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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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Wednesday, 1 March 2006
Midweek Madness: Specific Chickens - Briefly Forgotten - Coming Home To Roost
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Midweek Madness: Specific Chickens - Briefly Forgotten - Coming Home To Roost

It was clear one Wednesday, March 1st, the middle of the week, that the month of March did come in like a lion, and is unlikely to leave as a lamb. The president was out of town, stopping off in Kabul in poppy-rich Afghanistan, on his way to India. In Kabul he "renewed his pledge" to get Osama Bin Laden - we'd really get him this time, honest (story here in detail). This time we're serious, or maybe people forgot we were serious, or something. So now we'll get all these bad guys - "It's not a matter of if they are captured and brought to justice, it's when they are brought to justice."

Really? It's been a long time. Perhaps with the Dubai Ports business making folks wonder just how serious he is about this war on terror business his handlers suggested some Texas bluster was in order, a John Wayne sort of threat. One wonders how that plays these days. Last time "Bring 'em on" - which he said when he was asked if the number of troops in Iraq were enough to deal with events spiraling out of control after that business at the bridge in Fallujah - didn't make anyone feel any more secure. Some military folks were appalled. Some families of those with sons and daughters over there got real antsy. But he's like that, bragging his guys can beat up your guys with one hand tied behind their backs. It's a Texas thing. You want a piece of me? My guys, over there, will whip you ass. Don't mess with Texas.

If you're one of "his guys" you wince when he says thing like that. But the idea is people should eat this up, assuming they believe him after all this time. We'll see about that.

Then it was off to India to work out that nuclear deal - give them advanced technology if they pretend they'll play by the rules of the nonproliferation treaty they never signed (as mentioned elsewhere, see Fred Kaplan here on what that's about, and how hard it will be to pull off).

Work this out and maybe they'll get behind us on whatever it is we're doing, and open their markets wide for our goods, and help us deal with China. A tough sell, but it's better than staying home and saying, over and over again, trust me, it's okay that a company owned by the United Arab Emirates run operations at our major ports. That gets old. People, even in his own party, want him to explain that. Texans don't explain. So he's doing the India thing, and lot of the story there is about looking diplomatic - we imposed temporary sanctions on India back in 1998 after they conducted nuclear tests. Make friends, look reasonable. That should calm folks down.

Hey, we're not unreasonable. There's evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons and we haven't invaded Iran, or, given that our troops are a bit busy these days, as an alternative bombed the living daylights out of all their scattered research and development facilities. We don't inflame tensions in the Middle East with massive military force, unless we must, to, say, find and destroy weapons of mass destruction that are meant for us, or to get rid of a man who was behind the New York and Washington attacks of September 2001.

No, wait, it seems we didn't have to do that. But we wouldn't do something so rash as invade and occupy a country just to prove a political theory about how people in far away lands, with lots of oil, really should live their lives and run their country, would we?

Well, we did what we did, and Iran is a problem.

So we'll try diplomacy this second time, with a second country (Like we have a choice?) And the Russian will help, processing the fuel for them so it can only be used in power reactors. They did say they just wanted to generate electricity, after all.

So how's that going? Iran Forges Ahead On Nukes - "Talks for a deal with Russia continued Wednesday. But Iran appears ready to defy the UN watchdog agency..."

Drat. Now what?

And in that third "I" country? 30 Killed As Violence Continues in Iraq. But it's not a civil war. It just looks like one.

Well, things keep happening that you don't expect - American UN Employee Kidnapped In Somalia. Somalia? Well, this is a UN employee, and we hate the UN - we sent John Bolton there to tell them, repeatedly, they they're all corrupt fools who know nothing. But this is an American. So we have to have a Black Hawk Down moment again? Geez.

This is not going well.

The Middle East scholar from the University of Michigan, Juan Cole, Wednesday in Salon, called this Iraq's Worst Week, and Bush's, and that was midweek -
Tactically, strategically and politically Bush now finds himself in the worst of all possible worlds. With Americans increasingly fed up with the Iraq debacle, he needs to start drawing down troops soon, but he can't do it while the country teeters on the brink of civil war. If civil war does break out, a U.S. withdrawal will look even more like cutting and running - under these circumstances, not even Karl Rove will be able to figure out a way to get away with simply declaring victory and going home. Yet if American troops stay, they have no good options either..."
No options there? Fix India, let the Russians fix Iran, convince folks the Dubai ports deal is no biggie, and you've still got this.

But it wasn't supposed to happen. We said they'd agree on a unified secular government, a Jeffersonian democracy with a free-market economy we could all buy chucks of, and that would start a new world over there, as everyone would see how fine that was. Oops.

Why didn't someone say this might happen?

It seems someone did.

Wednesday's Knight-Ridder story (Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay) here is a bit of digging, in the journalistic sense - former senior intelligence officials told them that our intelligence agencies "repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war."

Oh.

Surely they noted the warnings. Not exactly. The fellow who chaired the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, Robert Hutchings, explains to the Knight-Ridder guys the president and his top aides ignored a "steady stream" of warnings about civil war in Iraq - "Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios."

Ah, they were thinking positively. Optimistic. Not giving into negative thinking. You can change what seem like dismal reality with the right attitude.

That does seem to be what was going on. See The Peril Of Selective Reality, from Wayne White, who before he retired in 2005, was Deputy Director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Near Eastern Division and coordinated Iraqi intelligence for them -
According to an article in the February 13 issue of U.S. News & World Report, President George W. Bush reportedly reacted to a "darkly pessimistic assessment of the situation in Iraq" written by the CIA's Baghdad station chief in mid-2004 by remarking: "What is he, some kind of defeatist?"
And then he goes into detail, but your get the idea.

There is no civil war over there. No need to think that way. Defeatism is self-fulfilling and all that.

You could see that in this interview with ABC News - "...what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the US troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?" President Bush - "No. The troops are chasing down terrorists."

Yep, we don't think about negative things. Note that this is not saying all the violence is not our problem and the Iraqis are on their own. Nope. Not at all. This is saying that it's pretty much not even happening. (Fox News here runs a screen graphic asking the big question - is this civil war in Iraq something the liberal news media just "made up?")

Think positive, like Condoleezza Rice, when she was just the president's national security advisor, not his secretary of state, saying to the senators that "no on could have predicted" terrorists would hijack airplanes and crash them into buildings. Of course not. You don't think that way. That's so negative. Yeah, there were warnings but the FAA can be so negative.

And midweek the classic example of this got some attention. That would be this -
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will." - George W. Bush, September 1, 2005
Yeah, well, the Associated Press did their journalistic digging here and got their hands on the videotapes of the pre-hurricane briefings where Bush, Brown and Chertoff were told this was really going to happen. The media site "Crooks and Liars" has the tapes for you in streaming video format if you'd like to see - Windows Media Player or Quicktime.

The day was filled with comments that were pretty much "he lied to us" stuff. He lied? Maybe what he was told just didn't register as it was just so negative.

These guys aren't lying. They're just disconnected from reality.

Better someone in charge who is hyper-positive delusional, after all, than someone who's an evil heartless liar - maybe.

And sometimes you don't exactly lie, you just goof, as here Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That testimony back on 6 February? He needs to clarify. He did say that NSA spying without warrants on American citizens was all the president had authorized. That was it. But there are other things he's authorized, all kinds of super-secret spying outside the silly laws, but you see, "I did not and could not address any other classified intelligence activities." He really didn't mean to imply that was it and there was no more. He just said that. But he didn't mean to imply it.

Whatever.

What to make of where we are now? See this from UPI -
MONTE CARLO, Monaco, March 1 (UPI) - The worst geopolitical blunder in 229 years of American history? That was how participants at a recent off-the-record conference held in Monaco viewed the US decision for the regime change invasion of Iraq.

Hyperbole from leftist malcontents? No, quite simply the verdict spoken in sadness rather than anger by 63 personalities from Europe, east and west, the Middle East, North Africa and the US.

They were former prime ministers, foreign ministers, heads of intelligence services, newspaper editors, TV news executives, current and former heads of major international organizations.

There was little noticeable anti-Americanism. No snide remarks about President Bush's lack of foreign policy experience. In fact, participants stressed how important Us global power was to global stability. But they lamented how it had been wasted on Iraq, instead of being carefully nurtured for what could be far more threatening crises in the same neighborhood before 2010.
It's full of detail - "A ranking Egyptian official reminded the Monaco assemblage that Egypt's President Mubarak, prior to the Iraq war, had warned the Bush administration that a successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein would almost certainly lead to the election of a Shiite religious leader." There's more.

A pro-Iran Shiite theocracy running Iraq. A civil war brewing if not started? Don't believe it. That's negative thinking. (Think negatively in Monaco and you lose at the Casino, but then, if you think in Monaco positively you lose at the Casino - kind of like where we are in the Middle East now.)

Our weekly columnist, the playful Bob Patterson adds this -
Has any pundit suggested that maybe Bush has been right all along. We did have a plan, and precipitating a civil war was precisely what we were trying to achieve?

Remember when the folks in Chicago used to hear about gangster shootouts and say "Let 'em kill each other?" Well, if the Americans sit inside their compounds and the Iraqis do kill each other, then, finders keepers! It's our oil!
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, responds -
Cute theory! Let's add that one to the list!

But I do find it interesting that there is, even after three years, no actually serious discussion at all about why we invaded Iraq. (And needless to say, I do not think "for the oil" or "to avenge his daddy" is any more "serious" than "to preemptively protect ourselves from a tyrant who had WMD and would, in all likelihood, lend them to his friend, Osama bin Laden.")

A few years ago, after much noodling through the evidence, I myself arrived at the opinion in these very pages [Editor's Note: see this from last August] that our invasion of Iraq was hatched way back before 9/11 by a cabal of neo-conservatives, most of them associated with the New American Century Project, who apparently paid close attention to fellow neo-con Francis Fukuyama's famous article (and later, book) entitled "The End of History." Amongst his arguments, Fukuyama had put forth the idea that the fall of world communism will essentially leave America with nothing worth fighting for in the world.

"Not so," these guys argued. "America will now be in a position to use its unilateral power to further democracy around the world - indeed, from the barrel of a gun - and specifically in the middle east, which seems to need it the most!"

It was sort of the domino-theory in reverse, where knocking over that first domino would get the process going throughout that neighborhood.

And why was Iraq chosen? Because having no friends, especially among its Arab neighbors, and with neither the means nor will to resist, Iraq was a pushover! Fortunately for these guys, 9/11 hit while the plot was still in the planning stages, presenting them with a much stronger sell to the American people - if, that is, they might somehow connect this whole thing to the mythical "War on Terror".

But Fukuyama, who has a new book out ("America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy"), has lately been renouncing that neo-conservative label and distancing himself from his roll as the guy who started it all. In fact, he was interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition today with words that reaffirm my own beliefs of how we got to Iraq:

Q: "But you obviously think that the model of Iraq, trying to invade a country and impose democracy, just isn't going to work."

A: "Well, look, that was actually a case of bait-and-switch. I mean, nobody... the Bush administration didn't come to the American people and say, 'Look, we're going to invade this country to make it democratic,' because obviously nobody would have bought that. You're never going to persuade Americans to sink blood and treasure in a military invasion of another country simply to bring human rights and democracy there."

In the interview, Fukuyama explains how, in the 1990s, one of two conflicting principles of neoconservatism -- a belief that social engineering doesn't really even work in the District of Columbia, much less would it work overseas -- was beaten into submission by the other -- the belief that an America willing to exercise its power for moral purposes, to effect a "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, can achieve almost anything it wants to. And this loss of balance, he says, has led us into the mess we're in today, where much of the rest of the world, even those who ought to be our friends, actively hate us.

The whole NPR piece - which I recommend to anyone interested in understanding, beyond the usual chatter, how we got to where we are - runs just under five minutes and can be heard here.
Yep, and there's this:

MacBush
The neoconservative tragedy.
Jacob Weisberg - Wednesday, March 1, 2006, 3:36 PM ET - SLATE.COM
... "Neoconservative" has become such a loaded term that it tends to obliterate civil discussion. Some Europeans use it as a synonym for supporters of the Iraq war or for sophisticated warmongers in general. On the American far left and far right, "neocon" often emphasizes the Jewishness of many of its adherents, implying that they care more about the interests of Israel than those of the United States. Fukuyama, who until recently counted himself a neoconservative, defines the term not by the shared back story of some of its founding members (Trotskyism in the 1930s, opposition to the New Left in the 1960s, Commentary magazine in the 1970s, etc.), but rather by a shared set of ideas.

Though there are endless exceptions and caveats, the most influential neocons are "hard" Wilsonians with respect to foreign policy. They reject the realist notion, most strongly identified with Henry Kissinger, that the United States should act only according to its interests. Instead, neocons believe that America must provide moral leadership to the rest of the world, spreading liberty and democratic ideas, by force if necessary. They like alliances but have little time for global institutions or the finer points of international law. Applying this characterization, Fukuyama counts as neoconservatives both Ronald Reagan and the second-term George W. Bush, who is about as far from a Jewish intellectual as it is possible for someone to be.

While he remains sympathetic to the democracy-spreading mission, Fukuyama castigates the unilateral and militaristic turns that gave us such concepts as "preventive war," "benevolent hegemony," and "regime change." Neoconservatives, he contends, have abandoned their fundamental political insight, namely that ambitious schemes to remake societies are doomed to disappointment, failure, and unintended consequences. "Opposition to utopian social engineering," Fukuyama writes "... is the most enduring thread running through the movement." Yet neoconservatives today are bogged down in an attempt to remake a poorly understood, catastrophically damaged, and deeply alien semi-country in the Middle East. How did these smart people stray - and lead the country - so far off course?
Good question. And the answer is worth a double-click with your mouse.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
I do like Weisberg's line here about those pushing the invasion inside the administration assuming "that historic inevitability would do the heavy lifting for them."

One can't help but imagine that they thought we'd go in, have some flowers thrown at us, topple a few statues, then get out without ever having to go anywhere near "nation building," much less have to do any follow-up invasions in neighboring countries like Iran. But now that we see how things worked out, we sure can forget about trying the same thing anywhere else soon, and I'm sure they know this.

Still, if you follow that link of his book title to Amazon, you can scroll down and see this review posted there: "Francis Fukuyama here gives the most lucid and knowledgeable account of the neoconservative vision of America's place and role in world affairs, and where it has overreached disastrously. He argues effectively for an American foreign policy more aware of the limits of American power, less dependent on the military, and more respectful of the interests and opinions of other countries and emerging international norms and institutions." - Nathan Glazer, Professor of Sociology and Education Emeritus, Harvard University

One should recognize Nathan Glazer as one of the often-cited founders of neo-conservatism.
The president stands alone now, as the theorists walk away from their theory?

Now that's a bad week. Chickens. Coming home.

Posted by Alan at 22:43 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006 22:46 PST home

Our Man in Paris: The News There
Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: The News There
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends the scoop from Paris as March arrives. Right now MetropoleParis has paused publication for maintenance (actually a complete new design), so posts there, and here, are somewhat occasional, as Ric is rather busy. But he does keep up on things.

PARIS, Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - In a rare radio moment, Radio France-Info broadcast remarks made by GW Bush, somewhere in the world today, talking about IE-ran. Unfortunately Radio France chose to overspeak the free world's supremo in French, thus hindering us from hearing his remarks in total VO. How does he say 'nuclear?'

Apparently, it will be okay for Russia to treat Iran's nuclear waste and return it to them as weapons-grade plutonium. The worst would be for the Iranians to do it themselves. In addition, GW Bush said that it was a major non-non to spread the knowledge of making A-bombs, and Iranians must be prevented from looking it up on Google at all costs.

Meanwhile, India is eagerly awaiting the American supremo's arrival so they can tell him how many Boeings they intend to purchase, eternally hoping to get a better deal than they got from Chirac for the Airbuses last week.

Chirac is back in France, bravely eating chicken at the featherless Salon d'Agriculture, which is moaning about low attendance numbers. The president always gets to go the first day, last Saturday, and the presidential candidates have been hitting it this week. De Villepin, popularity slumping over his crummy employment 'contact' for unemployed kids, gobbled up some chicken, heaved a lamb, and kissed the best-looking of the Blondes d'Aquitaine on Tuesday.

More meanwhile, France has locked up its edible fine-feathered friends, while the whole world lays on boycotts on birdstuff from France. Bird hunters, usually whining about this and that, are out in force with their telescope glasses, eyeballing the birds returning from Africa, doing something useful for a change. One comment - with TV showing some kind of heron - "This bird is a bit tuckered out after a 4000 km flight from Africa." The bird looked like one of its legs had a cramp, from a too-short seat I suppose.

Another meanwhile, up on the Baltic some poor pussycat has turned up dead from this bird fever and the whole world is going gaga about keeping Miou-Miou locked up inside. Then somebody says, "Hey! What about my Fido? We're locking him up too." This is getting serious when the dogs and cats of this world can't run around outside as free as birds.

There's a bunch of judicial news too - major terrorist on trial - innocence iffy, but he's been locked up 10 years already, before the trial, which has just begun. Another guy is charged with poisoning competitors of his tennis-playing kid, to kind of improve his game chances. Some gang kidnapped a dude, tortured him and then bumped him off, and now it has become a 'hate' crime because the victim was Jewish, and the whole country is out marching to protest. Now the cops tell us about similar crimes, kidnapping with ransom demands - but unrelated to the 'gang' job. The so-called 'brain' of the outfit escaped to the Cote d'Ivoire but the cops down there busted him. French prosecutors are still sore with all the perps who won't confess to their crimes. They say it places a heavy burden on the judicial process, having to have proof of guilt. Along this line a parliamentary commission has just finished investigating an investigating prosecutor about the overturned convictions of a whole slew of folks who were convicted of heavy pedophile crimes, who all served long terms in custody. But I digress.

Monday night's dreaded 'Orange Alert' for Tuesday snow for the Paris area turned out to be a false alarm for the city unless it happened while I was asleep, but the weather is keeping to its winter mode with temperatures lower than normal, skies grayer than usual, and it's rotten cold. Nothing to write home about.

- Goodblognight from Paris

Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Editor's Note:

What's he talking about? You could look it up.

Yahoo! newswire indexed on France
The Tocqueville Connection (AFP wire items)
Les revues de presse de RFI (daily summary of French press in English)

Posted by Alan at 16:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Tuesday, 28 February 2006
There's News And Then There's News
Topic: Couldn't be so...

There's News And Then There's News

By the end the day, Tuesday, February 28th, it was clear there was no more to be said about the deal to allow Dubai Ports World (sounds like a cheesy theme park), a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, to take over the operations at six major US ports. Everyone had said everything. The president made his statement, there were hearings where the administration said there was no problem with this deal, and many of our representatives did that impressive posturing that maybe there was a problem. Positions hardened. Positions changed - Senate leader Frist did a complete turnaround and said after private meetings with the White House he now thought this was just fine).

It was all over the news shows and the web. Dubai Ports World had agreed to a forty-five day period for further review of all security issues, after the low-level functionaries had blown that off and not passed the word up to the White House. The deal closes Thursday - Dubai Ports World takes over the company they bought, P&O - but actual operations are on hold. The details are reviewed here - "Bush Administration Insists Dubai Ports Deal Low Risk" (AFP) - the senior folks say so. And there's this - "Bush Still Backs Dubai Ports Deal" (Reuters) - the president says he'd never approve this if it put any of us in any danger, you can trust him. (The news shows ran endless clips of him saying that, leaning forward in his chair, all loose and informally candid, and kind of humorously surprised that anyone would think anything else - which was, one assumes, an attempt to show us we all should relax and think about the Oscars or college basketball or what's for lunch or whatever.)

This is a done deal. He won the election. He can do what he wants. As he said, he has his mandate and his political capital. The previous day's CBS poll - a record low thirty-four percent approval rating and a "favorability rating" of twenty-nine percent - doesn't matter. As he has famously said, there was only one "accountability moment" - the election.

And who knows what's going on here? This deal has seventy percent of Americans opposed, and fifty-eight percent of the Republicans polled. "Because I said so" looks stupid and seems, even to key members of his own party, condescending. Why do this? And if it's such a good deal, why not sell it?

Some say he got blindsided because no one told him about it until after it was approved and hit the press. And in that case in spite of his body language he's just ticked off that anyone is questioning this, which seems to be his fall-back position when things go sour. You want me to explain why something that seems boneheaded isn't? Screw you.

But if he really wants this to happen, why does he want this? Why doesn't he explain?

In a vacuum like that you get all sorts of speculation. Joseph, over at Martini Republic, found this, a fellow thinks hard, goes to a lot of sources, and the light dawns -
But then I saw that Dubai is also spelled Dubayy and I had a revelation. I rushed to confirm my suspicions with an Arabic man who runs the local grocery store near me (on whom I am keeping a watchful eye for any suspicious activity) and he confirmed what I discovered. The Arabic spelling of Dubai (right) is exactly the same as the Arabic spelling for "Dubya." Suddenly, I understood why Bush wanted "Dubai" to control our ports and make the terrorists believe that they were actually under the control of a friendly Arabic government. At that moment, I got down on my knees and said, "Mr. President, how could I have ever doubted you?"
That may be it. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Of course the news of the day was Anna Nicole Smith's day in court, in the Supreme Court. Reuters covers the story here, but you should really see what a lawyer has to say and read Dahlia Lithwick here. (And for the Just Above Sunset close-ups of Anna Nicole Smith at the West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade click here, here and here.)

What's this? A twenty-six-year-old stripper and former Playboy Playmate of the Year marries an eighty-nine-year-old Texas oil-baron husband and he dies fourteen months later. She gets his money? There's a will. No, the family objects and produces other documents, with three forged pages, and they go to court. The Texas probate court finds against her, a California circuit court finds for her, and appeals court finds against her, and it goes up to the top. Who has jurisdiction? The dispute is actually about the boundaries between state and federal courts, and the Bush administration sent over someone from the Solicitor General's office to argue on her side - the federal courts tromp the state courts. Is there a zone outside ordinary federal court jurisdiction known as the "probate exception." Whatever. Dahlia Lithwick was there and gives, pardon the expression, a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings.

This was the news of the day? It's hot stuff if you're a probate lawyer. It's great material for the late night comics. But it's juicy tabloid escapist crap for the masses who find the "hard news" to hard to consider. All this political stuff and the war, and the whole world in turmoil, just makes you head hurt.

And sometimes you do want to escape. As Nicole gathered her wits (that might be singular, actually) after her day in front of the old men in robes (insert your own joke here), the president made his own escape. As Reuters puts it Bush Heads To Asia, Leaving Domestic Troubles Behind.

Ah, a little break. Not really.

Associated Press here -
Demonstrators in India shouted "Death to America!" and burned effigies of President Bush on Tuesday, demanding that he be barred from visiting the country this week.

... About 1,000 Muslims demonstrated in Bombay, some waving placards reading "Devil Bush Go Back," with caricatures of Bush as a cross between Superman and Satan - dressed in the superhero's red-and-blue costume with devil's horns and clutching a missile.

"Bush is terrorist No. 1, and it is an insult to Indian Muslims that he is coming to India as a guest of the government," said Mohammed Saeed Noori of the Bombay-based Muslim organization Raza Academy. "Bush first destroyed Afghanistan, then Iraq. He should be stopped from entering India."
Someone should have told him that of the billion people there, mostly Hindu, they do have the world's second-largest population of Muslims. And the communists - key allies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government - plan a protest Thursday at India's Parliament in New Delhi. You do recall India was chummy with the Soviets during the Cold War. And both groups are unhappy we want to report their "longtime ally" Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency over the allegations Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. They buy the line that Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

So much for a little escape from all the heat.

And Fred Kaplan here explains the diplomatic problems, and the pattern that got us in a mess - we don't think ahead.

He says "the pattern is hair-raising."

In Iraq we "crashed the gates with no plan for what to do after the country crumbled."

In North Korea, we called off nuclear talks and waited for the regime there to collapse and that short, strange man to just go away, "with no plan for how to stop his weapons program if he managed to stay at the helm." He's still there. And they seem to have the weapons.

In the Palestinian territories, we pushed for elections with no plan for how to react "if the wrong side won." The wrong side won.

Same deal in India.

Note:
It began last July, when Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement pledging to "transform" their two countries' relations - for many decades hostile, even now ambivalent - into a "global partnership." This was a shrewd geopolitical maneuver. A grand alliance with India - the world's largest democracy, one of the fastest-growing economies, a natural partner in the war on terrorism, a vast market already oriented toward American goods and services, a counterweight against the prospect of an emergent China -would serve U.S. interests in every way and help regain our standing on a continent where our influence has waned.

But there was a catch, or at least a knot that would have to be untangled. What India wanted out of this deal, above all else, was access to materials for nuclear energy. India faces staggering energy demands over the coming decade, yet it lacks the resources to meet them. The Nonproliferation Treaty obliges the existing nuclear-armed powers - including the United States - to supply such resources to the treaty's signatories, under specific terms of inspection, as a reward for forgoing nuclear weaponry. However, India already has an arsenal of A-bombs, and it never signed the NPT.

Bush and Singh dealt with this dilemma last summer by simply ignoring it. India, their joint statement declared, would be treated "as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology" and should therefore be allowed to "acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states."

In other words, India would receive the same rewards as countries that had signed the NPT - without actually having to sign it and thus to put up with its restraints. (America's reward would be that India buys the nuclear materials, as well as a lot of other products, from U.S. companies.) The deal violates the NPT - and a treaty governing the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, an organization of 44 nations that sets rules on importing and exporting nuclear materials.
But as signatory to the treaty we have no authority to grant such an exemption on our own - "This point is not a legal nicety. If the United States can cut a separate deal with India, what is to prevent China or Russia from doing the same with Pakistan or Iran? If India demands special treatment on the grounds that it's a stable democracy, what is to keep Japan, Brazil, or Germany from picking up on the precedent?"

And this violates not just international agreements but our own laws regulating the export of nuclear materials. But then, what laws should a president follow? The UN Security Council, the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, and Congress get blown off here -
Not just as a legal principle but also as a practical consideration, these actors must be notified, cajoled, mollified, or otherwise bargained with if the deal has a chance of coming to life.

The amazing thing is, President Bush just went ahead and made the pledge, without so much as the pretense of consultation - as if all these actors, with their prerogatives over treaties and laws (to say nothing of their concerns for very real dilemmas), didn't exist.
Well, that's the kind of guy he is. Of course, Bush and his team realized something had to done to make this seem somewhat okay, if not playing by the rules - he wanted India to let the IAEA inspect all seventeen of India's "currently unmonitored civilian reactors." The Indian government told him to stuff it - maybe four get inspectors, if he's a good boy. Otherwise? No "global partnership."

So much for escaping your problems. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

There's a reason the president gets to bed every night by 9:30 and gets at least eight hours of sleep, and exercises four hours each day, seven days a week, and goes down to the ranch to cut brush every chance he can. These are avoidance behaviors. This isn't Yale. You can't blow off classes and get your gentleman's C's because your famous father George and his famous father Prescott are renowned alumni. Sometimes you have to go to India and get an earful. And you have to deal with people who don't automatically respect you, and who don't give you a pass no matter what you do. Hiding makes sense, particularly since Rove and Cheney have their own issues and aren't much help these days. One suspect he didn't expect a world where it's not enough to be famous and Texan. These folks don't watch John Wayne movies. They watch those epics from Bombay's Bollywood.

Of course there does seem to be a problem with these "I" countries, like Iran. AFP reports here and Reuters here on the talks they're having with the Russians as the president wings his way to India. Iran is building nuclear weapons. We say they must not. We say it loudly, and often. But if we, or Israel, take out the scattered facilities with airstrikes, there will be hell to pay - regional war. So, bad idea. We could invade and occupy, as we did in Iraq, but we don't have the resources. So maybe the Russians will save our butt and reach that agreement that they supply Iraq with fuel for reactors for electric power, so the Iranians aren't enriching uranium themselves and diverting the byproducts for a tad of plutonium here and there. But that's not going well. Iran wants lots of concession for that. And we are not in the game. And we have no other options that make sense. Texas bluster and glad-handing is not an option. Damn.

And that other "I" country?

As the president wings his way to India things seemed to get worse in Iraq. Tuesday was bad, and that term was coming up again - Civil War Looms With 68 Killed in Baghdad. Yep, Associated Press is openly using the words "civil war."

No, no. Just before the flight out, this (Reuters) - "President George W. Bush, hit by polls showing America's support for the Iraq war at an all-time low, denied on Tuesday Iraq was sliding into civil war, despite the worst sectarian strife since a U.S. invasion."

It's just a rough patch. The Iraqis must choose between "chaos and unity" - so that's what we're seeing. It's just a "choice point" and such things happen. And of course they'll choose the right thing. (Yeah, like the voters in Palestine.)

They have really chosen yet? Maybe.

But while the president's staff was packing for India, and while he was getting his briefings on customs and food and whatever, there were those senate hearing. The chief of US military intelligence, Army Lieutenant General Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and John Negroponte, the civilian director of national intelligence, were asked just what's up. Neither was admitting "civil war," preferring to say the situation was "very tenuous."

Words.

Senator Lieberman (Connecticut, nominally Democrat but says we must never ever question the president in such dangerous times) asked that if this sectarian conflict, a civil war if you like, escalates, could other nations get involved. It seems he had in mind Iran pouring in troops and irregulars to back the Shiite government and the Saudis pouring in troops and irregulars to back the Sunni opposition. That would make it a regional religious war.

Negroponte said, well, that could happen. One never knows.

Interesting. That's not what George is thinking.

Does he follow things like this? These two groups diverged after the death of Mohammed in the seventh century. One side chose Abu Bakr, Mohammed's companion and adviser, to succeed him, and the other thought it should be Mohammed's son-in-law, Ali (married to Mohammed's daughter Fatima). Shiites say Ali and his two sons, Hassan and Hussein, are the first of the twelve imams, or holy leaders of Islam. Sunnis don't accept the imams.

They're calling each other heretics and godless apostates and killing each other over this.

Of course the two administration guys said we're not taking sides. Like we care whether it was Abu Bakr or Ali? Not our business.

But we're also not protecting key religious sites, as each side blows up the holy places of the other side, and that's curious. As the occupiers we are supposed to assure basic services and security - international law, treaties we've signed, custom, common sense. But that's too dangerous, politically, and we don't have the manpower anyway.

Watching bit of the hearings on television was surreal. What are we doing? We're out getting the bad guys. We're too busy for that other stuff. These folks are on their own. What are we supposed to do? We got rid of Saddam Hussein. What more do you want?

If, as Kaplan puts it, In Iraq we "crashed the gates with no plan for what to do after the country crumbled," then this shows it.

What's happening now?

Shiites Told: Leave Home Or Be Killed
Sunnis Force Evictions As Iraq Tensions Grow
Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post
Wednesday, March 1, 2006; Page A01 [front page, above the fold]

Great?

How'd this all come to pass? The Post here reports how the chief of US military intelligence, Army Lieutenant General Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, explains the root cause - "The elections appear to have heightened tension and polarized sectarian divides."

What?

Okay, he just said the election that was supposed to fix everything - establishing a nice Jeffersonian democracy where everyone sat down and reasoned together, and got things organized for the general, national good (Mission Accomplished, version 5.0, revision 2.11) - had the exact opposite effect.

Interesting. That's not what George is thinking. But he's left town.

But what of our guys on the ground? Well, someone finally asked them what they thought of this all.

There was, the same day, the release of the new Zogby Poll -
An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.

... 29% of the respondents, serving in various branches of the armed forces, said the U.S. should leave Iraq "immediately," while another 22% said they should leave in the next six months. Another 21% said troops should be out between six and 12 months, while 23% said they should stay "as long as they are needed."

... Three quarters of the troops had served multiple tours and had a longer exposure to the conflict: 26% were on their first tour of duty, 45% were on their second tour, and 29% were in Iraq for a third time or more.
One view (here) is that "the troops in Iraq are pretty confused about why they're there and whether they're doing any good. After all, 68% think the mission was simply to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and with that done apparently a lot of them aren't quite sure what the point of staying is."

Well, yes, but the same poll same shows almost ninety percent of our troops in Iraq think the war is, plain and simple, retaliation for Saddam Hussein's role in 9/11. The administration long ago got backed into a corner and had to disavow any such thing. There was no connection. He had no role in that at all. Bush, finally, said so himself.

But then, when you're there, putting you life on the line and watching your buddies die, that may have to do. Down the road, after they're home and are doing civilian life, and glancing at the news now and then, someone might be pissed off.

On the other hand, information is vague sometimes. The government line is things look somewhat bad at the moment, almost four hundred Iraqis from both sides had died since the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra was blown to pieces the previous week. But here the Washington Post says it's more than thirteen hundred. They went to the morgues. Not that it matters. Dead is dead.

But then, if you're trying to make policy decisions based on the severity of the situation, you might want to get your facts straight. Just a thought.

Well, we do have problems in these three "I" countries.

And when the president returns he can add a "C" country - Chad. The genocide (we called it that) in Darfur has spilled over into Chad. It isn't just the "D" place anymore.

See this (NY Times) -
"You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn't get worse, but it has," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a recent statement.

... The United Nations Security Council has agreed to send troops to protect civilians, but they will take months to arrive. In the meantime, President Bush has said, NATO should help shore up a failing African Union peacekeeping mission there, but a surge of violence has chased tens of thousands of people from their homes in recent weeks.
Yep, send NATO. We're busy. And this genocide has now spread to Chad. Send even more NATO troops, of course. And you can see the scene from the movie, "Now watch this drive."

There's a reason the president gets to bed every night by 9:30 and gets at least eight hours of sleep, and exercises four hours each day, seven days a week, and goes down to the ranch to cut brush every chance he can. These are avoidance behaviors. And they're understandable.

One can assume he never thought he'd have to deal with all this stuff. But that's the news. It's not all Anna Nicole Smith's day at the Supreme Court.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006 22:53 PST home

Monday, 27 February 2006
Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others
Topic: For policy wonks...

Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others

Is this close enough? In the Monday, February 27th New York Times there's this on Halliburton, the company Vice President Cheney used to run, and from which he receives a post-employment stipend. And yes, he has all those stock option he can exercise. The Times tells us Pentagon auditors have declared "potentially excessive or unjustified" Halliburton charges in what they do for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that would be about a quarter billion in potentially excessive or unjustified charges. That's a chunk of change. What to do? Pay most of the charges. As the spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers put it, "The contractor is not required to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement."

Nothing is perfect, right? So Halliburton gets paid. Close enough.

Maybe close enough for government work. That used to be a joke. Draw your own conclusions. Maybe the Times is just stirring up trouble.

Is this close enough?

Last week some bad guys - no one knows quite who - blew up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra. This is, for the Shiites, like someone blowing up the Vatican. Chaos followed - roving bands of Shiite militia killing Sunni clerics, Baghdad locked down, mortar rounds falling in the city, lots of bodies showing up as one side or the other went after family, workers pulled from trucks and executed on the spot, and the following Monday, someone blew up an important Sunni mosque. Sure looked like the start of a civil war. That was discussed in these pages here, and after that was posted there was discussion all over about what was going on.

There were these excerpts from ABC's Sunday Morning talk show "This Week" - conservative columnist George Will being interviewed by the host, George Stephanopoulos -
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does civil war look like?

WILL: This. This is a civil war.
Oh. And the problem is they don't even have a government, depending on how you define "government" -
Now, does Iraq have a government? Let me just postulate the question. A government exists when it has a reasonable monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. As long as the militias are out there, the existence of an Iraqi government is questionable. Think of Los Angeles. If Los Angeles said the Bloods and the Crips are going to be tolerated, they're going to be armed and police their areas and enforce the law in certain areas, what sense would Los Angeles have of government?
On the panel that Zakaria, fellow from Newsweek demurred -
ZAKARIA: It was a very bad week for Iraq. The fundamental problem here remains the original one, which is when people don't have a sense of security because there were not enough American troops, they will revert to their script, their tribal loyalty, the Sunni and Shiite. This happens in every society. That is what is happening, a pervasive sense of insecurity has made them search for security in the things they can find, which is their sectarian identities. But the fact that a few hundred people died - and it is a terrible tragedy - it does not necessarily mean we're on the brink of civil war. India goes through sectarian violence from time to time. Nigeria does -
That's when George Will broke in. He was having none of that.

But the news is getting better, or so the Associated Press tells us here - Baghdad was "generally peaceful" Monday after four days of widespread violence. Except for those mortar rounds and all the dead people. We learn that Sunni Arab leaders said they were prepared to end their boycott of the talks on a new government "if Shiites return mosques seized in reprisal attacks against Sunnis," and they meet other unspecified demands. Maybe that'll happen, maybe not.

Our Ambassador there, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the crisis is over - "I think the country came to the brink of a civil war, but the Iraqis decided that they didn't want to go down that path, and came together" He says it's clear "the terrorists who plotted that attack" really wanted to provoke a civil war - but "the Iraqis decided to come together." That's the official line now. It's not a civil war. Nope. It isn't.

Is it close enough? Does it matter what you call it?

Tim Grieve here says that whatever you call it, all this means is that Iraqis and our troops among them "may be starting to get back to where they were before the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra last week - which is to say, a long way from where the administration predicted they'd be."

You remember that, three years ago -
• Feb. 7, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy: "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

• March 4, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a breakfast with reporters: "What you'd like to do is have it be a short, short conflict ... Iraq is much weaker than they were back in the '90s," when its forces were routed from Kuwait.

• March 11, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars: "The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator."

• March 16, Vice President Cheney, on NBC's Meet the Press: "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly, . . . (in) weeks rather than months." He predicted that regular Iraqi soldiers would not "put up such a struggle" and that even "significant elements of the Republican Guard . . . are likely to step aside."

The war begins

• March 20, President Bush, in an Oval Office speech to the nation: "A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict."

• March 21, Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon news briefing: "The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away. ... The regime is starting to lose control of their country."

• March 27, Bush, at a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when asked how long the war would take: "However long it takes. That's the answer to your question and that's what you've got to know. It isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory."

• March 30, Myers, on Meet the Press: "Nobody should have any illusions that this is going to be a quick and easy victory. This is going to be a tough war, a tough slog yet, and no responsible official I know has ever said anything different once this war has started."

• March 30, Rumsfeld, on Fox News Sunday, when asked whether Iraqis would "celebrate in the streets" when victory is won: "We'll see."
They were adjusting as things developed. Now? It may look like a civil war but it really isn't. Honest.

Grieve also notes that Nearly 2,300 U.S. soldiers and maybe ten times as many Iraqis have died in the war so far. And that the insurgents appear free to attack almost at will. And that and basic services remain well below what they had before we invaded. And that the president says again and again that that our troops will come home as Iraqi security forces stand up - "As they stand up, we will stand down." So Grieve links to the story on all the wires - "The administration used to boast that one Iraqi battalion was able to function without US support; last week, it downgraded the ranking of even that battalion, meaning that there is currently not a single Iraqi battalion that the Pentagon deems capable of fighting on its own."

Not one. Going backwards. Close enough? Draw your own conclusions.

And as mentioned in these pages, fifty-five percent of the American public now thinks that it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq, and even Bill O'Reilly of Cheney's favorite bunch of "journalists," Fox News, says it is now time to get our troops out of there "as fast as humanly possible."

Not close enough. Not by a long shot.

On the other hand, political junkies could also see, on Fox News, the chief apologist for this grand neoconservative experiment in remaking the world, Bill Kristol, the editor of their bible, the Weekly Standard, say the problem really is we had just not made a serious effort in Iraq.

What? We'd been fooling around in Iraq and not doing much, so now it's time to get serious?

Well, to be fair, his point seemed to be the administration was always looking into the future and thinking about ways to reduce troop levels, a political thing politicians do - there are elections to worry about, and voters. That's what Kristol does not like at all. The administration should have told the American public we'd have a massive force in Iraq (and wherever else in the region is next) for decades, and the American public had better get used to it - but they didn't. So Bush and the gang aren't really "true believers" in the vision. Remember the apologists for communism - it was a great system but Stalin messed it up, and but for him it would have worked just fine? Same sort of thing. "Crooks and Liars" has the video here in two formats. It's amazing. The man has his vision. And what's happening is not "close enough" to the grand neoconservative vision. Bad Bush. He wasn't serious. Damn his eyes!

No one is happy. Late Monday, February 27th, we got the results of the latest CBS poll - the president's approval rating hit an all-time low, thirty-four percent (Cheney is now at eighteen percent, down for twenty-three last month). They must have polled a few of the neoconservative "true believers" along with the regular folks who are tired of this "close enough" approach to things.

And the port deal, where Dubai World Ports, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, gets to run operations at six of our major ports, and twenty-one all told (Portland, Maine isn't major), may have something to do with the low numbers. (Cheney's low numbers are probably due to the shooting - lefties think he's a madman and the NRA types think he embarrassed all hunters with his carelessness.) The administration says there's no real problem this port deal - no one has to worry about security. We're covered, close enough. The numbers show that's not going down well, even if it might be true. "Close enough" don't cut it.

One suspects "close enough" is not working because this has to do with, as folks see it, life and death - our dead troops from Iraq, a bomb going off in Baltimore. They saw the latter in that movie, and the former is at your local cemetery.

And then last Friday, William F. Buckley, Jr., the "father" of modern conservatism published this National Review editorial - It Didn't Work. What didn't work? The elective war to change the world. Iraq. "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed."

Of course he's taking about the current American "close enough" objective, establish a Jeffersonian democracy with an unregulated free-market entrepreneurial economy and all that, not the ones that didn't fly - getting one key guy who was connected to 9/11, getting rid of the man trying to build a nuclear weapon, getting rid of the other WMD there, and all the others. But whatever the current justification, the old man sees this -
Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.
So the objective doesn't matter. These are just awful folks?

Well, not exactly. We ourselves were mistake in our "postulates" -
One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.
He says they're both false. No "close enough" for him.

The reaction from the war supporters was predictable, here and here for example - the old guy has no patience, things take time and last week was only a temporary setback. From the other side there were items like this - "To the progressive movement, getting an unlikely ally like the columnist is a huge moral victory." Whatever.

The National Review's current editors shot back with this - "If Iraq ever descends into a real civil war, we won't have to debate whether it has happened. It will be clear for all to see. The military will dissolve into ethnic factions, and the government will collapse. That hasn't happened, and so declarations of defeat in Iraq - of the sort our founder and editor-at-large William F. Buckley Jr. made last week - are pre-mature. That view could ultimately be proven right, but there is no way to know with certainty at this point ... The outcome depends, as is always the case, on the choices made by the players, including ourselves. Even if our influence in Iraq is waning, our commitment - and the specific forms it takes - still matters very much. Defeatism will be self-fulfilling."

Yeah, yeah. The military has not dissolved into ethnic factions, completely, and the government hasn't yet collapsed (it hasn't formed yet). It's just that everyone sees just that happening pretty much in real time. These guys think we'll pull some rabbit from some hat and things will be fine. "Defeatism will be self-fulfilling." Right. Don't believe your eyes. Think positive thoughts. Those positive thoughts will create the positive reality. Clap your hands and Tinkerbell will not die. Been there. Who do you think is right?

So we may be doing fine, or close enough. Or not. Of course it's not just Buckley jumping ship, as mentioned previously, on the 19th in the New York Times Magazine, Francis "The End of History" Fukuyama published a book excerpt renouncing neoconservatism and its visionaries - Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan and the crew who infected our government with this fever. He calls them Leninist - "They believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will." Well, visionaries are like that. They're kind of dangerous. And Fukuyama that this mess in Iraq will lead to a new American isolationism. His idea? We need to rethink things - we need "ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about."

Two comments from the odd Andrew Sullivan, now writing for Time Magazine.

This -
... For my part, I think he gets his analysis almost perfectly right. In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors in the last few years. The first was to over-estimate the competence of government, especially in extremely delicate areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an understandable but still mistaken over-estimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed. Fukuyama's sharpest insight here is into how the near miracle of the end of the Cold War almost certainly lulled many of us into over-confidence about the inevitability of democratic change, and its ease. We got cocky. We should have known better.

The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that such power must necessarily provoke. Those resentments are often as deep among our global acquaintances as enemies - in fact, may be deeper. Acting without a profound understanding of the dangers to the US of inflaming such resentment is imprudent. This is not to say we shouldn't act at times despite them, unilaterally if necessary. Sometimes, the right thing to do will inevitably spawn resentment. We should do it anyway. But that makes it all the more imperative that we get things right, that we bend over backwards to maintain the moral high-ground, and that we make our margin of error as small as possible. The Bush administration, alas, did none of these things. They compounded conceptual errors with still-incomprehensible recklessness, pig-headedness and incompetence in preparing for the aftermath of Saddam.

The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. Fukuyama is absolutely right to note the discrepancy between neoconservatism's skepticism towards government's ability to change culture at home and its naivete when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian and un-Western cultures, like Iraq's, abroad. We have learned a tough lesson, and it's been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than it is for a few humiliated intellectuals. American ingenuity and pragmatism on the ground may be finally turning things around, but the original policy errors have made their work infinitely harder. The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.
Elsewhere he says Fukuyama "does us all a favor by laying those errors out in full view."

So? Big deal. You guys got it all wrong and people died and we're in a world of hurt.

At the anti-Bush "A Call to Action" you get this - "While those Americans who always opposed the Iraq War may see this unseemly scramble of Bush's former allies as a classic case of rats deserting a sinking ship, the loss of these two prominent thinkers of the Right mark a turning point in the political battle over the US occupation of Iraq."

Maybe. Perhaps a turning point is when the rats go mainstream - Monday, February 27, Francis "The End of History" Fukuyama was the featured guest on MSNBC's rising show "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."

Something is up. The president does his "things are fine, or close enough" speeches. The opposition never liked that casual approach to war and national security, seeing a dim-witted frat boy and a bald and nasty old man behind him messing up everything we've work for since we started this American experiment. And now supporters are miffed too.

Where's it all leading?

Close enough doesn't cut it.

See this (Monday, February 27, 2006) -
Most of the president's critics have already fixed their gaze on the 2006 congressional elections, but there are still a hardy few talking of a more dramatic remedy for what ails the country: impeachment.

The Center for Constitutional Rights announced today the publication of "Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush." It's a book, not an enactment of the House of Representatives, but the CCR says it's serious nonetheless. "President Bush has forced America into a grave constitutional crisis by breaking the law and violating the constitutional principles of separation of powers," CCR legal director Bill Goodman says in a statement. "This book is not a policy debate, but a legal case for impeachment based on the president's repeated illegal actions."

The CCR says Bush has committed impeachable offenses by authorizing warrantless wiretaps in violation of the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; by ordering the indefinite detention, rendition, torture and abuse of terrorism suspects; by lying to Congress about the reasons for the Iraq war; and by generally violating the constitutional separation of powers "by arrogating excessive power to the executive branch."

The CCR book comes on the heels of an essay in Harper's in which Lewis Lapham starts skeptically, then finds himself asking why Americans should run the risk of not impeaching the president. "We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country's good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world's evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation's wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies," Lapham writes. There's a word for such a man, he says: criminal.

Lapham's take, in turn, spins out of Michigan Rep. John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate possible grounds for impeachment. Conyers' resolution hasn't gone anywhere but the House Rules Committee, where it will ultimately die a slow death. But it isn't for lack of intense interest, at least among a minority of the minority: Twenty-six other members of Congress have signed on as cosponsors so far.
It is possible, although unlikely, that this minority of the minority, may shift to becoming a minority of the majority, given the new CBS poll. That may happen. Then, next...

Close enough just isn't cutting it.

Or maybe it still is. People have their own personal lives to consider. This is all unimportant to them, until the neighbor's kid comes home in a box, or Baltimore lies in radioactive ruin.

Such things, what we do in the world, do matter.

Posted by Alan at 22:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006 22:19 PST home

Sunday, 26 February 2006
The Next Election: Let's All Join In For The Results We Want
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Next Election: Let's All Join In For The Results We Want

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This isn't really a local issue but it is, and it isn't. In his February 23rd Los Angeles Times column, Golden State, Michael Hiltzik, was a bit exercised about this -
… there's no excuse for exposing the integrity of our election system to computer hackers. Yet that's what California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson may have done last week by approving electronic voting machines from Diebold Election Systems for use in California elections through the end of this year.

McPherson's approval was conditioned in part on local election officials keeping the Diebold machines under tight security before polls open. Diebold will have to make significant changes to its software and undergo further scrutiny from state and federal authorities for 2007. Given the rising panic among county registrars about having machines ready for the June primary, it's hard to avoid the impression that McPherson's decision reflected expediency more than confidence in Diebold's work.

Indeed, his ruling produced a statewide sigh of relief from county registrars, who were squeezed between a federal law requiring them to install efficient new high-tech poll machines and a state law requiring the machines to be formally certified. "This means I won't have to go to either Leavenworth or Folsom," San Diego registrar Mikel Haas told me. His county, which will stage a primary on April 11 to replace the bribe-taking Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, bought 10,200 Diebold machines for $31 million in 2003, but hadn't been allowed to use them since 2004.
Well, they were in a jam and spent over thirty million, so Bruce McPherson saved the day. Of note, just as Condoleezza Rice was appointed by George Bush to be the Secretary of State at the federal level, so Bruce McPherson was appointed by Arnold Shwarzenegger to be California's Secretary of State. Neither is an elected official. The respective legislative bodies advised (like it mattered) and consented (what the heck). Approved.

Well, these are just staff people. They implement what the boss wants. And they want to stay in power, and make sure their friends stay in power.

Now Rice has done some odd things recently. She testified to congress that she needed to spend a whole lot of money, seventy-five million - to fund groups in Iran that would then, being well-funded, rise up and overthrow the theocratic oddballs that run things there now and are building nuclear weapons. But as anyone can see, this isn't exactly effective diplomacy, as now any anti-government group there will be mocked and rejected. You may be against the ridiculous government here, but obviously you're a tool of the Americans fighting our brothers in Iraq - you took their money to do this protesting and plotting - their own Secretary of State said she's funding you! (See this - "It's long been known that pro-democracy groups and their supporters in Iran would be discredited if they were publicly linked to the Great Satan. Worse yet, that open linkage would give Iran's secret police agencies an excuse to crack down brutally on them as enemies of the state, charging their leaders with subversion.")

It's hard to get good staff people these days.

As for Bruce McPherson, he commissioned a panel of computer security experts to look into the Diebold systems and tell him if they were secure. Could they be hacked? Could votes be altered? Well, they reported on February 14 that, yes, they could. Not very clever folks could tamper with the removable memory cards and change the results and no one would be the wiser. And by the way, there were sixteen other software problems that would, as the Times reports, cede "complete control" of the system to hackers who might then "change vote totals, modify reports, change the names of candidates, change the races being voted on." And there were ways to crash the machines, bringing an election to a halt. And hackers "wouldn't need to know passwords or cryptographic keys, or have access to any other part of the system, to do their dirty work." Or so said David Jefferson of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, David Wagner of Berkeley, and the assorted others on the panel.

The biggest problem?

That would be this -
The bugs pale next to another discovery by the panel. This is the presence of a cryptographic key written into the source code, or basic software, of every Diebold touch-screen machine in the country. The researchers called this blunder tantamount to "a bank using the same PIN code for every ATM card they issued; if this PIN code ever became known, the exposure could be tremendous."

Here's the punch line: The Diebold key became known in 2003, when it was published by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities. It can be found today via a Google search.
Three days later McPherson - shrugging, one assumes - certified the machines.

Close enough? Scientific and technical folks worry too much?

That's what they say at the national level about all those people who say there's this global warming going on. The president listens to the to pop novelist Michael Crichton (see this), so who needs the scientists? (That last Crichton novel on the topic was lively, even if one sees here that Crichton has admitted to once plagiarizing a work by George Orwell and submitting it as his own.)

On the state level? Michael Hiltzik adds more here, if you like detail - Diebold's defense (people do think we're accurate), the experts' report, the Secretary of State's announcement (PDF format) of conditional certification, the summary of the University of Iowa 1997 discovery of the coding problem, and more, including this -
A team including Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins uncovered the key - for the first time, they thought - in 2003, and they published it in his highly technical paper. (It's on page 14, but for those unwilling to wade through the technicalities, the key is F2654hD4.)
Ah, this cryptographic key written into the source code of every Diebold voting machine used anywhere in the country - F2654hD4!

Cool. And this is not just a California issue.

Diebold responded, three years ago, to the Johns Hopkins' paper, specifically, here - this flaw and the other bug are "manageable by a reasonably careful combination of short-and long-term approaches" Just be careful. Lock everything up, physically? Heck, why not go back to paper ballots?

The Johns Hopkins team responds here - bad code, hack one machine and you can hack them all nationally, and the fix is easy. (Those of us who have been coding since the eighties know you never embed the key to the whole system in the code itself, the code that you can see - that's a rookie, bonehead mistake.)

The major-league commentator at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum, who writes from down in Orange County (he used to write under the name CalPundit), covers the same ground here, and he seems a tad amazed -
Despite the fact that the panel of experts concluded that Diebold could fix all the bugs in their machines in "only a few hours," the problem with the hardcoded key has been known since 1997 and the key itself has been known since 2003 - but Diebold has done nothing about it.

... There's simply no excuse for tolerating even the perception that the voting process is so easily open to abuse. I'm no conspiracy monger, but the fact that Diebold hasn't corrected these problems despite the fact that they're obvious, widely known, and easy to fix, does nothing except provoke suspicion - well deserved or not - that they're stonewalling deliberately. I mean, why act so damn guilty unless they really are guilty?
Good question. But who would rig the vote?

Well, it's easy to do. F2654hD4 It's in there, in each and every machine. Have fun. From Kevin Drum - "And the 8-byte password used for Diebold's voter, administrator, and ender cards is ED 0A ED 0A ED 0A ED 0A. (Aren't you glad this stuff is so easily found on the internet?)"

Yes indeed. But our side plays by the rules. We'd never use this information to cheat.

And as all this above makes it way around the net - Drum has an incredibly wide readership - this will be a problem that gets fixed. The code and password will be everywhere. Diebold will have to do their job. Rove will weep. But that's the way things are these days.

On the other hand, Diebold may stonewall. Have fun, if you have the chops.

As for what's over at the pesky national clearinghouse of information on such matters, Black Box Voting, some of the current items are these - someone accessed forty Palm Beach County voting machines November 2004 and the voting machine logs contain approximately a hundred thousand errors, and convicted embezzler Jeff Dean, the Diebold head tech guy, remotely accessed the voting machines in major California counties for 2000 election when you can't do that (so they say), and on and on.

And our friend Doug Yeats sent is this local news story -
(February 24, 2006) The Alaska Division of Elections has now officially refused to release the public records that would verify the results of the 2004 election.

The election totals differ from the district by district totals by more than 100,000 votes in some races, while others show more votes than there are voters in the district.

The election was tabulated by the election company Diebold Computer System. ...
And this -
A long-standing public records request for the release of Election 2004 database files created by Diebold's voting system had been long delayed after several odd twists and turns, including the revelation of a contract with the state claiming the information to be a "company secret."

But while it finally appeared as though the state had agreed to release the information (after reserving the right to "manipulate the data" in consultation with Diebold before releasing it), the state's top Security Official has now - at the last minute - stepped in to deny the request. The grounds for the denial: the release of the information poses a "security risk" to the state of Alaska.
What?

California, Florida, Alaska. It's not a local story. Pennsylvania and Ohio (this - Hearings On Ohio Voting Put 2004 Election In Doubt - is still unresolved). Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, did say he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president." It worked.

Maybe they just don't want us to vote. Voting and thinking your vote counts? That's for chumps. That's for the Iraqis. We've moved on.

__

Clarification

A question from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
What I'm missing from this is how the "F2654hD4" key is used. Specifically, could a hacker access the machine from his home, or must an evil-doer be on the scene, either to enter the key on a keyboard to change results, or to physically open up the machine to pull out some cards and insert new cards or something?
Good Question. Yes, the code is in each machine. But, except for isolated precincts at, say, Brokeback Mountain, the voting machines are networked. The key is also hard-coded on the server software of course, so you can get physical access to a single machine somehow, or remotely break into the server linking them (not impossible). Change results at a node, or change results being fed from any of the nodes to the server, or change the tables on the server. Your choice. The usual scenario is one of the Diebold workers, the tech support guy for example, doing routine maintenance, adjusts the votes. If he can, someone else, with a little hacking, can too.

Posted by Alan at 22:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006 11:09 PST home

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