; and to the U.S. press in those days between 9/11 and Iraq when those 8 or 9 people took over America's direction on foreign policy? When speaking about the obvious bad news coming from Iraq on a daily basis and the President's ongoing "we're winning" vibe, Hersh referred to the old Richard Pryor joke about adultery that culminated in the punch line: "Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?"

On Iraq

Mr. Hersh spoke briefly about the U.S. military Generals - some of whom he says have spoken to him off the record. Mr. Hersh said, "I hate to see bright and good Generals forced to tap dance" on Iraq. His conclusion about President Bush (to whom he refers as the worst President in recent history) is that there is nothing more dangerous for our country than a revolutionary who is incapable of changing course. Mr. Hersh firmly averred that he believes Bush is incapable. Bush has stated that he believes, in 10-20 years, history will have proven him 'right.' He likely believed in the existence of WMD in Iraq. He sees himself as a President who's 'doing the right thing.' To protect his own historic integrity, Bush thinks that he must stay the course. All that - and maybe God's talking in his ear, Mr. Hersh wryly added. Mr. Hersh strongly recommended that whatever we do, we should "take Bush literally."

There are only so many comparisons one can make between Vietnam and Iraq - two completely separate wars. Mr. Hersh applied one direct comparison, and that is that we don't "see our enemy" in Iraq, just as we didn't see them in Vietnam.

There is no current plan for an exit from Iraq. He has heard secretly from top military sources that, should things get really bad there, that the military would likely "boogie" North over the mountains into Turkey. It would be too dangerous to exit from the South.

Creating a New Caliphate

When it comes to Iran, we don't really know what Iran has in the way of nuclear weaponry. The intelligence that is available is not reliable enough to make declaratory statements with any certainty. What is certain, however, is that a cast of extremist figures in the Middle East such as Beirut's Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, have become political "rock stars" [My note: Compare Bill Clinton's political 'rock star' status in the U.S.]

We are, whether we admit it or not, creating another Caliphate with our foreign policy. Bush won't talk to people he doesn't like, and that bodes fatally for diplomacy. Prefacing his opinion with the hope that it does not turn out to be so, Mr. Hersh said that his instinct tells him that the U.S. will eventually use a military option to attack Iran.

Mr. Hersh believes America had much more to do with the Israel attack on Lebanon than we were led to believe and now there's a real threat to the pro-Western Lebanese political factions with Hezbollah, hurting anti-Syrian groups like March 14th who had been on the rise. He reiterated something I heard again and again at last month's Clinton Global Initiative - that the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict is the key to the extremism in the Middle East. The only recent "progress" is that the Gaza strip has been sent back to the Stone Age. Even though many who are economically able in the Middle East are still willingly choosing to send their youth to America for a solid education, hope is diminishing in that part of the world.

The Closing Story - A Chilling Tale

Mr. Hersh finished with a chillingly compelling story about his days as a writer telling the story of the My Lai massacre - and he added that "only in America" would he get a journalistic award for a piece like that. There was a young soldier who'd participated in some of the slayings of the Vietnamese villagers and had witnessed a two-year old [a sole survivor who'd been protected by his now dead-mother] being "plugged" in the back of the head while trying to run away. That soldier came home without one of his legs - convinced that God would take retribution upon and curse all who participated in the massacre. What Mr. Hersh was leading up to was a later visit to that soldier's home - a ramshackle home in Virginia in which he lived with his mother. He had clearly not had the opportunities in life that most of the people sitting in Grant auditorium on Friday had had. The mother greeted Mr. Hersh and made a statement to the effect that when she'd sent her son away, she'd sent a soldier to Vietnam and they'd sent her home "a murderer." Imagine the remainder of that young man's life - his personal outlook and mental health.

Mr. Hersh contrasted and compared that experience with writing, some 40 years on in his illustrious career as an investigative journalist, with the story of Abu Ghraib. He spoke of photos of horrific torture obtained from the least expected of sources - a mother of a mentally depressed and struggling U.S. soldier. The gravely concerned mother had called NPR and, by chance, had been allowed to slip in her phone number over the airwaves of the radio show. The soldier involved was a daughter - a female volunteer who had come home from Iraq changed for all she'd seen and all she had done. There were photos on her personal laptop that most of us have never seen - perhaps never will see. We may remember the one now-infamous photo of the Belgian shepherd dogs being "sicced" on the naked Iraqi detainee. These photos offered to Mr. Hersh once he contacted this soldier's mother were of the same man - only in this particular series of photos, one could see that the dogs went much further. There were pictures of them tearing at the man's flesh; of his blood all over his body; of hands suturing the fresh gashes made by the attack dogs. The young soldier was finding life to be a haunting battle. She'd tattooed her body in increments, a tattoo here one day - a tattoo there the next day - from her legs all the way up to her neck - almost as if, according to her mother, she'd wished she could completely "change her skin." Mr. Hersh's point was that we are just beginning to see the effects of mental illness on the troops coming back from Iraq.