Wednesday, July 19, 2006

So Long, Mom, I'm Off to Drop the Bomb

Scattershooting while watching Armageddon unfold . . .

Unlike many bloggers, I have a life in between posts. I have been researching a new book on the theme of political resistance in Afro-Texan culture, and recently took my delightful three-year-old son Dominic to Seaworld in San Antonio, where he rode his first rollercoaster. His first ride was quickly followed by his second, third, fourth and 12th. He is in rollercoaster recovery now, on the third of his twelve steps. I'm not sure how searching an inventory of past wrongs a three-year-old needs to do, but he tells me he's taking it one day at a time.

Like many, I have been gripped by the summer replacement series on CNN. This is a heck of a lot more suspenseful than 'Survivor." I have at times switched over to Faux News to see what the perspectives on the Mideast Crisis are from the far right and the farther right. I was amused to see military historian Bill O'Reilly (who recently described a Nazi massacre of American POWs during the Battle of the Bulge as an American massacre of SS troops) declare that we are in the middle of World War III. The same declaration came from failed former House Speaker and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich and, I think, Bill Kristol, who at the very least seemed to be calling for the United States to get directly involved on the Israeli side in their Hezbollah contretemps. Because, after all, the American military has little to do these days other than help the Minutemen guard the U.S. border.

Of course, Fox News didn't cover the early days of the conflict like it was World War III. At night, Fox re-broadcast "Hannity and Combs" and the "The O'Reilly Factor" like they always do. I guess if Jesus had returned after Fox's prime time lineup, we would have had to wait until "Fox and Friends" in the morning to find out.

CNN was not much better. I recall that the day the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip flared up, the "most repected name in news" was replaying the hour-long interview Larry King conducted with Star Jones the night before. Of course, it was a slow news day, with nothing going on but the Gaza Strip kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, the standoff over nukes in North Korea, the standoff over nukes in Iran, our continuing debacle in Iraq, the war in the Sudan, the war in Uganda, etc., etc.

In all seriousness, I never want to hear a network news executive rationalize the overkill coverage of stories like the Natalie Holloway's disappearnce because they supposedly have to fill a 24-hour news cycle. The news nets don't even make a serious effort to provide comprehensive coverage for 18 hours.

The press has annoyed me in so many ways regarding the Israeli battle with Hamas and Hezbollah. I'm old enough to remember press coverage of the Vietnam War, which I paid close attention to because my dad was stationed there. I recall being told over and over again that North Vietnam and their Viet Cong allies were doing the bidding of the Soviets, or the Chinese, or both. Anyone who knew anything realized how much the Chinese and the Russians distrusted each other. It would have taken little research to further establish that the Vietnamese and Chinese had a millennium-long history of mutual antipathy and even warfare. The Hanoi regime was nationalist first and communist second, and had little interest in global politics except as it affected their struggle for independence from the French and then the United States.

There was, of course, racism, in the assumption that the Vietnamese could not act on their volition withou the guidance and influence of a European nation lke Russia. Indigenous people are always assumed to be pawns of "great power" politics.

I see the same assumptions in the current Mideast struggles. In Iraq, we were told that the insurgency was totally a product of Iranian machinations, or Al Queda plotting. There's no way that Iraqis themselves could resent foreign occupation or that Iraqi Kurds, Sunnis and Shia could deeply mistrust each other. Now the same script is being superimposed on the Israeli-Hezbollah border war. No one would deny that Hezbollah gets immense assistance from Iran and Syria, in the same way that the Hanoi government was armed by the Soviet Union. Support and control, however, are two entirely different things. Hezbollah has its own agenda, and it seems to be succeeding. For Hezbollah, the simple act of taking on the Israelis, wracking up IDF and civilian casualties and leaving rubble in towns like Haifa lends the group incredible street cred and makes it look powerful and brave next to the tottering official government of Lebanon.

This is exactly the danger the situation poses to Syria, Iran and every other Muslim regime in the area. By comparison to Hezbollah, the governments in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, and Tehran looking impotent, their posturing irrelevent bluster that Arabs have heard ad naseum since Abdul Gamal Nassar. Unlike Arab governments, Hezbollah has scored military successes against Israel. Hezbollah was most critical force ending Israeli occupation in Lebanon. Just as importantly, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah has proven much more efficient and generous in providing basic goods and services, such as medical care, to the local population than the ruling regime.

Iran and Syria no doubt want to cause Israel trouble, but revolutions have a funny way of spinning out of control once started. What happens in the streets of Damascus and Tehran, for instance, if the Israelis pursue their war against Hezbollah as aggressively as they did against Palestinian cells in South Lebanon in 1982? What if the famous "Arab street" (and I guess the "Persian Boulevard") demands their governments get directly involved to stop the civilian bloodshed in Lebanon. Does either government want to live up to its fiery rhetoric and face a better armed and more skilled Israeli military? Does either government want to stand by and do nothing substantial while Israeli tanks roll through South Lebanon? Speeches aside, neither option can appear attractive to Syria's Assad or the mullahs ruling iran.

As for the Israelis, I wish they would declare victory and stop. They are not going to wipe out Hezbollah anymore than George Bush can eliminate terrorism. Each Israeli bomb is creating a fresh batch of Hezbollah recruits.

We are not witnessing the beginning of World War III. This summer we have seen the myth of Israeli invincibility die. And as the United States, bogged down in two losing Middle Eastern wars, stands by unwilling and unable to offer any meaningful proposals to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have seen the death of the American empire.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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