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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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Monday, 18 September 2006
The Hungarian Option
Topic: Couldn't be so...
The Hungarian Option
From China this -
BUDAPEST, September 18 (Xinhua) - Hundreds of Hungarian protesters gathered in front of the parliament on Kossuth square on Monday morning, demanding that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and his government resign for having "lied" to voters.

The protest started on Sunday evening after the leak of a tape about a Socialist party meeting in May, in which Gyurcsany said his government had lied to the public about the state of the country's economy.

Protesters said they would hand in a petition to parliament, demanding the resignation of Gyurcsany and his government.
From Australia (the Herald Sun) - Anti-Government Riots Turn Violent.

Something is up, as from the UK (The Guardian) there's this -
The prime minister of Hungary has confirmed the legitimacy of a leaked tape recording in which he says his government lied to win April's election and "lied in the morning; lied in the evening" during office.

The recording comes from a speech Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany gave to a closed party meeting shortly after his Socialist-Liberal coalition took office for a second term.

In the leaked speech, parts of which have been played on Hungarian state radio, he argued that major economic reforms were needed. "There is not much choice. There is not, because we screwed up," he said. "Not a little: a lot. No European country has done something as bone-headed as we have," he continued.
Could it happen here?

That depends on how you feel about the war. Some things were just not so. But maybe they were honest mistakes. Not lies - just honest mistakes.

But there's an array of things to consider, as the conservative former congressman Joe Scarborough notes in the Sunday, September 17, Washington Post with this -
I can't help but feel sorry for my old Republican friends in Congress who are fighting for their political lives. After all, it must be tough explaining to voters at their local Baptist church's Keep Congress Conservative Day that it was their party that took a $155 billion surplus and turned it into a record-setting $400 billion deficit.

How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power despite botching a war, doubling the national debt, keeping company with Jack Abramoff, fumbling the response to Hurricane Katrina, expanding the government at record rates, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, isolating America and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their House majority leader?

How does a God-fearing Reagan Republican explain all that away?

Well, you tell them we're not Hungarians here, not at all. And there's no secret tape of Bush, Cheney and Rove - sipping diet soda or whatever they drink there, given the president's problem with alcohol and the vice president's problem with shooting friends in the face after a scotch - calling up Rumsfeld and chatting about this bone-headed thing or that, and how they lied there way out of each to electoral success. We get that Downing Street memo and all sorts of other secondary sources, but not a "we really screwed up" tape recording broadcast on whatever passes for State Radio here - Fox News with television and Reverend Moon's Washington Times with print.

And these guys say they have no doubts. Everything they did was the right thing to do, and done exceedingly competently. Is this denial, or delusion, or something like madness - or was there a parallel discussion to the one in Hungary, but never recorded? In private, do such "we really screwed up" conversations take place? That would make what we're told just bluster - public relations blarney (if you're Irish) or keeping the resolve of the nation firm (if you're into manipulation of the masses for the good of the masses). Who knows what they think?

One indication comes from John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and the author of War by Other Means.

First mentioned in the pages here (December 2005), Yoo is the legal theorist who says everyone has long misunderstood this country's constitution - the president can anything he wants and what everyone thinks is controlling law just isn't. The president doesn't have to obey laws passed by congress or abide by decision of the Supreme Court. The executive is a co-equal branch. He's just as powerful as they are, and it's time he asserted that. And now is the time because we face a threat we've never faced before.

Yoo is at it again, in the New York Times with this -

A reinvigorated presidency enrages President Bush's critics, who seem to believe that the Constitution created a system of judicial or congressional supremacy. Perhaps this is to be expected of the generation of legislators that views the presidency through the lens of Vietnam and Watergate. But the founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action, just as executive overreaching is to be checked by the courts and Congress.

The changes of the 1970's occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon's use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents.
The emphases were added - and you can imagine how people reacted.

Josh Marshall here -
It's hard to know who to root for or who to expect will come out on top in the long-running and fast-galloping race between John Yoo's moral bankruptcy and his historical illiteracy, but as long as the topic has foisted itself upon us again, I would like to address this question of War on Terror-inspired Cold War revisionism.

As you've probably seen, Yoo has now taken to arguing that the restraints on presidential power enshrined in the 1970s came about largely because the US faced no serious national security threats during that era. (George McGovern must be kicking himself, right?) And it occurs to me, considering this, that even at the relatively young age of 37, I and those my age are probably the last people who have any meaningful living memory of what the Cold War was like. Or in other words, what it was like living in a world where the primary geopolitical antagonism was between the United States and the Soviet Union and a full escalation of that conflict would result, for all practical purposes, in the end of the world.

So, perhaps folks in their twenties and early thirties have some excuse for this dingbat historical amnesia, but what's the excuse of anyone over 40?

Terrorism is scary. More so if you live in a major city like New York. But life's hard. And compared to nuclear holocaust it's really pretty much a walk in the park, isn't it?
Duncan Black adds this -
I'm a bit younger than Josh, but I'm just old enough to remember. It was real. The sense that it could all go horribly bad suddenly and the world could be destroyed was pervasive. Even aside from the nukes the Soviet Union had a very real conventional military. The possibility of a massive conventional war against a well-armed adversary was also very real. What do you think all those troops are doing in Germany?

The Right truly has thrown its lot in with dishonest idiots. I guess it's all they have left.
But Richard Einhorn suggests they both miss the point of the Yoo item, with this -
If facts mattered, and they haven't for a very long time, this would be among the very stupidest things printed in a major newspaper in the last five years. And that is saying a lot, believe you me.

… I remember the '70's very well thank you very much, and while the USSR was a threat, and so was the Middle East - I well remember the gas lines - the most serious threat of all to the security of the United States was the imperial presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Many of us who do recall how dangerous he was, including Krugman himself, now agree that Nixon was a piker compared to Bush.

But there's something more important here than proving Yoo wrong, which any high school kid with access to a stack of history books, or the Internets could do in five minutes.

Yoo knows he's lying here and he doesn't give a damn what you or I think. Why? Because he knows the New York Times has anointed him worthy of space on their editorial page and all that matters is that they print what he writes. It's the same con as "Intelligent Design" creationism: you gain mainstream cred merely by being included in the debate. And Yoo's little stunt is all of a piece with the far-right contempt for normal American citizens, not to mention reality. The kind of mentality that would assert there were no serious national security threats during the '70's is the same mentality that plants a male hooker among the White House press corps to fluff the press secretary (and at least once, Bush) when the questions get too tough.

The extent of sheer contempt for the people of America these people show never fails to take my breath away. They truly hate Americans, and American values. And these monarchy-loving assholes, these total losers who are literally smirking at the presumed ignorance of the people they dare to lead - these are populists?

And what did Paul Krugman say?

He said this -

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration - more fundamental than any particular policy - has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president's power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it's a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of US policy, they're asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

… Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.
And Yoo told him everyone was wrong about the constitution - he could do whatever he wants. That pushed the right button. Things have changed.

We'll let this slide. We are not Hungarians. We don't take to the streets. Think about what happened in 1956 in Budapest - we were asked to help and we didn't. Taking to the streets won't do.

But sometimes things can make you a bit grumpy, like this featured on the fornt page of the Washington Post , Sunday, September 17 - an item adapted from the new book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

It's what we've all heard about the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the only government Iraq had after we took out Saddam Hussein, but it's just all gathered in one place, with this key passage -
… many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

By the time Bremer departed, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and reconstituted by the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.

To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.

O'Beirne, a former Army officer who is married to prominent conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne, did not respond to requests for comment. He and his staff were exempted from most employment regulations because they used an obscure provision in federal law to hire most CPA personnel as temporary political appointees.
The next day in the Los Angeles Times Jonathan Chait says here conduct of the occupation "was almost criminally negligent." He's being kind.

The opening of the Chandrasekaran item says it all -
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans - restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What they needed to be was a member of the Republican Party.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance - but had applied for a White House job - was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people.

The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated - and ultimately hobbled - by administration ideologues.
One of the best comments out there on this is from Digby at Hullabaloo with this -
The Republicans are telling us that they should be re-elected because the Democrats aren't serious about national security and only they can be trusted to keep the terrorists from killing us in our beds.

But the way the administration went about creating the CPA illustrates everything you need to know about the childlike sciolism [look it up] of these so-called grown-ups. They insisted on invading a well-contained country of 25 million people, ripped its society to shreds, and then put a bunch of low level cronies and inexperienced school kids in charge of creating a Club for Growth wet dream in the desert. And they spent billions and billions of dollars failing to do anything but lay the groundwork for civil war. I don't know if it's possible to screw up on a grander scale than that.

Here's the question for the American people.

Let's, for the sake of argument, say that you don't like Democrats. You have the vague feeling in the pit of your stomach that they just don't have the cojones to do "what needs to be done." You can't get over the feeling that they aren't serious enough.

But if you are a thoughtful person of any political persuasion who is concerned about national security or the economy, you simply cannot read that story above and have even the slightest faith that such people can be trusted to continue to run the government with no oversight.

The question is not whether the Democrats have a better plan to correct these grievous errors or whether they are hard enough to deal with hard issues. The question is how anyone could think Democrats could possibly be worse than an administration that ordered the US government to eschew all expertise and give billions of taxpayer dollars to inexperienced Republican functionaries to rebuild a foreign country from the ground up? Considering the stakes in all this, I don't see how anyone can think it's a good idea to let these people continue unchecked. They screw up everything they touch and they never, ever, learn from their mistakes.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone who isn't a purely faith-based voter can read this story in the Washington Post and come away believing that the Republicans are capable of running any government, much less the government of the most powerful country in the world. They are like children playing Risk and Monopoly.

If anyone thinks that political considerations will keep people like this from making more huge, irrevocable, catastrophic strategic blunders are kidding themselves. They are capable of anything. That's not hyperbole. Read the article and then bookmark it. We're going to need it to send to journalists and members of the press over the next few weeks to remind them about GOP "seriousness."
Well, Digby may be angry, but American are a forgiving people. And the almost eight billion dollars in our tax money the CPA could never account for? They were just kids and they meant well. We are not Hungarians, after all.

Note that Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has an interesting question -
Chandrasekaran's article is an excerpt from his new book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an account of the "stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone" that's hitting bookshelves this week. It follows in the footsteps of Blind Into Baghadad, Fiasco, Cobra II, The Assassins' Gate, and a seemingly unending parade of other books about the still (to me) mind-boggling brew of incompetence and messianic ideology the Bush administration brought to the project it supposedly considered the main front on the war on terror.

So I'll once again ask a question that I asked of George Packer last year: is there anyone outside of the administration itself who's written a book-length defense of the occupation of Iraq? David Frum, say, or Charles Krauthammer or Ralph Peters?

Maybe that's too much to ask. How about merely a book suggesting that all the other critiques are too harsh, and things aren't quite as disastrous as they seem. Anyone?
Nope, nothing there. When you know you're right, and your base knows you're right, you don't write books. What's the point? There's not a thing to defend, after all.

Keith Olbermann of course is the closest thing we have to someone fomenting a Hungarian-style uprising against what's going on. For a clear pushback, you can watch what he says on MSNBC on Monday, September 18, here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime). It's eight minutes on last week's press conference in the Rose Garden, previously covered in these pages here. If you don't want to stream the video, or can't, and see him directly say to the president that the president owe us all and an apology, here's the transcript (without the visuals a clips) -
Finally tonight, a Special Comment about the Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

The President of the United States owes this country an apology. It will not be offered, of course. He does not realize I'ts necessity.

There are now none around him who would tell him - or could. The last of them, it appears, was the very man whose letter provoked the President into the conduct, for which the apology is essential. An apology is this President's only hope of regaining the slightest measure of confidence, of what has been, for nearly two years, a clear majority of his people.

Not "confidence" in his policies nor in his designs, nor even in something as narrowly focused as which vision of torture shall prevail - his, or that of the man who has sent him into apoplexy, Colin Powell. In a larger sense, the President needs to regain our confidence, that he has some basic understanding of what this country represents - of what it must maintain if we are to defeat not only terrorists, but if we are also to defeat what is ever more increasingly apparent, as an attempt to redefine the way we live here, and what we mean, when we say the word "freedom."

Because it is evident now that, if not its architect, this President intends to be the contractor, for this narrowing of the definition of freedom. The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics. The former Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but - within - it contained one particularly chilling phrase. Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy? BUSH: If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic. It's just - I simply can't accept that. 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.

Of course it's acceptable to think that there's "any kind of comparison." And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary. Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or in Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists. Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.

What all of us will agree on is that we have the right - we have the duty - to think about the comparison. And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think - and say - what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right. All of us agree about that. Except, it seems, this President.

With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right. That Colin Powell cannot be right. And then there was that one, most awful phrase. In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

"It's unacceptable to think…" he said.

It is never unacceptable to think. And when a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path - one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.

That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think. Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth. It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he, alone, has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights. This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President.

If Mr. Powell's letter - cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive - can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague?

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government."

Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Bush. They were the words of Thomas Jefferson. He put them in the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Bush, what would you say to something that antithetical to the status quo just now? Would you call it "unacceptable" for Jefferson to think such things, or to write them?

Between your confidence in your infallibility, sir, and your demonizing of dissent, and now these rages better suited to a thwarted three-year old, you have left the unnerving sense of a White House coming unglued - a chilling suspicion that perhaps we have not seen the peak of the anger, that we can no longer forecast what next will be said to, or about, anyone… who disagrees. Or what will next be done to them.

On this newscast last Friday night, Constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the "detainees" transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured. Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions might not be about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them. That, certainly, could explain Mr. Bush's fury.

That, at this point, is speculative. But at least it provides an alternative possibility as to why the President's words were at such variance from the entire history of this country. For, there needs to be some other explanation, Mr. Bush, than that you truly believe we should live in a United States of America in which a thought is unacceptable.

There needs to be a delegation of responsible leaders - Republicans or otherwise - who can sit you down as Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott once sat Richard Nixon down - and explain the reality of the situation you have created.

There needs to be an apology from the President of the United States.

And more than one.

But, Mr. Bush, the others - for warnings unheeded five years ago, for war unjustified four years ago, for battle unprepared three years ago - they are not weighted with the urgency and necessity of this one. We must know that, to you, thought with which you disagree - and even voice with which you disagree - and even action with which you disagree - are still sacrosanct to you.

The philosopher Voltaire once insisted to another author, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Since the nation's birth, Mr. Bush, we have misquoted and even embellished that statement, but we have served ourselves well, by subscribing to its essence.

Oddly, there are other words of Voltaire's that are more pertinent still, just now. "Think for yourselves," he wrote, "and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think - and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.

Anything else, Mr. Bush, is truly unacceptable.
Ah, but Keith Olbermann is on the third-string cable new network, and has less than a twentieth of the audience that Bill O'Reilly has. And O'Reilly, on air at the same time, is very pro-torture. When O'Reilly has an expert guest on who points out just torture doesn't work - you never get good information and you make life-long enemies of those you haven't yet captured or tortured - he's given up arguing and just looks disappointed and depressed. And O'Reilly just isn't going to quote anyone from The Enlightenment, like Voltaire. He knows his audience.

Olbermann can do his ever more effective Edward R. Murrow thing. His audience is small. It won't make any difference. We aren't Hungarians.

And we'll accept the next war, the one with Iran. Now it's not just Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker - William Arkin in the Post is reporting it's on (here). According to the latest Time Magazine the plans are finalized and units are on notice. And the reporters who used to be Knight-Ridder - now McClatchy - here tell us there's the new the Iranian directorate at the Pentagon - getting the real information on the building of nuclear weapons there - bypassing the CIA and other agencies again, relying on Iranian exiles in America who want their old Iran back. That worked so well the first time with Iraq of course. And here we're told we are already on the ground there, conducting operations -

1.) "The evidence is overwhelming, from both the Iranians, Americans, and from Congressional sources."

2.) "The plan has gone to the White House. That's not normal planning. When the plan goes to the White House, that means we've gone to a different state."

3.) "I would say - and this may shock some - I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way."

That's from Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College and who famously found more than fifty instances of demonstrably false stories planted in the press in the run up to the war, back in 2003. Maybe he's wrong.

See Fred Kaplan here -
Are we about to attack Iran? That's the impression conveyed by Time magazine's latest cover story. A "prepare to deploy" order has been sent out to US Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships. The chief of naval operations, the nation's top admiral, has ordered a fresh look at contingency plans for blockading Iran's oil ports.

Michael Duffy, who wrote the story, tempers his scoop with prudent caveats. The order called on the crews to be ready to deploy by Oct. 1, not to go ahead and actually deploy. And, as he notes, "The US military routinely makes plans for scores of scenarios, the vast majority of which will never be put into practice." As one Pentagon official tells him, "Planners always plan."

And yet, Duffy writes, the two orders, coupled with the mounting tension over Iran's nuclear program, "would seem to suggest that a much discussed - but until now largely theoretical - prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran."

… I have no idea who Duffy's sources are, but there are at least two possibilities: The Bush administration really is gearing up for war, and some dissenting officers want to sound the alarm and rouse opposition. Or the administration wants to make the Iranians think an attack is brewing in order to pressure them into a diplomatic solution.

… There is a danger to playing this game. Once you switch on a plan to mobilize for war, it's hard to switch it off - or, at the very least, it's easy to let it keep flowing.

This leads to a third possibility: that the Bush administration is trying to pressure the Iranians and really preparing to attack. The two are not mutually exclusive, especially since various factions within the administration are split on the issue. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems genuinely to be doing what secretaries of state tend to do - seek a diplomatic solution. Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be doing what he tends to do - heighten the confrontation.

Faced with internecine conflicts of this sort, President Bush has a striking tendency to avoid making a decision and to let the factions fight it out. It's possible, in other words, that the administration is playing both approaches - mobilizing as a tool of diplomatic pressure and mobilizing as an act of impending warfare - not as a coordinated strategy but as parallel actions, each of which will follow its inexorable course.

Once the weapons are in place, the airstrikes wouldn't follow automatically; the president would have to give the order. But if the attack is ready to go, and if the Iranians are still thumbing their noses, would this president call it off and start over? It's best not to face the situation to begin with. An attack, however tempting, would be a huge mistake, for several reasons.

The Iranians learned their lesson from Israel's 1983 lightning strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor. They've dispersed their nuclear facilities and buried some of them deep underground. According to the Time story, Pentagon officials have identified 1,500 "aim points" - that is, 1,500 distinct targets - in Iran's nuclear complex. Hitting them all, or even most of them, would require hundreds, if not thousands, of sorties. Mistakes would be made; casualties would be unavoidable, perhaps considerable.

More than that, the Iranian people - who, by all accounts, hate their government and like much about the United States - would regard the attack as an act of terror, a violation of sovereignty, a far more destructive replay of the nightmare of 1953, when the CIA helped overthrow the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the shah. Even if the attack somehow unseated the present regime, the new one might be no less anti-American, no less intent on acquiring nuclear weapons - an ambition that the attack would set back by only a few years in any case.

And, of course, there are the possible side effects: the confirmation, in the eyes of the Muslim world, that the United States is hell-bent on a crusade; the consequent surge in Islamist terrorism and subduing of Muslim moderates; and the further alienation of U.S. allies throughout the Western world.

… There are all sorts of logic, including the logic that leads to war. Bush and Ahmadinejad, who share a boastful confidence in their sense of destiny, seem on a collision course in the logic of highway chicken - the game where two drivers speed their cars toward each other, head-on, late at night. The winner is the one who doesn't veer off the road. If both drivers get nervous and veer off, it's a tie. If they both keep driving straight on, pedal to the metal, certain of victory, opposed on moral principle to backing down, the outcome is mutual catastrophe. And in this case, we're all sitting in those cars.
Maybe it's time to get out of the car and get all Hungarian. Who need any revealing tape recording? Paprika Power!

Posted by Alan at 22:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006 23:07 PDT home

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

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