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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Thursday, 1 December 2005

Topic: NOW WHAT?

Under the News

Thursday is usually a day of away from politics, devoted to a photo shoot for the Sunday edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log. Last week it was an afternoon at a local place that's used in many films, Greystone Mansion (also here). This week it was another "on location" shoot - Santa Monica Pier, the absolute end of Route 66, like in the song, and a favorite with location directors. And there was filming there this Thursday, but nothing major - a McDonalds commercial. Those photos will be along shortly - it takes some time to get the photos from the Nikon onto the computer, review them all (there were a hundred and fifty this week), select the most interesting (or startling or whatever), and edit the "keepers" down to a format that works on the web (they start out in very large format that would crash most users' computers).

But the political discourse, the national dialog, spun on. Driving from Hollywood to Santa Monica and back, you could hear the radio buzzing with news and politics - more chat about the president's speech at the Naval Academy the day before (covered here) and the business with the military spending millions to plant fake news stories in the new Iraqi press. Whether we torture folks and whether we should we torture folks, and where, was old news. The "death squads" story (covered here) was old news. On the issue of us spending millions planting fake news stories in the Iraqi press, the left was saying we shouldn't be subverting a newly-born free press with propaganda disguised as news, that we bribe people to print as if it's real reporting, while on the right one heard the idea that of course we should - we need to get our message out and this is war. On the big war speech you got the same - it was either detailed platitudes not based in reality, or the most inspiring presidential speech since the Gettysburg Address. It all depends on your point of view.

Well, in the Mini Cooper the first button of the AM band is "all news" with CBS from Washington at the top of the hour - and "traffic on the eights" - the third button is Air America and the lefties, the fifth is Rush Limbaugh on the right, and the sixth is the "lounge" station (Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and such). Nat King Cole sounded just fine. He even sang "Route 66."

But one keeps coming back to the big questions, and the chatter on the radio. The questions were in there, somehow.

What are we, as a nation (but perhaps not a community any longer), doing? What have we become? We're all in this cooperatively - we pay our taxes and elect folks to get this or that done, and think this is a fine place. We have schools and road and armies and programs to keep things running smoothly, but the last five years, since that crazy close election, have everyone shouting "the other side" down.

All of us who think this war was a bone-headed idea that was, then, executed with stunningly incompetent decisions after we "won," take a lot of heat from friends and relatives for not being patriotic and not "supporting the troops" and not "simply trusting the president." We're the ones tearing down America and all that.

While one can understand the anger, and understand that such anger is inevitable, it may be misplaced, as Bob Harris puts it here -
I can speak for no one else, but it seems obvious to me that it is the war which disgraces America. It is the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people which disgraces America. It is torture which disgraces America. It is imprisonment without trial which disgraces America. It is the use of chemical weapons which disgraces America. It is disdain for international law, the use of military power as a first resort, the intentional confusion of the Iraqi people with terrorists thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, and the corruption of the very word “democracy” which all disgrace America.

As an opponent of the war, I am trying to stop my country from being disgraced any further.
That about sums it up. Of course Harris should have used "that" not "which" in each point in his brief statement here, but he captures what bothers so many on the left - what we have become in order to feel safe and feel we just had to do in response to the very real threat of those who have attacked us here and want a very different world in the Middle East, one we just cannot accept.

The argument from the right seems to be that those things that may seem to disgrace America in this list, or ones like it, while perhaps unfortunate, are necessary. Everything changed on September 11, 2001 - and if you think otherwise, you just don't "get it." They are the realists, and the grownups.

The argument here and in so many places has been, no, not much, if any of this, was necessary. There were alternatives, many of them (often discussed here) - and none of these things has worked out well. Iraq is in a low-grade civil war that could become an all-out civil war, or even a regional war. We have effectively isolated ourselves from the world community, and while their opinion may no matter a whit to those on the right, some argument might still be made that cooperation with other nations, even if grudging cooperation can get a lot done. But we walk away from treaties, from agreements on trade and agreed rules for treating others humanly, from this treaty or that. We claim we have to do this in our own self-interest, but to what end? We're safer, we're richer, we're getting what we need in the world? Not exactly.

Of course none of what Harris or those on the left think really matters. We have done what we have done, and it is clear that there will be no changes of direction for three more years, and maybe not for the four years following that. This is a democracy. The people have chosen the leaders who project the image they think the nation should project to the world - no one messes with us and we don't much care what anyone thinks of anything we do, and any "rules" are kind of beside the point. We'll follow them if we feel like it, or not. They call this strength.

There's not much point in opposing the whole thing. The votes have been counted. And, if the rest of the world can just go take a hike, perhaps those who have been outvoted ought to either accept things as they are, or leave. Changing things by some sort of persuasion - moral, logical, practical (or satiric) - is beyond unlikely.

Oh, you can do all sorts of analyses and exercises in practical and logical thinking.

In reaction to the big war speech at the Naval Academy you get things this like this from Jeanne over at Body and Soul, a mediation on an essential question. What are they fighting for? The "they" is the Iraqis. And she ends with this - "So, isn't it beside the point to talk about how Iraqis aren't ready to fight, and won't be for a long, long time? Isn't the real issue that there's nothing they would fight for that the Bush Leagues want them to fight for?"

You have to read the middle to see how she got there, and it's pretty convincing. And one doubts such subtle consideration actually takes place in the administration - of the implications of just what "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" means on the ground. Which Iraqis do we want to "stand up" what are they supposed to stand up for? She notes that Robert Dreyfuss argues that American forces are now "the Praetorian Guard for that radical-right theocracy" in Iraq. (See this.) In the complex internal power struggles there now, how do we get these guys to "stand up" for a new and somewhat abstract idea - a secular, inclusive Iraqi democracy? Is anyone mulling this over in Washington? It's in none of what they say. But it is kind of important.

What do they say?

We were basically told in the "big speech" to be patient and things will work out. And, by the way, no significant number of troops will be coming home this year - we'll stay until we achieve total victory, but we'll leave as the Iraqis get their act together.

What? Which is it?

Note this this -
Bush can play John Wayne - we'll fight 'til the last man dies - but if it becomes politically necessary to pull out significant numbers of troops next year, he can remind us that he's been saying all along that our only goal was to train Iraqi troops, and - what do you know, just in time for the election - they're trained. We are not about to send American boys thousands of miles from home to do what Iraqi boys ought to be doing for themselves.
And that's the plan.

There's not much to do but note "the plan" - that's what we have. Those who have other plans - Murtha, Biden, think tanks full of experts considering the complexities - are not the leaders we elected. We went for "simple and strong."

Get over it.

__

Kierkegaard:

"Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion - and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion ... while Truth again reverts to a new minority."

__

On the Santa Monica Pier -






Posted by Alan at 21:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005 21:23 PST home

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

The siege of Harfleur in 1415 - "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, or fill the wall up with our English dead."

As mentioned elsewhere, Wednesday, November 30th was the day of the big presidential speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. We were finally going to get the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Any number of waggish types had been commenting that we should have had one of those three years ago, and this was an odd time to be getting around to coming up with a plan. Sputtering conservative Bush supporters were saying we had one all along and this was just something the treasonous liberals thrust on the administration, claiming you just trust the president - he doesn't owe anyone an explanation of anything - and wondering why the people who don't much like Bush, his policies or this war, or most of what his has either attempted or done, felt they had any right to know the plan. Why should he have to explain anything? I think the idea is having a plan made public aids and abets the enemy, or some such thing.

But he gave the speech - even if he might have been seething that he had to explain anything to anyone, and might have been wondering just who these people are who think they have a right to know such things.

Be that is it may Fred Kaplan puts the speech in perspective here -
From December 1941 to August 1945, the U.S. government mobilized an entire nation; manufactured a mighty arsenal; played a huge role in defeating the armies, air forces, and navies of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; and emerged from battle poised to shape the destiny of half the globe. By comparison, from September 2001 to December 2005, the U.S. government has advanced to the point of describing a path to victory in a country the size of California.
Ouch.

The problem Kaplan points out, as do may others, is that although the speech and its accompanying thirty-five page booklet of bullet points is called a "strategy for victory," neither term is defined. "Yes people want to what do we do now and when can we start to pull out - under what circumstances, with what sorts of troops remaining, to what end, for how long?"

In short, that's asking just what we are doing and why we are doing it, nine hundred and forty-seven days after the war started and after more than 2,100 of our guys have died for… well, for what? What's the general idea here? Even if some think such questions are impertinent, some don't. Yes, this is Cindy Sheehan territory. Maybe she was just disrespectful of the awesome office of the president, but the question may, possibly, have some legitimacy. Or not, depending on your point of view.

What we got? "We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission."

The mission? "When our mission of training the Iraqi security forces is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation."

And there was this variation - the mission will be complete "when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy."

And there was this variation - "I will settle for nothing less than complete victory."

Kaplan points out the obvious questions all this raises. Is our job done when the Iraqis can fight the bad guys on their own - or when the bad guys are defeated? Which is it? And how will we know when they're defeated?

Ah, the president's answer -
In World War II, victory came when the Empire of Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri. In Iraq, there will not be a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.
Three conditions, when met on some specific day in the future, mean we can call that specific day V-I day, of course. And any fool can see each of these conditions is, shall we say, all subject to interpretation. Whether any one of these conditions is met is, really, a judgment call.

In short, the war is over when we say it's over, and for now, we're "staying the course." There will be no timetables of any kind. We will not "cut and run."

You got things like - "Pulling our troops out before they achieve their purpose is not a plan for victory." But if "achieving their purpose" is something you cannot specifically measure, just what is the plan to get to that goal of "we now think things are better?" Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? Maybe.

But we know this - "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins, so long as I am your commander in chief. ... We will not abandon Iraq."

Yeah, but we won't know when leaving Iraq is not abandoning Iraq. It's all in how you see it.

So we'll keep on keeping on - "This will take time - and patience." And troop levels will be adjusted, up or down, by commanders' assessments of facts on the ground, "not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."

In short, we'll keep making it up as we go along. Heck, that worked for Indiana Jones in the first movie.

Bush is gambling most folks are comfortable with that, and gambling no really bad thing will happen before his term ends - say a barracks blowing up like the one that blew up in Beirut and took out hundreds of our guys and spooked Reagan into getting us out of Lebanon. It could go well from here on out.

You never know.

Of course the hallmark of this gang is having that positive attitude - expect the best and ridicule the worriers - we will be greeted as liberators, they will toss flowers and sweets at us, the oil there will flow freely and pay for this all, we'll be out in six months. That's how they do planning. They're visionaries, not pessimists.

And they're at it again - and counting on the American people loving the optimist and hating the sourpuss pessimist with his defeatist "realism." We're a "can do" people. Nothing is impossible. Cue Frank Sinatra singing "High Hopes" and all that.

Is this what most people would call a strategy? They're counting on most people not being able to tell the difference between a strategic plan and hoping for the best, kind like the difference between careful retirement planning with a 401(k) and savings and investments, and buying a lottery ticket twice a week. Lots of folks buy lottery tickets. That's the audience here. You never know.

Kaplan is one of those sourpuss realists who suggest a real strategic plan would deal with these four issues -
- The American occupation itself is strengthening, legitimizing, and radicalizing the insurgency. This fact - acknowledged by nearly everyone but the president - is what makes the issue of troop levels so complex: Our troops are, in one sense, fighting the insurgents and making Iraq more secure; but in another sense they're bolstering the insurgents and making Iraq less secure. The net effect - both of the continued occupation and of a withdrawal - is debatable, but the president will fail to engage the debate as long as he pretends the dilemma doesn't exist.

- The Iraqi security forces have no doubt improved in the past year, mainly because it's only been in the last year or so that realistic training measures have been put into effect, thanks mainly to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who has since been rotated out of the country. But how much they've improved, how effectively they might fight on their own as a national army, is not at all clear -especially given recent reports of death-squad tactics and the persistent growth of sectarian militias.

- The persistence of the war - long beyond the point when its planners thought it would be over - is straining the U.S. military to the breaking point, in terms of recruitment, morale, troop rotation, and the operations, maintenance, and procurement of its weapons systems. This is the main reason many military officers have called for getting out of Iraq - because "staying the course" for much longer is physically impossible. Steps can be taken to remedy this situation, but they would require momentous political decisions, and President Bush has done nothing to prepare the public for any such measures.

- Finally, the war in Iraq, even the war on terrorism (of which it has lately become a part, though it wasn't before Bush invaded), does not carry the same moral or strategic weight as the Cold War, much less World War II. In today's speech, Bush once again likened al-Qaida to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. There is no question that al Qaeda and its allies constitute a potent menace, but they do not rule a massive landmass or control a mighty industrial army; they cannot launch a blitzkrieg across Europe (or any other continent).
Details, details, details...

This is the sort of thing these guys scoff at. This is an administration of hope. They like to keep things simple. They (sometimes not well defined) hate us for our freedoms (which can be limited domestically to keep us safe), so we have to defeat them, and not appear weak, and never back down, or they come here and do bad things.

Is it more complex? Only defeatists think so.

We'll see.

So we didn't get much on what the war was all about, geopolitically and culturally and economically, and what winning means is a tad vague, but we'll somehow know it when it happens, or we'll say it happened if things seem close enough for government work. And what will it take to get to this vague "there?" Just keep doing what we're doing, optimistically. Doubters should shut up, and so should folks who want who, what, when where, how and why. That's not what we do.

Some speech.

And how was this covered? Associated Press was odd. Sometimes when you went to the Deb Riechmann story you got the headline Bush Counsels 'Patience' for Victory In Iraq, but then sometime you got Bush Maps Out Iraq War Strategy. But it was the same story. Headline writing is left to who knows who. You didn't get "Bush Repackages Previous Empty Rhetoric Hoping This Time Someone Thinks We Have A Plan for the War." But AP did run this photo here and there, and that sums things up nicely.

The AP opens with this -
President Bush, facing growing doubts about his war strategy, said Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle but that "this will take time and patience." He refused to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Bush said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is set to change, by making fewer patrols and convoys, moving out of Iraqi cities and focusing more on specialized operations aimed at high-value terrorist targets.
Well, yes, that was a note that tactics will change - fewer guys busting down doors and more bombs falling from the sky.

And AP does note there wasn't much else there -
Bush's speech did not break new ground or present a new strategy. Instead, it was intended to bring together in one place the administration's arguments for the war and explain existing strategy on a military, economic and political track. The president's address was accompanied by the release of a 35-page White House document titled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

"Americans should have a clear understanding of this strategy," Bush said. He said the document was an unclassified version of the strategy that was being pursued in Iraq.
This stuff had been classified? Why?

Well, a lot of the speech was good news. We were told the Iraqis were really stepping up to the plate. It's going real well. They may have some sort of army one day.

The facts there are in some dispute, but the president said he was sure this was so. Trust him?

Well, you could trust his wife -
Bush's wife, Laura, said earlier Wednesday she "absolutely" would like to see an acceptable resolution there. "We want our troops to be able to come home as soon as they possibly can," she said during an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" while giving a White House Christmas tour.

"It's really remarkable how far they've come," she said, "but I really feel very, very encouraged that we're going to see a very great ending when we see a really free Iraq right in the heart of the Middle East."
Feel better now?

Read the whole speech here if you'd like.

As someone put it - the new strategy is that the old strategy is working.

Fine. What did you expect?

See also In Sum, We're Screwed, with this observation -
Bush also did not acknowledge that the Iraqis themselves want us to go away. Seems to me that if the Iraqi government passes a resolution giving us, say, six months to get our butts out of their country, we have to comply. It's their country. Bush doesn't seem to have considered that possibility. I guess he figures God won't let that happen.

Bottom line, Bush really isn't listening to anybody except the voices in his head he thinks are Jesus, and he sees "staying the course" as something noble and heroic. So no graceful or dignified exit for us. Instead, we can look forward to continued waste of lives and resources until it finally winds down to some messy, inconclusive end.
See also Going for a St. Crispin's Day address, Bush channels Walter Mitty.

And note this from the US the Army War College's W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane - from their new 60-page report. US troop presence in Iraq probably cannot be sustained more than three more years. And in those three years? This -
"It appears increasingly unlikely that U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces will crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased U.S. and coalition withdrawal."

"It is no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long U.S. forces remain."

"The United States may also have to scale back its expectations for Iraq's political future," by accepting a relatively stable but undemocratic state as preferable to a civil war among Iraq's ethnic and religious factions.
And so on and so forth...

And this from Barry R. Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT who will become the director of MIT's Security Studies Program in 2006 -
... the expectation of an open-ended American presence lends internal and external political support to the insurgents and infantilizes the government and army of Iraq, producing at best a perpetual stalemate. The Bush administration's plan is to hang on and hope for a lucky break, or at least hope to make it to the end of the president's second term without an obvious catastrophe. Meanwhile the steady grind of rotations to Iraq will cause good soldiers and officers to quietly exit the Army and prospective recruits to decline entry. The American public may look up in three years and find that the option of staying the course is gone, and the conditions for departure much less controllable. Surely the steady drumbeat of American casualties combined with the gap between the political progress claimed by administration spinners and the actual state of relations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds will erode public support for any enduring commitment to Iraq. Then the strategy that both the Bush administration's mainstream supporters and its mainstream critics fear the most may be the only one available - precipitous withdrawal. The United States must try another strategy while it still has the political and military resources necessary to influence the pattern of disengagement and the aftermath.
Too late. The new strategy is the old one, but now we say it will really, really work, if you believe.

Also note this -
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday embraced a call by a prominent member of her rank-and-file to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, two weeks after she declined to endorse it.

"We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable," Pelosi said. "That is what the American people and our troops deserve."
Folks are climbing down off the fence. The utopian idealists and the pragmatic realists are forming teams. Get in the appropriate line.

__

The rest of Wednesday was not nearly as interesting. This decade's answer to the fifty's Joseph McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, published the first draft of his blacklist - but it was just media operations he considers "guttersnipes" and "smear merchants" - the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times and MSNBC - purveyors of "defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites." No individuals yet.

And note here O'Reilly warns America about the vast conspiracy to get rid of Christmas: "There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."

It's the ACLU and the secular Jews like George Soros, of course.

And that congressman from Pennsylvania, the decorated Marine and long-time friend of the military, who proposed a drawdown in Iraq, must have loved Hitler, as in this: "These pinheads running around going, 'Get out of Iraq now,' don't know what they're talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, 'Ah, he's not such a bad guy.' They don't get it."

Whatever.

See this on Philip Tetlock's new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? And see this on hedgehogs and foxes in general.

Also Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secreting paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by US information officers. The whole item is here - these stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists." The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor - and those employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives. The Times quotes a senior Pentagon official - "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."

Armstrong Williams. Enough said.

Posted by Alan at 20:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005 21:12 PST home


Topic: Photos

Our Man in Paris - Goodbye November
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - an account of how the month ended in Paris. Here in Hollywood, seventy-three and no clouds, just a milky haze all day, and palm trees and all that.

Goodbye November

PARIS - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just because it's cold outside is no excuse for not covering Paris, but I put off going out as long as possible. A good thing too because it is damp and humid, with a breeze that slices, and the sky looks like torn nylons. It is almost dark in the afternoon, with the fallen leaves looking like pieces of eight, now worthless in our plastic age.

Outside the door, the Toyota veteran of the Dakar, for the days of January sun in the Sahara, racing to the beach of Senegal. There's more Africa on the Morris column up at Maine. Another animal movie for the kids on their Christmas holidays. The avenue itself is bitter with the wind blowing up from the Porte d'Orléans. I cross from the police station to the unemployment office and find a new poster on the bus stop. 'Le Tigre et la Neige' is another kids' film, by Roberto Benigni, wearing wings and white shorts.

There's so much Africa out here that I slip into the boulangerie where other people are taking refuge in the smells of bread, with the cakes filling in with their candy for the eyes. Then down Daguerre where the wind can't find itself and there's a crowd in the café, warming itself at the cold bar, not bothering with the oysters out front. In half an hour it has gone from dim to dark but the horse players care not at all. The Joe is standing outside the Poste, opening the door for tips, and I pass him a euro, thankful that I can walk home as fast as I want.

__

Outside the door, the Toyota veteran of the Dakar -

















... up at Maine (four in the afternoon) -

















... the cakes filling in with their candy for the eyes -


















... Daguerre where the wind can't find itself and there's a crowd in the café -


















Text and Photos, Copyright © 2005 Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Posted by Alan at 11:11 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005 11:26 PST home

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Just Like Old Times - Leaving No Fingerprints

Last weekend in these pages, in Explaining the Inexplicable (and Iraq as El Salvador), it was clear something was bound to break.

Seymour Hersh, from last January with this in the New Yorker -
"Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."
And Newsweek at the time was reporting this -
The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. ... One military source involved in the Pentagon debate suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
And so we have. The death squads are back. We're riding with the bad boys.

The key guy in setting up and funding right-wing death squads in the area at the time - in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala - to do the wet work we could not be caught doing (taking out the key pro-democracy rebels and such), was John Negroponte. That would be John D. Negroponte - US ambassador to the United Nations from September of 2001 until June 2004 (sat next to Colin Powell at the famous war-now speech) and US ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005 (our first after Saddam was gone), and now our Director of National Intelligence. He survived the blowback from the problems with those tactics in Central America (like the dead nuns), and came out smelling like a rose. The Clinton administration wouldn't touch him. The new Bush administration liked his "can do" attitude.

There was grumbling about him in his confirmation hearings for the UN gig, given his past, but he was confirmed. September of 2001 was an odd time - you didn't really argue with the president. It was not the time to do that. You'd look like a coward and a traitor.

When Negroponte was named our first ambassador to the new Iraq there were comments here and there joking that he'd take care of things just as he did in Central America - he'd somehow, on the side, fund and arm nasty locals to "take care of" troublemakers - death squads to do some kidnapping, some clever targeted assassinations and a little torture - but we'd be clean. That worked fine, mostly, back in the eighties - a lot of civilians (and those nuns) died, but things got taken care of.

Negroponte denied it all when the investigations came around. The administration denied it all. Reagan was clean. And the appropriate folks had turned up dead, or never turned up at all. The idea is to leave no fingerprints, as it were. And there were none - or they were sufficiently smudged.

The Newsweek item is all about how, in the middle of this guy's tenure as our first ambassador to Iraq, the Defense Department started talking about a "Salvador option" for Iraq. But the story disappeared.

Then on Tuesday, November 29, 2005, the whole thing suddenly made the headlines, here in the New York Times and here in the Los Angeles Times. They both report Iraq is now pretty much run by death squads. Knight-Ridder was on the story more than a month earlier here, but Knight-Ridder is the second-string, aren't they?

Kevin Drum here has some thoughts, and he is the one reminding everyone Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter was first on this.

But basically he notes now everyone is reporting that Iraq's security forces have been heavily infiltrated by Shiite "death squads" that are carrying out hundreds of executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods, and Lasseter was reporting the same thing over a month ago - crack units within the Iraqi army have essentially become Shiite militias that take orders from local Shiite clerics.

From the Solomon Moore story in the Los Angeles Times out here -
An Aug. 18 police operations report addressed to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the [Shiite] Badr militia, listed the names of 14 Sunni Arab men arrested during a predawn sweep in the Baghdad neighborhood of Iskaan.

Six weeks later, their bodies were discovered near the Iranian border, badly decomposed. All of the corpses showed signs of torture, and each still wore handcuffs and had been shot three times in the back of the head, Baghdad morgue officials said.

A Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity said that "we hear repeated stories" of police raids on houses and indiscriminate arrests of Iraqi civilians - many of them Sunni Arab Muslims.

"And they disappear, but the bodies show up maybe two or three governorates away," the diplomat said.
But that wasn't us doing these bad things, right? We play by the rules. We don't take these shortcuts.

Still, things may be getting a little out of hand -
U.S. officials have long been concerned about extrajudicial killings in Iraq, but until recently they have refrained from calling violent elements within the police force "death squads" - a loaded term that conjures up the U.S.-backed paramilitaries that killed thousands of civilians during the Latin American civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s.

But U.S. military advisors in Iraq say the term is apt, and the Interior Ministry's inspector general concurs that extrajudicial killings are being carried out by ministry forces ...

This month, U.S. forces raided a secret Interior Ministry detention facility in southern Baghdad operated by police intelligence officials linked to the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia that has long-standing ties to Iran and to Iraq's leading Shiite political party. Inmates compiled a handwritten list of 18 detainees at the bunker who were allegedly tortured to death while in custody. The list was authenticated by a U.S. official and given to Justice Ministry authorities for investigation. It was later provided to The Times.

The U.S. military is investigating whether police officers who worked at the secret prison were trained by American interrogation experts.
What did the president say this month?

"Our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so they can defend their people and take the fight to the enemy. And we're making steady progress."

We need to define "progress" here.

Is this progress?
A Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity said that "we hear repeated stories" of police raids on houses and indiscriminate arrests of Iraqi civilians - many of them Sunni Arab Muslims.

... The Al Mahdi army has a heavy presence in the regular police force, U.S. and Iraqi authorities said. One high-ranking U.S. military officer estimated that up to 90% of the 35,000 police officers working in northeast Baghdad were affiliated with Al Mahdi.

The U.S. officer said that "half of them are in a unit called 'the Punishment Committee,'" suspected of committing abuses against civilians believed to be flouting Islamic laws or the militia's authority. The officer said that Sunni Arab Muslims were frequently targeted by the committee.

... U.S. military sources said Badr militia members in the [Interior] ministry's Maghawir (Fearless Warrior) special commando brigades were carrying out illegal raids and extrajudicial killings.

... U.S. and Iraqi officials believe that both militias have been responsible for scores of execution-style slayings this year.

"The Mahdi army's got the Iraqi police and Badr's got the commandos," the high-ranking U.S. military officer said. "Everybody's got their own death squads."
Everybody's got their own death squads? How democratic (small "d").

The problem is, of course, that you want some unity and focus. Negroponte left Iraq in April for his new job as Director of National Intelligence back here in Washington. Yeah, you want to scare the heck out of the Sunnis who don't like being out of power - and kidnapping, torture and random or selected murder do the job - either they'll stop sabotaging the new Shiite government out of fear, or blow up more marketplaces and hotels out of anger. There's no law or anything like it that will protect you, and you know it.

Of course you want to make sure no one can possibly think the Americans are doing this. We don't so such things. We're the "rule of law" folks.

But you really do want to send one message - give up or you and your family will die horrible deaths - not several messages regarding proper religious practices or this or that.

But Negroponte has gone home. There are lots of groups freelancing.

Things are bad? Everybody's got their own death squads?

No, things are good. Joe Lieberman says so. Everybody's got their own cell phone.

Tuesday, November 29th, Joe, there on the ground, explains in the Wall Street Journal -
There are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than before.

... It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making.
Here's a note on what happened as Sunny Joe was drafting his WSJ piece -
Monday in Iraq was characterized by the usual mayhem, much of it with a dark sectarian character. Two prominent members of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and a third politician from the Association of Muslim Scholars (hard line Sunni) were assassinated in Baghdad. South of the capital, two Britons of South Asian heritage who had gone on pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Karbala were killed in an ambush. Northern Iraq - 6 Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped.

In Baqubah four US troops were wounded by a suicide bombing. In Baiji, US troops opened fire when a bomb went off, and they killed a leader of the Shamar tribe, among the larger and more powerful in Iraq. Vice President Ghazi al-Yawir is from the Shamar. So too was one of the suicide bombers who blew up the Radisson SAS in Amman recently. Killing the Shamar shaikh = not good.
Some see the glass half-full, and some see it half-empty.

And some notice things like this - our new a US ambassador in Baghdad, now that Negroponte has been bumped up many notches, Zalmay Khalilzad, is going to start direct talks with the Iranians. What?

Juan Cole speculates -
It is the return of Realism in Washington foreign policy. You need the Iranians, as I maintain, for a soft landing in Iraq? So you do business with the Iranians. This opening may help explain why Ahmad Chalabi went to Tehran before he went to Washington, and why he was given such a high-level (if unphotographed) reception in Washington.
Maybe so. The death squad thing just wasn't working. Ask one of the charter members of the Axis of Evil for a little help here.

This is all very odd.

Posted by Alan at 20:11 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005 20:18 PST home

Monday, 28 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Done Deal - We're Out of There

Elsewhere (see Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not) there was mention of Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" where he was discussing his latest New Yorker article, Up In The Air - Where is the Iraq war headed next? - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal. This came the same day as this from the Associated Press - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal (Sunday, November 27) - and the White House was saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, and this is not "cut and run" or anything like it.

One sees that of the news stories that were forming over the previous weekend this is the one that had legs. Of course, to make the case that we should start withdrawing troops (or redeploying them, which sound much better), the administration had better be able to show that things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running that we've sort of, kind of won, or something. And that renders all that anger that recent Friday night in the House of Representatives, with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest, somewhat moot.

Note here all the right wing commentators savagely attacking that cowardly quitter Biden for what he said in the Washington Post about withdrawal, or redeployment, just a few hours before the White House said Biden was right on target, but the Bush team had thought of it first. Well, sometimes it's hard to be a loyal supporter of the flawless president. Sometimes you get blindsided by the guy. No one distributed the new talking points in time.

Fred Kaplan, over at SLATE.COM, tells us it's going to get even more upside down -
Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces - which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own - have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason - a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
Kaplan says that, assuming the forecasts about the speech are true, the White House "is as cynical about this war as its cynical critics have charged it with being."

Yes, it has been obvious that once there was an Iraqi constitution, and then an elected government, we could say we did the job and begin to get out, no matter what we said about "staying the course" until every last "insurgent" was either dead or rendered pleasant and democratic (the non-capitalized version, of course). This does, as Kaplan notes, explain what all the rush was about. We pushed the schedule - no deviation from that - so we can get out, or mostly out, before the 2006 mid-term elections here, where those who carried the water for Bush in the house and senate face voters with doubts and questions and a bit of anger. The idea is to take away the war as an issue in the elections. That's pretty obvious. Yeah, the new Iraqi constitution is still a work in progress, and perhaps it is so "deeply flawed" it is "more likely to fracture the country than to unite it." Kaplan's argument is that this doesn't matter as much to the guys who run things for us all in Washington as their staying in power.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But note this:
The political beauty of this scenario is that, even if Iraq remains mired in chaos or seems to be hurtling toward civil war, nobody in Congress is going to call for a halt, much less a reversal, of the withdrawal. The Republicans will fall in line; many of them have been nervous that the war's perpetuation, with its rising toll and dim horizons, might cost them their seats. And who among the Democrats will choose to outflank Bush on his right wing and advocate - as some were doing not so long ago - keeping the troops in Iraq for another five or 10 years or even boosting their numbers. (The question is so rhetorical, it doesn't warrant a question mark.)

In short, Bush could pull a win-win-win out of this shift. He could pre-empt the Democrats' main line of attack against his administration, stave off the prospect of (from the GOP's perspective) disastrous elections in 2006 and '08, and, as a result, bolster his presidency's otherwise dwindling authority within his own party and among the general population.
Yep, that will work - except with those who still have working bullshit detectors and see we just spent a half-trillion dollars, three years, over 2,100 good lives, have over ten-thousand wounded and maimed, for what? A key country, with the third largest oil reserves known to exist, in chaos and civil war?

Well, you say, at least Saddam Hussein no longer runs the place.

True. Fine. But is this what we wanted?

Maybe not, but that's where we are - a substantial withdrawal is at hand. Read Kaplan. Top military officers have been privately, and not so privately, warning that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two. The Army and the National Guard and Reserves are near some sort of breaking point. What Representative Murtha proposed on the 17th that angered so many people - his call for an immediate redeployment - wasn't just personal anguish and geopolitical clear thinking. Kaplan comments that was, "quite explicitly, a public assertion of the military's institutional interests - and an acknowledgment of Congress' electoral interests." Although Kaplan doesn't say it flat-out, Murtha, a friend of the top brass at the Pentagon for decades, could be just laying it out for them, as their voice in the congress. Consider it a rebellion of the generals, where they use Murtha as their voice to get things changed. They've seen the light. As Kaplan puts it - "Murtha wasn't merely advocating redeployment; he was practically announcing it."

The White House lost the generals? You could see it that way. And note Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on November 22nd said "I suspect that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are now that much longer." She said it on CNN, and then she said it on Fox News. Was she addressing the generals? Maybe so.

And it does make political sense for anyone who wants to be reelected.

Is this the right thing to do, draw down the forces? Who knows?

Will there be total disorder and possibly a civil war with casualties ten times greater than we have now? A regional war with Iran lining up with the Shiites in Iraq and the other Arab states in the region lining up with the Sunnis in Iraq? Who will line up with the Kurds, who aren't "Arabs" ethnically but are Sunni Muslims, and a century-long worry for Turkey? This could get messy.

Questions, since President Bush is going to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do? How will they keep a profile low enough to make the Iraqi government seem genuinely autonomous yet high enough to help deter or stave off internal threats? Who will keep the borders secure, a task for which the Iraqi army doesn't even pretend to have the slightest capability? What kinds of diplomatic arrangements will he make with Iraq's neighbors - who have their own conflicting interests in the country's future - to assure an international peace?

More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this? (The point is far from facetious; it's tragically clear, after all, that he didn't have a plan for how to fight the war if it extended beyond the collapse of Saddam.) Has he entertained these questions, much less devised some shrewd answers?
Well, the man does not do nuance, and doesn't like detail. He likes to make things real, real simple. He hates people telling him things are complicated or this or that might not work. He doesn't like experts - or advice, which he sees as disloyalty. He likes to go with his gut instinct. He's that kind of guy. You either trust him or you don't - and if you don't, he doesn't want to deal with you.

But what the American people in the past have loved him for - these manly traits - may no longer be useful, given the issues now. But that's too bad. He's in charge.

We're in for a bumpy ride.

Note this email from a reader at Andrew Sullivan's conservative, pro-war but unhappy-with-Bush site -
This is a President that refuses to acknowledge that there is such a thing as "the American people" and that he is accountable to them. And he shows no signs of this changing. Every significant speech is made to cherry-picked crowds at military academies. Scott McClellan's briefings have become unintentional comedy sketches. And his surrogates just buzz and strafe Sunday morning talk shows every so often to parrot the same useless talking points. Imagine how much public opinion could be shaped and how much criticism could be defused if he simply addresses the American people to tell us what 'the course' that we must supposedly 'stay' is. What IS the mission? How many Iraqi battalions being independent and battle-ready will it take before we can at least begin to draw down? When can we expect this to occur? What is he doing to draw the Sunnis more into the political process and away from the insurgents? What is he doing with neighboring nations like Iran to stop their meddling and to seek their help in securing the borders? There are countless other questions - the answers of which could be used to explain in detail our progress, our plan, and a clear direction for America in the Middle East.

But when he is silent and hiding away from his critics, it's only reasonable for people to begin to assume that he has no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. It would be sad if the hard work of people like Gen. Casey and Zalmay is all for naught because their boss was too much of a fool to explain the rather significant benefits of what they're now doing in Iraq.
Yes, that would be sad. But it's maybe not that the guy is "too much of a fool" to explain the rather significant benefits of what we're now doing in Iraq. Maybe he's just not that interested in that, and never has been and never will be - or at least not in detail. He's explained as much as he's going to explain it, as much as he understands it. One suspects he's puzzled, and a bit angry, that people want something more. It's not that there's no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. The man has said, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." You can sense his frustration - Why won't that do? - Why do people want more?

Sullivan himself -
There are times when I wonder if the president is capable of such an address. And the reason I say that is that any candid, credible discussion of where we are now would require an acknowledgment of a series of previous misjudgments and errors. I don't think Bush is psychologically capable of this. It requires nuance, self-criticism, an abandonment of Manichean rhetoric, and a political decision to unite the country rather than dividing it. All these things he has so far refused to so. Alas, I see no evidence that he has changed, or is even capable of change. And so we stagger on.
Sullivan of course seems to think a decision to change is possible, that some change of heart could have the man decide to attend to detail and all the rest.

A refusal to do this? No. The capacity is not there.

Whether the problem is intellectual - he just cannot think that carefully (lacks the horsepower for it, so to speak) - or a personality-based thing - really doesn't matter. Sullivan casually tosses in the idea of the man is, perhaps, not capable of change and this may not be a refusal at all. We elected a man a very limited ability and no curiosity - because we thought that was what was needed in these times.

Wrong. Maybe we'll do better in 2008 - if we all live that long.

James Wolcott being colorful -
The thing I'm most struck by over the last few weeks is President Bush's shrinkage in stature. He cut an insignificant figure in China even before he went into his doofus shtick, and seems to be diminishing as the dark cloud of Cheney solidifies and casts Bush in shadow. It's hard to believe he was once the chalice of Peggy Noonan's hopes; Winston Churchill in a leather jockstrap, in the humid imaginations of warbloggers. You get the impression that underneath the show of resolve and irritable resentment, he feels sorry for himself, pouty about not being appreciated. Which may explain why Laura Bush seems to have hardened into a carapace at his side, reverting to the Pat Nixon role to withstand the buffeting winds swirling around her husband and his own stormy moods.
So we have three more years of this.

Oh, and as for the doofus shtick, see the now famous photo and text here - Bush the bumbling but lovable goofball. The photo is the new icon of the whole problem.

__

Additional note:

The Formerly Great Writ
Goodbye, habeas corpus. Hello, executive detention.
Emily Bazelon - Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, at 4:27 PM ET - SLATE.COM

This is a discussion of a provision in the renewal of the Patriot Act that makes it much, much harder for American prisoners to challenge their convictions in federal court.

As you know, and as you are reminded, "Habeas Corpus, the Great Writ, dates from 1305 and the reign of King Edward I in England. It allows detainees to ask a court to order their warden to explain the basis for their detention. (The Latin, translated as "you have the body," refers to the warden's powers.) Detainees can petition for habeas review if they are held without trial, or if they're convicted and claim that their constitutional rights were violated at trial. Habeas is the means by which state prisoners, on rare occasion, can be heard in federal court."

The whole thing is full of the legal precedents and disputes involved, but you might note the issue now is far more than the president having the authority to decide, with no review by anyone, that any American citizen can be locked up with no rights for as long as he chooses, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. That's a given now.

As for run-of-the-mill criminal defendants, the proposed revision to the Patriot Act would take Habeas Corpus from the federal courts and give the attorney general the authority to decide such things. We'd all be subject to the unilateral power of executive detention.

You want to be safe, don't you?

Just consider the nature of the man to whom congress and our courts have given this new power.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005 22:31 PST home

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