A Few Updates – House Debacle; US Show of Force; Dismal Forensics

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1 … The US House

In the House GOP battle to seat a new Speaker we have a critical development, which captures or perhaps recapitulates the nature of the battle itself. About 5% of the caucus unseated Kevin McCarthy. Then Steve Scalise won the caucus vote to be Speaker. But a good couple dozen members still wouldn’t vote for him and he quickly dropped out. Then Jim Jordan won the vote and faced the identical problem. But Jordan, his recent establishment turn notwithstanding, is of the Trumpist right. So his supporters are taking a different tack. As the Times reports they’re mobilizing a base-focused press campaign, enlisting right wing media and activists, publishing ‘hit lists’ of recalcitrant members’ phone numbers, threatening primary campaigns. As Trumpist capo Russell T. Vought puts it to the Times, with a lot of history to back him up, the ‘moderates’ will fold because they’re soft. They simply don’t have it in them to deny Jordan on the floor of the House the way Jordan’s strongest allies were ready to do it with McCarthy and Scalise.

Arrayed on the other side are some undetermined number of members claiming they’ll never vote for Jordan – not so much for ideological reasons as refusing to reward a faction which plays by heads I win, tails you lose rules. Some are awakening to the reality that the Jordanites are deploying against them the system they’ve been using to break the American republic for more than a decade, a system in which the rule-breakers have a built-in and basically insurmountable advantage against the rule-followers at all times.

We’re going to find out tomorrow what happens when these two sides collide.

2 … Israel-Hamas War

Over the weekend the Iranian Foreign Minister warned Israel that Iran would open up a new front in the war if Israel didn’t call off its incursion into the Gaza Strip. That probably means unleashing Hezbollah from the north, though it doesn’t rule out some direct action from the Iranian military itself. In response the US took another major step. We’ve already discussed that the US placed one carrier group (USS Ford) in the eastern Mediterranean, ready to react immediately to any other party trying to enter the war between Israel and Hamas. It had sent a second carrier group (USS Eisenhower) into the Mediterranean, in position to join the first. But overnight, seemingly in response to that Iranian threat, at least in part, the US has ordered the second carrier group to join the first in the eastern Mediterranean.

I’m not a military person so I’m not going to try to detail precisely what this means operationally. But I know enough to know that parking two carrier groups on the doorstep of an active warzone is a major, major show of force. Two is a big deal. The entire US Navy has 11 of them. The Biden administration doesn’t appear to be kidding.

3 … Dismal forensics

You’ve probably seen a grim debate about reports that in the mass murder Hamas militants committed last weekend some number of the infants and toddlers they killed in a nursery were decapitated. I always felt cautious about these reports because they seemed to start with eyewitness accounts from a very chaotic and violent setting. This is classic fog of war in which cases it’s very hard to pin down exactly what happened. The reports were ubiquitous while at the same time it wasn’t entirely clear where they originated. Add to this the grim and dismal reality that automatic machine gun fire can sever parts of a small body without much problem.

These claims were briefly repeated by members of the Israeli government and then the US government. Then both fairly quickly said they had not independently verified these reports. But of course those mental images stick. For me, the best, most dispassionate and methodical discussion of what we heard, what we know, which journalists say they saw what photos and where the claims originated is this Snopes report. Just a very step by step accounting of where each report seems to have started, the chain of events. I found it clarifying.

My strongest takeaway from this are those online and international voices, parts of the sectarian left, treating the possibility that none of the executed children were decapitated as a kind of booyah! win for their side. I’ve seen a lot of triumphal comments that these were “lies” and “discredited propaganda”. I don’t think either is true. The final word just for my own understanding of things is this article about the military mortuary in charge of processing the bodies which appeared in the left-leaning daily Haaretz. Reporter Ido Efrati reports that those in charge of handling the bodies said the reports of beheaded babies are accurate.

I think the fairest verdict is that the claims remain unverified or as yet unverified by physical or forensic documentation.

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