Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, The Damage in Lebanon -- and Beyond

The idea that you can solve social and political problems militarily from the air is, on the face of it, ludicrous. The historical record is filled with the dead dreams of air power solutions to ground-based problems. But that stops no one.

Just yesterday, for instance, as part of the new American operation to -- somehow -- seize control of the situation in civil-war wracked Baghdad, American forces launched an attack on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia in the capital's heavily populated Shiite slum, Sadr City. As a Bloomberg News Service piece put headlined its piece: "Iraq, U.S. Forces Raid Sadr City to Calm Baghdad." Aha. "Calm," it seems, was to be imposed not just by ground troops but from the air by helicopter assault (though even the best accounts of the operation offer few details on just what those helicopters did). We do know that this calming raid managed to kill three people, including a woman and a child, wound others, and destroy three homes. It also left the Iraqi Prime Minister a good deal less than calm. Simply firing into urban areas this way should be considered inconceivable rather than, as now, a problem-solving approach to the disaster that is Baghdad.

In Lebanon, here's what "precision" bombing seems to mean. "On Saturday, an Israeli offense consisting of more than 250 air attacks dropped 4,000 bombs within seven hours… The total death toll from the attacks is approaching 1,000. One third of those deaths are from children under 12." I don't know who is counting all this or whether such figures are accurate, but there can be no question that parts of Lebanon are being turned into little more than rubble; that with main highways and bridges destroyed, unmanned aerial drones and F-16s overhead, airports shut down, and the coastline blockaded, supplies are not arriving; that hospitals are at the edge of closing, and that a staggering percentage of the country of only 3.8 million are now refugees -- abroad, in Syria, or simply on the move and homeless in their own country. Christian areas of Lebanon are now being bombed -- for this, see a vivid, and horrifying post by Juan Cole -- and the bombing campaign is widening with, for instance, ever more central areas of Beirut being hit. It seems that even some Israeli pilots are having qualms about the targets being offered. The message is, I suppose, precise enough, even if the bombs and missiles aren't: Nowhere is safe; there will be no refuge. In Baghdad as in Lebanon, this, it seems, is where the Bush "crusade" has indeed left us all. It's a place without pity or, evidently, a shred of mercy. It is no place for diplomacy, nor even for words (so much more precise and yet frustrating than bombs). Hezbollah's "words" are, of course, its rockets which land indiscriminately across northern Israel.

And our President? He's evidently unfazed by the spreading chaos in the Middle East (and perhaps sooner or later in our wider world). Recently, Steve Holland, a Reuters correspondent, took a more than vigorous bike ride with Bush around his Crawford vacation home. ("'Riding helps clear my head, helps me deal with the stresses of the job,' a sweat-soaked Bush said after an hour-and-20-minute ride that shot his heart rate up to 177 beats per minute at the top of one climb.") Holland reports that the occasion for the ride was the President's sense that "a U.N. resolution on southern Lebanon was essentially complete." George Bush, it turns out, does not bike in silence. Here's an example of his bike-riding exclamations. Think of it as well as a presidential Rorschach test: "'Air assault!' he yelled as he started one of two major climbs, up Calichi Hill, which he named for the white limestone rock from which it is formed."

Dahr Jamail, who has in the past covered the American war in Iraq for Tomdispatch, gives us a sense of what the view from Damascus (and Lebanon) looks like at the moment – of what it actually means to shout "Air assault!" in the Middle Eastern equivalent of a crowded room. Tom

Destruction, Death, and Drastic Measures

By Dahr Jamail

Damascus, Syria -- "I care about my people, my country, and defending them from the Zionist aggression," said a Hezbollah fighter after I'd asked him why he joined the group. I found myself in downtown Beirut sitting in the backseat of his car in the liquid heat of a Lebanese summer. Sweat rolled down my nose and dripped on my notepad as I jotted furiously.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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