Friday, August 19, 2005
Two Vigils and Seymour Hersh
On Wednesday night, from 7:30 to 8:30, there was a "vigil" in support of Cindy Sheehan and her attempt to meet with the president in Texas.
It was held at the usual place in front of the ugly Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue.
The crowd of about 200 was having a hard time keeping their candles lit because the ugly building creates a natural wind tunnel. Plus, the fog and swirling winds from the Pacific were creating a typical, rather depressing San Francisco summer evening.
This candlelight vigil was one of thousands that were taking place all over the United States. I read about a number of them later on Cindy Sheehan's site at the Huffington Post, where a couple of hundred intersting comments had been posted. My favorite comment was the following:
Tonight, hundreds of citizens from Houston, Texas gathered on medians, in front of the Veteran's hospital and on overpasses for a candlelight vigil to support Cindy's efforts for peace. The most telling moment of the evening was when a cop pulled over and asked us what "group" we were with. From the back of the crowd, a woman shouted "We are Americans sir, that's the group we are with."
Posted by: Leah on August 17, 2005 at 11:36PM
Interestingly, Heather Fong, San Francisco's latest Chief of Police got on television the same evening and demanded that all vigils needed to get permits before they would be allowed anymore. Rudely paraphrasing the woman in Houston I'd like to say, "We're Americans, you authoritarian bitch, that's the group we are with."
Markley, from the Thursday afternoon vigil, wrote an email the next morning that summed up the evening well and was pretty funny besides:
What a wonderful turn-out last night - 353 people signed up on the Move-On web site and that's about how many were there - including many of you and it was good to see you...
The evening was somewhat cold and breezy but not too much and most of us managed to keep our candles lit most of the time. The speakers were excellent: brief, informal and moving. Some of us held signs. We managed to give out nearly all our flyers for the Thursday vigil - it will be interesting to see if we get newcomers.
It definitely wasn't silent and I wonder if it was even a vigil. I looked up the word in the dictionary and none of the meanings are close to what we're doing. The nearest is "an act or period of watching or surveillance." Gosh, we've been vigiling all these years and we haven't even made it into the dictionary.
I think people were having a meaningful time just being there, but I wonder if it would have been a stronger experience for them if it had been more vigil-like. On the brief tv coverage, some of the local vigils did look like vigils. To me ours was more like a cocktail party. Rather than drinks the guests were holding candles."
"I couldn't help thinking about our dream of totally surrounding the federal building. If we'd stood last night as we do on Thursdays, how far would our line have extended?"
The next afternoon, I rejoined the less frenetic vigil and told people about the interview I'd seen with the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh on the Comedy Channel's "The Daily Show" Tuesday evening.
Though Jon Stewart, the host, isn't a very good interviewer, Hersh came prepared and provided some of the bluntest talk I've yet to hear about the situation in Iraq. I'm surprised it hasn't been more widely quoted in the blogosphere, so I'm going to do a transcription job here from a TIVO'd tape I made.
Stewart: What's going on in Iraq right now? Uh, August 15th was really an arbitrary deadline. Is there any concern when a country misses a deadline that is somewhat arbitrary in the first place?
Hersh: Look, if you think the constitution is going to make a significant difference, you know, I've got a bridge I want to sell to you. These are a bunch of people living in the Green Zone. They live in the Green Zone, it's a protected area. They have no connection with what's going on outside. And you know, I spent time with somebody today who knows a great deal and he says, as far as he and some of his friends inside the government are concerned, people are critical of this administration from the inside, the extra week is simply more time to get a little more moolah on the table. This is Corruption City. We buy our way, we bought our way into the elections, we fixed the elections, I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago in "The New Yorker." We fixed the elections in January, the famous elections that were supposed to produce "democracy." We did the same in Afghanistan. I can tell you that right now. We were also trying to fix things. And we just use, we have billions of dollars we have taken from the Iraqi oil funds that we have access to. Saddam Hussein himself had three and a half billion dollars, we discovered right after the war. Where is it? It's being used by us in money that's not appropriated by Congress to get what we want.
Stewart: Where, Sy, is this bridge, because I would love to buy it. I need this bridge, Sy. Give me this bridge. The picture you paint, though, I don't, I cannot give up the idea that we can at least bring some stability. Here's what I believe. The focus of this, the question of this war, doesn't seem to me to be, should we withdraw the troops now, should we withdraw them in a month? Uh, should we send more? It should be, can we trust people that seem to have misread this situation at every turn to continue prosecuting it in a way that can get us any success? Because it doesn't seem like this administration makes any changes, even when given clear -- I mean, the insurgency, not enough troops, there seems to be no accountability. We could still do this but are these the guys to do it?
Hersh: Look, what's going to happen is external forces. First of all, I'll tell you, I can tell you, that there's a tremendous sort of panic on the inside. There's a lot of new intelligence suggesting that we're going to see an equivalent of a "Tet" offensive, that the opposition, the insurgency, it's been gearing down, it's been quiet, not a lot of car bombs recently. The intelligence coming into Washington now is that there is going to be massive strikes. We may see a Battle for Baghdad. They may be striking inside the Green Zone. They're getting ready to do something. One reason they're pushing the constitution is they want to -- you heard Condi Rice, in your setup here, Condi Rice saying "it's their problem. Get a constitution, throw it off on them, and the president can begin to boogey out before the election." And so basically, what you have is External Factors are -- I'll tell you one -- right now, Iran has been talking to Venezuela and...
Stewart: Whoa! Where did you get that? Iran's been talking to Venezuela?
Hersh: They've got oil.
Stewart: Oh right, Venezuela, fourth largest producer in the world.
Hersh: And we've got a new guy running Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, King Abdullah...
Stewart: He's been running it ipso de facto for years.
Hersh: It's nothing like being king. Before 9/11, he was hot on our, he did not like the way we were treating, the way we were dealing with the infitada, with the Palestinian issue. He was very critical. I think there's a reasonable chance that external events in terms of cutting back of major oil supplies.
Stewart: You're going Oil Shock on me, aren't you, Hersh?
Hersh: You bet. One way to get...Hey, this guy [Bush] doesn't listen.
Stewart: Give me that [bleeped] bridge, Hersh, that's all I'm saying. You're giving me nothing! But you had told me, last time you were on the program, you said that by now we would have already attacked Iran. That didn't come to pass. What gives you...?
Hersh: What I said was that Iran's in the sights, it certainly is, if you go look and read the newspapers recently carefully you'll see there's a lot of trouble coming in from Kurdistan. The Kurds are going into Iran. There's also Balucious Ram [I got this wrong], we're runnng operations out of there. Balucious Ram? On the border...we're running, what we're doing is running ops, look, Iran's not clear.
Stewart: Now you're just making cities up! Baluciustan!
Hersh: Let's go back. Another country on the border.
Stewart: What are WE doing? It seems this administration's technique is, "let's just hold on, let's squeeze our eyes as tight as we can and hold on. It doesn't seem like there's a plan in place to deal with any of these growing insurgency or anything else. It is literally (crosses fingers), "they'll just get more Iraqi soldiers that can take over the security, and then they'll get a constitution, I mean, that seems to be the..."
Hersh: The word today is "process." Tomorrow it will be a different word. I mean, there's just no question, there's absolutely no game plan except to get out before the elections in some way that makes sense.
Stewart: The mid-term elections?
Hersh: Yes. You know...
Stewart: You believe that the political process will make it that so that they at least withdraw a certain number of troops before the midterm elections?
Hersh: I think they're really upset. They've seen the tipping point, it's beginning to turn. Cindy Sheehan, for example, is getting attention now which she didn't get a year ago. I think the public now is getting to the point where they're beginning to tune in to what's going on. We're talking about the average Joe. This is bad. We lost 20 Marines.
Stewart: The whole month has been absolutely abhorent.
Hersh: And this is not slowing down. They're there, they're in control. It's not outsiders. There is a certain percentage of them, but most of the stuff is homegrown, people who don't like occupiers.
Stewart: And you don't believe that if at a certain point we get out of there, the insurgency goes "well, look, we don't just want to keep...or at that point, we're in civil war and it doesn't really matter what's going to happen."
Hersh: You know, John, a year ago I would have said to you, going back to Vietnam, in 1965 or 1966, if somebody had said, let's talk to the North Vietnamese or the Vietnamese communists, everybody would have said, "are you kidding?" And we ended up talking to them. A year ago, we talked to the insurgency. The Sunni insurgency, we could have done something, got the insurgency talking, got them in the process, it's too late now, we've blown it. So the only thing we can do now is just crawl away. I would argue, the faster the better. I'll tell you, our soldiers, they do us proud, they may do a lot of bad things, there are bad things happening, but this country in some collective way that's pretty amazing. Unlike in Vietnam, we're not mad at our soldiers. In Vietnam, we were mad. Nobody wants to be there. The faster we get these guys out of there, the better the country will be.
Stewart: As I always say, it's always a pleasure to talk to Sister Mary Sunshine [referring to Hersh].