A strange week of war. Israeli historian Benny Morris placed a bloodcurdling and bizarre op-ed in the New York Times, insisting that only an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities (with a U.S. green light) by next January could prevent a future radioactively scorched Middle East. Meanwhile, the President seemed to reverse course (and himself), sending his third-ranking State Department official William J. Burns unexpectedly Geneva-wards — not, supposedly, to "negotiate" with Iran (along with European partners), but just to sit and "listen." In the same week, he suddenly agreed, in a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to a "general time horizon" for the withdrawal of American "combat troops." ("Support troops," we were assured, would be there "for years" to come.) But let’s be clear: This was no "timetable" for withdrawal, which the President had long sworn he’d never countenance. (What’s that on the horizon? Not quite as much time as we thought?) And just to add a sad note: There are less than seven months left for Bush administration officials to reach for their dictionaries and continue to creatively pretzel the language.
In the meantime, at home, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates launched a fierce verbal assault on… go ahead, take a guess: the "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy. It seems that too many unappetizing "peacekeeping" tasks, once handled by other departments of the government, are now in the military’s lap, which turns out not to be quite as capacious as once imagined. "The Foreign Service is not the Foreign Legion, and the US military should never be mistaken for a Peace Corps with guns" were among his exact words. Of course, this is what happens when your leaders love military power to death, can’t imagine dealing with anyone here or abroad unarmed, and expand the Pentagon’s job description in every imaginable direction.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, as ever more bombs fall, civilians, including a bride and her wedding party, were being regularly wiped out in sizeable numbers by American air power. As the civilian casualty reports came in last week, the US military alternately denied that civilians were dying, issued vague regrets that civilians should have to die, and launched "investigations" that we’re guaranteed never to hear about again. And the Afghans? Well, here was an aside in a New York Times account of a Taliban attack on a U.S. base near the Pakistani border in which nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 more injured: A former governor of the region where the attack took place said "some local people might have joined the militants since a group of civilians were killed in American airstrikes on July 4 in the same area. ‘This made the people angry,’ he said. ‘It was the same area. The airstrikes happened maybe one kilometer away from the base.’"
As for the Air Force high command, R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post reported: "The Air Force’s top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on ‘comfort capsules’ to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules’ carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents."
The cost of this program is now estimated at $7.6 million in Global War on Terror money, $68,240 just to change the color of the seats and seat belts from an unpleasant Army brown to a cheerful Air Force blue (while adding seat pockets). Believe me, if you were a general, you would have been involved too. After all, among other features to decide on: a "37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror" in each two-room capsule. Attention Secretary Gates: Should U.S. Air Force generals be mistaken for interior decorators with Hellfire missiles?
And just in case you didn’t think that ordinary Americans back home could do their bit supporting our troops to the nth degree, they now have a wonderful opportunity, thanks to HBO’s "Generation Kill" website, where they can "gear up," pick-up that needed Generation Kill women’s tank top or men’s Tee, and even — no kidding — send a box of "Bandaid brand adhesive bandages" to the soldiers as part of the site’s "troop drive." Creeping militarism, who sez? (Oh, and if you want further evidence on the subject, check out retired Lt. Col. William J. Astore over at TomDispatch.com on how American citizen-soldiers became Generation Kill "warfighters" in "the world’s best military.")