Monday, May 06, 2013

Wars, Real and Symbolic

Back in the days of the second GWB administration, I wrote an entry on this space based on the possible odds of starting new wars with various countries. The exercise was partly meant to be funny, but not completely. Number One on the "hit" parade then was Iran. That war hasn't yet happened, but another nation has hopped over the Iranians to now claim top spot on the list.
It's Syria that is now in the Pentagon's cross hairs. Last week the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Hegel, declared in very vague terms that Syria may be using chemical weapons on its own people, a practice which President Obama had once described as a "red line" to the US on whether to intervene in this nasty civil conflict.
The Israelis are involved already, conducting bombing raids on Syria with the intention of stopping the shipment of certain dangerous materials to terror groups based in Lebanon. It probably would have happened even if the Syrians weren't in a struggle to throw out the despotic Assad regime, now well into its second generation.
We may or may not intervene. If we do, it will be more complicated than simply dropping a few bombs or lobbing some shells. This is a country with some formidable defenses, and breaking them down has the reward of having to stay until there's something else better to run the country. I think we've been through this before.

The new presidential library of George W. Bush opened to the public last week. These libraries are privately funded, and are not, therefore, required to be strictly objective regarding the administration being memorialized. That's OK, as long as you know it going in.
I've been to the Herbert Hoover presidential library in the little town of West Branch, Iowa. The library isn't a huge place, but it does emphasize the non-presidential years of Hoover's life, both before and after his days in the White House, including some worthy accomplishments that had nothing to do with the Great Depression.    
The Bush library, however, seems to carry a theme not necessarily held by most Americans: "We were right to attack Iraq", at least according to displays available to the public. Plenty of facts get left out, including the testimony of former GWB administration officials who now claim that the whole thing was poorly handled. I'm expressing this view more kindly than some.
Hurricane Katrina gets some coverage in the library as well. Unfortunately, it isn't shown as a gigantic humanitarian mission for Americans who needed help. No, it's portrayed as a law enforcement problem in which US soldiers are sent to protect capital assets first, people maybe later. Bush's popularity dropped after Katrina, and never again reached the level it held pre-storm.

As for symbolic warfare, meet James Porter, which is not English for "Wayne La Pierre". Mr. Porter takes over as Grand Wizard (or whatever they call the boss) of the NRA this week.
The REAL message of the NRA is pretty simple: "We work for the gun makers, and oppose anything that keeps them from selling more AND more expensive weapons to the American public." But that isn't a message that gets people excited, and so the NRA has become one more high-pitched scream in the GOP cause of taking power back and reducing taxes on the rich.
We live in an age of hyperspeak, with various groups trying to drown out the others. The NRA, therefore, is trying to bring back a term most closely associated with Patrick Buchanan - "culture wars". Unless someone else can claim the title, the NRA would seemingly like to be the ones to decide all matters pertaining to right and wrong, with individual Americans' role in this grand cause  that of (you guessed it) "soldiers".
How great to be this particular kind of soldier. No REAL bullets or artillery, no bombs, IUD's, terrorists or cowering locals bearing some awful racial ethnic or religious slur. No, just "Stand with us!" Send us money, scream our side of the story to your neighbors and be even meaner and less truthful regarding any sentence with starts with "Barack Obama" than even other Democrat-hating organizations. Soldiers don't have to care about the truth, only about being heard. That's what makes it a Culture War, with James Porter as leader against the forces of evil.
The NRA showed us already this year that they can overpower something like 90% of American voters. They scream at the public, and threaten their opponents in the US Senate - successfully. It may not be a real war, but it's as close to it as the NRA gets. You'll be hearing Mr. Porter's name quite a bit now. He may look and sound like a character from one of those "Smoky and the Bandit" movies, but he is armed and dangerous.


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