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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, 10 June 2006
Late News: Things Turn Sour
Topic: Breaking News

Late News: Things Turn Sour

Well, it finally happened. It was inevitable. But luckily it happened on a weekend, not in the middle of the normal news cycles. The Monday morning issues of Time and Newsweek and the others have been put to bed, as they say, and the cable news networks are running their canned "backgrounders" - and the commentators, O'Reilly and Matthews and the rest, are off-air for the weekend. This will come up on Meet the Press and the other Sunday morning talk shows, but only political junkies watch those. And since the news takes the weekend off, the story gets buried. When the national dialog, or whatever you call it, starts up again Monday, this will be old news. Other events will come along and push it aside. And there are two days to work on spin if someone does want to discuss the matter.

The Associated Press account here gives the basics -
Three Guantanamo Bay detainees hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes, the commander of the detention center said Saturday.

They were the first reported deaths among the hundreds of men held at the base in Cuba - some of them for up to 4 1/2 years and without charge.

Two men from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen were found "unresponsive and not breathing in their cells" early Saturday, according to a statement from the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which has jurisdiction over the prison. Attempts were made to revive the prisoners, but they failed.

"They hung themselves with fabricated nooses made out of clothes and bed sheets," Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris told reporters in a conference call from the U.S. base in southeastern Cuba.

Pentagon officials said the three men were in Camp 1, the highest maximum security prison at Guantanamo, and that none of them had tried to commit suicide before.

That camp was also the location where two detainees tried to commit suicide in mid-May, when a riot broke out at the facility. The two men, who took overdoses of an anti-anxiety medication they hoarded, were found and received medical treatment and were recovering.
This just looks bad, and the president can't catch a break - we killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the nastiest guys in Iraq, and that was something to crow about, if you're into that sort of thing. Now these three guys do this and make us look bad. We were supposed to be treating everyone humanely and appropriately, and they get all uppity and hang themselves.

We are holding four hundred sixty folks down that way in Cuba, saying they have links to al Qaeda and the Taliban, although there's some proof many of them were nobodies sold to us as bad guys for the substantial cash we offered, and there have been no real hearings in the more than four years to straighten it all out. Some were captured thirteen and fourteen-year-old kids. We say they all have intelligence value and we will extract from them, one way or another, what they know about ongoing plots to attack America. That seems a bit silly as what they know is more than four years old - we've had them more than isolated. But there they stay.

Add to this the AP item reports that the Pentagon also postponed the military tribunal of one Binyam Muhammad, an Ethiopian detainee, originally scheduled for next week. He's charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders to attack civilians and such. It seems like a bad time to start straightening things out, right now. The president was at Camp David and was told of what happened, and the State Department was immediately consulting with the governments of the home countries of the three prisoners. This needs to be handled carefully. The home governments might be a bit miffed.

But we did the right thing, after all -
The military said in its statement that "all lifesaving measures had been exhausted" in the attempt to revive the detainees. The remains were being treated "with the utmost respect," an issue important to Muslims. A cultural adviser was assisting the military.

Though the military termed the deaths suicides, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating to establish the official cause and manner of death.
But this comes after the UN report in May - holding detainees indefinitely at Guantanamo violated the world's ban on torture. The UN said we should close the place. We disagree, even if German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say we should shut down the place. They may be allies, and pro-Bush, but this is our way of handling things, and we assert we know best, and it's really none of their business.

Well, actually it's more complicated -
On Friday, after the prison came up during a meeting with Fogh Rasmussen at Camp David, Bush said his goal is to do just that. A total of 759 detainees have been held there, with about 300 released or transferred.

"We would like to end the Guantanamo - we'd like it to be empty," Bush said. But he added: "There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And, therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States."

Bush said his administration was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule whether he overstepped his authority in ordering the detainees to be tried by U.S. military tribunals.
There are legal issues, you see, and four and half years of Cuba might make them dangerous if we let them go, even if they were or weren't dangerous before.

AP quote Josh Colangelo-Bryan of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who discovered one of his clients attempting to hang himself last year when he visited Guantanamo, saying there would be more suicides. One of the prisoners said this to him - "I would simply rather die than live here forever without rights."

But we say all these detainees pose a danger to the United States and our allies. What can we do? As the statement from the military put it - "They have expressed a commitment to kill Americans and our friends if released. These are not common criminals. They are enemy combatants being detained because they have waged war against our nation and they continue to pose a threat."

But they've proved none of that. No real hearings. You have to trust them on that. Why not?

One of those release last year, Moazzam Begg, says to the Associated Press - "We all expected something like this but were not prepared. It's just awful. I hope the Bush administration will finally see this is wrong."

Not likely. Now we can't be. We've cornered ourselves on that.

So, so far, forty-one suicide attempts by twenty-five prisoners, and three polled it off. The few lawyers we've let in say the number of attempts is far higher, but then, the military says otherwise.

Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing three hundred of these folks, in telephone interview from New York, is reported to have said those held at Guantanamo "have this incredible level of despair that they will never get justice. And now they're gone. And they died without ever having seen a court."

But we said they were guilty. There were bad guys. Still Olshansky is calling for the Bush folks "for immediate action to do the right thing. They should be taken to court or released. I don't think this country wants the stain of injustice on it for many years to come."

She doesn't understand Dick Cheney, or the Texan president he manages. They've convinced most of the country that this is justice - you don't necessarily need things proved at all, or a trial or hearing or military tribunal to establish the facts. You just know some things are so.

Ah well. They'll be a bit more careful down there with the sheets now.

It hasn't been going that well -
On May 18, in one of the prison's most violent incidents, a detainee staged a suicide attempt to lure guards into a cellblock where they were attacked by prisoners armed with makeshift weapons, the military said. Earlier that day, two detainees overdosed on antidepressants they collected from other detainees and hoarded in their cells. The men have since recovered.

There also has been a hunger strike among detainees since August. The number of inmates refusing food dropped to 18 by last weekend from a high of 131. The military has at times used aggressive force-feeding methods, including a restraint chair.
Of course our "image" in the world is now going to be lower than ever. The administration's take on that - Who cares? - will be picked up by the pro-administration commentators, while the more diplomatically-minded, the dinosaurs, will wonder how much we can really do in this sorry world with no influence, no leverage, and just the biggest military on the planet. So we move further and further into becoming a pariah, and rouge state ourselves, but will the overwhelming military and the core economy.

These three sure messed things up, just when we assassinated a really awful man and everyone was supposed to admire us for that.

Now what? Let the spin begin.

First up is this -
The commander of the US Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris has described the overnight suicide of three inmates "as an act of war."

Three detainees at the US detention centre committed suicide by hanging themselves with clothing and bedsheets. Rear Admiral Harris, commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, described the suicides as an act of creative and committed terrorists. "They are smart. They are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of ...warfare waged against us."
Ah, those clever devils.

Posted by Alan at 18:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 10 June 2006 18:11 PDT home

Friday, 9 June 2006
Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week
Topic: Perspective

Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week

At the end of the week, Friday, June 9, 2006, it was clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, much like Generalissimo Franco, was still dead, although much was happening, as noted here - a whole lot of intelligence was recovered in the operation and all day Friday our guys carried out some forty raid to keep the late man's network from regrouping in any way.

But the odd thing is that even after the two five-hundred pound bombs (actually one six-hundred and two pound bomb and one five-hundred fifty-tow pound thingm as noted here), Zarqawi initially survived the bombing and was alive when captured, although in bad shape, understandably -
A mortally wounded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still alive and mumbling after American airstrikes on his hideout and tried to get off a stretcher when he became aware of U.S. troops at the scene, a top military official said Friday.

"He mumbled something, but it was indistinguishable and it was very short," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a news conference.
The joke going around Friday was that he whispered one word - Rosebud. It's now an obscure joke, as no one remembers the movie. It's a Hollywood thing.

As for how this came about, there's more detail here with lots of links -
An Iraqi customs agent secretly working with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror cell spilled the beans on the group after he was arrested, Jordanian officials tell ABC News. Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly was arrested by Jordanian intelligence forces last spring.

Officials say Karbouly confessed to his role in the terror cell and provided crucial information on the names of Zarqawi commanders and locations of their safe houses. Karbouly also admitted to his role in the kidnappings of two Moroccan embassy employees, four Iraqi National Guards and an Iraqi finance ministry official.

In a videotaped confession, Karbouly said he acted on direct orders from Zarqawi.
And the comment added there -
The US does not approve of torture, claims President Bush. Does anyone have any doubt that Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly, the Iraqi customs inspector who turned on Zaqarwi after being arrested and held for months by the Jordanian police, talked as a result of being subjected to torture? Connect the dots.

So now we use information gained from torture to murder our target. What makes us different from them?
Good question. But for Americans, results matter, not principles. Or results matter more, even if we talk about principles endlessly, and somewhat vacantly.

But the results could be mixed. Consider what Senator John McCain said on CNN's Larry King Live (video here), concerning the successful targeted assassination of Zarqawi -
KING: What difference will it make?

MCCAIN: I think that it will remove a very important propaganda tool, a person who has probably served as a real effective recruiter. But, Larry, I want to caution if I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks to show that his removal really didn't affect them but it does affect them. It's very important. And, I think it can give us some hope for progress, which I think we have to make and are making.
Was he encouraging al Qaeda to begin killing more people. No, he wasn't. He was just being logical.

And as for being logical, Jonathan Schwartz here suggests reading this from Nir Rosen, one of the few western journalists who has direct contact people in the Iraqi insurgency.

The key passage from Rosen is this -
So time to dispel some myths. Zarqawi did not really belong to al Qaeda. He would have been more shocked than anybody when Colin Powel spoke before the United Nations in the propaganda build up to the war and mentioned Zarqawi publicly for the first time, accusing him of being the link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Zarqawi in fact did not get along with Bin Ladin when he met him years earlier. He found Bin Ladin and the Taliban insufficiently extreme and refused to join al Qaeda or ally himself with Bin Ladin, setting up his own base in western Afghanistan instead, from where he fled to the autonomous area of Kurdistan in Iraq, outside of Saddam's control, following the US attacks on Taliban controlled Afghanistan in late 2001. Zarqawi only went down into Iraq proper when the Americans liberated it for him. He had nothing to do with al Qaeda until December 2004, when he renamed his organization Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, or Al Qaeda in Iraq as it has become known.

Why did he do this? It was a great deal for him and Bin Ladin. Zarqawi needed the prestige associated with the Al Qaeda brand name in global jihadi circles... For Bin Ladin and his deputy Zawahiri it was also a great deal. Al Qaeda was defunct. Its leadership hiding in the Pakistani wilderness, completely cut off from the main front in today's jihad, Iraq. When Zarqawi assumed the al Qaeda brand name he gave a needed fillip to Bin Ladin who could now associate himself with the Iraqi jihad, where the enemy was being successfully killed every day, and where the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world were turned to, far more than Afghanistan.

Zarqawi was not very important in the first place, and hardly represented the majority of the resistance or insurgency... It took the United States to make Zarqawi who he became. Intent on denying that there was a popular Iraqi resistance to the American project in Iraq, the Americans blamed every attack on Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, and for a while it seemed every car accident in Baghdad was Zarqawi's fault. The truth was that much of Iraq's Sunni population, alienated by the Americans who removed them from power and targeted them en masse during raids, supported and participated in the anti American resistance. Even many Shias claimed resistance. Muqtada Sadr, the most powerful and popular single individual leader in Iraq, led two "intifadas" against the Americans in the spring and summer of 2004, and his men still rest on their laurels, claiming they too took part in the Mukawama, or resistance. But by blaming Zarqawi for everything the Americans created the myth of Zarqawi and aspiring Jihadis throughout the Arab world ate it up and flocked to join his ranks or at least send money. Zarqawi was the one defying the Americans, something their own weak leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere, could not do, having sold out long ago. It was then comical when the Americans released the Zarqawi video out-takes and mocked him for fumbling with a machine gun. Having inflated his reputation they were now trying to deflate it. But it was too late.
This man, now dead, was an opportunist, and a master at marketing - in this case marketing of the nastiest sort. So was the tall Osama. And maybe so are we. Everyone gets spun, and many people die.

And the spin on whatever happened at Haditha continues. Twenty-four civilians dead, shot at close range, including women and very young children. But Clarice Feldman at The American Thinker (a somewhat pretentious name for an opinion site) offers Evidence Accumulates Of A Hoax In Haditha - people who don't like us just make things up. That got a lot of comment, as in this - the whole thing is just like the fake memos Dan Rather at CBS said were true, the ones that he said proved Bush wasn't really the heroic jet fighter pilot and war hero and all that. Whatever. The whole thing rests on the idea that you just cannot trust Iraqis, as they are unreasonably angry and wretchedly ungrateful and will say anything, even after all we did for them. You can't trust these people.

James Wolcott of Vanity Fair has a different odd take here -
Yesterday Bob Kerrey was on the Imus show, and in the midst of decrying the incident, he threw out a comment about how he wondered if we polled the people of Haditha, how many of them cheered the sight of the falling towers on 9/11. I'm not sure what that would accomplish or what it has to do with whatever happened vis a vis the Marines (I'm not even certain what the media penetration of Haditha was in 2001), but it seemed to be the sort of thinking-off-the-top-of-one's-head intended to put this incident back into a container.
Well, it is extraordinary spin. Can we go back in time and find out if on September 11, 2001, these people caught CNN or BBC World Service and were dancing in the dusty streets there in joy, and if they were, can we kill their children now? That's simultaneously wildly hypothetical and a bit cold. But Bob Kerrey was probably just trying to say the Marines of Kilo Company might have thought this could have been so, so you can understand them losing it. That's very weird, but it's one way out of the box.

There's a comprehensive review of the other current rationalizations here, even if so overwrought you have to wade through deep bogs of angry sarcasm to get to the main points - isolated incident, bad apples, lies by people who just don't like us and all the rest. The usual.

As for the "bad apple" theory, see Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times here -
It's a tempting theory, and not just for the Bush administration. It suggests a vast and reassuring divide between "us" (the virtuous majority, who would never, under any circumstances, commit coldblooded murder) and "them" (the sociopathic, bad-apple minority). It allows us to hold on to our belief in our collective goodness. If we can just toss the few rotten Americans out of the barrel quickly enough, the rot won't spread.

The problem with this theory is that it rests on a false assumption about the relationship between character and deeds. Yes, sociopaths exist, but ordinary, "good" people are also perfectly capable of committing atrocities.
That's followed by the expected, a review of the 1961 experiments by that Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram - almost anyone will inflict severe pain on others if authorized by an authority of some sort and everyone else is doing the same. Yeah, yeah. But she adds this -
But let's not let the Bush administration off the hook. It's the duty of the government that sends troops to war to create a context that enables and rewards compassion and courage rather than callousness and cruelty. This administration has done just the opposite.

Our troops were sent to fight an unnecessary war, without adequate resources or training for the challenges they faced. At the same time, senior members of the administration made clear their disdain for the Geneva Convention's rules on war and for the principles and traditions of the military. Belated and halfhearted investigations into earlier abuses sent the message that brutality would be winked at - unless the media noticed, in which case a few bad apples would be ceremoniously ejected from the barrel, while higher-ups would go unpunished.
Yep, so it seems.

Wolcott recommends William S. Lind on the same matter here -
The investigations of Marines for possible murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November and, more recently, in Hamdaniyah, seem set to follow the usual course. If anyone is found guilty, it will be privates and sergeants. The press will reassure us that the problem was just a few "bad apples," that higher-ups had no knowledge of what was going on, and that "99.9 percent" of our troops in Iraq are doing a splendid job of upholding, indeed enforcing, human rights. It's called the "Abu Ghraib precedent."
But there is a counterargument -
The fact that senior Marine and Army leaders don't seem to know what is going on in cases like this is a sad comment on them. Far from being exceptional incidents caused by a few bad soldiers or Marines, mistreatment of civilians by the forces of an occupying power are a central element of Fourth Generation war. They are one of the main reasons why occupiers tend to lose. Haditha, Hamdaniyah, and the uncountable number of incidents where U.S. troops abused Iraqi civilians less severely than by killing them are a direct product of war waged by the strong against the weak.

... Every firefight we win in Iraq or Afghanistan does little for our pride, because we are so much stronger than the people we are defeating. Every time we get hit successfully by a weaker enemy, we feel like chumps, and cannot look ourselves in the mirror (again, with IED attacks this happens quite often). Whenever we use our superior strength against Iraqi civilians, which is to say every time we drive down an Iraqi street, we diminish ourselves in our own eyes. Eventually, we come to look at ourselves with contempt and see ourselves as monsters. One way to justify being a monster is to behave like one, which makes the problem worse still. The resulting downward spiral, which every army in this kind of war has gotten caught in, leads to indiscipline, demoralization, and disintegration of larger units as fire teams and squads simply go feral.
That a quite different psychological view of things. What does happen to the strong around the weak? Strength doesn't ennoble anyone. It only diminishes them. Very Zen.

So what do we do here?

Well, we get rid of people like Abu al-Zarqawi, but see John Robb at Global Guerrillas here -
Zarqawi is best categorized as violence capitalist, very similar to bin Laden, that supported and incubated guerrilla entrepreneurs of the new open source warfare model. In this role he was instigator of violence and not the leader of a vast hierarchical insurgency.

... He expanded the target set for the insurgency, changed tactics when they proved disadvantageous (ie. beheadings were stopped and he ceded Iraqis control of the jihadi effort), and expanded the plausible promise of the insurgency to include sectarian war.

His main failure was that he didn't fully appreciate the value of systems disruption. His only attack on a systems target (the Basra terminal) was a failure. He also proved unable to give up operational roles in favor of becoming a strategic communicator (which ultimately led to his death).

... If we put Zarqawi within a historical context, he was able to do what Che hoped to do with a focused insurgency... In essence, he proved that within a modern context (open source warfare and systems disruption), it is possible to seed the collapse of a state.
We shall see if the seeds of this odd sort of capitalism grow. He's dead. Now we have to deal with the franchisees.

And still we apply maximum force. What else can we do? We are strong. We have the firepower. We do the John Wayne thing - few words, big gun, take no crap from anyone.

On the other hand, as the president patterns his own behavior on John Wayne, or so it has been said, it should be remembered the Duke once said this - "I've always followed my father's advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble."

The third part is the problem, that "bring 'em on" stuff. Someone should have paid more attention at the movies.

But someone didn't pay enough attention to another famous line from Wayne - "Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much." Guys, it was advice on acting, not on conducting the nation's business here and abroad.

Posted by Alan at 22:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 22:55 PDT home

Thursday, 8 June 2006
A Good Death Assessed
Topic: Perspective

A Good Death Assessed

Thursday, June 08, 2006, was a big day in the news. Just think about what happened. The new Iraqi government finally got its act together and became, well, if not a fully functioning government, at least a fully staffed one -
The Iraqi parliament agreed upon candidates to lead the country's three top security ministries Thursday, ending a weeks-long stalemate among the country's largest political factions.

The selection of an interior minister, a defense minister and a national security adviser gives Iraq a complete government for the first time since elections in December 2005 and it provides a key opportunity to promote political reconciliation between members of the country's Sunni Muslim minority and the Shiite-dominated government.
Now that's a milestone. And it took long enough, but maybe now, after six months of dithering, they can get organized and shut down the militias and the death squads, which might be followed by restring services and taking over security matters a bit, thus producing some light at the end of the tunnel for us. But then that tunnel metaphor has its history from the days of our war in Vietnam - the oncoming train and all that. The task of settling things down is not an easy one, and maybe close to impossible. But you have to start somewhere. This is that somewhere. That should have been the big news of the day, but it wasn't.

Congress had other things on their collective mind, such as it is. The day after the Senate killed the attempt to start the process to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage, there was another killing - the Senate blocked the permanent repeal of the estate tax, or death tax, or whatever you wish. Temporarily suspended in the economic mess a few years ago when the financial district in lower Manhattan was coated in ash and body parts, it will return in 2010, just as it had been before, heavily taxing the 1.17 percent of the population with extraordinarily large estates when the holder of the estate dies. The Republicans ranted about how unfair it was to tax these folks, even if it meant losing a trillion dollars in revenue over ten years - fair is fair and all that. They earned what they earned. But two Republicans broke ranks and joined the Democrats thinking this was the wrong time to forgo the revenue, what with the massive and record federal deficit financed by some not so friendly governments buying oodles of treasury bonds and all, and all that had to be cut back in social spending and even the military, the VA and emergency response things. It seemed irresponsible, and maybe immoral, and in addition a bit hard to explain to the voters back home, except for the voters in the choice 1.17 percent group. There are just not enough of them. Yeah, that some group pumps great gobs of money into the campaign coffers, but that's not the same as raw votes. The whole thing is covered here if reading about what won't now happen interest you.

That made the Republicans 0 for 2 for the week - shot down on making sure the gays don't get the same rights as everyone else, and then shot down on protecting the right of the very wealthy to pass every penny of the family fortune on down to the next generations - more than a few pennies will now be surgically removed once again. It'll be just like old times. The remaining issue to be dealt with is of course voting to start the process to amend the constitution to ban flag burning, something no one has done since the late sixties. Some see it as a way to start to carve out exceptions to free speech while others see it as finally a way to tell people there are some things that just have to be respected. It's a little abstract, given that no one much burns flags any more, but it seems important to the Republicans. They've got this victim thing going. No one respects their values and all that, so make them show respect, damn it. This one is closer to passing, but it well could be an 0 for 3 week for them. And if it gets through the Senate and House, three-quarters of the states must agree that there really are certain things you can't do and can't say, beside the classic limitation on shouting fire in a crowded theater. It would be a step in the direction of making things more orderly and decent, or something like that.

But it will probably lose in the Senate, and that may be the plan - part of the victim thing where you get to say we tried to do thing right thing but the nasty and godless liberals who really run everything beat us up, and are you going to stand for that? The Republicans do the patriotic martyr thing very well indeed. It sells out in the heartland.

But they did win one, the legislation regarding Janet Jackson's very erect nipple. As noted here, the fines for the broadcasters who don't block nipples and such will increase tenfold, and they'd better watch the language that gets broadcast. This doesn't pertain to bars serving odd mixed drinks like Sex on the Beach or Coconut Orgasm. That's for later - first the broadcasters, later the printed menus. Making things more orderly and decent has to start somewhere, and this is that somewhere - passed by both houses and signed into law. We all feel safer.

But then almost none of this news got any coverage on the Thursday in question. That was because that day we learned that two F-16's bombed a safe house in the Iraqi town of Hibhib, killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and seven of his aides. Two five hundred pound bombs will do that. President Bush said this guy the "most wanted terrorist in Iraq" and the mastermind behind most all the bombings, beheadings, assassinations, suicide missions, and the Sunni insurgency. British Prime Minister Blair said the "death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and therefore a strike against al-Qaeda everywhere."

But they both kept it low key. Bad things will still happen, and they've lost their villain to blame for all that will come - forty more people blown up in various parts Iraq the day of the announcement. Bush and Blair know enough now not to say everything is now fixed and all better. They have a created a new martyr (that's what al-Zarqawi's brother says here. And that University of Michigan professor Middle East matter, Juan Cole, here says al-Zarqawi wasn't linked to the real al Qaeda at all, and basically al-Zarqawi "engaged in grandstanding" when he named his group "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," and that "official US spokesmen have all along over-estimated his importance" -
There is no evidence of operational links between [Zarqawi's] Salafi Jihadis in Iraq and the real al-Qaeda; it was just a sort of branding that suited everyone, including the US. Official US spokesmen have all along over-estimated his importance. Leaders are significant and not always easily replaced. But Zarqawi has in my view has been less important than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don't expect the guerrilla war to subside any time soon.
But he could be wrong. Cole was up for an appointment to the faculty at Yale but they decided no, after all the pressure from the right, many of whom where alumni. (Not to worry - the University of Michigan has a far better marching band.)

So was the guy a big deal?

Hard to say.

Late in the day the Los Angeles Times ran this -
Reactions Thursday to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's death reflected the contradictions and conspiracy theories that surrounded the elusive figure in life.

American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called al-Zarqawi the "godfather of sectarian violence in Iraq" during a speech Thursday morning in Baghdad, shortly after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's televised announcement of al-Zarqawi's killing.

But from Iraq's Anbar province, where the insurgency is strongest, to the Palestinian territories, al-Zarqawi was mourned as a martyr whose cause would continue long after his death Wednesday in a U.S. bomb attack.

"He died, but thousands of al-Zarqawis will follow," said Hussein Hashim Falluji, a 54-year-old Sunni merchant in Fallujah.
And they go on with an interesting survey.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism scholar at Rand Corporation out this way simply says this - "Zarqawi may be gone, but the conflagration that he set alight continues to burn." It's good we got him, but he may have not been the real problem.

The Brookings Institution's Ivo Daalder explains -
What we have in Iraq today - and have had for many, many months - is not a traditional insurgency or even wanton terrorism, but a large-scale sectarian conflict. Much of the killing in Iraq today isn't the result of Zarqawi's men, but of Sunni and Shiite militias engaged in a big fight for control of neighborhoods, towns, cities, and the resources they control. The vast majority of the 1,400 bodies that showed up in the Baghdad morgue last month (that's right: 1,400 bodies - or nearly 50 people each and every day!) were killed by militias of one kind or another. The guys responsible for these deaths are not fighting an existing government (which is what an insurgency implies) but they're fighting to determine who governs Iraq and what spoils will fall to which group of Iraqis.
So it's a small but significant victory, but perhaps irrelevant.

And then there was that NBC News thing from March 2004 (here) with a number of intelligence people going on record saying we had at least three chances to take the guy out before the war, and when asked for permission to pull the trigger, on the F-16 or Hellfire equivalent of a trigger, the White House said no. He was a useful symbol - an al Qaeda guy actually in Iraq. He was our proof of the connection. And that was useful, even if he was in the north where Saddam was not in control at all. No one notices such details.

So now he matters in different way. As the president said - "It's a victory in the global war on terror, and it is an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tide of this struggle."

Note he didn't say this was turning point. It's an "opportunity" for one. And it's not up to us, but to Iraq's new government. Things go bad? Don't blame us.

Of course the acerbic Christopher Hitchens weighs in here -
The latest Atlantic has a brilliantly timed cover story by Mary Anne Weaver, which tends to the view that Zarqawi was essentially an American creation, but seems to undermine its own prominence by suggesting that, in addition to that, Zarqawi wasn't all that important.

Not so fast. Zarqawi contributed enormously to the wrecking of Iraq's experiment in democratic federalism. He was able to help ensure that the Iraqi people did not have one single day of respite between 35 years of war and fascism, and the last three-and-a-half years of misery and sabotage. He chose his targets with an almost diabolical cunning, destroying the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad (and murdering the heroic envoy Sérgio Vieira de Melo) almost before it could begin operations, and killing the leading Shiite Ayatollah Hakim outside his place of worship in Najaf. His decision to declare a jihad against the Shiite population in general, in a document of which Weaver (on no evidence) doubts the authenticity, has been the key innovation of the insurgency: applying lethal pressure to the most vulnerable aspect of Iraqi society. And it has had the intended effect, by undermining Grand Ayatollah Sistani and helping empower Iranian-backed Shiite death squads.

Not bad for a semiliterate goon and former jailhouse enforcer from a Bedouin clan in Jordan. There are two important questions concerning the terrible influence that he has been able to exert. The first is: How much state and para-state support did he enjoy? The second is: What was the nature of his relationship with Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida?
Okay, was Saddam or some state supporting him, and how did he get along with the tall odd one?

Hitchens does make an odd concession - "The man's power was created only by the coalition's intervention, and his connection to al Qaida was principally opportunistic."

That's what Mary Anne Weaver documents here in an account of the first meeting of the now quite dead bad guy with Osama bin Laden -
As they sat facing each other across the receiving room, a former Israeli intelligence official told me, "it was loathing at first sight."

According to several different accounts of the meeting, bin Laden distrusted and disliked al-Zarqawi immediately. He suspected that the group of Jordanian prisoners with whom al-Zarqawi had been granted amnesty earlier in the year had been infiltrated by Jordanian intelligence; something similar had occurred not long before with a Jordanian jihadist cell that had come to Afghanistan. Bin Laden also disliked al-Zarqawi's swagger and the green tattoos on his left hand, which he reportedly considered un-Islamic. Al-Zarqawi came across to bin Laden as aggressively ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing. His hatred of Shiites also seemed to bin Laden to be potentially divisive - which, of course, it was.
Green tattoos? The guy knew nothing about job interviews. No tattoos.

Zarqawi made a name for himself with the Sunni insurgency in the first few months after Baghdad fell, but may not have been the central figure and ticked off lots of people - the hotel bombings in Jordan, with the wedding there and all, seemed a tad over the top.

Weaver -
"Even then - and even more so now - Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency," the former Jordanian intelligence official, who has studied al-Zarqawi for a decade, told me. "To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad Hakim operation, and the attack against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support for him - with the tribes, with Saddam's army and other remnants of his regime. They made Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been."

He continued, "The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They've blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now."
So the light at the end of the tunnel may indeed be the oncoming train. No tears for the guy. He was one bad piece of work. But he was a small part of the puzzle.

The question is now what? More tax cuts? Ban flag burning?

Posted by Alan at 23:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 08:02 PDT home

Wednesday, 7 June 2006
The Dog That Didn't Bark
Topic: In these times...

The Dog That Didn't Bark

Things that didn't happen on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 - the Senate didn't vote to start the ball rolling on changing the constitution to ban gay marriage (basic facts here). Yawn. So "banning gay marriage" didn't pass. The House has decided that even though now anything they do on the issue is utterly meaningless they will vote on the issue in a week or so anyway, just to get everyone on the record, for the folks back home, and future attack ads. Double yawn.

And the results of the special elections and primaries the day before were revealed - there was no big political upset presaging big changes in the political landscape of America, as in the special election to replace Republican "Duke" Cunningham, the congressman now in jail for accepting about two and half million in bribes for this and that, the people of the coastal area north of San Diego replaced him with another Republican, a former professional lobbyist, not the Democrat running. Well, she was dull, and dressed in JC Penney pantsuits, and in the district the Republican registration was more than double that of the Democrats. It was a long shot anyway. But the whole thing indicates not much will change in Encinitas, or in America. The whole idea the Republicans are corrupt? That was met with the response that should have surprised no one - "Yeah? So what?"

And too there was the meeting that wasn't. One sees here that the US ambassador to Iraq, that pleasant and smart and sensible Zalmay Khalilzad fellow, was to brief senators on the situation there. The White House abruptly cancelled the meeting, and said they'd send no replacement. No meeting. The Senate Democrats are asking the president why. The Senate Republicans aren't - not their business. They know congress is now not in that game, or any other, and pretty much useless. They're okay with that.

And the woman who is statistically the most likely next Democratic presidential candidate - no, don't expect a Gore-Obama ticket - is rarely mentioning the war at all. The opposition that wasn't, or that isn't. The New York Observer notes here that when Hillary Clinton is forced to talk about the war, she "continues to articulate a plan that is difficult to distinguish from that of the White House." She voted for the use of force. She can't say she was wrong, or she was fooled. Rush Limbaugh would say that's just like a woman, and she'd have no chance. She knows she's trapped. No news here. Move on.

As for what did happen on the day, there was this, the Council of Europe issued a report saying more than a dozen European countries have helped the CIA with the rendition of terrorism suspects - to secret prisons and countries that will do the torture stuff for us. And the report says it seems probable that Romania and Poland operated secret torture prisons for us, in their old Soviet facilities. Big news? All parties deny it all. So this also didn't happen.

On the other hand the Washington Post reports on something that did happen, but since it happened in the fifties it's hardly news, just a curious historical footnote - newly released documents show that the CIA helped hide the location of Adolf Eichmann from everyone looking for him. They knew where he was, but didn't want to embarrass certain West German officials with details of their own Nazi pasts, which would have come out. You protect your allies. Fascinating - but meaningless now. Eichmann was found, and tried, and executed. So?

But the fascinating "it didn't happen" story hit the wires in the last hours of the day, Pacific Time, as Sidney Blumenthal came up with this -
Former President George H.W. Bush waged a secret campaign over several months early this year to remove Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The elder Bush went so far as to recruit Rumsfeld's potential replacement, personally asking a retired four-star general if he would accept the position, a reliable source close to the general told me. But the former president's effort failed, apparently rebuffed by the current president. When seven retired generals who had been commanders in Iraq demanded Rumsfeld's resignation in April, the younger Bush leapt to his defense. "I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain," he said. His endorsement of Rumsfeld was a rebuke not only to the generals but also to his father.
Now that's Freudian. And it may not be true, as Blumenthal is carefully not naming the general, his one source, and may be being played here in some power game. It's hard to tell. And Blumenthal is a Clinton man - assistant and senior adviser to Bill Clinton from August 1997 until January 2001. So think what you will.

But we do get this -
The elder Bush's intervention was an extraordinary attempt to rescue simultaneously his son, the family legacy and the country. The current president had previously rejected entreaties from party establishment figures to revamp his administration with new appointments. There was no one left to approach him except his father. This effort to pluck George W. from his troubles is the latest episode in a recurrent drama - from the drunken young man challenging his father to go "mano a mano" on the front lawn of the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to the father pulling strings to get the son into the Texas Air National Guard and helping salvage his finances from George W.'s mismanagement of Harken Energy. For the father, parental responsibility never ends. But for the son, rebellion continues. When journalist Bob Woodward asked George W. Bush if he had consulted his father before invading Iraq, he replied, "He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to."
Yeah, well, that's famous now. And what Blumenthal is up to here really has little to do with "the scoop" - the father trying to bail out the son with some anyone but Rumsfeld - which may or may not be true. He moves on to a meditation on reality and stubbornness.

That would be this -
The former president, a practitioner of foreign policy realism, was intruding on the president's parallel reality. But the realist was trying to shake the fantasist in vain. "The president believes the talking points he's given and repeats on progress in Iraq," a Bush administration national security official told me. Bush redoubles his efforts, projects his firmness, in the conviction that the critics lack his deeper understanding of Iraq that allows him to see through the fog of war to the Green Zone as a city on a hill.

Just as his father cannot break Bush's enchantment with "victory," so the revelation of the Haditha massacre does not cause him to change his policy. For him, the alleged incident is solely about the individual Marines involved; military justice will deal with them. It's as though the horrific event had nothing to do with the war. Haditha, too, exists in a bubble.
This then is old ground, the Bush Bubble and all that. It's all been said, although some of the reminders are amusing, like the February 2003 paper from the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute (here in PDF format). The administration tossed that aside. It was called "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." Ha. Blumenthal mentions it really did mention the likelihood of civil war, sectarian militias, anarchy, suicide bombers and widespread insurgency - if there was a lengthy occupation. There was. There is.

But what Blumenthal points out now was the warning that insurgents could incite violence to provoke repression, forcing U.S. troops into an uncontrollable "action-reaction cycle." And that is what Blumenthal really wants to talk about. That's what the Marines in Haditha got into, or so he sees it. That's worth a read. He explains it, but it's rather obvious.

But this is good, on the broader issues -
The Bush way of war has been ahistorical and apolitical, and therefore warped strategically, putting absolute pressure on the military to provide an outcome it cannot provide - "victory." From the start, Bush has placed the military at a disadvantage, and not only because he put the Army in the field in insufficient numbers, setting it upon a task it could not accomplish. U.S. troops are trained for conventional military operations, not counterinsurgency, which requires the utmost restraint in using force. The doctrinal fetish of counterterrorism substitutes for and frustrates counterinsurgency efforts.

Conventional fighting takes two primary forms: chasing and killing foreign fighters as if they constituted the heart of the Sunni insurgency and seeking battles like Fallujah as if any would be decisive. Where battles don't exist, assaults on civilian populations, often provoked by insurgents, are misconceived as battles. While this is not a version of some video game, it is still an illusion.

Many of the troops are on their third or fourth tour of duty, and 40 percent of them are reservists whose training and discipline are not up to the standards of their full-time counterparts. Trained for combat and gaining and holding territory, equipped with superior firepower and technology, they are unprepared for the disorienting and endless rigors of irregular warfare. The Marines, in particular, are trained for "kinetic" warfare, constantly in motion, and imbued with a warrior culture that sets them apart from the Army. Marines, however well disciplined, are especially susceptible because of their perpetual state of high adrenaline to the inhuman pressures of irregular warfare.

As Bush's approach has stamped failure on the military, he insists ever more intensely on the inevitability of victory if only he stays the course. Ambiguity and flexibility, essential elements of any strategy for counterinsurgency, are his weak points. Bush may imagine a scene in which the insurgency is conclusively defeated, perhaps even a signing ceremony, as on the USS Missouri, or at least an acknowledgment, a scrap of paper, or perhaps the silence of the dead, all of them. But his infatuation with a purely military solution blinds him to how he thwarts his own intentions. Jeffrey Record, a prominent strategist at a U.S. military war college, told me: "Perhaps worse still, conventional wisdom is dangerously narcissistic. It completely ignores the enemy, assuming that what we do determines success or failure. It assumes that only the United States can defeat the United States, an outlook that set the United States up for failure in Vietnam and for surprise in Iraq."
So the conclusion, obviously, is that Haditha is "a symptom of the fallacy of Bush's military solution."

That's a new take. If you dismiss repeated warnings about the appalling pressures on an army of occupation against an insurgency then you get such things. And you send the guys in where they can easily confuse "a population that broadly supports an insurgency" with the real terrorists, and you give them a sense they're there to exact revenge for the World Trade Center and the Pentagon back in 2001, and what do you expect?

Add this of course -
Bush's abrogation of the Geneva Conventions has set an example that in this unique global war on terror, in order to combat those who do not follow the rules of war, we must also abandon those rules. This week a conflict has broken out in the Pentagon over Rumsfeld's proposed revision of the Army Field Manual for interrogation of prisoners, which would excise Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions that forbids "humiliating and degrading treatment." And, this week, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., proposed a bill that would make the administration provide "a full accounting on any clandestine prison or detention facility currently or formerly operated by the United States Government, regardless of location, where detainees in the global war on terrorism are or were being held," the number of detainees, and a "description of the interrogation procedures used or formerly used on detainees at such prison or facility and a determination, in coordination with other appropriate officials, on whether such procedures are or were in compliance with United States obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture." The administration vigorously opposes the bill.
And you want our guys to play nice out there, and want to punish them if they don't? We're talking major mixed messages here.

Reading all that it's hard to avoid the idea that we're losing this thing, and it is, in fact, impossible to win, because there's no way to define winning in any context that makes any sense. What would be the marker, or markers, that would mean we had won? The enemy doesn't fight set battles, and doesn't hold fixed territory. No help there - no D-Day or capture of a capital. We sort of did that kind of thing already, a few years ago. And now we have leveled cities like Fallujah and the bad guys come back, or pop up elsewhere. The new government there is forming slowly, if it's forming at all, and at what point do we say "look - done." Ambiguity and flexibility may be the president's weak points, and that's all the situation offers.

The scoop here is interesting, the president's father trying to force Rumsfeld out, but irrelevant. The political leadership in Washington is trapped. And Blumenthal argues saving Rumsfeld is Bush's way of staying the course when he can understand no other options - and also sends a signal of unaccountability from the top down. He says it's deranged. But he's partisan, and logical.

And that's why nothing is happening. No news here.

__

For a companion piece on what did happen in Haditha, Iraq, last November, see Mark Benjamin here - "You want to shoot them" - Convinced that kids were spying on them, sick of seeing buddies blown apart, the Marines accused of the Haditha massacre cracked.

That's an eye-catching title. Benjamin interview Marines, some in Kilo Company.

There are many anecdotes and this -
Interviews with Crossan and another Marine who earlier served in the same platoon (3rd platoon, Kilo Company), as well as with military experts and psychologists, help provide some of the context for the reputed events at Haditha. The portrait that emerges is of an exhausted and overextended unit that participated in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war. The unit had fought at Nasiriyah during the initial invasion of Iraq, and in late 2004 engaged in 10 days of house-to-house combat during the battle for control of Fallujah. And last year - in the months before the civilian deaths in Haditha - at least 20 Marines were killed in ambushes and bombings in the town.

None of this, of course, can possibly justify what apparently occurred at Haditha or exonerate any Marine who participated in the barbarities. "The description of the event is called murder," said John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-area think tank. "If, due to the stress of the situation, the Marines lost fire discipline and killed people, it is murder or, at least, manslaughter. At the same time, we need to understand why it happened and how it happened."

Dr. Paul Ragan, a former Navy psychiatrist now a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, suspects that the "ambiguity of mission and ambiguity of enemy" played a role at Haditha. He stressed that there is only so far you can push combat troops. "There is a concern that the psychological resources, no matter how well trained, are stretched too thin," Ragan said. "There is a reality here. These are not superheroes or X-men. These are real people on their third tour" of duty in Iraq.

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military in 2003 and 2004, made an analogous point when he told Salon, "What we have right now is a very stressed ground force."
And so on.

The closing -
As prominent Republicans such as John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talk of holding congressional hearings into what happened at Haditha, the underlying question becomes - like the furor over Abu Ghraib - how far up the chain of command responsibility rests.

Clearly, the responsibility for burnt-out Marines serving two and even three tours of duty in Iraq does not stop with Kilo Company. "There is no question in my mind that lapses like Haditha can be traced to a lack of understanding of the nature of this war at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the White House," declared David R. Segal, the director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, in an e-mail.
Of course. And even if this one day was filed with what didn't happen, what might have happened or should have happened is still in the air.

Posted by Alan at 22:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006 06:44 PDT home

Tuesday, 6 June 2006
The Great Divide
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

The Great Divide

Tuesday, June 6, 2006, seemed as good a day as any as to examine how far apart we are on issues these days.

Of course the amusing talk of the day was that the day was 06-06-06, or 666, the mark of the beast or some such thing. See this for the details, involving the Greek text of the Book of Revelations and such - the antichrist will arrive and whatnot. No one took the day's number very seriously, but it was a good day for the wide-release opening of the remake of The Omen, even if the original 1976 film was itself gloriously silly. This one seems just as silly, the antichrist as a nasty toddler one more time.

Some noted it was the sixty-second anniversary of D-Day, the key to the end of the last war everyone agreed was worth fighting, but not that many noted it. The days of "the good war" fought for the right reasons seem so long ago, and seem somehow quaint.

And AIDS turned twenty-five, as it was the anniversary of the day that the CDC reported two deaths from a form of pneumocystis that turned out to be a consequence of HIV. More was said about that. It's a problem here and a crisis in Africa, in real time.

And the day was the anniversary of an event thirty-eight years ago down the hill at the old Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire, now torn down - in 1968 Bobby Kennedy was shot there the night before and on June 6th he died at a nearby hospital, also long gone. Mike Gerber here makes the argument that what was happening then is somehow at the root of where we are today - Bobby's brother was shot in the head, Martin Luther King was shot in the head, then Bobby -
Forty years on, Kennedy-King-Kennedy looks to me like the moment things started going bad, when control really clamped down from above, and apathy really took root below. Our country is headed in the wrong direction, and without a shred of romanticism, I think that direction was set by the assassinations of the 60s - not only by the loss of those people, their ideas and their ability to inspire, but also by our getting used to unsolved public murder as business as usual. That is a coarsening equal to any suffered by the Roman Republic. Is it merely coincidence that we've turned from a country of possibilities to one grinding out the same tragic, hoary imperial script? The country is traumatized, directionless, hurt; and a generation of politicians have risen who are experts at keeping us that way.
Buy that or not, the question is how directionless are we?

The other movie opening this week, on Friday, June 9, is Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, based on the popular and gentle Garrison Keillor radio show. Think of it as the anti-Omen, the darkest thing being Kevin Kline playing the hapless detective Guy Noir.

But Garrison Keillor does have things to say that don't make it onto the radio, and they are mostly about the great divide we find these days, as here where he discusses the latest effort by the Republicans to get their folks out to vote.

The whole thing is a scare tactic. If the Republicans stay way from the polls, being unhappy about this and that, the unthinkable will happen. Nancy Pelosi will become Speaker of the House - a woman, from San Francisco, where there are all those gay people - "Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus?" That would be cool. But the right hates San Francisco. Last year Bill O'Reilly on Fox News invited the terrorists to destroy the place. They just weren't real Americans there, although his issue had to do with proposed bans on military recruiting, not with men in leather chaps and no pants.

But here's the deal. Keillor suggests we need San Francisco -
People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children. The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco, Texas. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous. Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.
Ah, what the heck, the current crew doesn't like science and ideas very much. Global warming is a hoax. Stem-cell research is murder. All that stuff. Creativity is for chumps. Read your Bible.

And that's another divide.

And too, the old Republicans are mostly gone, and the new ones have made a mess of things -
Somewhere in the quiet leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, "Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one." This one's eyes don't quite focus. Five years in office and he doesn't have a grip on it yet. You stand him up next to Tony Blair at a press conference and the comparison is not kind to Our Guy. Historians are starting to place him at or near the bottom of the list. And one of the basic assumptions of American culture is falling apart: the competence of Republicans.

You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math. To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz. So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the Republicans can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.

It is painful to look at your father and realize the old man should not be allowed to manage his own money anymore. This is the discovery the country has made about the party in power. They are inept. The checkbook needs to be taken away. They will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names, but you have to do what you have to do.
Let's see - they will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names? Cue Ann Coulter.

Ann Coulter, the outspoken political commentator - Chief Justice Steven should be poisoned, the New York Times building should be blown up and all the people there killed, the leaders in the Middle East should be forced to convert to Christianity or be killed - was on the NBC Today Show on Tuesday the 6th, promoting her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, and illustrating the great divide. She was all over the widows of the men killed at the World Trade Center almost five years ago. They don't think much of Bush. Coulter's assessment? They're fools, and immoral - "I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much." She doesn't like them at all.

There's no bridging this gap - the divide is too wide.

You can watch the video here, but the transcript will do. The host, Matt Lauer, has his hands full -
LAUER: Do you believe everything in the book or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?

ANN: No, of course I believe everything.

LAUER: On the 9-11 widows, an in particular a group that had been critical of the administration: "These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process." And this part is the part I really need to talk to you about: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much." Because they dare to speak out?

COULTER: To speak out using the fact they are widows. This is the left's doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we are allowed to respond to. No. No. No. We have to respond to someone who had a family member die. Because then if we respond, oh you are questioning their authenticity.

LAUER: So grieve but grieve quietly?

COULTER: No, the story is an attack on the nation. That requires a foreign policy response.

LAUER: By the way, they also criticized the Clinton administration.

COULTER: Not the ones I am talking about. No, no, no.

LAUER: Yeah, they have.

COULTER: Oh no, no, no, no, no. They were cutting commercials for Kerry. They were using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding.

LAUER: So if you lose a husband, you no longer have the right to have a political point of view?

COULTER: No, but don't use the fact that you lost a husband as the basis for being able to talk about, while preventing people from responding. Let Matt Lauer make the point. Let Bill Clinton make the point. Don't put up someone I am not allowed to respond to without questioning the authenticity of their grief.

LAUER: Well apparently you are allowed to respond to them.

COULTER: Yeah, I did.

LAUER: So, in other words.

COULTER: That is the point of liberal infallibility. Of putting up Cindy Sheehan, of putting out these widows, of putting out Joe Wilson. No, no, no. You can't respond. It's their doctrine of infallibility. Have someone else make the argument then.

LAUER: What I'm saying is I don't think they have ever told you, you can't respond.

COULTER: Look, you are getting testy with me.
That's a response? What claim of infallibility? What's Ann's problem?

And Lauer thought Tom "I'm a world-renowned expert on psychiatry and medication and you're not" Cruise was a pain.

So these rich uppity "broads" who happened to lose a husband should just shut up. What gives them the right to criticize anything? They're just show-offs, giddy on being famous. They don't know jack.

Pot. Kettle. One calling the other black.

Okay, then. There are two different worlds here. They don't intersect. They don't even touch.

And on the political front there was another example of a disconnect, the same day, as noted here -
Congress should make Social Security overhaul its top priority next year, while a rewrite of the tax code and revamping the nation's healthcare system probably will wait until at least 2009, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery, R-La., said today. McCrery said it will take the expiration of tax cuts in 2010 to build enough political support for tax reform, even though President Bush and many Republican lawmakers would like to tackle it sooner. "I think the president wants to do tax reform, and I'm certainly ready to help him do tax reform in '07 and '08. ... Looking at the lay of the land politically and substantively, it seems to me the more logical order would be Social Security, then tax reform, then healthcare reform," he told reporters after addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
What? They tried that. They ran it up the flagpole. No one saluted. The president traveled the country talking it up, and people decided they'd rather have a safe retirement income in a government sponsored insurance plan than be their own investment managers and play the stock market, especially as a transition to the latter would cost the government a few trillion dollars. It made no sense.

The minority leader in the House, that woman from gay San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi, spoke for the other world -
When the House Republican point man on Social Security says that privatizing Social Security will be a top priority next year, it is clear the Republicans once again are not listening to the American people, who resoundingly rejected this risky scheme last year.

This is simply not a priority of the American people, yet Republicans continue their relentless quest to privatize Social Security over the real needs of Americans. The Republican plan to dismantle Social Security, which would slash benefits for the middle class, is a blast from their failed policies of the past.
No, it's not. It's an odd message from another planet.

But then Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly here offers a report on that other planet, noting that last month the Boston Globe reported that Republican leaders in Congress were considering a legislative agenda "in which they would literally give up on passing major policy initiatives and instead focus on divisive bills that they didn't expect to pass."

That's the planet where a legislature exists not to do the people business and work on law that make things run smoothly but to make grand and noble failing gestures.

Benen cites Roll Call -
With only a few months left on the legislative calendar, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has decided to abandon any efforts at bipartisanship in favor of using his chamber to hold a series of highly partisan, mostly symbolic votes on conservative causes, including amendments banning gay marriage and flag burning, and fully repealing the estate tax.

Although Frist has peppered the Senate schedule with a handful of substantive issues - including likely votes this week on a new U.S. trade representative, a Native Hawaiian-rights bill and a new mine-safety czar - the chamber will put off work on major legislation such as the fiscal 2007 Defense authorization bill in order for Frist to pursue items of special interest to his party's conservative base.
Benen -
It's been painfully obvious for a while now, but it's almost comical how unserious congressional Republicans are about matters of state. They're not only failing to govern, they're shirking their duties intentionally as part of an electoral strategy.
Well, that's their world. And it will keep them in power. In the morning's Washington Post E. J. Dionne pointed out that the Republican Party "thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces." Yep. (Dionne say much more and that's all here.)

That's whole different world.

And the war rolls on -
Security in the capital has deteriorated precipitously in recent months. Increasingly brazen assassinations torment neighborhoods and no longer seem to follow any obvious patterns. In May, the Baghdad morgue recorded the highest number of bodies received since the beginning of the war: 1,375, approximately double the toll of May 2005.
We're making good progress, and Baghdad is half as secure as it was a year ago. That's also news from another planet. But the number of hapless and harmless civilians we shoot dead at checkpoints has dropped from one a day to one a week, on average. Progress.

There is a great divide. The November election should be interesting. It's not a plebiscite on Bush. It's an election where each voter decided on which planet her or she lives.

Posted by Alan at 23:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006 18:06 PDT home

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