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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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Monday, 26 June 2006
Shutting Things Down
Topic: Dissent

Shutting Things Down

Actually, the two issues that seem to be at the center of the national dialog as the week began on Monday, June 26, are related, even if they don't seem to be. As the Senate was dropping all other business to work on passing a proposed amendment to the constitution to ban flag burning - something no protester has done since the late sixties - simultaneously the whole right side of things is calling for the New York Times to be charged with treason, or so the Republican Congressman from New York, that excitable King fellow, said should be done. Well, he said that on Fox News Sunday and the president helped him out the following day, just as the Senate was getting into the flag burning thing.

Obviously there's a call from the Republican side for everyone to get patriotic - and some antique form of letting people know you are unhappy with the government should be forbidden, and the press should be patriotic too, and not print what the government says they shouldn't print. Patriotism here is shutting up, and not rocking the boat.

But flag burning? When did that become a problem?

It became a problem, of course, when all the polling is showing the Republicans could easily lose the House in the upcoming November elections, and might lose the Senate too. They need to remind voters that they will let no one protest in the wrong way ever again, like way back when, nor will they let the press print what the government says it shouldn't print. There are limits, and people need to know them. For a crowd that so often derides "political correctness" as an evil that undercuts free speech and "open dialog," there's no small irony here. After all the outrage and anger at "what you can't say" - blacks really are inferior and Mexicans lazy and whatnot - here they are taking a gamble, hoping their hyper-patriotic base and a few in the middle will agree that there are, well, exceptions.

The effort in the Senate is being led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, just as he led the effort to keep one brain-dead woman alive (he said she certainly wasn't, and he was a doctor after all), and just as he led the effort to pass a proposed amendment to constitution to ban gay marriage, as that was just wrong too. He needs a win one of these days, and this may be it. This one may have just enough votes to pass.

Tim Grieve here calls the effort "Gay Marriage II" and that fits. And as the Wall Street Journal notes here, Frist is working with Daniel Wheeler, the executive director of the American Legion and the president of the Citizens Flag Alliance. Wheeler "says he has never seen a flag on fire" but considers the flag-burning amendment "crucial because it 'reflects the values of the American people.'" Right.

Grieve says this -
Here in the reality-based community, we tend to deal more with things we have seen. And as we sit back to watch the Senate debate a constitutional amendment over flag burning, we wonder how some of the things we've seen "reflect the values of the American people." We're thinking here about places like New Orleans and Guantánamo; we're thinking about families struggling to make it on a federal minimum wage that hasn't been increased in nearly a decade; we're thinking about more than 50,000 dead Iraqis, more than 2,500 dead Americans, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of both who will spend their lives suffering from the devastating injuries of war.

How does any of that "reflect the values of the American people"? And what, exactly, has Bill Frist done about it?
Not much, of course, but we're talking baseball, apple pie and motherhood here.

Really, we're talking baseball, Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball specifically - even if the team motto is, unfortunately, "Go Blue!"

Michael Scherer explains the baseball connection here -
If only for a cigarette lighter, Rick Monday would have gone down in history as just another above-average baseball player, a left-hander who peaked with a 32-home-run season. But on April 25, 1976, two bell-bottomed protesters jumped the outfield fence at Dodger Stadium and streaked onto the field with an American flag, a bottle of lighter fluid and a pack of matches. The first match didn't light. By the time they got the second match going, Monday had run over to snatch the flag away, making his mark as the slugger who saved the Stars and Stripes.

Thirty years later, it is politics as much as patriotism that keeps Monday's achievement in the headlines. Senate Republicans have been treating him like a war hero in recent weeks, passing a resolution to commemorate his courage and holding a Flag Day rally on the lawn outside the Capitol in his honor. The slugger brought with him the yellowed and tattered, but uncharred, flag he saved in Los Angeles, as six senators took their turn at a podium to praise Old Glory and memorialize the outfielder's spot decision. "It is arguably one of the greatest moments in the game," praised Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, who played as a pitcher in the major leagues until 1971. "Like Rick, we should do everything we can to protect and honor our flag."
Monday was a pretty good ballplayer, and Bunning a fine pitcher, but this is almost comic. One assumes they served apple pie, and photogenic mothers of the June Cleaver type stood around with their cute little blond kids.

But Monday seems to really want to be, as Scherer explains, the "poster boy for the latest attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration."

Ah, but such things happen when the Republicans sense danger, which in this case is a loss of power.

And this one will be close -
The current vote counts used by both Republicans and Democrats put the flag amendment within one vote of the two-thirds majority needed for passage - the closest margin on this issue in the history of the republic. A total of 14 Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Dianne Feinstein of California, are expected to join 52 Republicans who support changing the Constitution to allow federal prohibitions of flag burning. A solid minority of senators, including Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and two other Republicans, are expected to hold back the tide. The House, meanwhile, has already passed the flag amendment, under the unlikely leadership of Jack Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat, and Duke Cunningham, a now-convicted California Republican.
Stop! Yeah, the House passed it - they'd vote to take the vote way from women and dark skinned folks, to beatify George Bush if the pope would agree, and bring back slavery - as they are heavy with "red meat" conservatives, but the new enemy of the right Jack Murtha, and the man in jail for taking bribes so incompetent contractors got key defense contractors got business, led this. That's delicious.

And there's this from Frist, after the "baseball" rally - "There is a new spirit coming across the country. I think you can feel it in the last six months - people coming together around the flag." What's he been smoking?

Scherer helpfully runs down the main arguments and counter arguments - Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont saying this is lot like the gay marriage thing, just posturing, and "I think the Constitution is too important to be used for partisan gain." And Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, is screwing up his own party by saying he won't vote for it - something or other about free speech and all that, and then he may be up for Frist's job as majority leader.

The cool thing is how they're dealing with McConnell, "trotting out Heather French Henry, a former Miss America from Kentucky, to publicly call for her senator's vote." She says he's not representing "the people." And she was Miss America, after all. She knows. She had the title, officially.

And the Republicans want this debate now, and if it passes, the debate in the legislatures of all fifty states, and it must be ratified by thirty-eight to get added to the constitution. They've got the baseball players, and the former Miss America, and their side. You want to oppose that? Scherer - "Most Republicans have made no secret of their desire to thrust America into a full-fledged debate over a form of protest that went out of style before the Bee Gees fell off the charts."

Then there's Orrin Hatch of Utah -
"Five unelected activist jurists changed the law," Hatch said at the Flag Day rally, referring to the divided 1989 Supreme Court decision that struck down federal laws against flag burning. Hatch, of course, did not mention that one of those "activist jurists" was arch-conservative Antonin Scalia.
Oops. As you recall, the Supreme Court did rule that burning the flag might be offensive, but much free speech can be offensive to one side or the other, and you just didn't go and make rules to make sure no one is offended - that not how it's supposed to work. And Scalia said so.

And as for the matter of urgency -
... Republicans are also struggling to deal with the current trends in flag desecration. In recent years, public reports of flag burning have become far less common than fatal lightning strikes. This has driven Sen. Bob Bennett, the junior Republican from Utah, to oppose the amendment. "It's a non-problem," Bennett told Salon, in a statement. "The only time people burn the flag is when this amendment comes up."

... In 1990, Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans supported the amendment. That number dropped to 55 percent in 2005, a measure that held steady in a CNN poll completed this month. Flag burning is not a red-hot issue for voters in general: A June Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that only 4 percent of registered voters consider flag burning one of the two most important issues in this year's election. By contrast, 53 percent identified the Iraq war and 32 percent mentioned illegal immigration, while on social issues, 21 percent of voters ranked abortion as a top issue, and 16 percent named gay marriage.

All this may make Americans wonder why the Senate is now closer than ever to forcing another round in the 1970s culture wars.
That's a good question. Everyone really misses the Bee Gees?

Some others make sense. Not a senator yet, but running in Virginia against the incumbent George Allen, is James Webb - the former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, the best-selling author (Fields of Fire from 1978), and a former United States Marine Corps officer decorated for valor in the Vietnam War. He's left the Republicans. He's running as a Democrat. Allen is the tobacco-chewing good ol' boy wannabe, son of the famous football coach, with the confederate flags all over (more detail in these pages here). So it's the done-everything, intellectual and writer and lawyer and man of action, against the "I don't read nothin' much" never-in-the-military man of the Old South, who went to high school out here in chic Palos Verdes and cut classes a lot.

Allen wants the amendment to pass. Webb, doesn't -
"Jim Webb has great respect for our national flag and great respect for our Constitution, and is proud of the many contributions his family has made in defense of both. Like many combat veterans such as General Colin Powell and former Senators John Glenn and Bob Kerry, he does not believe it is necessary to amend the Constitution in order to protect the dignity of our flag. This is yet another example of deliberately divisive politics that distract Americans from the real issues that are facing our country," said Kristian Denny Todd, spokeswoman for the Webb campaign.
So why do military men, like Webb and Powell and Glenn, think this is all silliness? Maybe they fought so people had the right to burn the flag if they're angry - it's offensive, yes, and meant to be, but there are bigger issues, and it only makes the "burner" look petty and foolish. What's the problem?

What Webb says on his campaign site -
There are many challenges facing Americans today: an unpopular war, skyrocketing health care costs, a shrinking job market and rising inequality in society. I believe in the strength of American character and the ingenuity of the American people. With the right leaders we can overcome all of these obstacles. America doesn't lack ideas, it lacks leaders willing to stand up and make courageous decisions.

I have fought - and continue to fight - to protect American values. I fought in Vietnam with the hope that the Vietnamese might share the same freedoms we enjoy. I fought as a congressional committee counselor to guarantee our veterans the treatment they deserve. I fought as Secretary of the Navy to maintain the excellence of our military. I fought, pro bono, on behalf of countless veterans and refugees, in order that they might have their voices heard in the vast government bureaucracy. And I will fight in the Senate to give all Americans the chance to achieve their dreams.
Frist would say "that's a loser" and they will attack this -
Webb was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. He served with the 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam as a rifle platoon and company commander. He remained in the Marine Corps until 1972, receiving the Navy Cross, the second-highest award in the Navy; the Silver Star Medal; two Bronze Star Medals; and two Purple Hearts.

Webb wrote his first book, Micronesia and U.S. Pacific Strategy, while a law student at Georgetown University. He received his J.D. in 1975. He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and then Secretary of the Navy (1987-1988) during the Reagan Administration. He resigned as Secretary of the Navy after refusing to agree to reduce the size of the Navy.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Webb wrote an op-ed piece for USA Today in which he considered the candidacies of John Kerry and George W. Bush from the perspective of military veterans. He criticized Kerry for his activism against the Vietnam War in the 1970s while affiliated with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Bush for having "committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory" with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
So he's another Kohn Kerry coward, not a fighter pilot like Bush. You know how that will play out.

And then there's the Hollywood thing - Webb wrote the story and was the executive producer for Rules of Engagement (2000), and Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson were in that. And Rob Reiner is directing his Whiskey River, now in production at Warner Brothers over in Burbank. Rob Reiner is so not red state. And too there's his past - Webb won a varsity letter for boxing at Annapolis, but in his second-class (junior) year, he fought and lost in a controversial decision to Oliver North, the fellow convicted of lying to congress in the Iran-Contra business and who now has his own show, War Stories, on Fox News.

So he will probably lose. He doesn't care if some misguided idiot burns a flag one day. He thinks there are bigger issues than punishing such assholes, if they return from the late sixties and early seventies. The congress doesn't. The House passed the thing, and the Senate has dropped everything to try to pass it.

Some of us see the whole thing as kind of a joke. But it's not. It's chipping away at what cannot be "said" politically. That's a dangerous business. Patriots don't shut up when something is just wrong. And both said do dramatic things. How do you draw the line?

The there's the New York Times. How do you draw the line there?

First it was the Pentagon Papers, and now we have Eric Lichtblau and James Risen doing their reporting. Last year it was reporting that the Bush administration was monitoring telephone calls and scanning all telephone records without the warrants required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (here). And last week it was the news that the Bush administration has been monitoring and examining the bank records of thousands of American citizens (here). The first won them the Pulitzer Prize. The second made lots of folks angry, like Congressman King from New York, who said here he wants to see the Times prosecuted for running banking story and "putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people."

Monday, June 26, the president got angry, saying running the story was "disgraceful" and "does great harm to the United States of America." The White House press secretary said this - "The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live."

If they know we bent the rules to amass tons of private banking records then they'll hide the money trail and we'll all die? Something like that. You could see the Vice President and every talking head on cable discussing this. You believe there are some things you shouldn't know, as others would then know them too, or you don't, as knowing the administration is breaking a whole lot of laws and bending others, and your privacy is fast disappearing, is a big deal.

So which sort are you?

Arthur Silber puts it nicely here -
When you strip away the numerous distracting details and irrelevancies, people exhibit one of two basic perspectives toward government (including a particular administration that holds power), and toward authority in general. One group, composed of people some might consider skeptics but whom I regard as realists, consistently questions and challenges any concentration of power. Such people recognize one of history's primary lessons: that power seeks to protect its own prerogatives, as it simultaneously seeks to extend its reach. The realists recognize that people who routinely exercise great power should always be held to account for their actions, and there must always be restraints against abuses of power. They reject out of hand anyone's demand for unquestioning loyalty and obedience, a demand often expressed in the form: "Trust me." The realists know that it is precisely the person who makes such demands who is never to be trusted. Honorable people do not demand or expect unquestioning obedience.

The second group is made up of people who are eager to let others make the decisions that shape their lives. They identify with authority in general, and they willingly offer up their own judgment and independence on behalf of those who hold the reins of power. The phrase "speaking truth to power" not only doesn't hold meaning for such people: for these psychological dependents, truth and power are coextensive. The idea that truth and power might be fundamentally opposed almost never occurs to them, because they regard it as inconceivable and incomprehensible. These are the people who do not wait for the demand, "Trust me." They eagerly volunteer their trust to those in power before it is even requested. They think this proves their loyalty. If you rely on others to guide and protect your own life, loyalty is the prerequisite for such protection. The dependents know this without being told - and so do those who hold power. The necessary interrelationship of the dependents and those with power ensures that the scheme will continue without challenge.
And no one should, in anger, burn a flag. That's disloyal.

And as for the press -
The press in this country has voluntarily placed itself in the role of abject dependent for several decades. Many members of the press will rush to reassure us of their independence and their willingness to challenge power - and they will point to their treatment of the Clinton presidency as a notable example. But what did the press challenge in that instance? Not matters of state, and not anything remotely connected to the power government exercises or the policies it pursues - but irrelevant business deals from the remote past, or private sexual behavior. In the same way, if Bush should declare martial law after another terrorist attack and begin to exercise full dictatorial powers, the press will rise to the challenge of questioning absolute power in the new environment in its usual fashion. Our press will offer numerous articles and commentary about whether our President for Life (under an emergency law passed in both houses by large margins) should speak to us more often, to explain how he is protecting us and why we shouldn't be concerned about those friends, acquaintances and even relatives who have mysteriously vanished from our lives. Our President for Life knows what is best for us, our press will tell us repeatedly and with many variations, and he's the only one who can keep us safe. But it would be so much nicer if he reassured us more often. Unlike the members of the press itself, ordinary citizens often don't understand the wisdom exemplified by our leaders, and by our President for Life. They tend to worry unnecessarily. The President for Life should calm their fears, and talk to them regularly in his soothing, folksy way. He should make clear that, although he holds the power of life and death over all of us, he's really a "regular" guy. He just happens to be a dictator - but that last attack showed that's what we need now.
There's much more at the link, but with few exceptions, like the Times at times, that's where we are.

What's happening with these two issues this week is the loyalists against the realists. And the issue is whether folks should just shut up and trust the guys in charge. It's getting pretty basic.

Posted by Alan at 23:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006 07:08 PDT home

Sunday, 25 June 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 26, for the week of June 25, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, five extended commentaries on current events, from the absurd to that new book, to all this reassessment of the war, to even more government snooping around without any warrants or oversight or anything like that, to the new Iraqi government proposing odd things. The usual? So it would seem these days.

At the International Desk, Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, covers, with photos, what the annual Fete de la Musique on the summer solstice has become, while Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, offers a tour of the amazing market there at Carmel, with amazing photos.

This week's photography? Two quick Hollywood shots - have to have those - and a visit to Surf City, USA - the real one. And Craftsman architecture, and some studies in blue, and three pages of high-resolution botanicals, with notes.

Our friend from Texas provides us with more of the weird, and the quotes pertain to what you know.

Direct links to specific pages…

Extended Observations on Current Events ________________________

Perspective: It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even if a cruel one...
Books: Summer Reading - A Warning
About This War
Spin: Make Folks Worry, and Hope They Jump to Conclusions
Other Voices: Sunday Political Notes

The International Desk ________________________

Our Man in Paris: Jack's Big Week
Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Apple, Carmel, Melon and Pears

Hollywood Matters ________________________

Quick Shots

Southern California Photography ________________________

Surf City, USA
Architecture: Folk Art
Colors: Studies in Blue...
Botanicals: Increasing Intensity
The Unexpected
Magnolia: A Little Bit of the Old South in Hollywood

__

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of June 18, 2006 - So just what do you know?

Posted by Alan at 20:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 24 June 2006
Elsewhere
Topic: Announcements

Elsewhere

Again, no commentary this day. I'm deep in the assembly of the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log. The photo-essay from Our Man in Tel-Aviv - Sylvain Ubersfeld - is taking some time. The seven amazing shots of the Carmel market had to be edited for the web, and although he sent me the text in English, he composed it on a Hebrew version of MS Word, so the format had to be untangled - everything was aligned right and the spacing was odd. Ric Erickson's column from Paris was far easier. And the new issue has a ton of high-resolution photography from these parts, and preparing that for posting eats up the hours. The new issue should be posted by Sunday afternoon, Pacific Time.

There are, however, some new photos this day on the photography site - Just Above Sunset Photography. Take a look.

But now it's off to Eagle Rock, near Pasadena, for dinner at Café Beaujolais with my favorite Frenchwoman living here now, and a crew of attorneys off to a wedding in Biarritz soon, and their French teacher. That should be odd. The last trip to Paris was five years ago, but this place is run by French expatriates and the language will be French and that's an end on it.

In lieu of what might have been said here, you could read the best thing on the web today - well, actually it was posted Friday - Arthur Silber at The Power of Narrative with Battling the Ghost of Vietnam, which opens with this -
If you want to provoke an especially heated reaction from the supporters of our current foreign policy -- those who proclaim that we must stay in Iraq for the indefinite future, and until an impossible series of events miraculously transforms a bloody, murderous failure into something they might finally dub a "success" - there is one guaranteed method of achieving that end: compare Iraq to Vietnam. Almost without exception, the hawks instantly burn with white-hot anger. Their moral outrage is palpable.
And he goes on to explain, in detail. It's quite long, and quite good.

Also good, but brief, is this letter a reader sends to Andrew Sullivan at his web log -
Sorting through your blog entries and the readers' emails you've posted yields the following five Iraq options:

(1) If we pull out now, it will be a disaster.

(2) If we keep going indefinitely the way we're going now, it will be a disaster.

(3) If we keep going until January 2009 the way we're going now, the new President will have no choice but to pull out quickly, which will be a disaster.

(4) Have faith that this administration will be more competent from now to January 2009 than it has been so far.

Andrew, I am through putting any faith in this administration. No significant policy they have advanced has turned out like they said it would - the budget, the environment, the cost of Medicare D, torture, WMD, Saddam-Al Qaeda, rebuilding Afghanistan, funding No Child Left Behind, global warming (remember Christine Todd Whitman promising the EPA under Bush would do something about it?), etc. ad nauseam. Have they not practically eliminated funding for civilian rebuilding in Iraq? (Gotta have that estate tax cut.)

How is the military supposed to maintain its present deployment levels for two and a half more years? Stop-loss orders?

One more option:

(5) Have faith that the new Iraqi government will be able to make up for the deficiencies of the Bush administration, if it continues to receive Bush administration help.

Is this faith justified? This seems to me where our inquiry must focus. I confess I don't have enough information to give a reasonable answer, though the reports of rampant corruption and atrocities by people in police and army uniforms are ominous. But we must realize that, if we stay, it's because we have confidence in the new Iraqi government. If we don't have that confidence, we should get out now. We have asked far too much of our military already. If we are to continue stop-loss for two and a half more years, we better have a damn good reason. Faith in the Bush administration is nowhere near good enough.
That's not very cheery.

Ah well, off to dinner.

Posted by Alan at 16:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 23 June 2006
Spin: Make Folks Worry, and Hope They Jump to Conclusions
Topic: Perspective

Spin: Make Folks Worry, and Hope They Jump to Conclusions

That defense attorney who runs the site Talk Left - where all sorts of attorneys arguing in court for their clients against the administration on this issue or that, or springing innocent people from death row, or defending detainees at Guantánamo, have their say - is Jeralyn Merritt. Friday, June 23, she shifted from her site to MSNBC to cover for their NYU journalism professor and political expert Eric Alterman. He's in Europe working on anther book, as if When Presidents Lie wasn't enough. So we're talking the opposition here. These are people unhappy with how things are going these days. They used to be in the minority. Things change.

In any event, it was her job to offer comment on the big events at the end of the week, and that called for making a decision - what big and what's not? And her contention? This - "While for some, the big story today is the indictment of wannabe warriors in Florida, I think the government's attempt to prevent the media from publishing articles about the Administration's use of an international financial cooperative's database to obtain banking records without judicial authorization is more compelling."

Of course she doesn't note the two are connected. But if it's going to come out - no matter how you plead with or threaten the press - that you are, in an entirely new area, doing massive snooping with no warrants or any oversight of any kind, and you've been doing it for five years without the courts or congress knowing a thing, then that's a good time to remind the wary that you really can catch the bad guys, so you need all your tools, even if you're breaking the law and lying. It softens the blow. It's for a greater good, keeping everyone alive.

The guys in Florida weren't caught by data-mining billions of personal financial records gathered and filed over the last five years and deciding who might seem a bit suspicious, but the implication is there - it could have helped, or might help in the future. The hapless Florida Seven are paraded for us, in handcuffs and the orange jail jumpsuits, as a reminder that things you really shouldn't do sometimes just need to be done. Not that there's any direct connection in this case, but massive financial snooping must be good for us all, you see. It could help, hypothetically. And of course these guys are the masters of carefully saying there may be "no explicit connection" but there could be - Saddam and 9/11, al Qaeda and Saddam, WMD and all the rest. You just don't say it flat out. You let people decide. So the Florida arrests were a sort of PR thing - these angry and useless men may be hopeless jerks with no real connection to the bad guys - but think about it. There are bad guys out there, even if these weren't, and do you want to tie the hands of those trying to protect you by making them play by the rules, when the bad guys don't?

It's all in the timing. The financial records story was going to hit the Friday morning papers. Announce you arrested the nefarious plotters Thursday night. It's just too bad these plotters weren't very nefarious.

The Washington Post account of the Florida arrests is here, the Associated Press account of the administration's attempts to get the press to not print a word of it here, and the New York Times discussion of how the administration got the records without any judicial authorization here. It's pretty bizarre.

Who knew there was this Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT, of course), a cooperative in Brussels linking almost eight thousand banks and brokerage houses all over the world, maintaining records of billions of international financial transactions each year? That was just too tempting, and here the Post reports we've wanted access to their records since the 1990s, but it was only after September 11, 2001, that President Bush insisted he had the authority to compel them. It's that Article II thing - the president doesn't have to answer to anyone, as he can break the rules for the greater good - it's his job to do so. Yep, we're told some government and industry authorities said releasing all these detailed private records to the president's Department of the Treasury would "shake confidence in the banking system." People expect privacy. But that's too bad, and President Bush overrode all the objections and invoked his powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to "investigate, regulate or prohibit" any foreign financial transaction linked to "an unusual and extraordinary threat." September 11 changed everything, as you know.

And no one was supposed to know - Treasury officials specifically asked the New York Times and Los Angeles Times not to report on this. You just don't let the bad guys know you have all the transition records of most everything around the world and you're looking for anything you can find - you just don't reveal such things to the enemy. You don't tip them off.

But one has to assume the bad guys knew they were being watched. The real reason to keep a lid on this may have been to prevent a banking crisis - much of business relies on your competitors not knowing what money is moving where, and if the folks in Brussels are handing absolutely everything over to the US Treasury folks, no questions asked, you have to worry what information could be leaked, or what might be purchased from a low-level investigator with an adjustable rate mortgage about to skyrocket. That doesn't make you happy.

But the newspapers refused to hold back the story.

The New York Times (Bill Keller) - "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."

The Los Angeles Times (Dean Baquet) - "We weighed the government's arguments carefully, but in the end we determined that it was in the public interest to publish information about the extraordinary reach of this program. It is part of the continuing national debate over the aggressive measures employed by the government."

And the Los Angeles Times reported on privacy advocates having a problem with the technology here - "link analysis." That can drag in almost anyone, like harmless folks who have routine financial dealings with "terrorist suspects." You invested in the mortgage reinsurance market and six step removed someone bought a house next door to some sneaky middle-eastern fellow who know some in Pakistan who knew someone in Kabul, and so on. It gets tricky, no outside governmental oversight body - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or some grand jury- ever monitors the subpoenas served on SWIFT.

Jeralyn Merritt does note that the New York Times published its report, the Treasury Department issued an official statement - the program is perfectly legal and these media reports will compromise it. And the Post Post reports that Stuart Levey, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the program "is on rock solid ground." The White House? That was predictable - "We are disappointed that once again the New York Times has chosen to expose a classified program that is working to protect Americans."

Then there are the contradictions. Stuart Levey, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, says the program wasn't data mining at all - a specific name had to be typed into the database request. But the Post reports this -
That was not the case when the program began in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, when Bush signed Executive Order 13224 going after al-Qaeda's finances. Officials said far more information was collected early on, often on people who had nothing to do with al-Qaeda but whose Muslim names or businesses were similar to those used by suspected members of al-Qaeda. That method flooded the intelligence community with reams of material that was laborious to go through and repeatedly misled investigators.
Maybe the Post is lying, or their sources on the inside want to make the administration look bad, and are lying. Or maybe it's true.

Someone is worried, like Congressman Markey from Massachusetts here -
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. and co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, said today that there were disturbing similarities between the bank-monitoring program and the secret surveillance program for telephone calls that was revealed last year. "Like the domestic surveillance program exposed last December, the Bush administration's efforts to tap into the financial records of thousands of Americans appear to rely on justifications concocted without regard to current law," Markey said in a statement.

"If the administration wants to fight terrorism legally, then it should ask for the authority it needs and then follow the law that Congress passes," Markey said. "Don't claim 'temporary emergency' and then operate in secret for five years."
But why not? This congress won't make waves. And who said anything about fighting terrorism legally?

Anyway, all this information was obtained from national security letters, those administrative subpoenas. No judge approved them.

We do a lot of that these days, as the Post noted here -
The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people - are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans. Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.
Welcome to the funhouse.

Jeralyn Merritt 's cry in the dark - "The newspapers were right to publish reports on the program. We have an Administration that operates in incredible secrecy and a President who believes he can trump the will of Congress and bypass the Courts. Given the NSA warrantless electronic surveillance program and the huge surge in the use of national security letters to obtain our phone records and more, we cannot just take them at their word."

You just have to trust they'd never let information leak, or use what they've learned for political purposes or financial gain. Have they ever misled anyone, after all?

And what about those plotters in Florida? How close were we to losing the Sears Tower in Chicago and the ten thousand souls who work there every day?

There's this -
The seven men arrested in an alleged terrorist plot believed they were conspiring with al Qaeda ''to levy war against the United States'' in attacks that would ''be just as good or greater than 9/11,'' according to a federal indictment unsealed this morning.

The campaign, which never advanced beyond the discussion stage, would begin with the bombing of the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago, according to the indictment.

... They apparently never had any contact with authentic representatives of al Qaeda. They were not able to obtain explosives, federal officials said.

"It was more aspirational than operational," John Pistole, the FBI's deputy director, said during the Washington news conference.

But the group asked the supposed al Qaeda representative to provide machine guns, boots, uniforms and vehicles, the indictment said.
So let's see here - they had no money, no weapons, and had no contact with actual terrorists. And they were really unhappy didn't have uniforms, which is odd, as terrorists don't wear uniforms. That defeats the whole idea. They were unclear on the concept here, but still the Attorney General said - "These homegrown terrorists might prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda." He's careful with the word "might." You're supposed to extrapolate.

As for that "might" Greg Saunders says this -
At this point, those of us who lived in Oklahoma in the mid-90's let out a collective "No shit, dumbass." It's nice for the head of the Justice Department to state this reality, but they're the same ones who have been spent the last half-decade refusing the use the word "terrorist" to describe any American criminals who aren't SUV-hating hippies. But even compared to the "eco-terrorists" (who have actually firebombed SUV dealerships), these guys were smaller than small-time. These arrests weren't even the result of a law enforcement operation; they just got turned in by the neighborhood watch -

Pistole, the FBI official, said the case was broken through a tip from the public. ''They came to our attention through pepple who were alert in the community,'' he said.

Other authorities emphasized that the public was not in danger and all activities - including today's parade in honor of the Miami Heat's NBA championship - should proceed without undue alarm.


I wish these "other authorities" were on CNN. Instead we're stuck with anchors and "experts" talking about how these dorks considered themselves "soldiers." Which might be scary if these guys weren't so pathetic that they couldn't even buy their own damn shoes -

Batiste gave the supposed al Qaeda representative a shopping list of materials he needed - boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles.

Six days later, Batiste outlined his mission to wage war against the U.S. government from within using an army of his ''soldiers'' to help destroy the Sears Tower. He also gave the informant a list of shoe sizes for his soldiers.


I knew a guy a few years ago who would dress up like a ninja and sneak around his college campus. He also would show up at poetry readings wearing a Cobra Commander mask and shout threats at the audience along the lines of "You will all face destruction! COBRAAAA!!!". He wasn't a terrorist, he was just crazy. Same goes with these seven morons in Miami.
Saunders' conclusion - "You know the Bush Administration has lost its mojo when they can't even fake a terror alert well."

Yeah, well, they had to do something, as fancifully imagined by Taylor Marsh here -
Hey, Alberto Gonzales here.

So, I'm sitting around in my air conditioned office in Washington the other day thinking, I need to make an arrest. It's just been way too quiet lately and the boss is taking incoming from generals, veterans and military families on Iraq. I need to do something. I need to prove we're fighting them "over here" to make... well, anyway, we need to keep America safe.

Anyway, an FBI agent walks in and starts talking about a tip we just got from someone down in Miami. With Jeb down there it's friendly territory anyway, so I thought, what the hell, right? Next, I allocate some funds and sign off on an operational request. We called it Operation Ninja, and then my personal FBI agent buddy - not a regular FBI agent, but one of our Republican moles - gets on the phone to Florida.

So, now I'm a Ninja fighter. You may ask, why am I calling the bad ass terrorists in Florida Ninjas? Because they dressed up in "ninja clothing" to disguise their purpose and to shape shift between good and evil doers. It was on cable. It's true.

But after my FBI agent calls the head Ninja, a problem arises. Sure, they want to blow up stuff and raise hell in America. After all, that's what homegrown terrorists do. But the Florida Ninjas don't have a camera to take pictures of the buildings they want to blow up.

They don't have boots.

They don't have guns, equipment or any weapons of any kind. They don't even have explosives. There was "no threat from this cell."

They don't even have a van to case the building they hope to target.

That means more money and set up costs for me, so that the Florida Ninjas can set up shop so I can go in and arrest them for plotting terrorism. Well, this is a presidential pain.

And I have to do all this while also planning a big fancy blow out press conference for when I arrest the Florida Ninjas. Sheesh. An attorney general's job is never done.

Then I find out that there's been "absolutely no plotting" from these "mutant jihadists." The mainstream press is also calling them "incompetent wannabes." Yeah, but they're MY incompetent wannabes. I made these guys. These evil doers are mine.
Marsh - "Color me cynical, but wake up and smell the election year fear campaign. Hear Karl Rove hiss. I'm all for catching terrorists, but when you catch a bunch of wannabe jihadists in ninja clothing just arrest them. Do you need to call a glory hound press conference?"

Yes, you do. It was the banking thing.

But then there's the logic problem. It's hard to maintain the war rationale now in play - "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here."

You just don't say, "They're here, folks." People do notice.

Spin is hard work.

Posted by Alan at 23:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 23 June 2006 23:19 PDT home

Thursday, 22 June 2006
About This War
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

About This War

Sometimes, when things are on your mind and you can't quite find the words to pin down what it is that's bothering you it helps to do some reading. It's that old thing about language and epistemology - the medium of thought is language, not just the words, but the words put together in such a way that, when they fall just right, you finally realize what the issue is. Otherwise you just have a vague, uncomfortable mix of unsettling feelings. But then you find someone providing the words to "express" that unease and, often to your surprise, you have the thing in hand - you can think about it, not just mope around and feel ill at ease. Good poetry is like that, finding the exactly words for what disconcerts, and making it something that can be considered. It was hard to explain that to the students in the English class back in the seventies, as it's one of those odd ideas, that the poem they don't want to discuss anyway really doesn't "mean" anything at all - as Archibald MacLeish puts it Ars Poetica, "A poem does not mean, but be" (text here). It's expression, not description, and certainly not an essay out to make a point. It's bringing what was outside language, and not accessible (not "thinkable"), and making it actually available to the mind. And that's pretty neat, and too, often a great relief - you finally get the words that make it possible deal with the big stuff in life, or the small and funny stuff. No one wants to go through life feeling vaguely uneasy, or even vaguely happy, and not be able to explain or express either, or much of anything, even to themselves. We all want to make sense of things. And that takes words. It takes language.

But it's not just poetry that does that. Many are uneasy about what's happening in the world, and in this country, and read everything they can, or listen to the talking heads on the radio or television, hoping someone will say the "Ah Ha!" words that ease the uneasiness, as it were - the words that pull all the uneasy feelings into the words that make it all accessible. We all want to make sense of things. And that takes words. It takes language. Yes, some find such "relief" reading or listening to Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh. Some prefer Al Franken or Bill Clinton. The impulse is the same - making sense of things. The primary sources are all spinning you this way or that - John Murtha one way and George Bush the other, for example. You try to sort it all out. You turn to the words of those who say they have done just that. You get a match with the words that ease your inarticulate discomfort - or you don't and keep trying.

This is all complicated by the net. There are a million voices out there, and many million words. How do you find a match - the "Ah Ha!" words that ease the uneasiness?

Here's a shortcut. Try Arthur Silber at "The Power of Narrative" here - and yes, the name of his site indicates he knows just what he's doing, building the narratives you might find useful, finding the words that make it possible to think about things that made you really uneasy but you just couldn't nail down.

And this particular link he's trying out some ideas, some language, that offers a way to think about the big issue of the day, our war in Iraq. He pulls in some stuff from Jacob Hornberger and tries out some formulations that might help.

A few days earlier he had written this regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq, something he says almost all politicians and our media ignore entirely -
This is the foundational point, one that is almost never acknowledged in our public debates. Iraq constituted no threat to us, and our leaders knew it. Therefore, our invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are naked acts of aggression. To fall back on the defense of "good intentions" is to confess that your actions have caused nothing but disaster and death - but that you "meant well." None of the Iraqis who have suffered so grievously or who are now dead, and none of the Americans and others who have been horribly wounded or killed, gives a damn about anyone's intentions, good or otherwise. Neither should any decent and compassionate human being.
That's blunt, and of course no one discusses it, but with the majority of us now thinking the war in Iraq was a stunningly stupid idea, and having any number of reasons to think so, this cuts deeper. It's not really one of those "what was oft' thought but ne'er so well expressed" things, because no one was probably "thinking" this, they just sensed it was so, but didn't have the words. No WMD, no ties to al Qaeda, so we're told the real reason for the Iraq move was to bring democracy to these people, because that's a good thing to do. People were uneasy with that, and still are. This nails it - it's been a deadly mess but we really, really meant well, just doesn't cut it. We know better.

Then there was this interesting question in the Detroit News - "Some war critics are suggesting Iraq terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi should have been arrested and prosecuted rather than bombed into oblivion. Why expose American troops to the danger of an arrest, when bombs work so well?"

That sets off Jacob Hornberger here, suggesting one answer is so a five-year-old Iraqi girl isn't killed -
Of course, I don't know whether the Detroit News editorial board, if pressed, would say that the death of that little Iraqi girl was "worth it." Maybe the board wasn't even aware that that little girl had been killed by the bombs that killed Zarqawi when it published its editorial. But I do know one thing: killing Iraqi children and other such "collateral damage" has long been acceptable and even "worth it" to U.S. officials as part of their long-time foreign policy toward Iraq.

This U.S. government mindset was expressed perfectly by former U.S. official Madeleine Albright when she stated that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the U.S. and UN sanctions against Iraq had, in fact, been "worth it." By "it" she was referring to the U.S. attempt to oust Saddam Hussein from power through the use of the sanctions. Even though that attempt did not succeed, U.S. officials still felt that the deaths of the Iraqi children had been worth trying to get rid of Saddam.
Yeah, yeah. As Silber says, some would argue that such "collateral damage" is just an unfortunate byproduct of war - "War is brutal. People get killed in war. Compared with the two world wars, not that many people have been killed in Iraq, proponents of the Iraq war and occupation would claim."

Hornberger -
Such claims, however, miss an important point: U.S. military forces have no right, legal or moral, even to be in Iraq killing anyone. Why? Because neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States. The Iraqi people had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. Thus, this was an optional war against Iraq, one that President Bush and his military forces did not have to wage.

The attack on Iraq was akin to, say, attacking Bolivia or Uruguay or Mongolia, after 9/11. Those countries also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and so it would have been illegal and immoral for President Bush to have ordered an invasion and occupation of those countries as well. To belabor the obvious, the fact that some people attacked the United States on 9/11 didn't give the United States the right to attack countries that didn't have anything to do with the 9/11 attacks.

That made the United States the aggressor nation and Iraq the defending nation in this conflict. That incontrovertible fact holds deep moral implications, as well as legal ones, for U.S. soldiers who kill people in Iraq, including people who are simply trying to oust the occupiers from Iraq. Don't forget that aggressive war was punished as a war crime at Nuremberg.

... Moreover, what people often forget is that the United States is no longer at war in Iraq. This is an occupation, not a war. The war ended when Saddam Hussein's government fell. At that point, U.S. forces could have exited the country. (Or they could have exited the country when it became obvious that Saddam's infamous WMDs were nonexistent.) Instead, the president opted to have the troops remain in Iraq to "rebuild" the country and to establish "democracy," and the troops opted to obey his orders to do so. Occupying Iraq, like invading Iraq, was an optional course of action.
But then, now we are an occupation force serving a sovereign regime, however dysfunctional and new, and that makes us pretty much the domestic police force there. What they have isn't up and running yet.

But the folks we have there now aren't thinking that way. That's not what they were trained to do, and Hornberger sees a problem -
It's not difficult to see that the military holds the Bill of Rights in contempt, which is precisely why the Pentagon established its torture and sex abuse camps in Cuba and former Soviet-bloc countries - so as to avoid the constraints of the U.S. Constitution and any interference by our country's federal judiciary.

It is not a coincidence that in the Pentagon's three-year effort to "rebuild" Iraq it has done nothing to construct a judicial system that would have independent judges issuing search and arrest warrants or that would protect due process, habeas corpus, jury trials, and the right to counsel. To the military, all that is anathema, not only because it would presumably enable lots of guilty people to go free but also because it might inhibit the ability of the military to take out people without having to go through all those legal and technical niceties.

... More important, all too many Americans have yet to confront the moral implications of invading and occupying Iraq. U.S. officials continue to exhort the American people to judge the war and occupation on whether it proves to be "successful" in establishing "stability" and "democracy" in Iraq. If so, the idea will be that the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, including countless Iraqi children, will have been worth it. It would be difficult to find a more morally repugnant position than that.
No kidding. That may be bothering people, and now they have the words that make it possible to think about that, seriously.

Silber piles on -
For obvious reasons, neither our political leaders nor our media will confront this fact in a straightforward manner. As Hornberger says, to do so would be to acknowledge that our government and our military have acted in the most profoundly immoral manner imaginable. And ... an attack on Iran would multiply the scope of the immorality involved by many factors.

Our widespread determination to avoid these fundamental issues leads to ludicrous results, including much of the reaction to the death of Zarqawi. Here I am not concerned with the fact that Zarqawi's death will not make the slightest bit of difference to Iraq's future - although it certainly will not, the unceasing propaganda of our government to the contrary notwithstanding. Zarqawi was a comparatively minor figure, and we have unleashed much larger forces. At the moment, it would appear that no one and nothing can control or diminish those larger forces to the required degree.

In the wake of Zarqawi's death, many supporters of Bush and our foreign policy strongly condemned those of us who failed to adopt the celebratory tone they demanded.

... "Look how consumed you are by hatred for America and for Bush!" the hawks bleated. "You can't even be happy that this monstrous son of a bitch has been killed!" Zarqawi was certainly a monstrous son of a bitch, and I shed no tears for him personally. But am I happy that he was killed? No, I most certainly am not - because our very presence in Iraq represents an act of unforgivable immorality. We should never have been there to kill him in the first place. But that is precisely the point that the hawks want all of us to forget, and to never acknowledge under any circumstances.

This is what happens what you forget basic moral principles, and when you seek to obliterate the chain of events that brought us to where we are today. Each event is judged in isolation, completely disconnected from every relevant fact. But judgments made in this fashion are completely meaningless and devoid of content: events occur in a complex, specific context, and it is that context that reveals their meaning and their moral import. Discard the context, and judgments are utterly arbitrary. Yet this is essentially the manner in which all our national debates now take place.
That really is what happens when you can't find the words to express that something is wrong here. These two guys do. And yeah, this all is what many of us were sort of thinking. But we didn't have the words. Now we do.

But then, given events of Thursday, June 22, the war will go on -
The GOP-controlled Senate gave an election-year endorsement to President Bush's Iraq policy on Thursday, soundly rejecting Democratic demands to withdraw troops from the three-year-old war that has grown increasingly unpopular.

Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the Democrats' position, saying on CNN, "Absolutely the worst possible thing we could do at this point would be to validate and encourage the terrorists by doing exactly what they want us to do, which is to leave."

... In back-to-back votes, the Senate agreed with the president and turned back two Democratic proposals to begin withdrawing most of the 127,000 American forces in the war zone.

The first, offered by Sen. John Kerry and supported by 11 other Democrats and one independent but no Republicans, would have required the administration to start pulling troops out by year's end. It also would have set a deadline of July 2007 for all combat forces to leave.

... Most senators didn't agree, and the proposal fell on a 86-13 vote.

Minutes later, the Senate defeated by 60-39 a resolution to urge the administration to begin "a phased redeployment of U.S. forces" sometime this year. The resolution would not have set a deadline for the end of the
U.S. presence in Iraq.

That vote was largely along party lines.

... On Capitol Hill, the two parties' competing assessments previewed likely lines of attack little more than four months before Election Day.

... Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have staged debates on Iraq for two weeks, with both sides maneuvering for the political upper hand in a midterm election year. Both the House and Senate soundly defeated withdrawal timetables last week. Thursday's Senate votes showed up in campaign literature shortly after they were cast.
The lines are drawn, and what the Republican have left - with the war so unpopular and the chaos in the streets of Baghdad, Afghanistan going badly and its prime minister turning on us, and the world turning on us even more, and the ongoing scandals from Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff to the crew of thieves in Ohio, with the head of all government procurement just convicted on four felonies counts, the Marine investigations of a possible massacre here and premeditated murder there - is name calling. Is seems proposing options and plans makes you a coward who wants to cut and run.

How odd. And Josh Marshall puts it nicely here -
I'm a bit confused. I'm hearing a lot of reports about Republicans chanting about staying in Iraq forever, the danger of ever withdrawing our troops. There's Cheney. There's Frist. I can't say I've done a systematic scan of all media. I'm just saying what I've happened across during a day of work. And I'm not seeing any Dems. Not hearing any clear message.

What Republicans want is More of the Same.

That's the motto. More of the Same.

The president says he wants to stay in Iraq for at least three more years. Virtually every Republican agrees. Three more years. They approve the course the president has set.

They're for More of the Same. They don't have a plan. They just want to stay indefinitely.

They're just for More of the Same.

I must say it drives me to distraction that Democrats aren't saying this more clearly. Get on TV. Get on the radio. Why cede all the ground to the likes of Dick Cheney?
Why? Because you'll be called out as a coward if you do. That's the real "power of narrative."

Yes, it makes no sense. Alternatives are not treason. But in an election year they are, even sensible ones - not saying that these were. It's really not the substance of any alternative, of course. It's proposing one at all. Doing that makes you a quitter who wants to cede the world to the bad guys. That's the narrative. We'll see if that flies, come November.

And the president has famously said that when the troops come home is up to the next president. That's three more years.

But there are alternatives.

James Wimberley discuss them here -
The operative part of House Resolution 861 - the one that just passed on a strict party split - was the refusal to set a withdrawal date from Iraq. I found the half-baked rhetoric of the preamble at least as interesting, for it shows the depths of confusion into which US policy has fallen; and, by the same token, the extent of Osama bin Laden's strategic victory.

He started from a very difficult position. Most jihadi Muslims, including the Taliban, Chechen autonomists, Hamas, and al-Zarqawi follow the fairly realistic "near enemy" strategy aimed at "liberating" Muslim majority populations into the delights of fundamentalist rule. He leads a small minority group of jihadis espousing an apparently insane "far enemy" strategy directed at the United States as the ultimate guarantor of the vile regimes all jihadis want to overthrow: secular, corrupt rulers of Muslim countries and of course Israel.
That is discussed in detail, and a good read, but what Wimberley works to is a hypothetical American policy aimed at actually winning in a reasonable time frame, in perhaps then years.

What would that be?

This -
1. Counterattack as narrowly as possible. Isolate bin Laden and his followers from other Muslims, even other jihadis; cut the links of sympathy from the mass of Muslims.

2. Return to the best values of American tradition: integrity, steadfastness, due process, magnanimity, and "a decent regard to the opinions of mankind". This is essential to the first objective.

Consequently the third becomes:

3. When his movement is weakened and isolated, destroy it.

The style of the conflict should be inspired by the half-century of containment of Soviet communism. Global jihadism as an ideology is worthless fantasy and cannot survive more than a few decades. US policy should be principled; Fabian; patient; calculating; multilateral and multi-level; and political ahead of military. A few ingredients:

• Recognise and name your enemy. It is Al-Qaeda, a small jihadi faction, and its emulators. It isn't even all jihadis. Near-enemy jihadis have a lot of different enemies, Russia, Israel, Mubarak's Egypt, Musharraf's Pakistan, etc. America's first problem is the few jihadis that kill Americans as such.

• Refuse bin Laden's vainglorious gambit of defining the conflict as a war. Insist you fight criminals: outlaws, pirates, enemies of humanity. When they are captured, try them as such. Take the direction of the conflict away from the Pentagon.

• "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Avoid the hysterical and alienating rhetoric that HR 861 exemplifies, advertising fear and weakness. This is a great power against a couple of hundred fanatics; a threat, but not an existential one.

• Divide and conquer. Don't fall into bin Laden's trap of defining the conflict as one. Set jihadis against each other; split jihadis from peaceful Muslim fundamentalists, fundamentalists from modernizers.

• Cooperate with allies but don't let them set your priorities. Hamas is Israel's enemy, not America's. The alliance with Israel may lead America to boycott Hamas; or an interest in splitting jihadism may point to a dialogue. Don't pretend there is no tradeoff or that interests are identical.

• Show a determination to moralize the conflict with trials of American war criminals and compensation to their victims. Close GITMO and other extralegal camps. Bring all detainees into the ordinary criminal justice system, or release them.

• Accept civilian casualties stoically. This is the only area where the metaphor of war is useful. There's no reason to think that al-Qaeda is capable of inflicting 9/11 casualties on a regular basis, but make it clear that the USA could stand them indefinitely without changing its core foreign policies.

• Accept failure in Iraq and get out.
Now there an odd concept here - stop calling this a war and giving them status of some great military power. Call them thugs and go after them, all out, as stupid thugs, an treat them with the appropriate contempt. Belittle them.

It is an alternative. For some of us this is a match - the "Ah Ha!" words that ease the uneasiness, at it were.

It'll never happen. The administration is too invested in the narrative they've got humming along now. But it's a thought.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006 22:35 PDT home

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