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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, 14 August 2006
Winners and Losers
Topic: Perspective
Winners and Losers
Monday, August 14, the "no one got what they wanted" cease-fire went into effect and the war in Lebanon halted, sort of. As the newspaper of record out here, the Los Angeles Times, put it - Hope Expressed for Cease-Fire's End to Violence.

Hope is nice.

But and the end of the day Hezbollah was still dropping a few rockets into northern Israel, and Israel was claiming it had the right to got after Hezbollah anywhere in Lebanon and take out road and bridges as they could be used to bring in more rockets and such from Syria. You see, they were stopping all offensive military operations, but that would be defensive, really, if you just thought about it.

And this from Fred Kaplan summarized where it goes from here -
Hezbollah says its militias won't leave southern Lebanon until Israeli forces also leave. Israeli leaders say they won't leave until Hezbollah also leaves. Lebanese officials say they won't deploy their army in the south until they're assured that they and the UN peacekeepers are the only armed forces in the area. Yet, according to Resolution 1701, the UN forces can enter southern Lebanon only to "accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces."

Each group has good reasons for their hesitations. Hezbollah doesn't want to leave Israel as an occupation force. Israel doesn't want to leave a vacuum that Hezbollah could fill. The Lebanese army doesn't want to get in the middle of shooting between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah militias. The United Nations wants to be seen as assisting the Lebanese government, not as an unwanted interloper. It's a Catch-22: Who's going to make the first move, and under what authority?

In other words, there's a chance that this security arrangement could collapse from the get-go.

So from here it goes nowhere fast, or goes nowhere quite slowly if the locals are lucky. They're pouring back into southern Lebanon to get home and see what's left of where they lived and worked. And Hezbollah is there, offering aid - food, water, medicine, and help rebuilding. They're no dummies. That's how they deflect any anger at tripping off this thirty-day war by grabbing the two Israeli soldiers. They'll help, and Israel didn't exactly win much here - and they still have the soldiers.

In fact the day opened with Hezbollah claiming a win as the cease-fire held (details here) - the rag-tag band of rebels stood up to the Empire and the dark side of The Force.

No, wait - that's Spielberg Star Wars. But what may be the third most powerful military in the world couldn't do much with them. Israel has a history of wiping out whole Arab armies in a matter of days - think 1967 and all that. This time they were checked, for a full thirty days. It was kind of a first, and Hezbollah took that as a victory. And there were victory dances in the streets of Beirut - joy in the streets. The idea that had been floated by some in the Israeli government - that all the death and destruction would really piss off the locals and they'd turn on Hezbollah and then Hezbollah would be scorned and discredited and slink off into obscurity, toothless and disgraced for having started all this - didn't exactly work out. But it was an interesting theory.

Well, such a claim couldn't stand. A few hours later, President Bush dropped by the Sate Department - a place where you'd just never expect to see him - and with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his side, said, no, Israel had soundly defeated Hezbollah (details here). That's not what Israel was saying, but never mind - "There's going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon." And maybe there will be, one day.

He also said the war was part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror and "we can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks."

What? How did they get in there?

You just had to think deeply, and after all, the president has been reading Camus. The deep thoughts are these - Hezbollah started all this and all the suffering, death and destruction is their fault, no one else's. And everyone knows Hezbollah is just the tool of Syria and Iran - and those two, along with North Korea somehow - are part of a worldwide war on American and its values. The hate freedom, and Starbucks and KFC and Wal-Mart too maybe. You had to look at the big picture. Then he got a little wobbly, or the teleprompter crapped out. He reverted to his usual simple-man Texas rhetoric, as in his words -

The world got to see - got to see what it means to confront terrorism. I mean, it's a - it's the challenge of the 21st century, the fight against terror.

A group of ideologues, by the way, who use terror to achieve an objective - this is the challenge.

And that's why in my remarks I spoke about the need for those of us who understand the blessings of liberty to help liberty prevail in the Middle East.

And the fundamental question is: Can it? And my answer is: Absolutely, it can. I believe that freedom is a universal value. And by that, I mean I believe people want to be free.

People want to be free. One way to put it is I believe mothers around the world want to raise their children in a peaceful world. That's what I believe.
That's a tad embarrassing. Rice with her PhD and all would have rolled her eyes, but you don't do that on camera. He's the boss. Cheney just stood there just looking as if he were thinking of other things - it really don't matter what the boy says, as he's been a good front and the press is too frightened suggest this is simple-minded drivel, and the public loves their rambling and somewhat incoherent cowboy. Simple is fine.

And for that public he's "the decider." He said so. First when he said Rumsfeld stays - and now with this. He decided we, the good guys, won, for all the mothers in the world. He understands all of them, and the universal. Everyone else doesn't. Israel might want to sack Olmert for what happened. Olmert is even saying, yes, he screwed up. Hezbollah may be more wildly popular than ever. But we won. And that's that.

Oddly, it seems to be another "Mission Accomplished" moment, but without the banner. We won.

But then there's Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker with this on what was really going on with this thirty-day war with the ambiguous ending, if it's ended. From the man who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre back in 1968 and the man who most recently broke the story of what was going on at the Abu Ghraib prison, the item deals with what he learned from his inside sources this time.

Hersh doesn't get things wrong and what he reported here is that this Israeli war with the Hezbollah had been carefully planned with the Pentagon - in fact, by the Pentagon. The kidnapping of the two soldiers was what they were waiting for - an excuse to launch what was a demonstration run for what we could and would do with Iran, as Iran apparently will not stop their development of a nuclear weapon. Israel agreed to be a test case for the theory.

It was very simple. Using the Iraq "shock and awe" model, bomb the crap out of the country but use minimal ground forces - the Rumsfeld model, as it were. And the idea that had been floated by some in the Israeli government really came from Cheney's band of neoconservatives - all the death and destruction would really piss off the locals and they'd turn on Hezbollah and then Hezbollah would be scorned and discredited and slink off into obscurity, toothless and disgraced for having started all this. This is parallel to the argument William Kristol, the public face of the neoconservative movement, has been making in their journal of record, the Weekly Standard, and on Fox News - we need to bomb Iran right now and take out all their nuclear facilities, maybe using our nuclear weapons, and then the upshot will be the locals will rise against their theocratic rulers and overthrow them and welcome us and our way of running things - democracy will triumph and we'll be the good guys.

Hersh reports that we encouraged Israel to follow the model, and they bought in. They really did have a problem, so why not? It was both a test run of the theory - seeing if it worked or if it should be tweaked a bit with any necessary minor modifications - and a very public demonstration for Iran to consider, and quake in the shoes.

Hersh reports that the Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran."

It just didn't work out -
The surprising strength of Hezbollah's resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, "is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back."

Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," he said. "When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran."
And do they did. And Iran is next, even if the theory is, as the scientists like to say, so bad it isn't even wrong. It doesn't even rise to that level.

But Iran it is -
A former intelligence officer said, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later - the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.'"
It seems Bush does not want to leave office without regime change for the three charter members of the Axis of Evil. He is not his father, who wouldn't even take Baghdad after the first Gulf War.

And then, as Bill Montgomery notes here, the president does have a demonstrated tendency to treat any unexpected reversal or failure as a personal rebuke. This will only make him more eager to take out Iran - to prove he's right, no matter what people say and what seems so. That's how he is.

Montgomery -
The thing is, if a devastating strategic bombing campaign couldn't even deter the Hezbollanians - the direct target of all those bombs - then it isn't likely to deter the Iranians. If one were intelligent and sensible, one would probably conclude that only an air campaign backed by a full-fledged ground invasion would do the trick. But Hezbollah's success at defending its turf (even in the face of something like 10-to-1 IDF numerical superiority) also suggests Iran's Revolutionary Guards aren't likely to be quite as easy a pushover as Saddam's conscript army and the professional criminals who commanded his Republican (body) Guard.

But of course, the neocons are not intelligent and sensible, so they'll likely conclude that the problem with Israel's war was that it didn't go far enough, fast enough. (This, of course, has been the neocon explanation for every military or foreign policy debacle they have caused or helped cause since the Vietnam War.) In this case, there's an element of truth to it - the Israelis did move slowly and hesitantly on the ground, and did shy away from the barbarity of Curtis LeMay-style total war from the air. (If they hadn't, the Lebanese really would be sitting in the dark for the next couple of years.)

Whether the failure to bomb Lebanon back into the Paleolithic, as opposed to the Neolithic, Stone Age was due to some residual shreds of humanity on the part of Israel's military and political elites, or simply because Hezbollah retained the deterrent capability to lob a few missiles into downtown Tel Aviv is not clear -- or particularly relevant. The former constraint certainly doesn't apply to Dick Cheney (the man who has defied medical science and proven that a human being does not in fact need a functioning heart in order to survive.) The latter - the ability to lob a missile into downtown Washington - isn't a credible deterrent - not unless Iran has developed ICBM capabilities.

Still, the fact that everything has not gone to plan in their splendid little war in Lebanon must have had some impact on the gang's thinking.
Hersh says no.

And the neoconservatives are ticked that this ended with a damned UN resolution. There's a roundup of what they're saying here, with things like this:

National Review Editors - "In addition to winning in Lebanon, Iran has the upper hand both in Iraq and in the contest over whether it will be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. If current trends continue, the Bush administration's project in the Middle East will require the same sort of expedient we have just seen in the Israel–Lebanon conflict: a papering over of what is essentially a failure."

This - "Our war President has turned out to be a disgrace. At this point in world history, the Islamofascists look like they deserve to win. In fact, they might."

Michelle Malkin - "Israel and the West surrender to Hezbollah."

This - "I'm hoping we can get through the next two years without any major disasters, and then I'm looking to elect a real war leader to the White House - somebody with a warrior's temperament and a leader's skills. George Bush has neither. He is a dangerous failure, and America will be well rid of him."

William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer both said this weekend on Fox that Hezbollah won and Iran has been strengthened.

Maybe the "bomb them and they'll like us" theory is wrong. That doesn't seem to be a permissible thought with these guys.

And now William Kristol is in despair as the left is useless and so is diplomacy -
So the Democrats are hopeless. Unfortunately, back in the real world, Bush administration policy hasn't been particularly strong either.

... What good has the recent affinity for carrots done us? Are our enemies in retreat? Are Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Moktada al-Sadr, Bashar Assad, the Sunni holy warriors in Iraq, al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers in the United Kingdom, and Kim Jong Il on the run?

... The State Department has succeeded in the past year in making the Bush administration more Euro-friendly and UN-attentive than ever. For this, the president has reaped no political benefit at home - and the dangers continue to mount abroad. How Bush deals with Ahmadinejad's terror-supporting and nuclear-weapons-pursuing Iran will be the test.
There's only military action in this world - and no one gets it - now not even the president. What are you going to do?

Well, here a thought. There's something called forbearance.

In one of the many items on the Lebanon war, as it was at its climax, you could find Robert Wright in and interview with Ann Althouse saying this -
What I think is actually sometimes the smartest thing to do in response to terrorist provocation, which is forbearance, is very hard to counsel. [But] if you ask what kind of shape would Israel be in if they had done a day's worth of retaliation, and since then just endured any missiles, and said, "OK, look, at this point there's no excuse for what they're doing, we're not even fighting them," I think Israel as a nation would be more secure than they are.

But it's very hard to convince people of that, and I admit that rhetorically it's hard to make that a winning strategy.
No kidding.

And two days before the cease-fire, you could find Caleb Carr in the Los Angeles Times on the escalating cycle of reaction and overreaction by Israel, the Palestinians, and Hezbollah asking this -
Is there an alternative to this pattern of mistakes and countermistakes? There is, but it involves a quality that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have ever come close to mastering: tactical restraint in order to achieve strategic advantage. Simply put, this involves looking past immediate and all-out retaliation as the best method of countering threat. It is not a call for turning the other cheek; rather, it suggests that savagely swinging back every time one's cheek is dealt so much as a brushing blow does not amount to effective boxing, much less enlightened belligerent behavior.
It's just not smart, even if emotionally satisfying.

These were found by Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly who adds this -
It's human nature to demand action following an attack. Any action. Counseling restraint in the hope that it will pay off in the long run is politically ruinous.

But our lives may depend on figuring out how to make this case. If it wasn't obvious before, it should be obvious by now that conventional military assaults are usually counterproductive against a guerrilla enemy like the ones we're fighting now. We can't kill off the fanatics fast enough to win, and in the meantime the war machine simply inspires more recruits, more allies, and more sympathy for the terrorists.

… Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to formulate this argument in an effective way. I wonder at times how Harry Truman managed the trick at the dawn of the Cold War, fending off the "rollback" hawks and convincing the public that containment was a more realistic strategy. But despite reading a fair amount about the era, I still don't know what the key was - though the presence of a sane faction in the Republican Party at the time was certainly a factor.

Beyond that, of course, actually having a coherent long-term strategy to pair up with a short-term counsel of forbearance would make the job easier. Ditto for a more aggressive short-term approach to homeland security. But neither of those will do the trick alone. Someone has to figure out how to sell the basic plan.
Can that even be done? Not these days. But it sure would be cool of some political leader, who no one could consider a wimp, just came ought and said - "What, another bombing campaign, followed by invasion and occupation? Are you stupid or something? We want to win this thing, you fool."

Then people would rub the sleep out of their eyes, perk up and try to figure out ways to win over the world and not just slap others around, and work on shoring up things at home here. And, oh yeah, pigs would fly.

Posted by Alan at 22:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006 22:18 PDT home

Sunday, 13 August 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off 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 33, for the week of August 13, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week's issue is a matter of six and eleven. That would be six extended commentaries on current events, dealing with the major events of the week, the winding down of the war in Lebanon, if that is what's happening, the unseating of a three-term Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman, if that is what is happening, and the spin on the Brits foiling a plot to simultaneously blow up a whole lot of airliners. Actually, and as usual, the items are an attempt to get under the events, to see the logic, or illogic, of what's happening and who is saying what, and what to make of it. And where is Ernest Hemingway when you need him? War correspondents these days? Bah.

The photography offers a tour of a neighbor just south of Sunset Boulevard, the Fairfax district, sometimes called Kosher Canyon or "The Bagel District" - four pages of amazing images to give you a feel for ethnic Hollywood. And there's a little bit of humor regarding fame out here, and shots of where historical events really end up. For the automotive buffs, there's a very rare hot rod Morris Minor - really. For those who like cute, how about some kids at play? For those who logon for the botanicals, there are two pages, sharper and stranger than ever. And the "one shot" this week is a very disturbing poster out here, but it matches the times.

Our friend from Texas brings us more of the weird, of course, and the quotes this week were inspired by the UN resolution ending the Lebanon war - people saying the oddest things about compromise.

Again, Our Man in Tel-Aviv and Our Man in Paris are on vacation this month.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Applying Logic, or Not
War Thoughts: Someone Needs to Tell the Story
Joe's Bad Day
Framing: What Proves What, Exactly?
Compromise
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Neighborhood Tour: The Fairfax District (four nested pages)
Fame: In case you were wondering…
Long Ago: History in the Window
Cars: A Major Minor
Kids at Play
Botanicals: Matched Sets
Serenity
One Shot

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of August 13, 2006 - Compromise


Posted by Alan at 18:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 12 August 2006
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin
It's been some days since all those British fellows were arrested for their plot to blow ten US-bound airplanes out of the sky. As mentioned elsewhere, the spin from the administration is that this shows that we ought to be at war and occupying Muslim countries, to force them to have some sort of democracy. If we prevail we'll all be safe, as such young men will then participate in the political process and feel no need to commit mass murder. They can run for office instead, or work for the politician of their choice. And they'll be angry no more. Or so goes the theory, for which there is little proof. How could there be? The projects in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't exactly going swimmingly. Proof of the theory will come much later, if ever. It's an if-then conditional argument, and getting the "if" set up - the free, open and secular democracies where there are gentlemanly debates and compromises worked out in some sort of congress or parliament by elected and sensible officials - is a real bitch of a job. But it should all work out that way.

And that's the line from the White House and "Zell" Lieberman. Anyone who doesn't support the global war on terror - remaking the Middle East by regime change and occupation - is missing the point. These guys with the liquid explosives and black hearts would not exist in the new world they envision. They'd be pussycats, or at least political operatives who want power and influence, and really don't feel any need to kill anyone.

So the logic goes this way - if you think these preemptive wars we're waging are doing more harm than good, then you're really supporting the angry young British Muslim men with the bombs. You're encouraging mass murder. You must hate America, and hate democracy.

Yes, it's a stretch, but that the spin. It requires that you trust the general theory is sound, without evidence, which cannot be provided at the moment.

Some buy it, but it may be that more and more people are finding it somewhere between, on one end, a little too abstract, and on the other, rather loony. To deal with those folks the theory will be repeated again and again, and reported in the media endlessly. Just keep saying it and people will become exhausted and indifferent and decide it's true. Why fight it? Yeah, whatever, George.

But there's a cool subset of this - the contention that the British arrests prove that we need programs like the illegal wiretapping and further prove that the press has been irresponsible by reporting about such illegal secret programs. That too is being repeated endlessly on the right - see Glenn Greenwald here for all the citations. If we and the Brits hadn't broken the silly laws thousands would be dead again. So there>!

The problem is it's just not true. As reported here in the Washington Post (and elsewhere), all the wire taps and looking into banking transactions were done here using FISA warrants and, in the UK, using warrants signed off by the Home Secretary. They followed the law and still got the job done.

Even Bill O'Reilly on Fox News admitted that - he just added that the warrants used in this case really didn't prove anything. We still need to cede the president the right to violate any laws he chooses. That's the only way to keep America safe, and we all love America, don't we? So this was just a bad example, or something. It still proved the point, sort of. You just never know - bypassing the warrants might have been good too, even better.

So the British and the Americans followed the laws of their respective countries that require warrants - and the terrorist plot using telephones and bank transfers was foiled. And also note this was long after it was "revealed" in the traitorous press that our government was tracking communications and financial transactions. The second part of the argument - that the press undermined our war on the bad guys by reporting there were such programs - is similarly odd. The facts show otherwise. Not that this matters very much. That argument lives on too.

All this is very odd. The facts undermine the arguments here, but if you think about it, the facts don't matter. The larger theory must be true.

One wonders how long this sort of reasoning can go - on using legal means supports the president's absolute need to use illegal methods to stop terrorist attacks - but then the American people seem to want to live in an authoritarian state. Or many of them do. Oh well.

In any event, this was big victory for the Bush administration, or so the spin goes.

But there's this from "tristero" (actually a composer whose works are performed by orchestras worldwide, Richard Einhorn) -
… as I see it, without a doubt the most bizarre aspect of the 9/11 attacks were not that they were imagined and plotted but that they actually happened. Even assuming an incompetent CIA and FBI, there were many, many signs that summer and fall that something was up (start with the 9/11 commission report and work your way through Pretext to War, The One Percent Doctrine, and a slew of other books). But for some strange reason all those signs were missed ignored, failed to rise to the higher echelons. Of course, I would be the last person to suggest that George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were unspeakably, unforgivably, negligent by ignoring the clear warnings of the Clinton administration on Al Qaeda - complaining about all the attention being focused on "just one man;" snickering, "Okay, you've covered your ass" when folks from CIA came to brief them.

Actually, I confess it. I just lied to you. I was one of the first to suggest that the Bush administration, through its utter incompetence, bears a heavy responsibility for the carnage of 9/11. I was saying so a few hours after the attacks to my friends from Finland who called to make sure that we were okay.

If nothing else, the exposure of the latest potential atrocity simply highlights how incompetent the Bushites were. No, they didn't "let it happen" and it certainly wasn't a black op to boost Bush in the polls. It's just that, well, Richard Clarke had been pushed aside, John O'Neill had quit in disgust to manage WTC security, Robert Mueller was the new kid on the block, and John Ashcroft was proofreading an arrangement of "When the Eagle Soars" for seven kazoos and musical saw. Meanwhile, many others were simply ignored and let the obsessive, paranoid and quite essential monitoring of bin Laden's activities drop.

That failure to pay attention to reality is a hallmark of the Bush administration.
That is not the official spin. It's just looking at the facts. But this is not repeated endlessly.

Something else repeated endlessly regarding the war and Joe Lieberman in particular, here from David Broder, is this this -
The people backing Lamont are nothing if not sincere. But their breed of Democrats - many of them wealthy, educated, extremely liberal - often pick candidates who are rejected by the broader public. Many of the older Lamont supporters went straight from Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern in the 1960s and '70s to Howard Dean in 2004. They helped Joe Duffey challenge Senator Tom Dodd in Connecticut for the 1970 Democratic nomination on the Vietnam War issue, only to lose to Republican Lowell Weicker in November.
Jonathan Schwarz here comments -
Apparently there's some kind of batsignal for the US punditocracy that tells them all what to write each week. This week their orders are to inform us that the Democrats had better watch out for those far-left elitists like Ned Lamont, who will with their extreme anti-war positions lead them to defeat just like George McGovern did.

… This might make you wonder certain things - like, was opposition to Vietnam the "wealthy, educated" position? I know it's fun to listen to stories from Uncle Dave B, and extremely boring to look at reality. But let's give reality a shot just this once.
So he displays all the polling from 1971 - and the man has his facts wrong. The wealthy, educated, extremely liberal were not there. The grade school-educated were always the most dovish, the college-educated the most hawkish. But then, conventional wisdom is conventional wisdom. The facts be damned.

As for the polls Schwarz lays out on this generation's issues, he sees this - "Weirdly, as you see, more education doesn't necessarily push you either way on Iraq. It seems to make you more ambivalent - while those with less education are both the most dovish and the most hawkish, with little ambivalence."

So that spin from Broder and the rest is fine, it's just not based on the facts. And it is believed by all.

What to make of all this? There's no fighting the spin. Give in. You'll be more comfortable.

Posted by Alan at 18:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 11 August 2006
Compromise
Topic: Breaking News
Compromise
It's over? That's what the Associated Press reported late Friday evening, August 11 - the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that calls for an end to the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolution authorizes fifteen thousand UN peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon, and oddly, as Israel withdraws. They don't get to stay. But it has, after all, been four weeks or more since this all started, and something had to be done. More than eight hundred are dead, mostly civilians, and Lebanon's infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, and all this displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and "inflamed tensions" (the AP folks doing understatement) across the Middle East. The resolution was drafted by France and the United States. It was adopted unanimously. Enough is enough.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the resolution late Friday, after a day of what seemed like brinksmanship - a threat to expand the ground war and a public request for the United States to ship over some of those massive antipersonnel cluster bombs. Lebanon's cabinet was to consider the draft on Saturday, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Lebanese government assured her that it supported the text. And she said so on CNN, not Fox News, to show, one must presume, that she's being as fair as possible. Wolf Blitzer scoops Bill O'Reilly. Who'd have guessed that would happen?

There still is the matter of when to implement this all. Israel said its go-get-'em operations would continue until Sunday - that's when its cabinet will meet to endorse the resolution. And it seems they will. Early Saturday the tanks, troops and armored personnel carriers were still pouring over the border, that "blue line" that seemed to disappear for a month. Kofi Annan said he planned to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials "as soon as possible" to determine the exact date of a cease-fire. Is it over? It's sort of over, maybe.

Rice was saying the "hard work of diplomacy" was "only beginning" - it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence, and said that we'd be increasing our assistance to Lebanon by fifty million dollars, and demanded other nations just stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs. Yep, if Iran and Syria keeps sending in replacement rockets and such we might get really mad.

Kofi Annan admitted the whole world has been frustrated, and he had been - "I would be remiss if I did not tell you how profoundly disappointed I am that the council did not reach this point much, much earlier." But better late than never - even if the American neoconservatives don't agree.

Some demands just weren't met. Forget the Lebanese objections - Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations. Arab diplomats suspect the Israeli military will interpret "defensive operations" very loosely. And there's the mater of Chebaa Farms along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border - that's for later. And Israel won't get its wish - an entirely new multinational force separate from the UN peacekeepers that have there since 1978, with no authority to stomp on Hezbollah when the drop rockets into northern Israel. And Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, is not a happy camper - they'll buy into this but allowing Israel to continue operations in any way is crap - "A cease-fire that by its terms cannot be implemented is no cease-fire. A cease-fire that retains the right for one side the right not to cease firing is not a cease-fire."

Picky, picky, picky… And there's no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or any sort of demand for the "immediate" withdrawal of Israeli troops. The thing only says there's a "need" for the "unconditional release" of the two Israeli soldiers captured July 12, the thing that's stared this all. It's not one of the step here. It just would help, but it's not required.

Like all compromises, no one gets everything they want. Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said to look at it this way - "The question is, has everybody got enough for this to stick and for it to be enforceable?"

We'll see. This has been going on far too long. Israel and the Palestinians at it - Hezbollah formed after the 1967 war to fight back. Qatar's Foreign Minister - Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani - said the Arab states would be submitting formal requests for a Security Council meeting in September to work out a new regional peace plan. Enough of this foolishness - it's not good for anyone.

Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and the fellow who wrote the best-seller How Would A Patriot Act?, calls this "a bizarre end to a bizarre war" and discusses the political-policy implications of what happened here -
Hezbollah would not be disbanded nor disarmed, and its re-supply route from Syria would neither be destroyed nor impeded. Given the grand pronouncements with which this war began - that Hezbollah would be destroyed, that it was the start of the epic war of civilizations - any honest person (and even many who are not honest) would acknowledge that this is a defeat for Israel and for neoconservative dreams of a wider war. As a result, many in Israel are predicting, and vigorously calling for, the resignation of Israel's Prime Minister.

The disappointment and anger of neoconservatives over this ignominious end must be severe, and it is almost certain to be a source of very intense conflict between them and the Bush administration.
And he provides links to various sources - Israelis calling for Olmert to resign and over at the influential National Review, John Podhoretz saying he should go, adding this - "I'm tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate. But let's wait until the facts are in."

Get rid of George Bush? These guys aren't happy. Rich Lowry here quotes an Israeli source as saying that this is the "worst defeat for Israel since 1948," and adds this - "When it comes to UN resolutions in the Middle East is that they either simply reflect the facts on the ground, or make the victor give away a little bit of his victory; they never let someone pull victory out of a hat from defeat. So Israel will ultimately get from this resolution what they won on the ground, which is to say not much."

John Podhoretz earlier had said the resolution will mean that "Israel and the United States will be handing Hezbollah a victory. And Israel will have lost a war for the first time - and probably not the last." Olmert agrees to the cease-fire. He's a coward.

Greenwald -
When this all started, neoconservatives were in full bloodthirsty glory, salivating over the complete obliteration of Hezbollah and much of Southern Lebanon, as the start of the "great opportunity" - "our war" - in which we would do the same to Syria and Iran. Instead, they got a joint U.S.-French UN resolution engineering a cease-fire dependent upon French troops protecting Israel from the Hezbollah militia, and even Israeli hawks lamenting the humiliation suffered at the hands of Hezbollah (assuming Hezbollah, which clearly has the strongest hand here, agrees to all of this).

Watching Fox News right now discussing this is like being at a wake. … The neoconservative dream for broader war, at least for the moment, has collapsed on its shattered foundations. Nobody should consider a Hezbollah victory to be anything remotely a cause for celebration; that should go without saying. But the plan the neoconservatives harbor - and thought they were finally able to execute - is as dangerous a threat as anything else in the world, and anything which puts a stop to it, and which drives a wedge between them and their enablers in the Bush administration, is something which, independent of all else, is a constructive development.

… I view this war and the end of it as "bizarre" because the war's ambitions were so grand and sweeping from the start - the amount of brutality and slaughter required to accomplish them were far in excess of what could be tolerated - that it was almost designed to fail from the start. One could say exactly that of the general neoconservative view on all matters…
No Cheney neoconservative will really want Rice's head on a platter - and she gave the interview to CNN, not Fox News. Oh my, or as Donald Rumsfeld would say, "Good Gracious!"

Bill Montgomery adds this about Israel's position now, and ours -
They've blown it, right down the line, from the opening bid for an aerial knockout, through the defeats and retreats, the incredible shrinking war aims, the daily humiliation of seeing a third of Israel bombarded with rockets. And now this - a ceasefire that appears to give Hezbollah all or nearly all of what it demanded (although not the Laker tickets), all of it to be supervised by a "reinforced" version of UNIFIL (most of the reinforcements will probably never arrive) working under a limited one-year mandate, and with no more legal authority to use force than the current bunch of blue helmets.

And for this, Lebanon was ravaged, thousands were killled, millions on both sides spent weeks cooped up in air raid shelters and the credibility and any lingering shreds of respectability of the US government in the Islamic world were flushed down the you-know-what. For this.

After all, why did we embark on the war, if not to ensure that French soldiers will protect Israel from the Hezbollah rocket battery.

The long knives are already out - for Olmert, for Peretz, the ward boss turned defense minister, for Halutz and the commander of the Northern Front (who was effectively sacked in the middle of the war) and probably half of entire IDF general staff, if they don't sink them in each other's backs first. Losing is never pretty, and the post-war settling of accounts is going to be even less so.

It seems as if every minor league neocon in Washington is taking the opportunity to remind Israel that if there's one thing America detests it's a loser. So much for all the tearful singing of the Ha'tikvah. If Washington's Middle Eastern Rottweiler wants to keep getting its kennel ration, it will put a little more teeth into the business next time.

… All the bellicose rhetoric in the world - like Schiff's threat to respond with "cruel craziness" if and when other red lines are crossed in the future - can't conceal the failures: of a military aristocracy's arrogant faith in technology, of an Army that's grown accustomed to waging war against Palestinian teenagers, of a political establishment that believes with zombie-like intensity that the cure for incompetence is ever greater applications of military force.

There will be hell to pay for this fiasco - coming as it does on top of Uncle Sam's own murder suicide pact in Iraq. When and where that payment will be demanded isn't clear yet, but if the past is any guide it will be paid in the blood of the innocent and not the guilty.
Yeah, well, wait until we pull out of Iraq. This is just a foretaste of what's to come.

And as for Rice weeks ago saying the fighting might have continue as, although it seemed bad, it was really a good thing, and opportunity when you looked at it the right way, just the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East - "Condi better swap her forceps for a shovel, because it looks like there's going to be a lot of graves to dig in the 'new' Middle East."

It was a strange day indeed. The old way of working things out prevailed - disagreement, negotiation, compromise, uneasy peace and distrust, but some sort of peace nonetheless. For those who see compromise as a sign of weakness and moral failure, this was a very bad day. For those who will now live and not die in a pill of rubble or be blasted apart by a rocket falling from the sky, not so bad.

Posted by Alan at 21:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006 06:35 PDT home

Thursday, 10 August 2006
Framing: What Proves What, Exactly?
Topic: Perspective
Framing: What Proves What, Exactly?
To frame things here's an interesting exchange, based on something Winston Churchill once said - "The opposition is not responsible for proposing integrated and complicated measures of policy. Sometimes they do, but it is not their obligation."

A reader writes to the columnist Andrew Sullivan at Time Magazine, who had opined that liberals are fond of complaining about the mess we're in - we've inflamed the world against us and are less safe and all that -but then they just don't offer alternatives, and seemingly just don't take the real dangers in this world seriously -
I'd say a perfectly responsible liberal take on the war is this: The best weapon we have against the Islamic extremists in the long haul is the soft power of modern culture - its comforts, its freedoms and, well, it's enlightenment. Modernization is appealing, and will win, if given half chance. But if by our clumsy, aggressive behavior we cause moderate, ordinary Muslims to confuse modernization with American aggression, with torture, with greed for oil, and with uncritical support for Greater Israel, then by that behavior we deprive ourselves of our greatest strategic advantage.

The right policy after 9/11 was to pursue the actual terrorists to the ends of the earth, but at the same time to have the nerve and maturity to do our best to avoid actions that would alienate the moderates and young people who would otherwise find modernity appealing. Bush of course did exactly the opposite.

To believe all this is not to believe the conflict is unimportant, as you charge, it is to believe that Bush's frat-boy bravado and general incompetence is everyday worsening our long-term prospects. And that winning control of at least one house of Congress in November is the necessary first step on the long road back to an adult foreign policy.
Sullivan's reply is this -
My only substantive quarrel with this is as follows: the proclaimed Bush policy was not mere deployment of brute force, torture, bombs and swagger as a response to the civil war within Islam. It was ostensibly to create a beach-head for modernity and democracy in Iraq. That, at least, was the rationale I signed onto. Now, maybe in retrospect, the idea of a beach-head for democracy was always just a cover for Rumsfeld and Cheney to try to terrify a bunch of "barbarians" with brute force. And in so far as the war was designed this way, the Bush administration's general incompetence and brutality has, of course, done the precise opposite. It's actually emboldened the enemy, made the West look weak, and lost us potential support in the vital center of Muslim opinion. Send too few troops into Iraq and of course the Islamists think we're unserious. That's why I couldn't support Bush again last time around; and why I hope the Democrats take back at least one chamber this fall - if only to put a break on the Queegs and Strangeloves in the Pentagon and the Veep's office. [Note: You have to know you classic Hollywood movies, of course. - AMP]

But, for all Cheney's and Rumsfeld's flaws, they are at least proposing something serious, however ineptly carried out. I have yet to hear anti-war voices on the left propose a positive strategy for defeating Islamist terror at its roots, or call for democratization of the Arab Muslim world. Indeed, I heard little but scorn or silence when Bush announced this vision in London. Do the Democrats stand for democracy in Iraq? Or in Iran? Do they favor … containment of Islamism? Nuclear deterrence against Tehran? Certainly, the Kossites [cf. Daily Kos] seem utterly uninterested in any of these subjects. That's their prerogative; and it's equally my prerogative not to take them seriously until they do.

The same goes for the Dems as a whole. Until the opposition party presents a progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East - as Blair has done in Britain, for example - there's no reason to take them seriously on national security. Maybe their presidential candidate will articulate such a vision. So far, however: so not so much.
Okay then - who is serious now? This is set up as a choice between those who have the right idea - take care of the bad guys and win the world over to our way of doing things, and do it so badly the opposite happens - and those who have no real ideas at all, big or small.

This may be a false choice, but that's how the sides here are lining up, in the minds of many. How will you vote in November - for absolute incompetence that could very well plunge us into a real world war and total global economic chaos - or for emptiness and avoidance, with a touch of surliness? That's some choice. But that's the "narrative" we have.

And the events of Thursday, August 10, just made things worse, as one UK paper summarized -
British suicide bombers were within days of blowing up 12 passenger jets above five US cities in an unprecedented terrorist attack designed to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale", counterterrorism sources claimed last night.

Anti-terrorist agents said they had uncovered the plot from surveillance of a group of young British Muslims, which began nearly a year ago and was on a scale never before undertaken.

US and British counterterrorism officials claimed the men, the majority British Muslims of Pakistani descent, were going to disguise liquid explosive as bottles of soft drink and carry them in their hand luggage on to US-bound planes leaving British airports.

… A British government source said an intercepted message from Pakistan telling the bombers to "go now" had triggered the arrests. Security sources said they had been planning to break up the cells in the next few days, but were forced to move earlier to prevent huge loss of life; they believed the attacks were to take place in the next two days.
The rest of what happened needs no review.

In terms of the narrative, there was euphoria in Washington -
"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won't "look as appealing" under the circumstances.

This came at just the right time, after the one pro-war Bush-is-wonderful Democrat lost his primary election - the democrats would rather not have him represent them in the senate any longer (discussed here). Who's going to keep you safe after all? What better demonstration could you have?

And Senator Lieberman lost no time is saying that the guy who beat him was a fool - that this guy may have won but his Iraq policies would be a victory for terrorists. To be more precise, he told the Stamford Connecticut Advocate here that Ned Lamont's policy for an Iraq pullout would be a "tremendous victory" for and would "strengthen" the people who wanted to blow up the planes in the scheme foiled in England - "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Do you see the connection? We're tamping down a civil war in Iraq and hoping for the best, because if we don't do that some Brits of Middle Eastern descent will blow up airplanes. He says the two are directly connected. It seems we have to wage war badly and continue our occupation of Iraq to keep folks from getting murderously angry with us. That may be odd reasoning, but the Associated Press dutifully picked up the quote here.

It's the controlling narrative - the White House was saying pretty much the same thing - that all you fools thought you were safe and were ragging on us but, see, there are awful people in the world so let us do our job and just shut up. Actually the president said this airplane plot served as a "stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists." The message was the same - shut up and support us (and don't vote for any Democrat).

The attorney and best-selling author Glenn Greenwald here says the president is insinuating - or explicitly claiming - that this incident proves that Bush was right about the whole array of our country's foreign policy disputes, from Iraq to the current Israel-Lebanon war -

This naked exploitation of terrorist threats for political gain occurs every time a new terrorist plot is revealed, no matter how serious or frivolous, no matter how advanced or preliminary, the plot might be. Each time a new plot is disclosed, administration officials and their followers immediately begin squeezing the emotions and fears generated by such events for every last drop of political gain they can manufacture.

But this effort is as incoherent as it is manipulative. Nobody doubts that there are Muslim extremists who would like to commit acts of violence against the US and the West. No political disputes are premised on a conflict over whether terrorism exists or whether it ought to be taken seriously. As a result, events such as this that reveal what everyone already knows - that there is such a thing as Islamic extremists who want to commit terrorist acts against the US - do nothing to inform or resolve political debates over the Bush administration's militaristic foreign policy or its radical lawlessness at home. Opposition to the war in Iraq, for instance, is not based upon the premise that there is no terrorist threat. It is based on the premise that that invasion undermines, rather than strengthens, our campaign to fight terrorism.

Invading and bombing Muslim countries do not prevent terrorism or diminish the likelihood that British-born Muslims will blow up American airplanes. If anything, warmongering in the Middle East exacerbates that risk by radicalizing more and more Muslims and increasing anti-US resentment. And the more military and intelligence resources we are forced to pour into waging wars against countries that have not attacked us, the less able we are to track and combat al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups that actually seek to harm us. There are few things that have more enabled terrorism than turning Iraq into a chaotic caldron of anarchy and violence - exactly the environment in which al Qaeda thrives.

But it is hard to overcome the narrative in play.

Matthew Yglesias here gives it a go -

Bush says today's plots serve as a "stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists." If anything, it's a stark reminder of the reverse. A stark reminder that this isn't a "war" at all - you don't foil a plot like this with armored personnel carriers and JDAMs. We're also not going to capture the capital city of "Islamic fascism" - not Kabul, not Baghdad, not even Teheran and Damascus - and force our adversaries to surrender.

It's not at all difficult to kill or capture terrorists. Instead, what makes them dangerous is that they're hard to identify. What makes them doubly dangerous is that because they're hard to identify, the temptation is to target them very broadly. And as we saw in the administration's desperately failed strategies in the "Sunni triangle" when you tar huge numbers of not-yet-opponents in your effort to find the bad guys, you wind up generating a much larger number of adversaries. The great challenge is to identify strategies for targeting terrorists narrowly enough so that the number of terrorists actually declines as a result of your counterterrorism operations.

Bush keeps on doing the reverse - defining the enemy in very broad, very lazy ways; conflating issues that have little to do with each other; charging off half-cocked and pissing people off. Meanwhile, he hasn't managed to kill or capture Osama or Zawahiri and insists on reacting to everything that happens in the most-alarmist, most-partisan terms he can imagine. Worst of all, the continued failure of his policies to ameliorate the problem is then trotted out as a justification for continuing - or even intensifying - the same failed approach.

Yglesias thinks the man is "addicted to failure" but, really, he just deeply believes his own narrative.

Yes, he could have reassured America that the government will leave do everything possible to maintain the safety of American citizens, but he's pissed that no one thinks he's done or is doing the right things to get there from here. 

So it was attack day.

And there was what Vice President Cheney said when Lieberman, who supports the administration fully, lost his election -

Echoing a frequent Republican theme, US Vice President Dick Cheney said Democrats were purging Lieberman from the party over his outspoken advocacy for the war and displaying their "pre-9/11 mindset" and inability to protect Americans.

He said Lieberman's defeat showed "the direction the party appears to be heading when they in fact purge a man like Joe Lieberman, who just six years ago was their nominee for vice president," over his support for the war on terrorism.

"What is particularly disturbing about it is from the standpoint of our adversaries ... They clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task," Cheney said in a conference call with reporters while on vacation in Wyoming.
What do you put at the end of a mathematical proof? QED. It is demonstrated.

Wesley Clark, the general who might have been, given some variations in the way things went, the Democrat who ran for president, not John Kerry, has his own, minority narrative -
You see, despite what Joe Lieberman believes, invading Iraq and diverting our attention away from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not being strong on national security. Blind allegiance to George W. Bush and his failed "stay the course" strategy is not being strong on national security. And no, Senator Lieberman, no matter how you demonize your opponents, there is no "anti-security wing" of the Democratic Party.
But no one believes that. It doesn't fit.

What does fit is the whole Joe Lieberman thing is really part of a bigger narrative - his defeat means the end of all hope for the Democrats. You see that everywhere - the idea is this Ned Lamont is kind of like George McGovern, a total anti-war wimp and fool. It's 1972 all over again - the hippies in the party have rallied behind a coward. Yes, McGovern was a decorated war hero, but you know how that goes - same with John Kerry and Max Cleland. They're all cowards and George Bush is the warrior. Whatever. When you control the narrative you can make actual careers be anything you'd like.

The definitive argument that the hippies are back - long-haired, flag-burning, free-love radical whose girlfriends don't wear bras, damn it - and they've taken over the recently sensible Democratic Party is here, from Jacob Weisberg. He was four-years-old in 1968 but his mommy must have told him awful things about the hippies. He and most of the right have never gotten over the hippies. They've never gotten over the sixties at all. They hated the sixties.

There's a long discussion of that here at Hullabaloo, with a lot of political history, and it ends with this -
One of the hallmarks of liberalism is its belief in empiricism. When things aren't working we try to figure out why and solve the problem. Despite our unfounded reputation for starry-eyed naive belief in human perfectibility, we are the practical thinkers who are looking to the future and trying to figure out a way to make things better. It is a grave misreading of the current sentiment to assume that we don't care about national security. The reason we are trying so hard to change things is because we do care about it. I don't think I'm the only who feels much less secure than I once did knowing that we have alienated half the world out of some misplaced faith in machismo as a diplomatic strategy. The world stage isn't high school and I'd like to see something a little more sophisticated than locker room psychology brought to bear to solve these problems. In case nobody's noticed, the Middle East isn't looking so good right now and the Republicans are shrieking like banshees in ever more hysterical terms. Far be it for me to object, what with the need to live down the summer of love and all, but that just doesn't seem like a good situation to me.

Perhaps it's fashionable to adopt Weisberg's disdainful pose, but it's completely worthless on both a political and policy level. It's as if they are living in an endless feed-back loop and haven't thought a new thought in decades. I doubt that even winning a majority will convince these timorous chatterers that objecting to Republican national security policy isn't a death wish, but it won't matter. The only thing that matters is that the Democratic Party stops listening to them.
Yep, it is time to move on. It is puzzling when you've angered a conservative friend with your views, and they can think of nothing to say but to call you a damned hippie. There aren't any of those left. The older conservatives sputter and call you a communist, but they're stuck in 1953 or so. There aren't any of those around either. It's very curious.

As for who's really a radical, you could look at it this way -
Right now the extremist radical position is to stay the course in Iraq and just keep blindly flailing at terrorism with no real idea of how to tackle it on a long term basis. Consider this: George W. Bush turned the office of State Department undersecretary for public diplomacy into a patronage job and appointed one of his second rate office wives at a time when this country's greatest challenge is to win a war of ideas. He's kept Don Rumsfeld in charge of the war effort even as we have been watching him slowly unravel before our very eyes. Americans are hated by a majority of the world's inhabitants now. There is no Democrat in the country who would have done that.

Phantom hippies are the least of our problems. Is it too much to ask that the media not fall for Karl Rove's manufactured spin for just one minute and recognize that this nation's foreign policy is being run by incompetent political hacks and neocon fanatics at a time of maximum danger? It's fun to take these little trips down memory lane and all, but really, we have serious issues to deal with and the current government is doing a terrible job of it. Perhaps we could take our eyes off the rear view mirror for a minute or two and deal with the fleet of Mack trucks that are coming right at us.
But it's just hard to abandon the narrative that so convenient. It may have nothing to do with reality, but it sure is handy when challenged.

And as for these airplane bombing that were stopped before they could happen, see Bill Montgomery here -
One can choose one's degree of paranoia here, since the only information sources about the plot are the police and intelligence agencies involved, plus the political spinmeisters.

Many of us have grown accustomed enough to the pointless politicization of color-coded alerts to be instantly skeptical. But the idea that Al Qaeda had a "big one" in the works -- and would have loved to have pulled the trigger in the middle of Israel's war on Lebanon - certainly isn't inherently implausible. I've mentioned the possibility myself.

On the other hand, none of the previous known plots hatched by the British wing of the movement have come anywhere close to the alleged scope and sophistication of this one. To expect a bunch of idiots who literally couldn't figure out how to set their own shoes on fire to pull off the simultaneous destruction of up to 20 planes using liquid explosives is a bit of a stretch.

I'm also dubious about the claim that the plotters were following - almost to the letter - an 11-year old plan developed by Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to blow up a dozen or so US airliners over the Pacific. Following the script for a previously exposed and foiled operation doesn't exactly seem like a global terrorism best practice. Are we dealing with professionals or amateurs here? Or is it a little bit of both, plus a healthy dose of hype from a couple of guys (Bush and Blair) who right now can use all the hype - and raw, adrenalized fear - they can get?

Like I said, it's a BYOP (bring your own paranoia) party. The truth behind the latest episode of the "Osama bin Laden Hour" is one of those unknown unknowns Rumsfeld talks about. Would the security apparatuses of two leading capitalist powers (including the commercial heavyweight champion of the world) really turn the global transportation system on its ear just for the sake of a temporary political advantage? And if that's really what's really going on, why isn't it October right now?

Maybe what matters most isn't the credibility of the plot - using whichever meaning of the word you think most appropriate - but the fact that five years after 9/11 British society apparently contains a large (and growing?) number of young Muslim men who would like to kill as many Americans as they can whenever and wherever they can.

It's a pretty ironic coda to the wingnut flypaper theory - under which we were supposed to "take the fight" to the terrorists in Iraq (and Afghanistan and Lebanon and, in time, Iran) so that we wouldn't have to fight them in the streets of New York and London.

… Either there are more than enough flies to go around or the flypaper has moved - or both.

… What can I say? We're stuck to our own flypaper. Which means that phony or not, today's hysteria probably is an authentic glimpse at the shape of things to come. We're going to have to get used to the idea of standing in two-hour lines at airport security and toting our carry-on items in a clear plastic bags. But these inconveniences are absurdly insignificant compared to other risks we face if we remain on the road we're on - the one that leads to that clash of civilizations the uberhawks are clamoring for.
They do want a war with Iran and Syria - to clear things up once and for all, which those two additional wars would not do. There'd be even more guys working on mass murder.

And as or the stopping of this plot proving the administration was right about everything, see Fred Kaplan here -
According to the Times of London, Pakistan's intelligence service worked "closely with MI5 and Scotland Yard" and, at the request of British authorities, supplied information that proved "crucial in thwarting the attacks" and in arresting the alleged conspirators, most of them apparently of Pakistani descent.

If police hadn't nabbed them in their homes during a sweeping raid, the plotters would likely have sailed through airport security. Metal detectors are blind to liquid explosives. Short of an amazing stroke of luck (along the lines of the flight attendant who sniffed out Richard Reid's attempt to ignite his shoe bomb on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001), not even the most astute guard would have looked twice at a soft-drink container or at the flash camera that was reportedly to trigger the blast.

By the same token, drones and radar-warning planes can't spot every potential terrorist scrambling across the border. X-ray machines cannot cope with the vast boatloads of cargo unloaded every day at America's ports (the standard estimate is that just 2 percent of containers are inspected). Nor can the radiation detectors deployed along New York City's bridges and tunnels pick up every gamma ray emitted by every truck that zooms by.

Border patrols and detection devices are necessary tools. Like locks on the front door, they make it harder for terrorists to make plans and wreak havoc. But there's always a back door or window that can be pried open. Preventing that from happening requires good intelligence, and good intelligence requires contacts with the sort of people who hang around the dark alleys of the world.

There's a broader lesson here, and it speaks to the Bush administration's present jam throughout the Middle East and in other danger zones. If the British had adopted the same policy toward dealing with Pakistan that Bush has adopted toward dealing with, say, Syria or Iran (namely, it's an evil regime, and we don't speak with evil regimes), then a lot of passenger planes would have shattered and spilled into the ocean, hundreds or thousands of people would have died, and the world would have suddenly been plunged into very scary territory.
What follows that is detailed discussion of how we have stopped all contact with those governments. Syria used to help us with all sorts of inside information on al Qaeda. They'll like to do that again, for various self-serving reasons. They might be willing to rein in Hezbollah.

But we don't talk with the bad guys - that would acknowledge then, and give them some sort of legitimacy they don't deserve. The Brits do.

And that leads to the obvious question -
It is time to ask: Which is the more "moral" course - to shun odious regimes as a matter of principle or to take unpleasant steps that might prevent mass terror?
Well, duh?

We get caught up in our own narrative of how things should be. And the Brits saved our bacon on this one. It's just that it isn't being framed that way. It's a bit mad. But what can you do?

Posted by Alan at 22:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006 06:52 PDT home

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