November 17, 2019
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Trump is a killer

Trump told Erdogan that he would not stand in the way of him clearing the Kurdish people away from the Turkish border in Syria, and as a direct result Hevrin Khalaf, a secular civilian Kurdish politician, was murdered by Syrian mercenaries working for the invading Turkish forces. Someone who knew her wrote in Foreign Policy: "On Oct. 12, my friend was brutally murdered by a group of assassins working under the order of the so-called Syrian National Army. They attacked Khalaf's car, tortured her, beat her with blunt objects, broke her legs, dragged her by her hair until it was ripped from her scalp, and then shot her body and face until she was mutilated beyond recognition even to her mother." Ha'aretz (an Israeli newspaper) reported: "As recently as Oct. 3, State Department officials reassured her at a meeting that Washington would safeguard northern Syria from a threatened Turkish assault by mediating between Kurdish-led forces and Ankara, according to a colleague who was present."

Trump's words were performative, in that Ms. Khalaf died as a direct result, foreseeably, as surely as if Trump had given the order.

Yes, being a killer seems lamentably part of the job description of an American President; Obama reportedly boasted that he was surprised to be so good at it. Since the CIA came into existence post-World War Two, every American President has apparently ordered a hit on someone, or trained killers, or given them weapons. As I wrote in my Mad Manuscript on the idea of free speech: "Eisenhower, who stood for such homespun values in domestic politics, approved three secret coups against democratically elected national leaders, Mossadegh in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala and Lumumba in the Congo." I found one source which insists that Eisenhower personally ordered the murder of Lumumba, off the record after a National Security Council meeting (no transcript was taken). "Kennedy,enthusiastically following his lead, targeted Castro and killed Diem. Nixon overthrew Salvador Allende and sponsored a dictatorship which engaged in torture and murder. The Reagan administration was mildly miffed when its proteges in Central America raped and murdered nuns." And the beat goes on.

In my notes for this column, I wrote: "empty eyed motherfuckers talking about murder as if it were sports". Trump said (you can't make this shit up): "Like two kids in a lot, you have got to let them fight and then you pull them apart. " Yes, sometimes you just have to let a kid torture another kid, beat her with blunt objects, break her legs, and rip her hair off, and then shoot her til she's unrecognizable. We've all been there.

Silence of the press

I don't watch cable news every night, or for hours at a time, but given how repetitive the MSNBC formula is, I would have expected during the portions I did watch to have heard Ms. Khalaf's name and seen a large picture of her. She seemed worth a ten minute Rachel Maddow disquisition. Instead, there was a lot of generic talk about "ethnic cleansing" and no specifics. Why? Too depressing? Too much information? Was her name too hard to pronounce? Are we attacking the President's policies and actions (including his murderousness) only on some kind of decorous middle ground? Are we details-averse becasue a lot of innocent civilians died in Obama-era drone strikes? Why?

Israel is tipping over

For me, the spectacle in Israel has some points of similarity to the spectacle of Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio, or of the scientists who gravitated to Jeffrey Epstein: people not so different than me (nothing human is alien etc.) are doing, or at a minumum consenting via silence to, heart-breakingly egregious things. An Israeli appeals court, which has sometimes been the last bastion of the rule of law in Netanyahu-world, approved the deportation of the Human Rights Watch representative in the country, because he may have approved the BDS movement, or spoken with someone who did, or or or.

Marie Yovanovitch

Why did the story of the experienced professional diplomat who got fired from her job representing us in Ukraine seem so familiar? Because, as an attack on professionalism and particularly on expertise, it exactly recapitulates the harassment of the China Hands out of government in the 1950's. Talk about agency and through-lines as we were; the deaths of 50,000 Americans in Vietnam, and of course of Vietnamese in far huger numbers, could have been avoided if we actually had anyone left in government who understood facts on the ground in Asia. Trump's cutting down of expertise, if not rapidly reversed, will also have consequences for years and even decades.

James Dean

As a particularly fascinating case study in Late Capitalism, the late James Dean is all set to appear in a forthcoming movie, due to the wonders of computer graphics. It should not be determinative of anything, that his family today has dollar signs in their eyes; any minimal level of respect for the dead would have prevented the commercialization of his image. Luis Bunuel said in his autobiography, My Last Sigh, that his greatest wish was to return every ten years for an hour, sit on a park bench, and read the newspaper. Imagine James Dean doing that, and discovering that he has been cast in a crass or ridiculous or low life project to which he would never have consented in life. If you think that the dead are mostly respected too much by their own children, for this to happen, consider Dr. King's kids licensing the "I Have A Dream" speech for a phone company commercial.

Giuliani is tipping over

What a sordid spectacle. I wrote in 1998, and again in 2007 when he ran briefly for President, that Giuliani was dangerous, but back then I saw him as an overly rigid and crazy-edged autocrat whose gravitas partly concealed his obsessions and grudges. I faulted him then for making people who had volunteered to surrender do the "perp walk" in front of TV cameras, and for trying to defund the Brooklyn Museum. It wasn't forseeable he would become a killer clown, any more than it was that most of the famous scientists I admired would socialize with Jeffrey Epstein. Listening to the former U.S. attorney for Manhattan explain that when he said "active FBI agents", he didn't mean people still working for the FBI, just retirees who weren't using walkers or wheelchairs, it seems nigh impossible to trace the arc from 1998 tough guy Giuliani to the pathetic 2019 one. I can think of a number of explanations: alcohol, like so many of the fallen we could name; easy oligarch money, like Paul Manafort; hanging around with Donald Trump too much, like Michael Cohen; believing his own press, like Roger Stone.

The Elgin marbles

May I interject one notion at this juncture? Obviously the Elgin marbles must be returned to Greece. There is honestly no other side to that story.

WeWork proof the Internet Bubble never actually ended.

Second world nations are tipping over

Lebanon was once a highly sophisticated and peaceful country with high educational standards. Beirut was called the "Paris of the Middle East" into the 1960's. Iran still has a highly educated professional class. Venezuela has (had) a sophisticated middle class. Of course its not surprising that the second world is becoming the third world, given that the first world is becoming the second (Britain, Hong Kong).

Quote of the day

Quite vainly (quote vainly): rereading a section of the Mad Manuscript I wrote a few years ago, I found the following words I did not remember: "When I board a plane, I want the pilot to fly it, rather than to perform flying it". Words not to crash by.