Monday, December 31, 2007

The Troubles of 2007

If this year were a fish, I'd throw it back. It's been a really rotten sort of year (as have all the shrub years), and I'm glad to see it end. Not that 2008 holds a lot of promise; the garbage of '07 is going to stink up '08.
I'm not going to attempt a "year in review", but instead look at a few of the years "events" that will haunt the new year.
Iraq, the mess that keeps on messing, is still with us. While the right wing is ending the year crowing "Iraq is getting better", the question is "better than what?". Saddam was hung, and there was a lot more crowing. And bombing. And shooting. 2.5 million people have been displaced, and roughly a million killed. True, car bombings dropped to an average of around 10 a day, compared to an average of 30 a day earlier in the year, but "less deadly" is still deadly. And more American troops died in Iraq in 2007 than in any previous year. Shrub's cheerleaders started the year with the mantra "Iraq is worse, so we must stay" and ended the year with "Iraq is better, so we must stay". My profound prediction for 2008: a lot of people are going to die in Iraq for no good reason.
Another feature of 2007 was the mass marketing of the new threat, Iran. "Iran is getting nukes", "Iran is behind the violence in Iraq", and "Iran's president wants to destroy Israel" were all parts of the media narrative. Never mind the facts, just know that Iran is really, really bad. By the end of the year, we learned that Iran has no nuke program. Iran's involvement in Iraq is fairly complex, but the reality is they're next door neighbors, the Prime Minister of Iraq has close ties with Iran, and the Iranians really want a stable Iraq on their border. But you'll never hear that from the American media. Most Americans don't have a clue about life in Iran. A few months ago, when the "Iranian threat" rhetoric was at its highest, I was in a discussion with some folks about Iran. None knew what language was spoken in Iran. All were amazed that there was the internet in Iran. One person told me "they all live in tents in the desert" and "their all primitives". He was truly amazed when I showed him pictures of Tehran and a wide variety of Iranian web sites. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that there are Christians and Jews in the Iranian parliament (and my Christmas Eve post of Christmas in Iran blew a few right wing minds). On a positive note, the rhetoric on Iran has toned down as the year comes to an end. For 2008, I don't think that America will attack Iran. This isn't because shrub and the Cheney don't want to, but because both Russia and China have quietly offered to aid Iran, and America can't afford to cross Russia and China.
2007 saw the return from hiatus of Osama bin Laden, and his tapes continue to be international hits (to shrubs credibility). Conspiracy theories abound, but the simple fact that he still exists proves that shrubs "war on terror" is a lie. He's winning his war.
On a related note, Afghanistan is still a disaster and Pakistan is deteriorating into chaos. In Afghanistan, our man Hamid Karzai is barely the mayor of Kabul while the rest of the country is under the control of warlords and opium cartels. America failed to learn the lessons from the Soviet occupation, and without a major change of plan will continue to slowly bleed away. Far more troubling for the long term is the chaos in Pakistan. The big news was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a courageous but flawed women who America hoped would be our savior. But Pakistan has been a powder keg awaiting a spark. When Pervez Musharraf cracked down on judges and lawyers, the fuse was lit. Pakistan is a complex country, with an industrial based middle class, lawless mountain regions controlled by warlords, a Taliban Islamic fundamentalist faction, and real, live nuclear weapons. The military and the ISI may currently be under Musharraf's tentative control, but that could change in a heartbeat. Because Pakistan is an "ally in the war on terror", we've given them billions of dollars in military aid, which they promptly pointed at India. Oh, and they may have Osama (I'm not 100% convinced; there are reasons to suspect he may have moved to Tajikistan). No prediction here, but watch Pakistan closely; this could end up the worst failure of shrub's international fiasco's.
On the domestic front, 2007 will be the year where the American economy became untenable. The news focused on the sub-prime mortgage debacle, but the roots of the problem are much deeper. Years of deficit spending by the government and the populace have been propped up by falsely inflating the value of the dollar beyond its intrinsic worth. Throw in rising oil prices and corrupt corporate practices, a lack of investment in infrastructure, and an increased dependence on foreign investment, and a lot of very big chickens are coming home to roost. Prediction: we're in for a very bad year. The only question is how bad.
2007 also began with the new hope of a Democratic led congress. That hope faded quickly, as a combination of Republican obstructionism and Democratic capitulation resulted in a continuation of "business as usual". While a few positive steps were attempted, not much was accomplished.
But in my mind, one bad thing in 2007 eclipsed them all. In 2007, America tacitly embraced torture. Shrub destroyed our international moral standing in one move. For the first time in my lifetime, America no longer strived to be "the shining beacon on the hill". While it's true that "American exceptianalism" was more of an ideal than a reality (we're far from perfect), every prior administration could exercise the moral authority to stand up to atrocities in the world. By admitting that America will engage in torture, shrub has debased everything that America used to stand for. I'm not sure that I can find the words to express my outrage, but it breaks my heart every time I think "we used to be better than this. We tried to be the good guys". I will never forgive shrub for destroying the American ideal.
Well, that's a depressing end of the year note. I'll try to make my next post more positive, with hope for the New Year.
Added: I wrote this before I read todays New York Times. Lead editorial:

"There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country."
The New York Times lead editorial today echoes what millions of Americans must be
feeling as this awful year comes to a close. It was a year of self recognition, when Americans finally realized America can no longer pretend to be a moral beacon. It is a sickening discovery.

I guess I'm not the only one.