Thursday, August 3, was the day in the third week of the Israel-Hezbollah war being waged in most of Lebanon, but mainly at the southern border, that it got hotter - after a pause the Israeli Air Force was doing some serious bombing in Beirut again, and the man who runs Hezbollah appeared on television to say do any more of that and we'll use the missiles you know we have and go after Tel-Aviv. Fair is fair. Then he said if you stop bombing Beirut we'll stop sending hundred of rockets a day raining down on northern Israel. The day had been the deadliest so far for Israel - ten or more unlucky civilians dead from the rocket barrages and four soldiers dead, and an impressive big tank taken out by one of those anti-tank missiles. The Israeli prime minister said no dice, being in a defiant mood. It was a sort of "bring it on" moment, and he's not even from Texas. Things will escalate.
Half a world away, in Indonesia at a summit of Muslim nations, the dapper little nasty man who runs Iran said there was a simple solution to all this - get rid of Israel. It's not a legitimate nation, just something made up in 1948 or so. He's said such things before, so that wasn't exactly news. Even the French, who had been saying nice things about Iran, hoping Iran could help stabilize things, said this was beyond the pale. So this was just not helpful.
The news of the day was the two sides slamming each other and then getting into that schoolyard fight thing - "You want more of that, buddy? Huh? Huh? You want more of that?" The government of the United States was silent on the whole matter. We're working on a cease-fire somewhere far down the road, where some nations of the UN, but not us, provide troops to go in, beef up the useless Lebanese army, and march south to rid the world of Hezbollah once and for all. No one wants to sign up. Hezbollah, defending the Lebanese people from the massive Israeli attacks that have killed a whole lot of women and children and ruined the economy and infrastructure of Lebanon, and displaced a half a million folks, are looking like the relatively good guys to many, as this seems a bit much to force the return of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
And even in Lebanon itself you now get this -
As noted by Bill Montgomery here, the whole idea was that bombing the crap out of Lebanon would strengthen Lebanese democracy by uniting the country's various ethnic groups and political factions and turning them against Hezbollah -
In an event that would have been unthinkable a few months ago, in this country where politics is locked into religious lines, the Maronite Catholic patriarch - the spiritual leader of the most pro-Western populace - convened a meeting this week of religious leaders of other communities, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and several varieties of Christians … Their joint statement, condemning the Israeli "aggression," hailed "the resistance, mainly led by Hezbollah, which represents one of the sections of society."
I must admit I'm puzzled. I thought it was generally understood that bombing and terrorizing a country was the best way to make its people turn against an internal resistance movement.
I can't figure it out. Where did the Israelis go wrong?
He really is a bit sarcastic. But the neoconservatives who have shaped our new foreign policy do believe such things. That's the reported plan for when we take out Iran's uranium processing facilities with our small nuclear weapons - we'll be heroes to the Iranian people when the smoke clears and things stop glowing. They'll cheer and throw out their government for one that works with America. This trial run isn't going so well.
As for the other trial run, that's not going so well either. Thursday, August 3, was the day the top generals and the Secretary of Defense went before congress, actually a senate committee which wanted to know, since things seem to going badly in the older war, the one in Iraq, what the situation really is, as they see it, and what the plan is for getting things back on track.
That didn't go well, as the Associated Press reported here.
Army General John Abizaid, the head of US Central Command, and one smart guy who speaks the language and has his PhD and all, said "Sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular. If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." Marine Corps General Peter Pace, the most senior US military officer, said there was a "possibility" of civil war in Iraq - after all, about a hundred folks a day are blown up or found dead in the streets or in the river, maimed from torture and such. Two of the Pentagon's most senior generals conceded this looks like a civil war in the making. This got a lot of press. The reason is obvious. That's not the official line.
Rumsfeld doesn't think there's anything like a civil war starting, as earlier, he had said this -
QUESTION: And the question, Mr. Secretary, after your most recent visit and this spike in violence, do you believe that Iraq is closer than ever to the brink of civil war?
RUMSFELD: "Closer than ever." Clearly, there's sectarian violence. People are being killed. Sunnis are killing Shia; Shia are killing Sunnis. Kurds seem not to be involved. It's unfortunate. And they need a reconciliation process. The prime minister is pushing for a reconciliation process. There are a couple of other things that are - oh, how would you characterize it? - things you wish weren't happening. There's some movement of Shi'a out of Sunni areas and Sunnis out of Shi'a areas, to some extent. There undoubtedly are some people who are leaving the country and going to safer places because of the violence. Does that constitute a civil war? I guess you can decide for yourself. And we can all go to the dictionary and decide what you want to call something. But it seems to me that it is not a classic civil war at this stage.
It certainly isn't like our Civil War. It isn't like the civil war in a number of other countries. Is it a high level of sectarian violence? Yes, it is. And are people being killed? Yes. And is it unfortunate? Yes. And is the government doing basically the right things? I think so.
We're now up to 275,000 Iraqi security forces, heading toward 325,000 by the end of the year. The president has announced a reconciliation process. He's working on it. He's a serious person. He's working with some of the neighboring countries to try to encourage the Sunnis to participate. He's worked with Sistani, the leading Shia cleric in the country, and had him support a reconciliation process, as well as support of the disarming of some of the militias.
So there are a number of good things happening. There are four provinces in the country where almost all the violence is occurring, and there are fourteen where there is relatively little violence.
And so, amidst all of this difficulty, the currency is fairly stable, the schools are open, the hospitals are open, the people are functioning.
You'd fly over it - you've been there - and you see people out in the fields doing things and people driving their cars and lining up for gasoline and going about their business.
So it's a mixed picture that's difficult but, despite all of the difficulties, there are also some good trend lines that are occurring, and I think the period ahead is an important period.
Does he ask himself the questions he thought he should have been asked and then answer them? Yes, that's how he thinks, working with himself as everyone else is unimportant.
Is it a bit schizophrenic, as if he's hearing voices in his head and talking back to those voices? Yes, there's a touch of that, but he's just trying to work out how this "a hundred dead a day" thing is no big deal.
If what's happening doesn't look like our Civil War with the Blue and Gray armies and battles like Gettysburg, should you not worry about what's happening? Maybe, but that would make you seem silly.
Should we worry that the secretary of defense works out what he thinks by talking to himself in public? Maybe, but there's nothing anyone can do about it, as he's staying.
Would medication help? Probably not.
Rumsfeld had planned to skip the Thursday senate committee hearing - he said he was too busy for such political tomfoolery - and instead hold a closed briefing with the full senate, until the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, publicly called on him to testify in open forum, in front of the cameras and all that. She said that the senators and the American people "should hear directly from the top civilian leader at the Pentagon, the person most responsible for implementing the president's military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Drat. Now what? You don't let any woman make you look like a coward, especially an aggressive (or assertive) one with presidential ambitions. You have to show that you have more balls than she has - two, at least. And he could put her in her place. But that didn't work out.
The junior senator from New York laid into him but good - watch the video (with transcript) here.
She went over, point by point, each "error in judgment" on matters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and quoted him on things he said that just weren't true - his "rosy pictures" of how things would certainly work out, and that stuff about the Taliban being completely eliminated - and it was devastating. She asked him what he had to say about all that, and what the policy was now.
He looked stunned. His first words were "My Goodness!" The generals don't talk to him like this. The voices in his head certainly don't.
There's video of Rumsfeld here then saying he had "never painted a rosy picture" about Iraq - he had been "very measured" and told "you would have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been overly optimistic." He said he had always maintained "this is tough stuff."
That's followed by this list with hyperlinks to the source -
Dec. 18, 2002 [Larry King Live on CNN]: KING: What's the current situation in Afghanistan? RUMSFELD: It is encouraging. They have elected a government through the Loya Jirga process. The Taliban are gone. The al Qaeda are gone.
Feb. 7, 2003: "It is unknowable how long that conflict [the war in Iraq] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
Feb. 20 2003: "'Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?' Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS' The News Hour. 'There is no question but that they would be welcomed,' Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces."
Mar. 30, 2003: "It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
The records weren't erased. It sure was easier back in the Nixon days when he work in the White House - no internet, and paper shredders did the job.
Then there's this video and transcript, set up by head of NATO's Afghan security force, one Lieutenant General David Richards, saying Afghanistan was "close to anarchy."
So he was asked about that. How's it going, really? Was Richards full of crap?
Well, he has to admit Taliban fighters were "occupying safe havens" in Pakistan and other places, and admitted that violence has increased recently. But this was not a big deal. It was the weather -
The voices in his head told him so.
Does the violence tend to be up during the summer, in the spring, summer and fall months? Yes it does. And it tends to decline during the winter period. Does that represent failed policy? I don't know. I would say not.
And then there's this, where he seems to get confused about those voices in his head -
After the hearing ended Clinton called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of "presiding over a failed policy in Iraq." She was kind enough to not mention the voices. Other Democrats had called for Rumsfeld's resignation - until now she had stopped short of that. But this was just too surreal.
Afghanistan - um, I don't know who said what about if the Taliban are gone but, in fact, the Taliban that were running Afghanistan and ruling Afghanistan were replaced. And they were replaced by an election that took place in that country, and in terms of a government or a governing entity, they were gone, and that's a fact.
Are there still Taliban around? You bet. Are they occupying safe havens in Afghanistan and other places - correction, in Pakistan and other places? Certainly they are. Is the violence up? Yes. Does the violence tend to be up during the summer, in the spring, summer and fall months? Yes it does. And it tends to decline during the winter period. Does that represent failed policy? I don't know. I would say not.
But we live in a surreal world. Thomas Hargrove is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service, and Guido H. Stempel III is the director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. And the day of the hearings they offer this -
No one is hearing voices. They're just imagining things for which there is no evidence, because they're angry. They've been fed so much bullshit they're trying to figure out what's really going on.
More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.
The national survey of 1,010 adults also found that anger against the federal government is at record levels, with 54 percent saying they "personally are more angry" at the government than they used to be.
Widespread resentment and alienation toward the national government appear to be fueling a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories about the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Suspicions that the 9/11 attacks were "an inside job" - the common phrase used by conspiracy theorists on the Internet - quickly have become nearly as popular as decades-old conspiracy theories that the federal government was responsible for President John F. Kennedy's assassination and that it has covered up proof of space aliens.
Seventy percent of people who give credence to these theories also say they've become angrier with the federal government than they used to be.
Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."
Lee Hamilton, who was vice chairman of that National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), says the investigation concluded that federal officials bungled their attempts to prevent the attacks, but did not participate in them. But he gets it - "One out of three sounds high, but that may very well be right. Many say the government planned the whole thing. Of course, we don't think the evidence leads that way at all." But he understands.
As for the details of the poll, sixteen percent of Americans hypothesize that secretly planted explosives, not the airplanes and the burning fuel, were the real reason the World Trade Center collapsed. Twelve percent suspect the Pentagon was struck by a military cruise missile rather than by an airliner captured by nasty terrorists.
Why is this coming alive now? The item quotes University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster, the author of the book "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture" - the findings "reflect public anger at the unpopular Iraq war, realization that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and growing doubts of the veracity of the Bush administration."
So you get fed stuff you're told is so, then you're told its not so, and you try to work it out yourself. That makes sense. And there's this -
And of course Rumsfeld answering the voices in his head, not the voices in the room, isn't going to help any of this at all.
The Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University has tracked the level of resentment people feel toward the federal government since 1995, starting shortly after Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City. Forty-seven percent then said they, personally, feel "more angry at the federal government" than they used to. That percentage dropped to 42 percent in 1997, 34 percent in 1998 and only 12 percent shortly after 9/11 during the groundswell of patriotism and support for the government after the attacks.
But the new survey found that 77 percent say their friends and acquaintances have become angrier with the government recently and 54 percent say they, themselves, have become angrier - both record levels.
Is driving the American public into deep resentment and anger at you wise politic strategy? No, it doesn't seem to be. When a good chunk of those angry people start believing you set them up and secretly murdered three thousand of your fellow countrymen to get them to support a useless war that's falling to pieces, should you worry? "Does that represent failed policy? I don't know. I would say not."
And then things just keep coming up, like this from Sidney Blumenthal -
Four fronts? Are we being had again?
The National Security Agency is providing signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush has approved the secret program.
Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.
And this is cute -
It's double or nothing time, and the word is that senior national security professionals have begun circulating among themselves a 1996 document - "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." This was written by, among others, Richard Perle, the first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense, and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief Middle East aide. It was written at the request of Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide "a new set of ideas" for dumping the policies of the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been "briefed" and to be "on board," but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.
Rice's diplomacy in the Middle East has erratically veered from initially calling on Israel for "restraint," to categorically opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for a cease-fire guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal, and thus to thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available for the Israeli offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a "cleansing war" with Syria and Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem Bush's beleaguered policy in the entire region.
Instead of trading "land for peace," the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud's terms, "peace for peace." Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed "weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria." They also advanced a wild scenario to "redefine Iraq." Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain "control" of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them "wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria." Dump the Oslo agreements, and all agreements - just use force. President Clinton put a stop it, but he's long gone.
Note this -
That's all documented. The man has problems with his father. Yipes.
At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that "the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians," Bush snapped, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things." He was making a "clean break" not only with his immediate predecessor but also with the policies of his father.
In the current Middle East crisis, once again, the elder Bush's wise men have stepped forward to offer unsolicited and unheeded advice. (In private they are scathing.)
The bottom line -
Are Sidney Blumenthal's sources feeding him disinformation, setting him up to look like a foolish conspiracy nut? That could be, but recent history argues against that. And there is the document.
Having failed in the Middle East, the administration is attempting to salvage its credibility by equating Israel's predicament with the U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives, for their part, see the latest risk to Israel's national security as a chance to scuttle U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the last opportunity to realize the fantasies of "A Clean Break."
By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible tripwire, the Bush administration is laying the condition for regional conflagration with untold consequences - from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme that might thrust Israel into a ring of fire cannot be construed as a blunder. It is a deliberate, calculated and methodical plot.
Was the plan all along a four-front war, with our forces deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran, working to replace the government in each (two down, two to go)? Maybe so, but no one has said this is the plan.
If this is the plan, should the citizens who must pay for it, and send their sons and daughters off to do this all, have been told this is the plan. Maybe so, but they might object.
Should you feel left out as the last two of the four wars start and you weren't told? That would depend on whether you think the government has the obligation to explain anything to its citizens.
Is there a plan for a fifth and sixth front - regime change in Venezuela and Cuba - and a seventh front, regime change in North Korea? Don't be silly. But don't be surprised.
Who in their right mind talks like this? The answer is obvious.