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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Topic: Making Use of History

The Passing Parade and the Big Stuff

So, it seems, in terms of things that spark the national dialog, about who we are and what we're doing and just why were doing this or that, Sunday is the big news day - you get your scoops from the Washington Post and the other major media. And by Tuesday you find out what "sticks to the wall" or "has legs" - choose your cliché.

Tuesday, December 6th, was a "small news" day. There was none of that big news, just attempts to come to terms with what had been put in motion.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the middle of her diplomatic mission to Europe to lay down the law to them, and defend whatever the heck it is we're doing with "disappearing" people to secret prisons and practicing what some call torture, and we call "enhanced interrogation." Everyone had something to say, like this -
Human rights lawyers said some of the cases which have come to light amounted to "disappearing people," a practice recognized as illegal for decades since its widespread use by Latin American governments in the 1970s. "If we're actually taking people, abducting them and then placing them in incommunicado detention, which appears to be the case, we would be actually guilty then of a disappearance under international law, in addition to a rendition," said Meg Satterthwaite of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.
NYU? They don’t count. So Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlaws arbitrary arrest or detention and says an arrested person has the right to be told why he or she is being held and brought before a judge. Like we care?

According to Human Rights Watch here, the we're holding twenty-six folks in foreign prisons, incommunicado, without legal rights or access to counsel. No one can prove anything.

And an interesting comment here -
... there have been many other innocent people who have been rendered to countries and tortured, sent to Guantanamo or were wrongly imprisoned in Iraq since we began this practice. And the practice has led to more innocent people being imprisoned and tortured because those who are tortured tend to say anything they think you want to hear to make it stop. It builds on itself.

Saddam used this practice to terrorize the population to keep it in line. That is the only rational (if evil) purpose for such practices. I can't figure out why in the hell we are doing it.
But Digby here answers his own question. Someone who knows nothing throws out a name to stop the pain, and that person may be his dentist for all we know, so we grab the dentist, who throws out another random name to stop the pain, so we grab that third person who throws out another random, fourth name. We grab him or her. And on and on it goes. Yeah, we get no useful information about bad things being planned, but this has its usefulness. Folks know no one messes with us. Such a cascade of random pain probably does keep people in line. Unless someone gets angry. This is no doubt what Rice is explaining. It's useful.

Another comment? Try this -
And if, perhaps, this was two years ago, Europe would have cowered under Rice's mighty buck teeth of justice. But it ain't. Now, thanks to Rice and her White House, facing the United States is like facing off against a pissed off rhino that's been shot with half a dozen tranquilizer darts. It staggers, falls, gets up, charges at you for a moment or two, but you know if you dodge enough, it's gonna collapse soon. So many Europeans kinda don't give a fuck what Rice has to say.
Of course that German fellow we admitted we held for five months by mistake, and seemed to have tortured (or something like it), is now suing. He's got the ACLU on his side - see ACLU Suing Over Detention of German Citizen. That dreaded ACLU, the same folks who funded Thurgood Marshall and his team in the Brown case in the mid-fifties that made us desegregate public schools, is at it again, messing things up - suing the CIA and the companies with the fancy small jets they hired for transportation. But at least the German fellow cannot testify. His name is still on the "no fly list" and he cannot enter the United States, just like Cat Stevens - a useful bureaucratic delay. Ha, ha. Case closed.

Not that it matters. Bush and Rice have already won the argument - "Most Americans and a majority of people in Britain, France and South Korea say torturing terrorism suspects is justified at least in rare instances, according to AP-Ipsos polling."

Canada, Mexico and Germany disagree, and this would appear to be a cultural thing. What does Canada matter? Mexico? The French remember that Battle of Algiers, where torture worked well enough, but the Germans haven't gotten over Hitler yet. He's still an embarrassment and hasn't been rehabilitated. The Brits have lightened up about him, as Prince Harry likes wearing a Nazi uniform, as you recall. So times have changed.

But what's a rare instance? The dispute will be over that. The consensus now it that torture is just fine.

Ah well, the issue will play out in the coming months.

The other passing news on Tuesday, December 5th, was this this - we kind of lied to the Italians way back when. They were looking for a terror suspect and we told them the dude "had fled to the Balkans" -
In fact, according to Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the CIA's tip was a deliberate lie, part of a ruse designed to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian refugee known as Abu Omar.

The strategy worked for more than a year until Italian investigators learned that Nasr had not gone to the Balkans after all. Instead, prosecutors here have charged, he was abducted off a street in Milan by a team of CIA operatives who took him to two U.S. military bases in succession and then flew him to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Egyptian security agents before being released to house arrest.
Now they've issued warrants for twenty-two of our CIA guys. More work for Condi Rice. And a curious side note - the lead attorney defending Scooter Libby at the moment, was our ambassador to Italy at the time. Just a coincidence. Libby is charged with obstructing the investigating into who leaked the identity of a key CIA agent who husband debunked the forged Niger documents, which came from Italy at the same time. That's odd.

But this story has no legs. Everybody lies to the Italians and works around them. They may be a key partner in all this - but they're the Rodney Dangerfield of Europe. And we do what we want. Makes one wonder why Rice is explaining anything at all - to anyone.

Other ephemeral Tuesday news? The vice president gave the usual speech, this time up at Fort Drum (far upper right corner of New York, the state, and just south of Montreal, not far from Potsdam with its university). The idea? Cheney Urges Steadfast Approach to Iraq. The usual - we need to stay, and anyone who says differently is a traitor or fool or both, or some such thing.

But one should note this -
Watching these mini Nuremberg rallies with the president, and now the vice-president, using the troops to make political points I'm uncomfortably reminded that going back to Rome (and probably earlier) the point of having the troops assembled before the leadership was to make it clear that the military backed the leadership against all comers. Today this is slightly more subtly accomplished, but the motivation is the same. It is shamelessly done not just to convey the point that the military will follow the orders of the administration (which it is constitutionally required to do) but that it also politically backs the administration against its critics. These are political speeches done for the purpose of answering political critics.

If I didn't know better and were to watch the majority of speeches from afar for the last six months, I would assume that the United States is a military dictatorship, so many uniforms have been present. Even the speech that Bush gave the other day on the economy featured a bunch of people dressed in the same clothes in the standard tableau behind him.

This is becoming a bit disturbing. The administration is giving the appearance of having control of the military in an inappropriate political way and they are doing it more and more. My only consolation is that, if press reports are true, the military brass does not seem to be as enthralled by Republican leadership as they once were. A badly conceived and executed war by fanatics will do that to you.
That is odd.

But then Bush gives a speech that is not in front of the military at all, but to the Council on Foreign Relations. No uniforms. On the other hand, it is as tightly controlled -
In a sharp break with the council's own traditions, Bush is being allowed to speak - for 50 minutes - then leave without taking any questions.

"Obviously, we strongly suggested - certainly made the case - that it would be in the interest of the president and in the interest of our membership that the president take questions," council vice president for communications Lisa Shields told me this morning.

"But true to his format, they declined."
Well, these folks aren't military.

There was much other news - a bomb taking out forty-three police cadets in Baghdad, and the old 9/11 Commission crew giving those in charge failing grades for protecting America, all D's and F's on such things as transportation security and planning for the worst. But all the wags out there point out Bush got all D's and F's at Yale and became president, so what's the problem?

And there was the odd story of the day from Kansas, this - "A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating." The oppressed minority Christians in America are fighting back. We have our own anti-Darwin insurgency for Jesus? Do we get roadside bombs next?

Ah well, how does one put this all in perspective?

At least in term of who leads us and how they think, and this war, and what could happen, there is some historical perspective from the old Kennedy folks.

Theodore "Ted" Sorensen was special counsel to Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was his special assistant. You know, old guys with lots of experience who write books.

They offer Iraq: What would JFK have done?

Now that's an interesting question. Idle, but interesting.

This appeared in the New York Times on the weekend of December 3-4 and was reprinted in the International Herald Tribune on the 5th - starting off with some notes on what was presented to us all in the big speech at Annapolis - the Plan for Victory in Iraq -
What did we Americans not hear from President George W. Bush when he spoke last week at the U.S. Naval Academy about his strategy for victory in Iraq?

We did not hear that the war in Iraq, already one of the costliest in American history, is a running sore. We did not hear that it has taken more than 2,000 precious American lives and countless - because we do not count them - Iraqi civilian lives.

America can't take that kind of endless and remorseless drain for a vaguely defined military and political mission. If we leave early, the president said, catastrophe might follow. But what of the catastrophe that we are prolonging and worsening by our continued presence, including our continued, unforgivable mistreatment of detainees?

The president says we should support our troops by staying the course; but who is truly willing to support our troops by bringing them safely home?
Kennedy would have done differently? These two say as they listened to Bush's speech, "our thoughts raced back four decades to another president, John F. Kennedy. In 1963, the last year of his life, we watched from front-row seats as Kennedy tried to figure out how best to extricate American military advisers and instructors from Vietnam."

That's curious. Is this like Vietnam, the early days? Could be.

These two say Kennedy would lean back in his rocking chair and "tick off all his options" and then critique them. Okay, some folks like to think there are alternatives. Our new gut doesn't, but assume some folks do.

What were Kennedy's choices?
Renege on the previous Eisenhower commitment, which Kennedy had initially reinforced, to help the beleaguered government of South Vietnam with American military instructors and advisers?

No, he knew that the American people would not permit him to do that.

Americanize the Vietnam civil war, as the military recommended and as his successor Lyndon Johnson sought ultimately to do, by sending in American combat units?

No, having learned from his experiences with Cuba and elsewhere that conflicts essentially political in nature did not lend themselves to a military solution, Kennedy knew that the United States could not prevail in a struggle against a Vietnamese people determined to oust, at last, all foreign troops from their country.

Declare "victory and get out," as George Aiken, the Republican senator from Vermont, would famously suggest years later?

No, in 1963 in Vietnam, despite assurances from field commanders, there was no more semblance of "victory" than there was in 2004 in Iraq when the president gave his "mission accomplished" speech on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Explore, as was always his preference, a negotiated solution?

No, he was unable to identify in the ranks of the disorganized Vietcong a leader capable of negotiating enforceable and mutually agreeable terms of withdrawal.
So what was the solution? They say Kennedy knew withdrawal was the only real option, and, in the spring of 1963, he was working on that - a three-part exit strategy. But then he got shot, and the rest is history.

But these two say Bush could us the plan.

First, make it clear that we're going to get out. At a press conference on Nov. 14, 1963 - "That is our object, to bring Americans home."

Second, request an invitation to leave. And a May 1963 press conference, Kennedy declared that if the South Vietnamese government suggested it, "we would have some troops on their way home" the next day. (This could work. Any Iraqi leader who requested that would be a hero there. It's a win-win.)

Third, bring the troops home gradually.

These two offer this: "Kennedy had no guarantee that any of these three components would succeed; but an exit plan without guarantees is better than none at all."

And this: "Once American troops are out of Iraq, people around the world will rejoice that we have recovered our senses. What's more, the killing of Americans and the global loss of American credibility will diminish."

Yes, this is idle speculation. It's a bit hard to imagine this president sitting around with his advisors spinning out alternatives to a tight situation.

First you'd have to concede that things aren't going as planned, that the public has turned, and the generals are grumbling, and your few allies around the world are dismayed, and the rest of the world well beyond dismayed. And how would you know, when you whole staff is too habitually frightened to give you bad news? It was, after all, four days after Hurricane Katrina before anyone on the staff got up the nerve to burn you a CD of the news shows about what was happening down there. They know your temper. You don't want to hear bad news, much less news that what you thought was or is so just isn't so. You've got them trained. You don't tolerate dissent.

Then you'd have to assume, if you admit that all that just may be true, that you really care at all if any bit of it is so. So what? You're steadfast - solid as a rock. You don't flip-flop. God, perhaps, has given you your mandate. (Recent reporting is that the man feels this way.) So the whole idea of a change in course, based on a change in what's happening, is moot.

Sorensen and Schlesinger may be onto something here in terms of strategy, but they've got the wrong guy. And strategy is, it seems, a function of personality.

And that's the big news under the passing parade of small events, the news stories of this and that. Rice argues with the Europeans, folks weigh in on this and that, speeches are made, people die, folks are mugged in Kansas for not accepting Jesus as their personal savior and accepting Darwin in science class ? and nothing changes.

__

Footnote:

Sorensen and Schlesinger offer a curious comment to the Bush supporters demanding that the other side, if they're so damned smart, come up with some better plan for this war -
The responsibility for devising an exit plan rests primarily not with the war's opponents, but with the president who hastily mounted an invasion without enough troops to secure Iraq's borders and arsenals, without enough armor to protect our forces, without enough allied support and without adequate plans for either a secure occupation or a timely exit.
This seems to be a variation on the famous "Pottery Barn Rule."

Posted by Alan at 23:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005 23:16 PST home

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