A book read many years ago, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Austrian writer Peter Handke, keeps running through my mind – – not that I remember much about the plot or what the author was driving at – – it’s more the general tenor of the thing. His description of the five conditions of women in the protagonist’s tiny village – – “tired, exhausted, sick, dying, dead” – – doesn’t sound so different from that of the many tortured souls around the globe. And the title itself speaks to the perilous times in which we live.
One is often tempted to just ignore the world’s messes because the problems seem so intractable. A collection of images in our memory bank impart a sense of helplessness, impotence and sometimes horror. It is hard to fathom those who, no matter on which side they come down, are so dispassionate about other people’s life experiences, some even suggesting we bomb Iraq into rubble, having forgotten, no doubt, we designated ourselves the “liberators” of that country.
And in Lebanon, Israel’s absolute right to defend itself, nonetheless has implications for the greater region which may in the end, undermine it goals and ultimate well being. The death of UN observers in a bombing assault may be explained away by saying that Hezbollah forces linger in civilian areas, but a targeted bombing could have been avoided, albeit at greater risk to Israeli forces, by putting boots on the ground instead of attacking from the air. What is anyone’s life worth after all – – who should decide and what judgment will be made in the aftermath by the population at large?
Also in terms of unintended consequences, leaks from fuel storage tanks damaged by Israeli air strikes are finding their way into the Mediterranean, along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, where nearby countries are threatened by oil seepage along their shores – – a problem compounded by Israel’s blockade of Lebanese ports which makes cleanup efforts virtually impossible. Of course this was not Israel’s intention; they too will suffer because of the waters despoiled in the area.
President Bush suggests “This {the Lebanon situation} is a moment of intense conflict, yet our aim is to turn it into an opportunity and a chance for broader change in the region.” Who writes this stuff for him? The conflict part is obvious, but what kind of change is coming – – something like what we have created in Iraq or something far more widespread, dispiriting and dangerous? One suspects there isn’t any plan attached to “our aim” and that, for the administration, letting things play out is pretty much the extent of their plan in the leadership vacuum that is our current government.
The numb-founding ignorance and incompetence of this administration and the purveyors of non-facts, non-constructive points of view and cluck-cluck, moralizing get more play and infrequent rebuttal, as Fox News and right-wing commentators and politicians capture the attention of far too many of us. In what passes for an interviewing technique in the old “have you stopped beating your wife” style, Sean Hannity repeatedly asked an Arab guest if he condemned violence by Islamic terrorists. The guest kept saying he condemned violence by all groups which brought Hannity to the clucking stage and the comment “unbelievable.”
But what is truly unbelievable is that, as Paul Krugman notes in a recent NY Times column, there is a national resurgence of the belief, according to a new poll, that WMD were actually found in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were pals and shared similar goals, all evidence to the contrary. This seems to be due to the efforts of politicians like Rick Santorum, commentators like Hannity and others who consistently disseminate false information.
John Kerry was slow to respond to attacks by Swift Boat propagandists in the last election. Democrats need to absorb that lesson – – call their own press conferences, forget Senate collegiality and make it clear, for example, that nothing but degraded materials from the 1980s have been found in Iraq, that a secular leader like Hussein would never throw in with a religious fanatic like bin Laden and that suggestions otherwise are just irresponsible nonsense. The Republican spin machine shouldn’t be allowed to churn uncontested in our midst.
We may be anxious and afraid, but anxiety isn’t relieved by refusing to join the battle and failing to protect one’s turf. Allowing others to set the agenda is like giving a penalty kicker an even greater edge.

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