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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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Saturday, 3 December 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Three Details: Tying Up Loose Ends

One: Is it real or is it...?

As mentioned elsewhere, last Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secretly 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 quoted 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."

Think Armstrong Williams. Or this week, Arnold Shwarzenegger – see Judge Rebukes Schwarzenegger Administration for Use of Fake 'Video News Releases' on Nurse, Worker Issues and Gov.'s Fake News Videos Ruled Illegal. Well, California news stations need material, and real reporting is expensive.

And note here that CNN busted FEMA and their "Recovery Channel" in New Orleans. More fake news stories. You're government faking you out, with your money.

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 hears the idea that of course we should just that - we need to get our message out and this is war. It all depends on your point of view.

The White House said it was "concerned" and the senate, led by Warner of Virginia, a major Republican, held quick hearings. And late Friday, the Pentagon, said, after the news cycle was closed for the week, "Yeah, we did that." The idea was that we wanted the truth out there. We hired this Lincoln Group to help out.

The truth? See this -
In July, one storyboard written by military personnel titled "Children Murdered at the Hands of Terrorists" was recast by Lincoln Group as an opinion column written by an Iraqi citizen. It was published July 19 in Baghdad's Al Sabah newspaper, documents show.

"Have we all given up?" the op-ed piece reads. "What kind of man am I if I tolerate the massacre of our children? What kind of human am I if I condone the slaughter of innocents? What kind of Muslim am I if I stand in silence as immoral cowards kill our children in the name of God and the prophet Muhammad?"

Documents show that Al Sabah was paid more than $1,500 to publish the piece.
Jayson Blair got fired from the New York Times, and brought down his editor with him, for less.

Lawrence DiRita, special assistant to Rumsfeld, acknowledged that our troops or Lincoln Group employees might have acted improperly. "I'm willing to believe that there were some transgressions along the way, and that's what we're trying to figure out."

Two: Christmas, the Silly Season

As mentioned elsewhere, 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. Damn those Jews! They hate Christmas.

Best response here -
Personally I have no problem with government sponsorship of Christmas displays, as long as the authorities comply with equivalent requests from any other religionist.

We have to devise a proper display for agnostic/atheist position. Maybe a statue of George Carlin.

Instead of the Ten Commandments, something like the following: "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness." - Vladimir Nabokov
Not bad.

Three: Buchanan Loses

There was a lot of criticism of the president this week, and here Richard Reeves asks the question, "Is George Bush the worst president ever?"

Oh my. Reeves says this all started with Kennedy, who was considered a historian because of his book "Profiles in Courage" (even if her didn't really write it). Kennedy used to receive requests to rate the presidents. Yeah, yeah - you start with Lincoln then Washington, or reverse it, and move down. When Kennedy actually became president he stopped answering these requests.

So who was the worst? Buchanan -
Poor James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history. Ironically, the Pennsylvania Democrat, elected in 1856, was one of the most qualified of the 43 men who have served in the highest office. A lawyer, a self-made man, Buchanan served with some distinction in the House, served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and secretary of state under President James K. Polk. He had a great deal to do with the United States becoming a continental nation - "Manifest Destiny," war with Mexico, and all that. He was also ambassador to Great Britain and was offered a seat on the Supreme Court three separate times.

But he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason. It also did not help that his administration was as corrupt as any in history, and he was widely believed to be homosexual.

Whatever his sexual preferences, his real failures were in refusing to move after South Carolina announced secession from the Union and attacked Fort Sumter, and in supporting both the legality of the pro-slavery constitution of Kansas and the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott class declaring that escaped slaves were not people but property.
Yep, he left a lot for Lincoln to clean up.

But then Reeve says he's talked with "three significant historians" in the past few months "who would not say it in public," but who think this Bush guy is giving Buchanan a run for his money.

Data? From the History News Network at George Mason University - four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered, so the sample is "informal" as the statisticians say - 338 said they believed Bush was failing and 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever.

Here's the problem as Reeve summarizes it -

? He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;
? He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;
? He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;
? He has repeatedly "misled," the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;
? He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);
? He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;
? He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;
? He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Other than that, he's doing fine.


BONUS:

In these pages on October 30th here, in the section "The Italian Connection," you'd find a discussion and many links to the idea that maybe the source document showing Saddam Hussein's guys were trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger wasn't just a crude forgery, but part of some sort of conspiracy by the Italians, or somebody, maybe some of Cheney's guys, to make this war more "sellable" to the world public, or at least to the frightened American public.

No, no. Couldn't be.

A week ago the FBI was starting to back off their blanket exoneration of the Italian government for any role in this. But Saturday's Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI has decided to 'reopen' the inquiry into the forged documents. That's here.

Probably nothing - but you never know.

Posted by Alan at 17:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 2 December 2005

Topic: World View

Hard Rice: Dominatrix Diplomacy

Well, we're doing a good job ticking off everyone around the world.

Our new UN ambassador - a recess appointment because the senate had a bit of trouble confirming a fellow who often said the organization was totally useless, we should pull out and let it die, and the place should be leveled - seems now to be coordinating his work at the UN with James Dobson, head of the Christian evangelical "Focus on the Family" group (see this for details). Of course - it is a problem that some of those countries at the UN aren't even Christian folk, like normal people. What should we do? James knows.

Bolton too has already ticked off the Brits, big time, by threatening to shut down all UN spending, which the Brits see as somewhat bonkers, and they were willing to disagree with our King George on the matter.

But it's important we get our way, isn't it? We cannot be seen as wimps. And what kind of religion do they have over there, anyway? The pope wasn't good enough for them so they came up with that Catholicism-lite Anglican stuff. Screw 'em.

But Bolton cannot offend everyone on his own. His boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is joining in the fun.

Reuters has a late Friday afternoon scoop here (Friday, December 2nd, 3:30 PM Eastern), on how we plan to respond to the allegations we hold prisoners in secret in Eastern Europe - incommunicado and in violation of local and EU laws - and seem to have transported these "detainees" through small airports (and some large ones) to our "black sites" where we practice "enhanced interrogation" (seems like torture but we say it isn't).

For a month we've been refusing to deny or confirm media reports about whether we do this or not. The European public and various parliaments don't seem to want to participate in potential human rights violations, and some don't like their own laws being violated. One EU commissioner, Franco Frattini, said Monday he would propose the suspension of voting rights for any nation found to have hosted a secret detention center. Spain has been upset about us using their airports for stops on the way to oblivion and pain for those we think may be bad guys, or may know something about bad guys, or may know someone who knows something about bad guys. And Friday, December 2nd, the French figured out we've been using their airports - one on the coast and Orly - as refueling stops for the flights of those we are "disappearing." There's a bit of grumbling.

The Rice solution, if Reuters's sources are good, is that we're going to tell the effete fussbudget European wimps to just "back off." Rice is going to remind these "allies" they themselves have been cooperating in our anti-terror operations - and they should simply "do more to win over their publics."

In short, yeah, we do this, and the message will be clear to the leaders of the European nations - it's your jobs, not ours, to explain to your people that all this is just fine. It's necessary. And you know it.

This is said to be what Rice and the administration decided was the best way "to deflect criticism directed at the United States." In short, it's not our problem - it's yours.

A little detail from Reuters -
"It's very clear they want European governments to stop pushing on this," said a European diplomat, who had contact with U.S. officials over the handling of the scandals. "They were stuck on the defensive for weeks, but suddenly the line has toughened up incredibly," the diplomat said.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said Rice told him in Washington she expected allies to trust that America does not allow rights abuses - a sign she will avoid giving Europe a detailed response on U.S. intelligence work.

And she refused to give Ahern a personal assurance Ireland has not been used for secret prisoner transfers, saying he had already heard that denial from the U.S. ambassador, a senior State Department official said.
That seems to be a clear "fuck you" to the Irish - we're doing this and there's nothing you can do about it, so tell your people we're the good guys, no matter what you think.

Ah, diplomacy!

And Reuters understands Rice will deliver just about the same message in private meetings with officials in Germany and at the EU headquarters in Brussels. This "in your face" trip starts Monday - and, to top it off, this excursion includes a stop in Romania. Romania denies the accusations it hosts a secret prison, but the evidence is pretty clear they do. Rice is sending a message here.

Will this work? Ahern said he accepts our word on matters from here on out. The Irish are no dummies - you don't mess with the bully.

"Germany, whose foreign minister also pressed Rice this week during a visit, said it would wait patiently for a US response."

Yeah, but the new chancellor, Merkle, will fall in line. The we-think-for-ourselves former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, is gone. The new Iron Lady wants to be one the side of the Big Dog. She's no dummy.

The whole thing is a bit of theater - Rice will say, in public, that "Washington does not violate allies' sovereignty or break international law," and she will say in her speeches that there's no issue - all governments "are cooperating in a fight against militants who have bombed commuters in Madrid and London." There's nothing to see here, folks - move on. Behind the scenes she'll crack the whip (note the boots) - telling these folks to get in line and get their press and public under control.

And within an hour of the Reuters story, Associated Press ran this on the wire - White House Defends Human Rights Record.

Listen up -
The White House said Friday that the United States is the world leader on human rights, despite outrage in Europe over reports of secret CIA prisons where terrorism detainees may have been mistreated.

The administration has refused to address the question of whether it operated secret sites that may be illegal under European law, citing the constraints of classified information. Secret prisons and many harsh methods of interrogation would be illegal on U.S. soil.

"The president had made it very clear that we do not torture, he would never condone torture or authorize the use of torture," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "If someone doesn't abide by our laws, they're held accountable. That's the difference between us and others."
We do this stuff, but prosecute the low-level people actually involved in the physical act, so we're clean. In fact, that makes us good guys.

Well, that one way of looking at it.
"When it comes to human rights, there is no greater leader than the United States of America, and we show that by holding people accountable when they break the law or violate human rights, and we show that by supporting the advance of freedom and democracy and supporting those in countries that are having their human rights denied or violated, like North Korea," McClellan said.

"We show that by liberating people in Afghanistan and Iraq - some 50 million people. No one has done more when it comes to human rights than the United States of America. I think the American people understand."
Yeah, yeah - we do understand, sort of.

AP notes that Europe may be harder to persuade. The European Union's justice commissioner said that secret prisons would violate European law. That's something we need to work around.

And we see that these European lawmakers accused European Union countries Thursday of "failing to address allegations about CIA prisons and flights across the continent."

This should be interesting.

Sarah Ludford, a British member of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee -
I am not at all reassured that there is sufficient determination by (member states) to get to the bottom of this and establish the truth.

The allegations are now beyond speculation. We now have sufficient evidence involving CIA flights. We need to know who was on those flights, where they went.
Sarah and Condoleezza need to talk. Condi will set her straight, and make her shut up.

We will get our way. Maybe. And maybe not.

Posted by Alan at 18:50 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005 18:56 PST home


Topic: Photos

On Location: The Santa Monica Pier

On September 9, 1909, after sixteen months of construction, the Santa Monica Municipal Pier opened to the public. It's still there, with the Ferris wheel overlooking the 1922 carousel, the one Paul Newman operated in "The Sting." (It wasn't in Chicago.) Location Directors love this place. Judge Reinhold in "Ruthless People" drove his car off this pier. Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run here. Scenes from "Beverly Hills Cop III" and "The Net" and "Clean Slate" and "Funny Girl" - and most of "They Shoot Horses Don't They." Hundreds of television shows - lots of "Baywatch" of course.

Links - The Santa Monica Pier official site, and a live web cam so you can keep an eye on it, and a bit of history.

You will find a photo album of fifty-eight shots here.

Thursday, December 1, 2005, late morning, it looked like this.

December begins - fog on the Pacific and the pier, empty -



























Detail - the local answer to William Carlos Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow" -



























Check it out -


Posted by Alan at 10:43 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005 10:48 PST home

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

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