Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"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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Sunday, 17 September 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 38 - for the week of September 17, 2006.Click here to go there...

There was no blog entry here yesterday as putting that together takes some time. Commentary will resume here tomorrow as today it's off to downtown San Diego for dinner with the New Yorkers - the North American Securities Administrators Association Annual Conference in underway there, of course.

As for the new issue of the weekly, there are six extended essays on current events - with more detail and depth than usual - and seven pages of Southern California photography - it's all explained below - AND Our Man in Paris returns with what's new there (keep the kids away from the screen as the photos are hot) - AND guest photography with some vintage cars at Watkins Glen.

And there are the weekly diversions - quotes on the nature of trust, as that is the big issue of the day, and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Take a look, and as this is the third week of the new format, let me know what I can do to make it work better. If you missed a previous issue, go to the archive page and check out the ducks at Heavenly Pond, or tour Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. And don't miss Car Crazy.

Direct links to specific pages this week -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Stuck on Stupid - No One Seems to Know Much - Is September 11 the Wrong Date?
September 11 - Five Years On
A Fine Mess - The Options Now Available
Notes on Religion in America - Sleepers Awake!
Choose a Cassandra - The Upcoming Nuclear War
Revolt! The King and the Rebels - The Uprising of Key Republicans against the President

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris: Paris Wants You

Guest Photography ______________________________

Teaser - Vintage Cars at Watkins Glen

Southern California Photography ______________________________

The Other Primary Colors
Hollywood Noir
The Beach
Signs and Symbols
American Glory - the BIG Cadillac
Botanicals - September Blooms
Botanical Humor

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week - History and Truth and All That
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual - More from Our Friend in Texas

Posted by Alan at 10:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 15 September 2006
The King and the Rebels
Topic: For policy wonks...
The King and the Rebels
The week's political events should always end with a flourish - with accusations and defensiveness and attacks and counterattacks. It gives political junkies something to argue about on the weekend, and gives everyone else something to think about if the weekend games are dull blow-outs and there are no good movies available - after the chores, of course.

The "everyone else" in this case settles on thinking about who's really in charge, who should be in charge, and where we as a nation are heading, as kind of rainy day last choice. Except for when you see too many people you know losing their jobs, and you have vague odd worries too, and when you find your adjustable rate mortgage just jumped and the new monthly actually hurts and you can't do much about it, and when all the bills seem strangely larger (especially the medical stuff and gasoline), and it's been a long time since you had any sort of real raise, and when you blow by the news and see the scenes of our wars that were supposed to be fast, effective and clean but aren't, and see all these people in very nice countries not liking us much either - except for those sorts of times, we aren't a nation much interested in who runs things. A very small percentage of the population has a family member involved in the wars - in Afghanistan or Iraq. We have no draft. With the troop level there nearing one hundred fifty thousand no one much notices any local effects - there are three hundred million of us. Do the math. And there's no call for sacrifices - rationing and all that sort of thing. We're told to go shopping and act normal - otherwise the terrorist will have won. And that's fine. We just want to be left alone.

But it's an election year, so no one will be left alone. Some the advertising will even creep into the NFL broadcasts - some political aspirant or other claiming his or her opponent is a sleazy fool. How are you supposed to know? You shrug. But no one can hide from all this.

And why would you? It's become great theater, as they say. It's not that bad to consider.

The conflict has been building for weeks, culminating in, on Friday, September 15, a late morning press conference where the president took on the press and was in rare form, riding his high horse, trying to contain what some say is a revolt in his own party - major people on his own side saying he was wrong on one of the biggest issues of the day, or really a core issue about just who we are as a nation, and they just weren't going to go along with him. This was his chance to say, in public and on the record, that they were wrong, that everyone was wrong - he knew what was right and where did they get off with this "no" business? It was "unacceptable to think" what they seemed to be thinking. Those were his exact words. It was classic. All he needed was a few ball bearings to roll around in his hand, of you remember the movie.

The full transcript is here and the Associated Press account here, but context is in order.

Over the last several weeks, as the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan deteriorated, and Israel's adventure in Lebanon went sour, the White House decided a series of speeches was just the thing - to rally America. Cheney and Rumsfeld opened the campaign, most notable with Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City, where he said those who disagreed with the administration were intellectual and morally confused - and knew nothing of history. That started the "we're really fighting fascists" thing off with a bang - lots of talk of Hitler and all. That was the history to which he refered.

That was followed by a series of speeches by the president where the new working theory of what's going on was laid out - Iraq doesn't really matter as it's just part of a larger war, against "Islamic Fascists" who want to take over the world. You may think the Sunnis and Shi'a hate each other, and Hamas and Hezbollah have different aims, and Iran wanting nuclear weapons has little to do with the daily mayhem in Baghdad, and North Korea and maybe even Cuba are other issues - but it's all one grand conspiracy against us and our way of life, and all one big war now. Throw in Venezuela and Syria too. So don't think about Iraq that much. Think about the big picture. And that was the theme of the president's speech on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

This accomplished a number of things, politically.

First, it changed the subject. At the time of the press conference there was a third day of tortured bodies found in the streets of Baghdad - over sixty Wednesday, and two dozen each of the next two days, and by the end of the week the new Iraqi government has announced they intended to get themselves a giant trench around the whole city of five million, to keep the bad guys from driving anymore car bombs in from the countryside. Yes, that hardly addresses the sectarian kidnappings and assassinations, but it might help. In any event, the idea was to keep people from thinking so much about Iraq. The worldwide, multifaceted and interlocking enemy - as bad or worse that Hitler and all - trumps worrying that we'll lose Baghdad or the Anbar province. There are biggest fish to fry, or whatever. This is new.

Secondly, this is good politics for the coming November elections, where the president's party may very well lose controls of congress. Under the new mantra - America is safer, but we're not yet safe - you tell people they should be very, very afraid. This is far worse than you ever imagined. But, because it is, you need to stick with the party that knows how to deal with danger and takes no crap from anyone. You have to vote Republican. Your life depends on it. There is an ad campaign that pretty much says that. Of course, as hundred of political writers have pointed out, this is dangerous. No only may some not believe the premise that everything is really connected if you think about it a certain way, folks might wonder what brought us to this pass. They could blame the president and his party - as they were in complete control of our government for the last six year. The ABC-Disney television movie might help there - laying out how most everything was Bill Clinton's fault - and it was released at just the right time. So maybe the blame thing has been neutralized. Still the words "not yet safe" do invite grumpy voters to ask the natural questions - "Why are we not safe now? Just what have you guys been doing?"

The last bit of context for the press conference is the president recently announcing that, well, we did have secret prisons - sorry about the denials - and we're sending fourteen people we've held in those to Guantanamo for trial, military tribunals actually. There they will get a fair trial and then be executed. BUT, since the Supreme Court ruled the military tribunals as they were planned were illegal as originally planned, congress has to pass laws to make them legal. The changes were simple. Make it so we don't have to tell them what the evidence against them actually is. Make it so that what they say "under coercion" is admissible as valid and true evidence. And, as part of that, make what coercion we have used - waterboarding, forced hypothermia, stress positions for forty hours at a stretch, and all the rest - be clearly defined as not torture at all, or anything forbidden in the Geneva Conventions we helped develop and helped revise in 1949, and to which we are a party. This last part requires that congress pass news legislation that redefines how we interpret the Geneva Conventions - the words say "this" and we, for our purposes and our legal system, take them to mean "that."

This was an election-year masterstroke. The wimpy Democrats would come out against torture and say these guys deserved real due process - and they'd lose their seat as any Republican running against them could claim they cared more about the rights of the terrorists than about the safety of Americans.

The problem is that it didn't work out that way. Three key senators on the Republican side said no - torture is not what we do, or should ever be doing, and everyone get due process, as that's how we do things in this country. The three were John Warner of Virginia, once Secretary of the Navy and head of the Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, who had been a prisoner of war for five years in Vietnam, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former military lawyer and still a reserve JAG officer. Then Colin Powell, the president's former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a public letter to McCain saying plan to redefine the Geneva Conventions would cause the world "to doubt the moral basis" of the fight against terror and "put our own troops at risk."

This has to be stopped, thus the press conference - and warnings that the United States had lost the high moral ground to adversaries got an angry - "It's flawed logic." And the president said if he didn't get the changes he wanted in the Geneva Conventions and all the rest - he'd tell the CIA to just stop all interrogations. What would be the point?

The Democrats just sat back and watched, in amazement, except for what the AP reports here -
"When conservative military men like John McCain, John Warner, Lindsey Graham and Colin Powell stand up to the president, it shows how wrong and isolated the White House is," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "These military men are telling the president that in the war on terror you need to be both strong and smart, and it is about time he heeded their admonitions."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, "Instead of picking fights with Colin Powell, John McCain and other military experts, President Bush should change course, do what the American people expect, and finally give them the real security they deserve."
But they really didn't have to say anything. The fight was internal -
Bush took vehement exception when asked about Powell's assertion that the world might doubt the moral basis of the fight against terror if lawmakers went along with the administration's proposal to come up with a U.S. interpretation of the Geneva Convention's ban on "outrages upon personal dignity."

"If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic," Bush said. "It's just - I simply can't accept that."

Growing animated, he said, "It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective."
Yes, there's a bit of tautology there - we are good, so no matter what we do, what we do must be good. We cannot lost the high moral ground - even after Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the kidnappings and secret prisons and what looks to the world like torture - because we are good underneath it all, and our motive are pure. He seem to be saying that when you know you're good you can do anything at all, and whatever you do would automatically be good, because you're good. Since he cannot possibly be that simple-minded, one has to assume that was for the rubes in his base, to get them to the polls in November - all the Democrats, and these Republican traitors, are telling America we're no good, so get out there and vote for the good folks!

In any event, this seems like a bit of a big deal. The Washington Post, when the president visited congress the day before, said this -
President Bush rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly.

Of course, Mr. Bush didn't come out and say he's lobbying for torture. Instead he refers to "an alternative set of procedures" for interrogation. But the administration no longer conceals what it wants. It wants authorization for the CIA to hide detainees in overseas prisons where even the International Committee of the Red Cross won't have access. It wants permission to interrogate those detainees with abusive practices that in the past have included induced hypothermia and "waterboarding," or simulated drowning. And it wants the right to try such detainees, and perhaps sentence them to death, on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions.

There's no question that the United States is facing a dangerous foe that uses the foulest of methods. But a wide array of generals and others who should know argue that it is neither prudent nor useful for the United States to compromise its own values in response.
The usual response to that is what good are values when you're dead? But the president actually said that the nation's ability to defend itself would be undermined if these rebellious Republicans in the Senate did not come around to his position - "This enemy has struck us, and they want to strike us again, and we'll give our folks the tools necessary to protect the country. It's a debate that, that really is going to define whether or not we can protect ourselves."

The New York Times notes this -
Mr. McCain and his allies on the committee say reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions would open the door to rogue governments to interpret them as they see fit.

In a statement late Friday, Mr. McCain stuck to his position, saying that his proposed rules included legal protections for interrogators. "Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries, with less respect for basic human rights, that they could issue their own legislative reinterpretations," he said.

Mr. Bush rejected the crux of Mr. McCain's argument when a reporter asked him how he would react if nations like Iran or North Korea "roughed up" American soldiers under the guise of their own interpretations of Common Article 3.

"You can give a hypothetical about North Korea or any other country," Mr. Bush said, casting the question as steeped in moral relativism. "The point is that the program is not going to go forward if our professionals do not have clarity in the law."
See Marty Lederman here -
At last, the issue is publicly - and when all the smoke has cleared, the central question is quite simple:

And it is this: Should the CIA be legally authorized to breach the Geneva Conventions by engaging in the following forms of "cruel treatment" prohibited by "common" Article 3(1)(a) of those Conventions?:

- "Cold Cell," or hypothermia, where a prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees, during which he is doused with cold water.

- "Long Time Standing," in which a prisoner is forced to stand, handcuffed and with his feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours.

- Other forms of "stress positions" and prolonged sleep deprivation, perhaps akin to "Long Time Standing."

- Threats of violence and death of a detainee and/or his family.

... It's important to be clear about one thing: The question is not simply whether, in the abstract, it would be a good or acceptable idea for the United States to use such techniques in certain extreme circumstances on certain detainees. I happen to think that the moral, pragmatic, diplomatic and other costs of doing so greatly outweigh any speculative and uncertain benefits - but that is obviously a question on which there is substantial public disagreement, much of it quite sincere and serious. Instead, the question must be placed in its historical and international context - namely, whether Congress should grant the Executive branch a fairly unbounded discretion to use such techniques where such conduct would place the United States in breach of the Geneva Conventions. And that, of course, changes the calculus considerably. Does Congress really want to make the United States the first nation on earth to specifically provide domestic legal sanction for what would properly and universally be seen as a transparent breach of the minimum, baseline standards for civilized treatment of prisoners established by Common Article 3 - thereby dealing a grievous blow to the prospect of international adherence to the Geneva Conventions in the future?

It would be one thing - a momentous thing, no doubt - for the United States to propose that Geneva itself be amended to permit certain extreme interrogation techniques in certain limited circumstances. In that case, the principal question would be whether torture and its close equivalents are ever acceptable, and whether they could and should be regulated under a legal regime that would somehow keep such techniques within "proper" bounds, if there are any. But as the issue now stands, the advisability and morality of such techniques, as such, and the practical questions of regulating such conduct, although obviously of great importance, are overshadowed by an even more solemn question: whether legalizing such techniques is worth an effective repudiation of Geneva by the most powerful state on the planet, with all that such a repudiation would entail for the future of Geneva and other international agreements.
That's where things stand.

And to put that in context, see this from a reserve soldier in Iraq -
I was deployed in my reserve unit (USMCR) as part of operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Marine infantry, and we were on the front lines, supposedly to guard a gunship base, but really, though, the gunships guarded us.

Not too much later, it was time to take prisoners. One of the platoons went north, and when they came back, there were stories about how Iraqi soldiers lined the roads, trying to surrender. I spent a week guarding Iraqi men in a makeshift prison camp, a way-station really, and more than I could count. They didn't look like they were starving or dehydrated. Apparently, once the ground war began, they just pitched their weapons and headed south at first opportunity. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that they knew bone deep that they'd get fair treatment. We gave them MREs (with the pork entree's removed) but almost immediately some Special Forces guys arrived and set up a real chow line for them. We gave each man a blanket, (I kept an extra as a souvie) and I think I saw a Special Forces doc giving some of them a once over.

Once, only once, one of them got all irritated and tried to get in one of the Corporal's faces, loud. (I was a lance-corporal). He wouldn't back down, so the Corporal gave him an adjustment, a rifle butt-stroke to his gut, not hard, but he went down. The Corporal sent me for the medic. The guy was ok, and now calm (or at least understanding the situation), and hand-signed that he was out of smokes and really, really needed one... Not a bad guy, just stressed-dumb and needing a smoke. None of the others prisoners in the camp even registered it.

We went north to mop up not long after that. I saw the Iraqi weapons: rocket launchers a little smaller than semi-trailers, hidden in buildings, AKs in piles, big Soviet mortars and anti-tank mines, everywhere but unarmed. They had food too. Pasteurized milk to drink, but most gone bad by then. Some of the mortar rounds were still in crates. They had long trenches that were hard to see in the dunes, bunkers with maps, fire-plans laid out, and blankets, all placed with decent vantage for command and control. They even had wire laid for land-line communications. The point is, they could have fought. Not won, no they couldn't have won, but they could have fought. Instead, they chose to surrender.

Looking back, I think that one of the main drivers in these men's heads was that they knew, absolutely, that they'd get fair treatment from us, the Americans. We were the good guys. The Iraqis on the line knew they had an out, they had hope, so they could just walk away. (A few did piss themselves when someone told them we were Marines. Go figure.) Still, they knew Americans would be fair, and we were.

Thinking hard on what I now know of history, psychology, and the meanness of politics, that reputation for fairness was damn near unique in world history. Can you tell me of any major military power that had it? Ever? France? No. Think Algeria. The UK? Sorry, Northern Ireland, the Boxer Rebellion in China... China or Russia. I don't think so. But America had it. If those men had even put up token resistance, some of us would not have come back. But they didn't even bother, and surrendered at least in part because of our reputation. Our two hundred year old reputation for being fair and humane and decent. All the way back to George Washington, and from President George H.W. Bush all the way down to a lance-corporal jarhead at the front.

It's gone now, even from me. I can't get past that image of the Iraqi, in the hood with the wires and I'm not what you'd call a sensitive type. You know the picture. And now we have a total bust-out in the White House, and a bunch of rubber-stamps in the House, trying to make it so that half-drowning people isn't torture. That hypothermia isn't torture. That degradation isn't torture. We don't have that reputation for fairness anymore. Just the opposite, I think. And the next real enemy we face will fight like only the cornered and desperate fight. How many Marines' lives will be lost in the war ahead just because of this asshole who never once risked anything for this country?
For a slightly different take, see Bill Montgomery here -
What will be on the table then is the question of whether a nation as powerful and potentially dangerous as America (the proverbial bull in the china shop) can survive on brute force alone - without moral legitimacy or political prestige, without true allies (save for the world's other leper regimes) and without "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." We're not there yet, but that's the direction we're heading in, and a unilateral decision to redefine the Geneva Conventions (without actually admitting that we're doing it) would take us another few hundred miles down the road.

What this amounts to (and what Powell was really complaining about) is the final decommissioning of the myth of American exceptionalism - one of the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Without it, we're just another paranoid empire obsessed with our own security and willing to tell any lie or repudiate any self-proclaimed principle if we think it will make us even slightly safer.

To put it mildly, this is not the kind of flag the rest of the world is likely to rally around, no matter how frantically we wave it. Even Shrub seems to understand this somewhere in the dimly lit attic that is his mind - thus his recent remark that an America that doesn't advance the cause of freedom is an America that has lost its soul. It's easy to paint this as delusional, or an updated version of the old Orwellian slogan that slavery = freedom, but Shrub at least seems to understands that America will have to convince the world it stands for more than just power, privilege and profit if it's going to attract the support of the 80% of the world that lacks all three. How, exactly, would ditching the Geneva Conventions further this goal?

Then again, maybe it's best if the myth gets busted. Maybe America should take public responsibility for torturing prisoners - instead of just pawning the job off on the Jordanian or Egyptian or Saudi intelligence services, who could and would hook car batteries to testicles while we piously pronounced our hands (and hearts) are clean. A U.S. torture statute would at least bring a certain degree of clarity to the issue, eliminating the "vague" and "open to interpretation" policies that have long allowed the United States to enjoy the fruits of torture (and other crimes) without actually committing them ourselves. I know that's not exactly the kind of clarity Shrub was asking for today, but it would still be a refreshing outbreak of honesty.

That said, though, nobody should have any illusions about what that kind of "clarity" would reveal and which side of the moral line the United States would be seen standing on.
So, is this what we signed up for?

Actually, it not that much about torture - it's about power, and who has to follow the rules. It's that frat-boy thing again. That a little disheartening, but then it's great theater.

We'll see how it plays out in November.

Posted by Alan at 23:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006 23:31 PDT home

Thursday, 14 September 2006
Choose a Cassandra
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Choose a Cassandra
In Greek mythology, Cassandra ("she who entangles men") was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy - and the deal is her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. But she ticked him off. When she did not return his love - like he bought her dinner and all - Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions. When Cassandra foresees the destruction of Troy - she warns the Trojans about that Trojan Horse thing, she sees the death of Agamemnon, and sees her own death - she cannot do anything about any of it. Her family believes she is mad, and, according to some versions of the story, kept her locked up. Cassandra was the first to see the body of her own brother Hector being brought back to the city - so the family of course was not amused. In most modern literature we often have the Cassandra character - someone whose "prophetic insight" is obscured by insanity - the revelations are riddles or disjointed nonsense no one understands until it's too late. It's a useful device. Heck, you even have one in the Harry Potter books - the batty divination professor at Hogwarts, Sibyl Patricia Trelawney, in the films played to the hilt, or appropriately way over the top, by Emma Thompson.

And in current events you have your Cassandra types. The question is which ones have the divine gift, and which ones are just batty, with no gift at all. Deciding who to take seriously is tricky. There's a lot of nonsense out there.

As in mythology, things just keep coming up again and again. In these pages, Thursday, August 24, in Iran Next - Building the Case, you'd find an extended discussion of the new congressional report on Iran, released two days before (here in PDF format), saying Iran might be deadly dangerous but the intelligence was rather thin, so it was hard to tell much of anything. This may have been a slam at the CIA and all the other spy folks the Cheney crowd thinks are totally useless (you remember they set up their own special office at the Pentagon so they got the real truth about Iraq's nukes and mobile chemical labs and all the rest, and about that meeting in Prague - the Atta fellow and the Iraqis - that the CIA and the Brits and everyone else said never happened). In short, releasing the report may have been a demonstration that you just cannot trust the folks who usually gather the information.

But the report, even as it noted the information was thin, was very alarming. What information the House committee could dig up - and they purposefully did not talk to any of the intelligence agencies - led them to conclude Iran was much closer to building a working nuclear weapon than anyone was saying. They could have a bomb and use it on Israel or give to al Qaeda within months, or whatever.

As noted in this item from Dafna Linzer in the Washington Post the report was "principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran." So of course the report "fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States [and] chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion." And the author? It seems "the principal author was Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John R. Bolton, the administration's former point man on Iran at the State Department." He's one of Cheney's guys. It's the same gang at it again.

But the message was clear - We don't have the intelligence, the spy agencies are useless, so we'd better be safe than sorry and start bombing now, or something like that, but not exactly. It was a call to stop saying "we don't know much" and say flat-out that even if we don't know much it's just so obvious that these guys in Iran must be stopped now.

Fast forward to Thursday, September 14 - three weeks later and you get this - in a letter to House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra, the senior director of the International Atomic Energy Agency says a recent report out of Hoekstra's committee contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements" about Iran's nuclear plans and the IAEA's efforts to track them. The committee report incorrectly stated that Iran was producing weapons-grade uranium at a plant in Natanz; falsely claimed that the IAEA's Nobel Peace Prize-winning executive director had removed a senior inspector from the Iran probe in retaliation for raising concerns about alleged Iranian deception, when, in fact, the inspector hadn't been removed at all; and made the "outrageous and dishonest" claim the IAEA has an "unstated" policy that bars inspectors from telling the truth about Iran. And that news items also contains this - "Privately, several intelligence officials said the committee report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate."

So the IAEA says the Republicans in the House are making up crap, and they don't like it much. So does our own intelligence community.

This sounds awfully familiar, too much like the run up to the Iraq war. All those chemical weapons, all those biological weapons, the nuclear weapons in design stage - someone had to stop Saddam and you just can't trust the CIA staffers or the IAEA. Hell, way back when, Rumsfeld practically called the IAEA fools and dupes - we knew where Saddam's weapons were. He said so. So we told the IAEA inspectors to leave - shock and awe were coming, because we knew better. And all those visits Cheney made to the CIA to keep the staffers in line were not social visits. Doubters were soon gone.

Tim Grieve adds current context here -
The IAEA's letter comes as Senate Republicans continue to stall an investigation into allegations that the Bush administration misused intelligence on Iraq and as somebody - the "intelligence community" or the White House? - is blocking public disclosure of information about that much-hyped Mohammed Atta meeting that seems never to have occurred.
He has links if you want to follow that thread.

But the Post item, later picked up and amplified with further reporting elsewhere, has some curious detail. Hoekstra's office said the report was reviewed by the office of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, so lay off. And the obvious -
"This is like prewar Iraq all over again," said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. "You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."
Well, it worked before.

The question is - will this work again? The kicker is that Iran may well be working on nuclear weapons, for real - and may have a crude one ready in eight to ten years. That's a lot of time to work on what to do about this all, but as reported many places, the president does not want to leave office without having resolved this issue. It's a matter of personal pride. And it's a legacy thing.

We're going to do something. The "immediate threat" proposition has been advanced. The usual suspects have raised their fact-based objections that this is all just wrong. And the gamble is that, although we were wrong before, the American people are an easily frightened and easily led lot of folks - and thus easily fooled. They'll cheer a new war to keep us safe - or even if the don't cheer, they'll grimly agree it is necessary, and tell any doubters to just shut up. Fox News in there already, of course.

But that raises the question, usually posed in grade-school fights between little boys - "Yeah, you and what army?"

That leads one to Lawrence Korb, Max Bergmann and Peter Ogden in The National Review noting this -
- Fully two-thirds of the active US Army is officially classified as "not ready for combat."
- The National Guard is "in an even more dire situation than the active Army but both have the same symptoms; I just have a higher fever."
- The Army has almost no non-deployed combat-ready brigades at its disposal.
- The equipment in Iraq is wearing out at four to nine times the normal peacetime rate because of combat losses and harsh operating conditions.
- The total Army - active and reserve - now faces at least a $50 billion equipment shortfall.
- After failing to meet its recruitment target for 2005, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 40 in January--only to find it necessary to raise it to 42 in June.
- The number of Army recruits who scored below average on its aptitude test doubled in 2005, and the Army has doubled the number of non-high school graduates it can enlist this year.
- Basic training, which has, for decades, been an important tool for testing the mettle of recruits, has increasingly become a rubber-stamping ritual. Through the first six months of 2006, only 7.6 percent of new recruits failed basic training, down from 18.1 percent in May 2005.
- Thousands of white supremacists may have been able to infiltrate the military due to pressure from recruitment shortfalls.
Other than that, things are fine - except they note inadequate body armor, inappropriate assignments, medical benefits slashed, encouragement to torture, refusal of the president to attend a single military funeral. And the three authors note that political reality needs to catch up to this issue - but the Democrats remain afraid to raise it.

Daniel Benjamin and Michèle A. Flournoy here argue we don't have any more troops to send to Iraq, as many have said we should do, as things are going sour there rapidly. But you see -
In terms of ground-force readiness, the United States is in worse shape than at any time since the aftermath of Vietnam, when revelations about a "hollow" military sparked defense buildups from the Carter and then Reagan administrations. While most press coverage of the Iraq conflict has understandably focused on loss of life and the damage done in that country by the insurgency, the readiness of the US military has also been a casualty.

From early on, military experts said that with roughly 140,000 troops in Iraq, the existing Army and Marine Corps was sufficient to prosecute the war for a couple of rotations after the invasion but that the force would need to be supplemented to sustain a longer war. Now those rotations have come and gone, and many units are on their second and even third tours in Iraq. Many active-duty soldiers and Marines are doing near back-to-back deployments, often with less than a year at home. This relentless tempo of operations, combined with the public's doubts about the war, has hurt the military's recruiting efforts and may contribute to higher than expected numbers of officers and enlisted personnel leaving the service in the future. Had President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heeded early calls from Congress and experts from the center and the right to grow the size of the Army and Marine Corps, the current strains on the force could have been avoided.

Meanwhile, the military is also cannibalizing its equipment stocks. Given the harsh physical environment in Iraq and the high tempo of operations there, weapons, vehicles, and other equipment have been breaking down and wearing out at a rapid rate. So, the military has had to pillage from non-deploying units, the National Guard, and forward-deployed stocks around the world that are meant to be available in case of a crisis. Based on information from the Pentagon and estimates by analysts such as former Reagan Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, the costs of restoring destroyed and damaged Army and Marine Corps equipment is now estimated to be close to $30 billion, and it will grow by an additional $14 billion for every additional year we stay in Iraq. Even if these funds were available tomorrow, it would take years to restore the forces to the state they were in at the outset of the conflict.
So if this is true, how do we handle Iran? You drum up the need for immediate action, but the question remains - "Yeah, you and what army?" To get the necessary forces a draft would be necessary, but getting that up and running would take time - and getting warms bodies into the pipeline and out the other end, combat ready, even more time. And it wouldn't be popular, especially with the military, now set up as a professional organization, not one organized to deal with the surly draftee, Larry from Toledo, and all the rest grumpy buddies. The equipment and arms, and the logistical support for same - much money and many years, of course. That might be easier to sell. There are a lot of jobs there for those laid off or just getting by.

There seem to be only two solutions to all this right now. One can rely on diplomacy to solve the problem, which is slow and not something the administration likes nor does very well, and won't meet the president's self-imposed deadline to "fix" Iran before he leaves office (the veterinary allusion is intentional). So that's not for us, in the end. So one can turn to a military solution, but this time find a "force multiplier" - where rounding up a million more troops and fixing broken down Abrams tanks is mooted. Since we have no allies who think military action again Iran is a fine idea right now, if ever, so we get no troops and equipment there, we can turn to air power. We can bomb the snot out of them - but Israel's recent run-in with Hezbollah demonstrated that doesn't exactly get the job done. There's a certain backlash to that. One can, too, turn to technology - but what gizmos will remotely and magically and ruinously disable all of Iran's nuclear facilities? We must be working on such things, probably down in El Segundo at TRW, Hughes and Boeing - Los Angeles is more than movies and surfers. But that's not ready yet, as far as anyone knows.

You go with the classic force multiplier, as Gene Lyons notes here -
Once again Bush has denied hostile intent, just as he did for many months after secretly ordering the Pentagon to draft detailed war plans against Iraq. Writing in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh suggests that all systems are go at the White House, including possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. He hints that the neo-conservative ideologues around Dick Cheney have deluded themselves that bombing Iran would lead to internal rebellion and the overthrow of the nation's Islamic regime.
As Digby says - "Yeah, sure it would. Ever noticed how much the neo-cons' ignorance of basic human psychology rivals only Osama bin Laden's?

But we're told we're dealing fascists! The new Hitler!

Richard Einhorn deals with that here -
Yep. In the jargon of psychotherapy, projection is a primitive defense mechanism for eliminating anxiety about one's own self-worth. Let me try to illustrate with an example.

Let's say, hypothetically, that you are President of the United States. Picking a name out of a hat, I'll call you George W. Bush. All your life you've avoided serious danger, both physically (going AWOL, perhaps from a National Guard Unit) and psychologically (maybe you are a one-time heavy boozer who has replaced cocktails with sycophants instructed to keep all criticism away from you). You have started a war in a Middle Eastern country - any one, but let's just say it was Iraq - and it's going badly. You're afraid to withdraw the troops because you think everyone will learn that you are what you know yourself to be: a deeply terrified coward.

The thought is unbearable and you must get rid of it. But how? You simply "project" those thoughts onto a hated enemy. You deny them in yourself by accusing your political enemies of the failure to commit and focus that, you fear, you yourself, for your entire life, are guilty of.

You may also try to project some of your overwhelming guilt into very revealing jokes. Suppose, for example, you can't abide people doing things you don't like. But you know that those who seek to control others are often given the most odious labels your culture can bestow. It makes you uncomfortable because you're afraid you're one of those people. So, to relieve the psychic tension, you quip, "It's a heck of a lot easier being a dictator, as long as I'm the dictator," just a good natured chuckle that hopefully makes you look like a powerful, responsible person that can laugh at the burdens of power, rather than covet more. Never mind that the grammatical lapses (the tenses) might expose more lust for power than you might like; no one listens that closely anyway to off the cuff laffs, so you're safe.

Now all this is hypothetically speaking, of course. No one, not even Charles Krauthammer, should try to psychoanalyze anyone by long distance. But while my little crude example may be inapt, it is quite appropriate to note the conscious use of projection as part of the rhetorical strategy of the right.

… The right knows exactly who are behaving like fascists - who are, in fact, fascists: themselves.
Be that as it may, the psychology notes above could lead to nukes as Einhorn notes here -
Ah, Bush is just bluffing on the nukes.

The hell he is.

Let's go back to more innocent times. When I first heard of the New Product (the unilateral, unprovoked invasion and conquest of Iraq), which was nearly nine months before its official release in September '02, I thought Bush was bluffing. I thought this was just a way to put pressure on Saddam. But by the early summer of '02, it was quite clear that if this was a bluff, it was one helluva realistic one. Perhaps folks don't remember, but I distinctly recall that the Bush administration declared around July that their lawyers had determined Bush had all the authority he needed to order a pre-emptive unilateral strike. He did not have to get permission from Congress, he did not have to go back to the UN. He could just do it. And they were quite sincere-sounding: Bush planned to assert his authority even if it caused a constitutional crisis. The congressional resolutions in the fall were a meaningless rubber stamp; Bush had simply permitted Congress-critters to save face by pretending to decide. By then, it was a fait accompli, and everyone but the American public knew it.

But even that fall, as I was thinking, "He really is gonna do it, he means it, he doesn't care what anyone says" I held out some hope that this was just one helluva bluff, to bring the inspectors back and so humiliate Saddam he would fall from power and be destroyed. But in late winter, I heard rumors that hospital ships had moved near Iraq. Bush was not bluffing, he was actually going to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 because... well, because he could. It is still the only reason that makes sense. Because he could.

During this time, many folks thought Bush was playing one helluva sophisticated game of chicken. Nope. He wanted war, he wanted bang-bang. And that is exactly what he got.
And that leads to this -
As for Iran, let me explain: YOU may think it's highly unlikely - the famous 1% probability, as a commenter mentioned - that Bush won't use nukes and is setting us up for conventional warfare. That is because you are sane and sensible. But the Bush administration thinks it's very likely. Hersh is alarmingly clear that there was close to a mutiny at the highest levels of the military recently until the nuclear option was taken off the table vis a vis Iran. Now, do you think it's still off the table? Don't be naive.

… Folks, many people have made the mistake of misunderestimating Bush again and again. He can't be that stupid. He can't be that vindictive or violent. He can't be that immature. He can't be that incapable of remorse or that messianic and delusionally religious.

It's time to face the fact that Bush is all these things and many more. He has been consistent from the earliest days of his regime - consistently incompetent, delusional, and violent. He does not bluff. He does exactly what he wants to do. And there is nothing he wants more right now than to use nukes on Iran. It's not merely because he's a kid with a cool popgun, but one shouldn't misunderestimate his impulsiveness and immaturity. It's also because he, and the other rightwing lunatics genuinely believe that since 1945, liberals have severely crippled America by making such a big deal out of nukes. By all means, check out Curtis Lemay's "America is in Danger" for an historical example (late 60's) of this delusion. How are we crippled? Well, according to them, by refusing to use nukes, America fights bloody prolonged conflicts that are difficult to conclude with decisive victories.

Bush and his pals want to save America from liberals that will once again deny America a critical victory, crucial to its safety and security. Bush wants to break the nuclear taboo.
And he's serious.

There's much more, but this stands out -
Frankly, it is exhausting to play nuclear Cassandra and terribly painful to watch the same patterns of denial and disbelief play themselves out again. But I also understand how it must sound to the unconvinced among you. It sounds like I've gone overboard, succumbed to the delusional paranoia I'm warning you against. I am quite aware that it really is hard to keep in the forefront of one's mind that Bush and Co. really are nuts enough to use nukes in Iran. And Christ, I hope I'm crazy. But I look back at what he's done over the past five years - one utter catastrophe after another, the unspeakable, pointless violence - and I am very alarmed.
Why be alarmed? Even if you find things like this - "On the September 12 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck said that ;[t]he Middle East is being overrun by 10th-century barbarians' and "[i]f they take over ... we're going to have to nuke the whole place.'" Okay, Fox News and CNN.

Einhorn again -
The world will not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons by George W. Bush (or anyone else for that matter, but it's Bush who is wagging the nuclear cock most often these days, and yes, Beck is reading from a White House script). The consequences for this country will not be nuclear retaliation, of course, not in the short term at least. There are plenty of other ways to attack America. And if Bush does drop even one itty bitty "tactical" nuke, this country will be at war. For real. Not with some neocon delusion, but with nearly everyone on the planet. Trust me on this: it won't be pretty.

Adults are needed to tell Bush and Rove to zip it. Fast. They are in way over their heads. The White House isn't a frat house and nuclear saber-rattling is no joke. This is one New Product that should be pulled from the market before it's ever released.
But then the Cheney argument is the nukes lead to internal rebellion and the overthrow of Iran's Islamic regime, and they'd be grateful. Who are you going to believe?

Posted by Alan at 22:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006 22:52 PDT home

Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Religion: Sleepers Awake!
Topic: God and US
Religion: Sleepers Awake!
Everyone knows Bach's "Sleepers Awake" - even if you didn't know that's what you were hearing. You can go here and click on the little button and have it play in the background while you consider the following.

The was a bit of a buzz on Wednesday, September 13, due to this item in the Washington Post, on the fifth page of the "A" section, because it wasn't that important - Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'.

Whatever is he talking about? He's talking about how it seems to him that America, the most openly and fervently religious nation on earth, is primed to get really into it now -
President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

"A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. "There was a stark change between the culture of the '50s and the '60s - boom - and I think there's change happening here," he added. "It seems to me that there's a Third Awakening."
The Post reminds us that the First Great Awakening refers to a wave of "Christian fervor" in the American colonies from about 1730 to 1760 - the Second Great Awakening is generally believed to have occurred from 1800 to 1830. And there was a third already. The president's math is a bit fuzzy. He's not one for detail. We're also told that Bush aides, including Karl Rove, have read Robert William Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism" (on sale at Amazon here if you're into such things). Note, Rove denies he enlisted three clergymen to exorcise Hillary Rodham Clinton's left-wing spirit when he moved into her West Wing office in 2001, no matter what that new book says.

Should we be troubled by such religious fervor in the White House?

The Post says no -
Bush has been careful discussing the battle with terrorists in religious terms since he had to apologize for using the word "crusade" in 2001. He often stresses that the war is not against Islam but against those who corrupt it. In his comments yesterday, aides said Bush was not casting the war as a religious struggle but was describing American cultural changes in a time of war.

"He's drawing a parallel in terms of a resurgence, in dangerous times, of people going back to their religion," said one aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was not open to other journalists. "This is not 'God is on our side' or anything like that."

That's good to know, even if you don't really believe it.

And anyway, there's no official transcript of any of this. The Post is reporting on highlights of the private meeting reported in the National Review by Rich Lowry here.

Lowry swoons -

He exudes an easy self-confidence. When he mispronounces a word or comes out with some malapropism, he asks what the correct expression is or makes fun of himself. He often slips self-deprecating lines or amusing comments into his answers. A woman whose job it is to sit off to the side unobtrusively and record the session for posterity with a large mike - and who must be very accustomed to listening to him talk - can't help breaking into a smile at regular intervals.

Bush's confidence goes well beyond comfort in his own skin. He exhibits a sincere, passionate, and uncompromising conviction in his principles. He is arguably losing a war in Iraq that could destroy his hopes for the Middle East and sink his party's hope in the midterm elections. But there's no wobble in Bush. If anything, the opposite.

... Where critics see the radical attacks on the forces of moderation and liberty - in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere - as evidence of the looming failure of Bush's long-term strategy, the president sees them as confirmation of the essential rightness of his vision: "The ideological struggle is being manifested as radicals attack young democracies. The attack of Hezbollah is destabilizing for Lebanon. That's where much of the focus has been. But it also destabilized the emergence of a Palestinian democracy. And it should be - it's noteworthy that extremists and radicals flocked to Iraq to stop the emergence of a democracy. And it's just - people say, well, all these problems are overwhelming. No, all these problems help remind us what the task is."
No one much knows what that really is any longer, but the president does. He doesn't waver, from whatever.

For a typical leftie reaction, the opposite of Lowry, but from a self-described Christian, see this -
First off, I don't need to get my Christianity lessons from my president.

Second, he sure as hell isn't the messiah, predicting the future of Christianity and implying he's one of its leaders, and for him to speak that way is downright scary. It's scary from a foreign policy perspective, from my perspective as a Christian, and my perspective as an American.

Third, it is completely inappropriate to talk about the war on terror being linked to some alleged Christian revival in America. I thought the war was on terror, not on other religions. Not to mention, is Bush somehow implying that we will win the war on terror by spreading Christianity? Is this a crusade now? It's one thing to talk about the origins (at least part of the origins) of the current terror battle being in radical Islam, it's quite another to say that somehow Christianity is also involved in this battle. We are not fighting the war on terror on behalf of Christianity.

… It's really time for more Republicans and/or conservatives to start speaking up. This man is your president. He's quickly moving from incompetent to delusional, all the while endangering our entire nation.
That may be an overreaction. He just said people seem to be getting a lot more religious, that they see things now in terms of unambiguous black and white - pure good and pure evil - and that how he sees the world and the wars we're in, so he's glad everyone is getting fundamentalist religion and coming around to his view. He finds it interesting. Okay, maybe it's not an overreaction.

And former Clinton aide, Bruce Reed, here is amused by the numbering problem - "As if stagnant incomes and a sputtering foreign policy weren't giving Republicans enough troubles this fall, President Bush revealed yesterday that under his watch, one of America's great awakenings has gone missing. First the Bush White House lost track of Osama bin Laden. Now they've lost count of America's religious revivals."

Here's the Reed count -
The First Great Awakening took place in the mid-1700s, during the heyday of Jonathan Edwards, of fire-and-brimstone (not Two Americas) fame.

The Second Great Awakening, led by New Englanders like Harriet Beecher Stowe's father Lyman Beecher, helped fuel the abolition movement. Bush alluded to that awakening yesterday, suggesting that his base was a lot like Lincoln's - Abraham, not Chafee. Just as many of Lincoln's strongest supporters were deeply religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and slavery as evil, Bush said his strongest supporters feel the same way toward terrorism. The Mormon Church also emerged during this period, but went on to become part of Bush's base, not Lincoln's.

The Third Great Awakening, in the late 19th Century, helped fuel the social reforms of the Progressive Era, and emboldened reformers of all stripes, such as William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation, and Mary Baker Eddy. Bush did not claim any of them as his base.
And the Robert Fogel book mentioned above covers the forth - the rise of evangelical Christianity since the 1960s and the emergence of the Christian right. And Fogel has a handy chart, if you're keeping count.

Reed's assessment -
Bush is like an evangelical Dr. Evil, the villain in the "Austin Powers" movies who was cryogenically frozen in the 1960s, thaws out three decades later, and tries to shock the world by demanding "one million dollars!"

Which Great Awakening is the president rubbing out? Does he discount the First, which helped put "endowed by their Creator" in our Declaration of Independence and "In God We Trust" on our coins? Does he refuse to recognize the Third, which led to Prohibition as well as William Jennings's Bryan's last stand for creationism?

Or course it doesn't matter. The president is just pleased that the nation is turning away from complexity and more and more folks are with him, thinking in terms of absolutes, and resisting anyone who says things are more complex than simple good and evil. He's a happy camper. It's a winner in the November elections.

The question is, of course, is he reading the nation right?

That depends.

USA Today reported on a new study, written and analyzed by sociologists from Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, in Waco and conducted by the Gallup folks.

Baylor's Christopher Bader, "you learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."

So forget who's an evangelical, who's a tweedy New England Episcopalian, and who's New Age. It's the image of God you buy into - and there are four available -

1.) The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," Bader says. Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says. "(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools." They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).

2.) The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says. They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. This is the group in which the Rev. Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor and communications director for his father's 5,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in Overland Park, Kan., places himself. "God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," Johnston says.

3.) The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. "This group is more paradoxical," Bader says. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either." Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research. For example, 57% overall say gay marriage is always wrong compared with 80.6% for those who see an authoritarian God, and 65.8% for those who see God as benevolent. For those who believe in a critical God, it was 54.7%.

4.) The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It's also strong among "moral relativists," those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church, Bader says. Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged.
Some of us prefer the Randy Newman version -
Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
'Cause he thinks that's where I'll be
That's why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind

I burn down your cities - how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind
That must be option five.

And for some immediately applicable cynicism see this on the Baylor survey -
All fascinating stuff - but what has me really interested is the studies findings that four in ten say there were once "ancient advanced civilizations" such as Atlantis and about one in three Americans say they belong to denominations that theologians consider evangelical. Those two groups must be about equivalent in numbers, right?

What an untapped constituency! Atlanteans! Just as dumb as uber-rightwing Evangelists. (In some weird cases the two are even the same thing.) You could tell them anything and they would believe it.

Given that I now expect Karl Rove and George Bush to claim that the "Third Awakening" will be that of believers in Atlantis and that al Qaeda and the Islamofascists in our midst were collectively responsible for the fabled continent's destruction, I'm here to pre-emptively put the record straight.

Dick Cheney and his Illuminati friends sank Atlantis. They did it to stop the Atlantean's Tesla-style technology supplanting their eventual plans for an oil hegemony.

Ok, sorry - I can't keep a straight face anymore. The trouble is, there are people out there who actually believe something like that… The difference is, accusations of moonbattery from the uber-right aside, the left doesn't give its wacked-out extremists as much of a voice as the Right does. The Right's equivalent of the Atlanteans (you know, people who believe the Earth is only 4,000 years old and Darwin was a Satanist plant) are people with direct access to the White House and somehow I just don't see a Dem presidential candidate inviting the Atlanteans, Illuminati-nuts and Draconian-theorists to run a campaign contribution drive.
But what if they're right? What if God chose George Bush as his agent in earth? That would argue for the Randy Newman view.

Of course, what's happening may be only incidentally related to religion, as Christopher Hayes argues here -
On September 11, 2001, George W. Bush wrote the following impression in his diary: "The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today." He wasn't alone in this assessment. In the days after the attacks, editorialists, pundits and citizens reached with impressive unanimity for this single historical precedent. The Sept. 12 New York Times alone contained 13 articles mentioning Pearl Harbor.

Five years after 9/11 we are still living with the legacy of this hastily drawn analogy. Whatever the natural similarities between December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001, the association of the two has led us to convert - first in rhetoric, later in fact - a battle against a small band of clever, murderous fundamentalists into a worldwide war of epic scale.

… How did we get here?

The best place to look for the answer is not in the days after the attacks, but in the years before. Examining the cultural mood of the late '90s allows us to separate the natural reaction to a national trauma from any underlying predispositions. During that period, the country was in the grip of a strange, prolonged obsession with World War II and the generation that had fought it.

The pining for the glory days of the Good War has now been largely forgotten, but to sift through the cultural detritus of that era is to discover a deep longing for the kind of epic struggle the War on Terror would later provide. The standard view of 9/11 is that it "changed everything." But in its rhetoric and symbolism, the WWII nostalgia laid the conceptual groundwork for what was to come - the strange brew of nationalism, militarism and maudlin sentimentality that constitutes post-9/11 culture.
Then see Digby at Hullabaloo with Pimping the Greatest Generation -
I don't think younger people can understand the depth of the generation gap between the baby boomers and their parents, the Greatest Generation. It was a chasm and it turned families inside out for many years. But by the 90's our parents were starting to get very old and for many of us, the fetishizing of the Greatest Generation was a form of generational rapprochement.

For conservative baby boomers, however, it had much more resonance. Vietnam was their war, of course, the most lethal, meaningful hot war of the Cold War, but they had largely avoided it like most of their age group, even as they extolled the warrior virtues and supported the policy. (This led to cognitive dissonance that never left them.) They also sat out or opposed the successful, defining social movements of their generation - civil rights and women's rights - and were looking back at a life made up of nothing more than petty culture war resentment. By the time they came into power even the Cold War was over - resolved by the last presidents of the Greatest Generation. It looked as if the conservative baby boomers were going to be left without any meaningful legacy at all. You could feel their emptiness.

Karl Rove and other rightwing operatives saw a way to feed that gaping void with WWII kitch while furthering their long standing narrative. As Hayes also makes clear in his article, the entire Greatest Generation campaign was partially designed to further the conservative culture war by evoking that epic generation gap and portraying the WWII parents as the proper role models.
Hayes -
Even before 9/11, Karl Rove understood this all too well. In his essay "Operation Enduring Analogy: World War II, the War on Terror and the Uses of Historical Memory," David Hoogland Noon, a history professor at the University of Alaska, Southeast, writes that even in his first campaign George W. Bush "consistently referenced World War II not simply to justify his own policy aims, but more importantly as a cultural project as well as an ongoing gesture of self-making," positioning himself as "an heir to the reputed greatest generation of American leaders."

"In the world of our fathers, we have seen how America should conduct itself," Bush said in a 1999 speech at the Citadel. Now, the moment had come "to show that a new generation can renew America's purpose." Throughout both his campaigns, Bush would go out of his way to criticize the dominant ethos of "If it feels good, do it," instead calling for a "culture in which each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make."

Bush's allusions to the Greatest Generation were so persistent that the press came to see him - a Boomer child of privilege known for his youthful carousing - as a kind of throwback. Reporting on Bush's first inaugural address, Newsweek's Evan Thomas wrote that "Bush wants the White House to recover some of its dignity, to rise above baby-boomer self-indulgence and aspire to the order and self-discipline prized by the Greatest Generation."
Digby -
Yes, the press veritably quivered with excitement that the "grown-ups" were back in charge. The absurdity of it all was staggering, of course - the boomer man-child who never had a real job and drank himself into oblivion until he was 40 representing the Greatest Generation - but there it was. When 9/11 hit shortly after he took office it was a seamless transition. (They even put him in a flight suit and tried to pass him off as a heroic WWII pilot.) This yearning for "grown-ups" to take charge is a conservative boomer psychological condition. They and the political class are the only ones who are still fixated on the 1960's; the rest of us moved on sometime back.

One big problem for the Republicans is that a majority in this country now are too young to give a damn about any of this. Rove might be able to tap in to the yearning of middle aged right-wingers to be involved in an epic struggle that competes with their parents' greater accomplishments, but the young conservatives who are required to sustain this endless war don't have the same psychic needs. They didn't grow up in the shadow of a generation who fought and won two existential battles; their boomer parents either failed to rise to the occasion (in opposition or battle) when they had the chance or rejected the whole war fetish all together. These young conservatives' idea of glory is winning a fast paced video game. If 9/11 had even had a modicum of the same sense of threat as Pearl Harbor, we would have seen a similar rush on the recruiting centers and we didn't. In fact, the strongest youthful supporters of the war, the College Republicans, commonly say things like this: "The people opposed to the war aren't putting their asses on the line," Bray boomed from beside the bar. Then why isn't he putting his ass on the line? "I'm not putting my ass on the line because I had the opportunity to go to the number-one business school in the country," he declared, his voice rising in defensive anger, "and I wasn't going to pass that up."

That's quite a stirring call to arms isn't it?

This rhetoric of epic struggle that rivals WWII and The Cold War serves the simple political purpose of rallying the conservative base so that the Republicans can maintain power. It is guided by the deep psychological need for conservative baby boomers to find some meaning in their pathetic lives and a cynical attempt to co-opt some sunny, simple vision of the Greatest Generation - who would be the last people to claim the depression and the wars of their lifetimes were either sunny or simple. The younger conservative generation sees it as a cynical political game, which it is.

The entire campaign is built on a Disneyfied version of WWII and boomer childhood nightmare cartoons of The Cold War. They are trying to squeeze all the bogeymen of the 20th century into Osama bin Laden's turban in the hope that they can cop a little bit of that Hollywood heroism themselves. (After all, their hero Ronald Reagan didn't actually fight in any real war either - he just remembered the movies he was in and thought he had.) It is deeply, deeply unserious.
So maybe the moral absolutism here has less to do with religion than with this Not the Greatest Generation feeling of inadequacy and meaninglessness and all that. Or maybe it's both. Either way it's is deeply, deeply unserious.

For a hint of where that can lead see Dahlia Lithwick here on the current dispute with the White House insisting congress authorize the CIA be allowed to us "enhanced interrogation" techniques - waterboarding and freezing and that sort of thing - saying the Geneva Conventions' Common Article Three about ''outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" must be rewritten, for us, to forbid treatment that "shocks the conscience." The White House says that wording is more precise and useful, legally. It's a game - and also deeply, deeply unserious. You want to codify torture? Just do it. Don't dick around with this moralistic crap. Just say God wants you to do it, or that it worked just fine in World War II.

And call it the Fifth Awakening if you'd like.



So just why do humans have religion? For a discussion of that see Kim Sterelny in The American Scientist here, where he reviews Daniel C. Dennett's book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

As noted in the magazine, Kim Sterelny divides his time between Victoria University in Wellington, where he holds a Personal Chair in Philosophy, and the Research School of Social Sciences at Australian National University in Canberra, where he is a professor of philosophy. He is the author of Thought in a Hostile World: The Evolution of Human Cognition (Blackwell, 2003), The Evolution of Agency and Other Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and The Representational Theory of Mind (Blackwell, 1991) - so this is heavy going, but it is interesting.

Try these nuggets -
… secular theories of religion are corrosive. Religious commitment cannot both be the result of natural selection for (for example) enhanced social cohesion and be a response to something that is actually divine. A cohesion-and-cooperation model of religion just says that believers would believe, whether or not there was a divine world to which to respond. If a secular theory of the origin of religious belief is true, such belief is not contingent on the existence of traces of the divine in our world. So although a secular and evolutionary model of religion might be (in a strict sense) neutral on the existence of divine agency, it cannot be neutral on the rationality of religious conviction.

I think this is true of all secular models of religious conviction, even the "economic model," the one that most aspires to neutrality. According to this model, which Dennett discusses in a chapter titled "The Invention of Team Spirit," religious belief is an instance of ordinary economic behavior. People join religious communities and sacrifice time, money and freedom to secure concrete rewards: immortality-despite-death, guaranteed bliss, supernatural intervention on their behalf and the like. These things are not available elsewhere; you can't just purchase them online. No wonder that the suppliers of such services stay in business. The trouble, of course, is ensuring delivery.

… Dennett has based his case in part on work of cognitive anthropologists Atran and Boyer, who in effect have argued that religion is a spandrel - a side effect of certain other cognitive adaptations. The simplest hypothesis is Atran's idea that religion is a consequence of our tendency to anthropomorphize, to project intentionality onto the world. We treat people as intentional agents - creatures that act as they do because of their thoughts and preferences. That regarding people this way is an adaptation is almost uncontroversial. As Dennett himself has persuasively argued in many of his works, it is often adaptive to treat other systems as intentional agents, especially when they are well-designed, well-functioning systems. But we habitually overuse this productive heuristic. It is harmless to talk to your cat, and it may well be productive for a hunter to conceive of his prey as actively planning to avoid or escape his attentions. But it is not adaptive to shout at and kick the step for being in the way after you have stubbed your toe on it. Likewise, we get no capacity to intervene in or predict the weather by thinking of storms as produced by divine agents. To the contrary, we get a false sense of control, which imposes a double tax: the price of the sacrifices we make, and the risks we expose ourselves to by embracing the illusion.

… The best-known adaptationist ideas about religion link it to the striking fact that people must cooperate to survive. Generating resources jointly is an ancient feature of human lifeways, and we are adapted to and for cooperative social worlds. Wilson, Joseph Bulbulia and others have argued that religious belief is one of those adaptations. A community that believes in an immensely powerful and knowledgeable enforcer gets the benefits of its norms being followed without paying the costs of policing them. Dennett does not discount this hypothesis completely, but he is more inclined to endorse less obvious proposals that link religious belief to psychic benefits.

One such argument is that religion facilitates placebo effects: Perhaps the belief that you are the object of divine concern has real and crucial health benefits, particularly in a premodern world. Another is Boyer's hypothesis that religious belief simplifies choice-making in an informationally complex world.

… Dennett has long been involved in synergistic interaction with Richard Dawkins, so it is no surprise that Dawkins's memetic view of religion plays a role in Dennett's theory. Religion thrives, according to Dawkins, because its tenets and customs - its "memes" - like so many DNA or RNA-based genes, are structured to ensure that they are passed from one generation to the next (the Shaker practice of celibacy not withstanding).

Here Dennett's theory is nuanced. He points out that today's organized religions are reflective, self-conscious systems, which include not just beliefs about the supernatural but also rather strict ideas about how these beliefs are to be interpreted, warranted and fit together. Early religions may have a more or less direct biological explanation of the kind we have been discussing. But modern religions depend on massive investment in the mechanisms of cultural transmission. They cannot exist without the apparatus of holy books, seminaries, catechisms, theologians. So here a theory of cultural inheritance and cultural evolution comes into its own. Biases in preservation and transmission will be central to the explanation of the success and failure of modern religions. In contrast to Dawkins, though, Dennett does not assume that the dynamics of religious memes are virulently pathological. For him, this is an open empirical question.
But there is that bit about religious belief simplifying choice-making in an informationally complex world. It just doesn't make the choices any better.

Posted by Alan at 21:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006 21:57 PDT home

Tuesday, 12 September 2006
A Fine Mess
Topic: Couldn't be so...
A Fine Mess

Now What?

The president gave his September 11 speech - and as Bruce Reed says, there was nothing new there. It was "more or less the same speech he has given on many prime-time occasions before. With Michael Gerson's departure to become a syndicated columnist, the quality of Bush's imagery has slipped. Last night, he looked forward to the day 'when the people of the Middle East leave the desert of despotism for the fertile gardens of liberty' - which sounded more like ad copy for a Dubai desalination plant."

This was variations on a theme. After wanting to get him dead or alive, then saying he didn't really think about him much any longer, the president promised to find Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice - one day after the Washington Post reported that our search party "has not received a credible lead in more than two years" and the trail in this particular manhunt has gone "stone cold" (item here). As Reed notes - "Most Americans have heard that speech so many times, they wouldn't be surprised if it bored Bin Laden." One assumes the ratings were low.

He kind of did the "epic struggle" thing - this war will go on for generations, and Iraq is just part of it, but a vital part, even if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and all that. He gave that up - only Rice and Cheney now say there was a connection. Obviously the hard thing here is to sell the idea that, yes, Iraq didn't have those WMD, and, yes, had nothing to do with 9/11, there was no connection to al Qaeda at all, but the war there really was a fine idea. It's important in some large conceptual sense, or something. The rationales explaining why we had to do this, and why we keep going on, get more and more abstract - tethered to the real world of actual events be the thinnest of strings. It's fascinating to watch, in a morbid, "end of the world" sort of way.

The president's supporters in the House and Senate, up for reelection in November, were no doubt dismayed by this speech, these odd seventeen minutes. Two thirds of the country thinks the war is stupid, and over half think it has nothing to do with whatever "war on terror" we're in, and may be making things worse. They don't want an endless war in Iraq, followed by a succession of more wars. Folks want some sort of resolution. The idea was, however, that there will be no resolution any time soon, maybe not for many decades. Heck, there's Iran next, and Syria, and North Korea - and maybe Cuba or Venezuela as things are going now. When you're running to keep your seat, and your constituents are fed up, piggybacking on this sort of message is impossible.

It was whining, really - we did do the right thing, we did, we did. No one really understands - the country, the world, everyone is fed up with this - but we did do the right thing, we did, we did. Try selling that in Iowa.

But there were suggestions for how to resolve things in Iraq.

Reed mentions the Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has left the White House. The Washington Post announced they've picked him up as a columnist - something about adding another conservative voice to their pages, as conservatives are so outnumbered and underrepresented in America. Right.

And to give this beleaguered minority a further voice, Tuesday, September 12, the Post published a column by the editors of our nation's two biggest conservative magazines, Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol, of the National Review and Weekly Standard respectively. That's here, and they claim the have they real secret of how we can "win" quickly and easily in Iraq.

Yes, things are a mess right now - they admit it - but the solution is stunningly obvious -

The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

... Administration spokesmen have jettisoned talk of "staying the course" in Iraq in favor of "adapting to win." If those words are to have meaning, the administration can't simply stay the course on current troop levels. We need to adapt to win the battle of Baghdad. We need substantially more troops in Iraq. Sending them would be a courageous act of presidential leadership appropriate to the crisis we face.
The immediate reaction from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is here -
I swear, I almost think we should go ahead and agree to let them do this. If it would settle the question once and for all, I think I would.

But it wouldn't, of course. If it didn't work, they'd just write another column blaming the failure on something else. Lack of willpower, maybe. Or the French.

In any case, it's telling that they use the word "surge" and decline to provide an estimate of just how many more troops they think we need. A few thousand? Fifty thousand? Where are they going to come from? And do they really think that a surge would do the job? If they had the courage of their convictions, they'd provide a number, tell us what was needed to get the additional troops (pull them out of Korea? call up more reserves? extend tours of duty? institute a draft?), and admit candidly that these troops would need to be in country for at least several years. But they don't.

On the other hand, they're right about one thing: staying the course is the most irresponsible plan possible. There are arguments for withdrawing and there are arguments for sending more troops, but there's really no plausible argument for doing what Bush is doing. Staying the course is just another name for killing thousands more American soldiers for no reason.
But that's what we'll do. There really are no more troops. Such a courageous act of presidential leadership is not possible. We have what we have. There may be no way out.

But there is the bracing effect of really actually sending in many more theoretical troops. National Review editor Rich Lowry wants a massive escalation - and later on Fox News he reinforces the argument, claiming that if President Bush were to say, "we're going to send two more divisions into the city [Baghdad] and lock it down and secure it… people would actually react favorably to that." The video and transcript of that is here. Lowry seems to think all the polls have got it all wrong about the American people. We really do want thing this to "go big." We all long for it. One supposes this has something to do with who he hangs out with.

The note that accompanies the transcript is this -
First, there is no indication from public polling that there is any US support for increasing troop levels in Iraq. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 17 percent of Americans supported increasing force levels, while 53 percent favored decreasing them.

Second, the argument wrongly suggests that violence in Iraq is constricted to Baghdad. In fact, as the senior Marine intelligence officer in charge of Western Iraq reported, the political and economic security situation there is - like Baghdad - rapidly destabilizing.

Third, escalation is the wrong remedy to the problem because it fails to understand the root cause of the problem. Increasing troop levels feeds the perception that the US is in Iraq to stay, thereby fueling the insurgency. Moreover, the numerous increases in troop levels throughout the occupation have not improved security on the ground.
But that doesn't seem to matter. We are a warrior nation, really. That's an interesting contention, given the facts, in this case the many, many polls. These neoconservatives seem to think that they really understand America. As with the president, everyone else is wrong. There's a bigger truth. The facts are biased, or something.

Glenn Greenwald here -
One of the most depressing aspects of the Iraq debate is to watch the self-styled "experts" who advocated this war, such as National Review Editor (and Sean Hannity substitute) Rich Lowry, thrashing around, constantly grasping for new excuses as to why their war is failing, desperate to embrace any explanation at all other than the only true one sitting right in front of their faces - that the invasion was a bad idea from the beginning, that it was premised on false assumptions, that war advocates were wrong about everything they predicted would happen, and the ongoing occupation has produced incalculable disaster along with virtually no good.

... To Lowry, we're always on the cusp of winning. It's always - as he announced today - the "crucial moment." The "decisive battle at a decisive moment." Everything is always going really swell in Iraq. And all we need for it to get even better, to get to the finish line, is some more Churchillian "stirring rhetoric about the need for victory and for stalwartness in the face of setbacks." Anyone serious can see that that's all we need.

... as always with Iraq and terrorism debates, being endlessly wrong is a sign of profound seriousness, and cheering on wars - no matter how misguided and misinformed the cheering is - renders one a serious foreign policy expert who recognizes the serious threats we face in these very serious times. That's why, when the Washington Post wants to find someone to counsel us on its Op-Ed page as to what to do in Iraq, it turns to two of the Wrongest People in America.

If we had determined our Iraq policy over the last three years by picking proposals out of a hat, we would have been way more right than we were by listening to Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry. But they favor wars and more wars and put on a grave, serious face when they talk about The Terrorists, so they are Serious Foreign Policy Experts and need to be listened to.
Yeah, but who's listening?

Matthew Yglesias here runs down how these two have said such things for years and sums it up this way -
I was going to call this the hawkery of fools, but really knaves is more like it. The wars are all going to be easy before we launch them, and the folks raising piddling questions should be dismissed. When the wars don't work out, it's always because we've been insufficiently warlike. When the wars produce broader strategic problems, we need more wars. And, of course, more troops. Always more troops.
Neither has ever served - that makes the call easier.

All this would be just silliness, but that these two, particularly Kristol, speak for the neoconservative movement. Think of them as the voice of Dick Cheney, the power behind the throne, our boy-king's Richelieu. Something may be up. The critics cited above are mocking these two for what they wrote in the Post, but after the November elections something may have to be done. This is not going well.

So this may be dead wrong -
Both Kristol and Lowry see the writing on the wall. The war in Iraq is a failure and the American public isn't going to tolerate a never-ending engagement. They are betting, probably correctly, that the situation will disintegrate further and they want to be able to distance themselves from that failure. But calling for redeployment or withdrawal is anathema to their followers and they don't want to be known as sell-outs. On the other hand, being on record as supporting Bush's doomed policy (one that really includes no plan) is also not appetizing. So, instead, they pimp a hawkish position that their readers will lap up and they can then lay future claim to the line that if we would've just kicked a lil' more ass, it would not have turned out the way it did. By then, they hope the viability issue of their proposal has long spiraled down the memory hole. And they do this knowing all the while that there is no chance that their proposal will be followed.
Maybe so, but maybe not. After November all bets are off.

Why think that? Well, there is this, the video and transcript of Michael Ware of CNN, on Tuesday, September 12, reporting that US commanders in Iraq have privately expressed the need for an increase of three times the number of troops currently serving in Iraq. Officially, the military continues to say that "we have an appropriate level of force to do what we have to do within the confines of our mission." Off the record (to protect careers) the word is different.

Where we get another 280,000 troops is a good question. But that may not be what's going on. As noted here, the military is clearly letting reporters now know - for their future books - that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are responsible for the inevitable loss of what is supposed to be "the central front in the "War on Terror." It's another sort of career maneuvering.

This all has to do with the Sunni-dominated Anbar province of Iraq - a fifth of the country, west of Baghdad, bordering on Syria and Lebanon. The word is it's gone. That came Monday the 11th in the Washington Post, here, from their Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks, author of the new best-seller Fiasco. He based his reporting on several accounts of a classified intelligence report by Colonel Peter Devlin -chief intelligence officer there - "Prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim. There is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there..." It's the talk of the Pentagon at the moment.

CNN reporter Michael Ware, again, on the show Situation Room, the same day added this -
Wolf, it's absolutely nightmarish and "The Washington Post" story is an old one. US military intelligence has been saying this about Ramadi for a year and a half. I've been going out there since 2003. I've watched the steady decline.

Quite frankly, America is not committed to the fight. It is known - it is a stated fact that this is the headquarters of al Qaeda in Iraq, yet American commanders privately off camera will tell you that we only have a third of the troops there that are needed to even begin to make a dent in al Qaeda.
The next day the New York Times' Michael Gordon here carried the story forward - "The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the American troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq."

Will that happen? We have 16,000 troops there, but Gordon adds this -
Since the intelligence assessment was prepared in August, however, no reinforcements have been sent. To the contrary, the strain on the American troops in Anbar has increased. An American Stryker unit, which was under the overall Marine command, has been sent from Rawa to Baghdad to help with the operation there. Also, military police who had been earmarked for training the Iraq police in Anbar have also been sent to Baghdad. The Marines have sought to make up the shortfall by using existing troops.

The Iraqi Army has deployed two divisions in the region with a combined authorized strength of some 19,000. But the Iraqi military is under strength. The two Iraqi divisions in Anbar together are some 5,000 troops short of that level, while hundreds more are absent without leave.
The place belongs to al Qaeda and Gordon notes the Devlin report "describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an 'integral part of the social fabric' of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity."

Now what? There seem to be no answers. Keep on keeping on is what we are given. It may be all we can do, and chunks of Iraq fall away.

But this war in Iraq is keeping us safer, as in this - Al Qaeda Will Nuke US in Late September - "A Pakistani journalist says that his sources in al Qaeda and the Taliban are claiming that nuclear material has already been smuggled across the Mexican border into the U.S. and that an operation bigger than 9/11 will be carried out during Ramadan - which begins later this month."

Don't worry. The source is not the best. So what are we doing in Iraq?

But we can't just leave, or so Lawrence Kaplan at The New Republic explains here -
The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that "if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood." Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

... Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, "The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests." Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war's cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war's conduct - namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.
He says it's just like Vietnam -
Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence. The genocide that followed in Cambodia and the spectacle of Vietnam's reeducation camps will not be repeated in Iraq. But ask any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent US forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold.
Kevin Drum comments here -
There is, at this point, not much question that an American withdrawal from Iraq would lead to massive bloodshed, a Shiite theocracy, and considerably enhanced influence for Iran in the Middle East. It would be a debacle almost without parallel.

And yet, like most other critics, Kaplan offers no better answer. In fact, he gives the game away with a comparison to Vietnam (something that's apparently OK for conservatives).

But this is exactly the problem, isn't it? We stayed in force in Vietnam for nearly a decade, and we still couldn't accomplish our goals. Should we have stayed another decade?

Anyone who advocates withdrawal needs to understand just what the consequences would be. But, as Kaplan admits, responsibility nonetheless lies squarely with the war's architects. In Iraq, if anything, we are having even less success than we did in Vietnam, and there's hardly even a colorable argument left that we have any hope of turning this around. Withdrawing may be an appalling and grisly option, but would it be better to kill a few hundred thousand more people and then leave? Those like Kaplan who oppose withdrawal have a question of their own to face up to.
There are no good answers.

From out here in Hollywood one thinks of Laurel and Hardy - Oliver Hardy's catchphrase is often misquoted as "Well, there's another fine mess you've gotten me into." The actual quote is "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." Another Fine Mess was the title of one of their short films from the thirties. Not that that helps very much. This is not funny.

On a cheerier note there's this -
Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before being used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

The object is basically public relations. Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions from others about possible safety considerations, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."
The fun never ends.

Posted by Alan at 22:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006 06:55 PDT home

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