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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 20 September 2006
Voices
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Voices
One tries to keep up on things, browsing who's saying what. It's just that listening to all the voices can spook you. What to make of it all? We're in for it.

As mentioned previously, there seems to be a war coming with Iran. It's not just Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker - William Arkin in the Washington Post reported that in his Early Warning column. The cover story of the week's Time Magazine tells us 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 yes, Knight-Ridder alone was the news outfit that got the run-up to the Iraq war right - pointing to the holes in the information about the actual threat Iraq posed, and being skeptical, in a reasonable way.

And here we're told we are already on the ground in Iran, conducting operations there -

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. The link is to a television appearance - he's one of CNN's military analysts. Maybe he's wrong.

But then his white paper is now available, a report for the Century Foundation - The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing U.S. Military Options in Iraq, September 2006 (in PDF format).

And it contains this gem -
When I discuss the possibility of an American military strike on Iran with my European friends, they invariably point out that an armed confrontation does not make sense - that it would be unlikely to yield any of the results that American policymakers do want, and that it would be highly likely to yield results that they do not.

I tell them they cannot understand US policy if they insist on passing options through that filter. The "making sense" filter was not applied over the past four years for Iraq, and it is unlikely to be applied in evaluating whether to attack Iran.
The italics were added to emphasize the obvious. This isn't supposed to make sense. Something else is going on.

In any event, Gardiner says the preparations for war "will not be a major CNN event." This will be subtle, sort of, as it "will involve the quiet deployment of Air Force tankers to staging bases" and "additional Navy assets moved to the region." He also adds that while nobody's talking about a land invasion of Iran - as there's no resources left for that - "significant elements in the government" do have much more ambitious goals than straightforward surgical strikes at Iranian nuclear facilities. You see, such strikes are very unlikely to actually resolve the perceived Iran issue, and there are administration figures who have convinced themselves that a sufficiently wide "air target set" will prompt regime change in Iran. We bomb them and the angry populace rises up and cheers us. Well, many have reported that's the current thinking.

Another voice - Matthew Yglesias here - "One should note that the curious thing about air power is that the professionals involved in managing it have a longstanding, cross-national, and incredibly pernicious habit of massively and systematically overstating its efficacy in accomplishing all sorts of implausible things."

Yep, ask the Israelis about that. But over at SLATE, Fred Kaplan here is wondering if the "prepare to deploy" order that's "been sent out to US Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships" means we're going to war with Iran.

But Yglesias then adds this -
At this point, I think I need to bring up what one might call the Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time. This story came to me last week from an anonymous individual who I would say is in a position to know about such things. According to this person, the DOD has (naturally) been doing some analysis on airstrikes against Iran. The upshot of the analysis was that conventional bombardment would degrade the Iranian nuclear program by about 50 percent. By contrast, if the arsenal included small nuclear weapons, we could get up to about 80 percent destroying. In response to this, persons inside the Office of the Vice President took the view that we could use the nukes - in other words, launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran - and then simply deny that we'd done so. Detectable radiation in the area of the bombed sites would be attributed to the fact that they were, after all, nuclear facilities we'd just hit.

Now I rather doubt that's going to happen. Typically, Bush dials down the crazy factor a notch or two relative to what comes out of the OVP [Office of the Vice president]. Nevertheless, it's a sobering reminder that we have genuine lunatics operating in the highest councils of government at the moment. It's an extremely dangerous situation.
The italics there come from Yglesias. He wants things to make sense, so he doesn't think we'll launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran. The first voice, Colonel Sam, argues the other way.

Another voice, from the SALON review of Frank Rich's new book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, there's this -
It is now widely accepted that the Iraq war is one of the greatest foreign policy blunders, if not the greatest, in US history. Some have gone further: The respected Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld argues that it is "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them." Not a few regard Iraq as spelling the beginning of the end of American dominance in the world.

The review goes on to discuss what seems to be Rich's thesis - the Iraq war was waged to get Republicans elected again and again. That's the "sense" that the Europeans who talked with Colonel Sam seem to have overlooked.

Another voice?

On Tuesday, September 19, reporters asked General John Abizaid, the top US military commander for the whole Middle East, whether the United States is currently winning the war in Iraq. The Washington Post dutifully reported his answer - "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

That's not very reassuring and not particularly realistic. It makes little sense. But it is an answer, and an honest one.

And here's another voice, from August 25, retired General John Batiste, the former commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq - "Donald Rumsfeld is still at the helm of the Department of Defense, which is absolutely outrageous. He served up our great military a huge bowl of chicken feces, and ever since then, our military and our country have been trying to turn this bowl into chicken salad. And it’s not working."

You can see the video of that here. (There are words you can't say on national television.)

And from the New York Times item of September 20, on how our government is really unhappy with the current premier of Iraq - he's not doing much of anything but visiting Iran and getting chummy with them - we get this - "To bolster Iraqis' confidence, American generals are spending money on quick reconstruction projects like trash pickup as the military goes through troubled neighborhoods of Baghdad."

Compare and contrast - Condoleezza Rice in a Times interview from October 21, 2000 with this - "We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten."

But that was Kosovo, of course.

Those two contrasting gems were brought up by Bill Montgomery, at his site Whiskey Bar, where he is either the editor and sole writer, or proprietor - or the barkeep, if you will. And his voice comes next with this -

From crossing guards to trash collectors seems like a demotion to me - especially when the trash includes things like dead dog carcasses with IEDs stuffed inside them. But, hey, be all you can be.

We'll never know if this kind of stuff - nation building as an exercise in court-ordered community service - has made any difference in Iraq, or could have made a difference if more of it had been done more competently. I tend to doubt it, but then in the failure-was-inevitable vs. we-coulda-been-contenders debate, I tend to come down firmly in the inevitability camp.

The question is empirically indeterminate, since we don't have another Iraq to use as a control -- one where the post-conflict reconstruction process goes flawlessly, the U.S. Army is a model of counterinsurgency tact and wisdom and the entire process is guided by the kind of people who gave us the Marshall Plan and the long telegram [see this - AMP], instead of the cast members of a Three Stooges short feature.

However, at least some evidence for the inevitability argument can be found in record of the non-fantasy Iraq occupation.

In his book Fiasco, Tom Ricks lavishes praise on Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the 101st Airborne division, which was originally given the job of occupying the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. According to Ricks, Petraeus and his officers did everything the counterinsurgency textbooks told them to do. They established unity of command, worked with local leaders, avoided excessive use of firepower, tried not to antagonize or humiliate the locals, were selective in their arrests and interrogations and spread a lot of money around in small, local projects.

Whether it was because of these tactics or for some other reason, nobody contests that Mosul was relatively calm through the early months of the occupation - even after the 101st rotated out. But when the replacement force had to be drawn down to send reinforcements to Fallujah in October 2004, public order in Mosul promptly collapsed, with the police deserting in droves and insurgents taking over whole neighborhoods in the Arab quarter of the city. So much for hearts and minds.

Likewise, we heard a lot in the first two years of the war about the vastly superior counterinsurgency training and tactics of the British Army, and how this was the key to their success in keeping southern Iraq happy and docile. We don't hear nearly so much of that talk these days.

You can certainly argue that Petraeus's effort in Mosul and the British Army's work in the south were both undermined (stabbed in the back, so to speak) by the general incompetence of the CPA, the Cheney Administration, the military bureaucracy in Baghdad, etc. etc. Or, conversely, you can claim the successes were never as successful as they were cracked up to be - that what Petraeus and the Brits really were better at was media relations, not counterinsurgency.

Like I said, it's a counterfactual argument, one that historians no doubt will still be having long after you and me and Gen. Petraeus are all in our graves. But if you think Iraq was doable - that the Cheneyites snatched defeat from the jaws of victory instead of just making a miserable situation even worse - then you need to explain why virtually every other recent nation-building exercise has been as complete or almost as complete a failure : from Somalia to Afghanistan, Sierra Leone to Columbia.

… Under the circumstances, nation building in the Middle East might best be compared to sand castle building - on the beach in the face of a rising tide. We'd probably all be better off if our imperial strategists could come up with a strategy for managing the transition to a more decentralized, fragmented and at times chaotic world, instead of trying to turn back the clock to an earlier day. But, of course, if they were comfortable doing that they probably wouldn't be imperial strategists.

Oh well. It certainly doesn't hurt that the Army is picking up the trash in Baghdad, and it may even help, a little. But if I were them I wouldn't expect to get any tips - non-explosive ones, I mean.
But then, if Frank Rich is right (and not just rich), the whole idea is really to win elections here - by appearing tough and strong.

Eric Boehlert notes how that is going -here -
Here then, is some much-needed historical perspective to put Bush's standing in context:
  • According to Gallup, on the eve of President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, he was suffering the worst job-approval ratings of his presidency - 58 percent.
  • In 1968, when the war in Vietnam was claiming hundreds of US casualties each week, President Lyndon Johnson was considered so unpopular that he didn't even run for re-election. Johnson's average Gallup approval rating for that year was 43 percent.
  • When Reagan's second term was rocked by the Iran-Contra scandal, his ratings plummeted, all the way down to 43 percent.
Oh well. You do what you can.

And something that came up before, in these pages - Monday, August 21, The Hedgehog Is Back - a discussion of Jim Baker's little group with this -
A Bipartisan commission quietly started work last spring with a mandate to help the Bush administration rethink its policy toward the war.

… [W]hat makes this particular commission hard to dismiss is that it is led by perhaps the one man who might be able to break through the tight phalanx of senior officials who advise the president and filter his information. That person is the former secretary of state, Republican insider, and consigliere of the Bush family, James A. Baker III.
Who knew? And the Washington Monthly item ends with this -
"The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible," another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president "like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, 'Look, my friend, it's time to change.'"
That's most curious. Everyone knows it's time to do something.

Wednesday, September 20, the New York Sun reports this Iraq Study Group has met with its subgroups - the working committees - and we get this -
According to participants in that meeting, the two chairmen received a blunt assessment this week of viable options for America in Iraq that boiled down to two choices.

One plan would have America begin its exit from Iraq through a phased withdrawal similar to that proposed this spring by Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat of Pennsylvania and former Marine. Another would have America make a last push to internationalize the military occupation of Iraq and open a high-level dialogue with Syria and Iran to persuade them to end their state-sanctioned policy of aiding terrorists who are sabotaging the elected government in Baghdad.

... The Iraq Study Group is likely to be as influential as the 9/11 commission, which Mr. Hamilton cochaired with a former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Keane. While the Iraq panel is not charged with assigning blame on past policy failures, as the 9/11 commission was, it does have the ability to give new legitimacy to a withdrawal strategy and force the administration's hand on policy.
And that leads to another voice, Kevin Drum, with this -
So: Bush should either plan to withdraw from Iraq or else open up talks with Syria and Iran. It's hard to know which of those two options he'd loathe the most, and even with Baker delivering the bad news it's hard to see Bush agreeing to either course. By the time the Iraq Study Group delivers its recommendations officially, though, he might not have much of a choice.
Maybe so. Or maybe than why a war with Iran is necessary. It would provide cover for either unpalatable alternative.

How'd we get here? The final voice is Digby at Hullabaloo, from right out here in Santa Monica, with this -
Virtually none of the foreign policy establishment were concerned that invading Iraq was a bad strategy in light of the threat of terrorism. It was obvious that we would inflame the Islamic radicals and create more of them - an American occupying army in the Mideast at a time of rising extremism and anti-American fervor was about as provocative an act as could have been imagined. This argument was glossed over as some sort of appeasement when, in fact, it was extremely salient. Why on earth would you go out of your way to aid the recruitment of your enemy unless it was absolutely necessary? The administration may need to play to its base with useless strongman preening but there was no excuse for liberal hawks not to care about this argument.

But the greatest strategic error was dismissing the possibility that by occupying Iraq it would empower Iran in the process. This was undoubtedly seen as pessimism or immoral realpolitik by the neocons and liberal hawks, but it was a very serious consideration that we are now seeing played out before our very eyes. It's quite clear that the most successful beneficiary of our Iraq policy has been Iraq's longtime rival, Iran. Had Iraq really presented the existential threat the administration claimed, it might have made sense. But nobody but the most deluded of neocons believed that Saddam was planning to launch drone planes filled with nukes and chemical weapons at the US. There should have been more attention paid to the ramifications of empowering Iran before we invaded Iraq by people who should know better. (The great irony is that the administration is now recycling the same fear mongering to use against Iran - instead of "gassed his own people" it's "denies the holocaust." SOS)

So, in the months before we went into Iraq the situation was this:
  • The Bush Doctrine was morphing before our eyes into a permission slip for unilateral aggression based on nothing more than guesswork about a possible future threat, degrading our moral authority before the war even started.
  • Many of our allies were balking which meant that we would potentially lose valuable cooperation on terrorism and would have a much harder time coalition building in the future.
  • Saddam had been successfully contained for more than a decade and could have stayed contained for some time, even if the hyped up threat assessment had turned out to be correct.
  • The evidence for terrorist ties between Iraq and al Qaeda was virtually non-existent and there was no reason to believe that they would ever have the same goals. Conversely, invading Iraq was likely to empower Islamic extremism in Iraq and elsewhere.
  • We rushed into it as if it were an emergency when Saddam had done nothing for years. This meant that planning (which never happened anyway) would have had to be done on a crisis basis, increasing the chance of mistakes and missteps.
  • We were committing our military to a non-urgent long term operation at a time when we needed them to be flexible for the emerging threats of the new era of Islamic extremism.
  • We knew that upending the structure of the middle east before we had a chance to fully assess the situation could result in empowering the actors we wanted to marginalize, both state and non-state.
For all those reasons one could see not just that it was an impossible task or that the Bush administration would mess it up, but that it was simply a bad idea when the circumstances after 9/11 dictated that we be smart about national security. 9/11 didn't change everything but you'd think the threat of terrorism and asymmetrical warfare would have changed the neocon and liberal hawk's longtime assumptions about the efficacy of traditional military power. If there was ever a time for realism - in the pure sense of the word - it was then. Instead, we had the right lashing out incoherently at their ancient demons and the liberal hawks naively believing that it was a good idea to express our goodness and greatness through a military action that was quite obviously unnecessary at that moment and for which the risk far outweighed the benefit.

We all know that the result was even worse that we feared. We couldn't know they did no planning at all for the occupation. It didn't occur to us that they would literally bring in twenty-something college Republicans to run the reconstruction. I couldn't imagine they would botch it so thoroughly on every level that we have now exposed ourselves as something of a paper tiger when it comes to such unilateral actions. It's weakened us considerably. (And it's also brought us to a very frightening point...) The abandonment of moral authority with aggressive war and torture, the lost opportunities in Afghanistan, the empowering of Iran are all fall-out from this terrible decision and while we couldn't necessarily know exactly what would happen, there was NO DOUBT that the outcome was unpredictable. Great powers can't afford to run dangerous military experiments with unpredictable results unless it's absolutely necessary. Blowback tends to be rather extreme.

The administration dazzled the nation with a big show and the media was chomping at the bit to have a "real" war that they could cover. But when you stripped away all the hysterical rhetoric it was clear then that even if the Bush administration had been capable of preventing Iraq from descending into chaos and achieving all its goals, liberal hawks should have known that rushing into war in the spring of 2003 was a bad idea anyway.
And now we're at it again.

And a quick summary from another voice, Stanley Kurtz, at "The Corner" - the daily commentary section of the now hyper-neoconservative and Bush worshiping National Review, with this -
On the one hand, we are faced with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, nuclear blackmail and terrorist chaos at the heart of the world's Persian Gulf oil supply, and terrorist-planted nuclear weapons in America's cities. On the other hand, we can choose an economically disruptive war with Iran that will alienate us from the world, push us to and beyond our military limits, and that even then may not even succeed. The by now stock phrase, "there are no good options" doesn't quite do justice to the awful choice we face.
Even there?

In any event, those are the voices out there. Make of them what you will.

Posted by Alan at 21:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006 07:23 PDT home

Tuesday, 19 September 2006
The Thai Solution
Topic: Dissent
The Thai Solution
No one much here follows politics in Thailand, but Tuesday, September 19, there was this -
Thai military leaders are looking to consolidate their hold on power after staging a coup while the prime minister was at the UN General Assembly.

Martial law has been declared, and the coup leaders have announced that regional commanders will take charge of areas outside the capital, Bangkok.

They have ordered provincial governors and heads of government agencies to report to them in the coming hours.

The country's stock market, banks and schools will be closed on Wednesday.

BBC World, CNN and other international TV news channels have been taken off the air, while Thai stations have broadcast footage of the royal family and patriotic songs.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cancelled a speech he was due to give at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday evening.
You had to dig for perspective, like this on Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecommunications mogul who became prime minister of Thailand in 2001.  It seems Thaksin responded to the terrorist threat there by passing an emergency powers law, dismantling local councils in the Muslim south, and dispatching thousands of soldiers to the south, officially turning southern Thailand into a war zone. This won him reelection in 2005, but then -
As the situation in the south worsened, Thaksin chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. "Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years," one Thai expert told me.

... For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin's spell. This summer, the prime minister's popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Thai journalists have probed procurement scandals in Thaksin's government, and they united to help defeat an effort by one of the prime minister's allies to buy into the most respected Thai-language newspaper, Matichon. Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin's style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister's own party members have begun to speak out against him.

Gee, that sound awfully familiar, and they even had their own Patriot Act, sort of.

And "he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years." Just what President Bush was saying in 2004, of course, with that business about how he'd had his "accountability moment" - the election - and things were settled. Then came the plunging approval ratings and the revolt of key members of the legislature controlled by his own party. The trip to New York was clearly a bad idea.

Okay, first there was Hungary - riots in the street as the lies caught up with the man in power, then this coup in Thailand. The parallels in leadership are ridiculously obvious, and the reactions so unlike anything that would happen here - a popular uprising in the streets in one place and a coup in the other. We don't work that way, or even like the Brits who forced Blair to announce he's leaving. We just keep on keeping on.

You do get things like this, Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, wondering what's happing here, but not channeling Stephen Stills -

I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue - the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a "high-value" terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.

It's past time to stop mincing words. The Decider, or maybe we should now call him the Inquisitor, sticks to anodyne euphemisms. He speaks of "alternative" questioning techniques, and his umbrella term for the whole shop of horrors is "the program." Of course, he won't fully detail the methods that were used in the secret CIA prisons - and who knows where else? - but various sources have said they have included not just the infamous "waterboarding," which the administration apparently will reluctantly forswear, but also sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, bombardment with ear-splitting noise and other assaults that cause not just mental duress but physical agony. That is torture, and to call it anything else is a lie.

It is not possible for our elected representatives to hold any sort of honorable "debate" over torture. Bush says he is waging a "struggle for civilization," but civilized nations do not debate slavery or genocide, and they don't debate torture, either. This spectacle insults and dishonors every American.
Yep, this is more serious than what Stills was singing about - the rather tame riot on Sunset Strip, back in 1966, a block down the street actually. This is a little more serious.

And it's not just a Post Columnist. How about the associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, Bruce Fein, with this -
The most frightening claim made by Bush with congressional acquiescence is reminiscent of the lettres de cachet of pre-revolutionary France. (Such letters, with which the king could order the arrest and imprisonment of subjects without trial, helped trigger the storming of the Bastille.) In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Bush maintained that he could pluck any American citizen out of his home or off of the sidewalk and detain him indefinitely on the president's finding that he was an illegal combatant. No court could second-guess the president. Bush soon employed such monarchial power to detain a few citizens and to frighten would-be dissenters, and Republicans in Congress either cheered or fiddled like Nero while the Constitution burned. The Supreme Court ultimately entered the breach and repudiated the president in 2004's Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Republicans similarly yawned as President Bush ordained military tribunals to try accused war criminals based on secret evidence and unreliable hearsay in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court again was forced to countervail the congressional dereliction by holding the tribunals illegal in 2006's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Something is up, and the conservatives are just catching up - that lettres de cachet business was discussed in these pages in early February here. It's an obvious parallel. Welcome to the club, Bruce.

So McCain and the others stand up on this issue - no Hungarian riots or Thai coup here - but it hurts. The Washington Post reports here that McCain's opposition to torture could really hurt his chances for the Republican presidential nomination - it's a matter of loyalty, something about alienating the Republican base McCain has been cultivating. But it's that, and more than that -
In a reprise of criticism showered on McCain during his 2000 campaign, some prominent conservatives are branding him a disloyal Republican and an unreliable conservative because of his assertiveness on the detainee issue.

… The senator's actions "are blocking our ability to gain from terrorist captives the vital information we need," said a front-page editorial Saturday in the Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., the largest newspaper in the state with the first presidential primary.

Conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh said Friday that opposition to Bush's approach "is going to go down as the event that will result in us getting hit again, and if we do, and if McCain, et al., prevail, I can tell you where fingers are going to be pointed."
To be clear then, it is a moral imperative of some sort to torture bad guys - even if the information elected is totally bogus and cannot be verified, and it turn the world against us, and puts our troops in real danger if they are captured. Okay then.

And if you want to keep your seat in congress, it's good politics -
I do think that the fast-evolving base of the GOP is likely to be roused by the promise of torturing terror suspects, and that running on Guantanamo Bay may make sense if you want to rile up these people - and, boy, do they need riling.

I understand Rove has postponed using 9/11 families against the Geneva Convention - he'll wait till later in the campaign to do that, if it becomes necessary. But make no mistake: Rove isn't going to duck the torture issue. He's going to brandish it. McCain, Graham, Warner: these men represent the old Republican Party, not the new pro-torture, Christianist, Jacksonian base. Rove would love to isolate the old, decent guards from the Southern base and find a candidate to continue the Bush legacy. And this may be his opportunity.
But that's Andrew Sullivan. What else would you expect from a gay conservative Republican of the old school?

And there's the religious competent here. Janet Hook and Richard Simon offer this, in the September 19 Los Angeles Times, concerning the political price John McCain may be paying for his stance on torture and coercive interrogation -
"This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, one of several conservative activists who support Bush's proposal on interrogation techniques.
It would seem then the unrestricted right for the CIA to abuse prisoners is now a traditional value, and endorsed by the evangelicals. They really did like Mel Gibson's Christian snuff film The Passion of the Christ - it got them all excited, what with Jesus spending all of one Friday afternoon in a stress position, almost exactly of the sort we now use, and dying from it, just as more than a few of our prisoners have. That it did some good is obvious - Jesus died for our sins and all (it is called Good Friday, after all) - but why are we the Romans here? It's very confusing.

One "DK" at Talking Points Memo puts it this way -
The torture debate in Congress - I never expected to write such words- - is as surreal to me as watching the collapse of the Twin Towers. If the Democrats are able to take control of at least one chamber in November, then surely the President's pro-torture bill will be viewed in hindsight as the nadir of the Bush presidency. If not, how much lower can things go?

I am beyond being able to assess the political implications, one way or the other, of this spectacle. Regardless of which version of the bill finally passes, this debate is a black mark on the soul of the nation. Of course passage of a pro-torture bill will diminish US standing internationally and jeopardize the safety and well-being of U.S. servicemen in future engagements. But merely having this debate has already accomplished that. Does anyone honestly believe that if Congress rebuffs the President in every respect that the rule of law and the inviolability of human rights will have been vindicated? Of course not.

… Only the weak, scared, and evil torture. Those who order and sanction torture, but leave the dirty work to others, are an order of magnitude more culpable morally. (A special place is reserved for the lawyers who give legal cover for such orders.) In their fear and their weakness and their smallness, the President and those around him stepped over the line. To do so in the heated days after 9/11 is understandable to a point, though not justifiable. Yet they persisted, first in saying that they did not step over the line and now in seeking to redraw the line. So which is it?

They are descending from the morally reprehensible to the morally cowardly.
But then the gamble is that this is a winner, politically. They're willing to do anything to protect us, no matter how stupid or reprehensible, or illegal. Would any Democrat have the guts to do that? So there you have it.

Of course one should note here the Republicans who are jumping ship and lining up with the Democrats on this issue - Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, Mike DeWine, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, Lincoln Chafee, and Chuck Hagel. Very odd. Rush Limbaugh and Reverend Sheldon are going to be very unhappy.

Can the folks at the conservative Boston Herald (not the Globe) be right when they print this -
At one level this battle between the White House and a rebellious handful of Senate Republicans is a war of words - a fight over legalese, interpretations, meanings. At another level this is about core American values, about the rule of law and maintaining this nation's reputation for taking the moral high ground. And this time George W. Bush has picked the wrong fight at the wrong time with the wrong people.
Oh my. But William "Bill" Kristol, the public voice of the neoconservative movement, at The Weekly Standard urges Republicans to campaign on torturing military detainees here. What does he care if Archbishop Desmond Tutu says this -
You taught us no government worth its salt can subvert the rule of law. We believed you. That's part of what you have as a gift for the world. Then how can you commit Guantanamo Bay? Take back your country.
What, like the folks in Hungary or Thailand?

And besides, the president said he'd shut down the CIA program if he doesn't get his way, to which a retired diplomat says this -
I try hard to respect the Office of the President of the United States, but it is truly a miserable wretch of a man who would threaten to disband the CIA interrogation program if he doesn't get his wish to eviscerate a good deal of Article 3 compliance thereto, as the President threatened at a press conference last week. This hullabaloo about "outrages against personal dignity" versus "shocking the conscience" is a tempest in a teapot. Outrages against personal dignity are like pornography, which is to say, you know it when you see it (sometimes, indeed, they fuse somewhat, like Rumsfeld's Pentagon authorized tactic at Guantanamo of having female guards rub their breasts in the face of a male detainee, before smearing fake menstrual blood on him, in a particularly noxious use of our military personnel).

Article 3 compliant interrogations have stood us in good stead for decades, and there is absolutely no convincing reason for a carve-out allowing the CIA to avoid compliance with its provisions. We know that Army Field Manual compliant interrogations are more than effective, and we know further that torture often leads to false confessions and unreliable information. So if Congress has the will to face the President down (which they must), the CIA interrogation program should be allowed to continue, but with the interrogations pursued in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention. This is, after all, how the uniformed services are again now (after belated remedial action) satisfactorily interrogating detainees. Bush, like a petulant adolescent who risks not having his way, is threatening to shut down the entire CIA program if his gutting of portions of Article 3 doesn't prevail through Congress. Then, the cowardly pro-torture crowd, should god forbid a terror attack subsequently occur, will blame those noted anti-American appeasers and defeatists like John Warner, Colin Powell, Jack Vessey, Lindsay Graham and John McCain for allowing the carnage.

One would think even this President would not be so reckless as to shut down an important interrogation program merely because he'd have to comply with Article 3, which would be more than effective regardless. Or so one would at least hope. But he will likely disingenuously argue he cannot abide risking CIA interrogators facing criminal liability because of vague and confusing standards, as if "shocking the conscience" is crystal-clear black-letter law, and "outrages against personal dignity" constitute some amorphous, hyper-confusing morass of conflicting standards. For decades these standards have been more than clear, so this rationale must be seen for what it is, utter and complete claptrap. Appropriate legal safeguards for interrogators can be drafted into the law, but the bedrock principle here must be total fidelity to Article 3 norms, not so we here can preen as detainee rights purists, but rather so as to preserve America's moral leadership on an issue so critical to the ideological component of the war on terror, so as to prevent other governments from rushing to a race to the bottom on detainee and interrogation treatment standards, and not least, to better be able to protect our own POWs, from a position of moral strength, when they are, as they inevitably will be, captured by foreign forces.

Of course, very little if anything surprises me anymore with this White House.
And Tim Grieve here notes how Byzantine all this has become -
Memo to Tony Snow: The next time you're inclined to say that Colin Powell is "confused" about issues related to the "war on terror," perhaps you should retract the thought before it comes tumbling out of your mouth.

The White House is apparently offering a new proposal on military tribunals and detainees now, its plan to rewrite the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 dead on arrival in the face of opposition from Senate Democrats and at least five Senate Republicans - all of whom were provided political cover when Powell wrote a letter saying the president's previous proposal put U.S. troops at risk. Snow last week attributed Powell's opposition to confusion on the part of the president's former secretary of state. He tried to retract the charge, but the president piled on anyway, dismissing Powell's missive by saying that he'd seen "all kinds of letters" about his plan and suggesting that Powell had somehow equated the United States with terrorists.

Powell's response? In an interview with the Washington Post, Powell says that the way in which the Bush administration has waged its war on terror is causing the world to question America's bona fides. "If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," Powell tells the Post, "whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."

Case in point No. 1: A government commission in Canada Monday released a report in which it found "no evidence" that Maher Amar - subjected to rendition by the United States and then torture by Syrian officials-- had committed any crime or posed any threat to Canadian security.

Case in point No. 2: Bush's plan itself. As experts on both sides of the issue tell the New York Times, the president's plan to "clarify" the Geneva Conventions' prohibition against "humiliating and degrading treatment" was driven by a desire for latitude, not specificity. Among the techniques on the table, experts say: "sleep deprivation, playing ear-splittingly loud music and waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning."

For Powell, it's a goose-and-gander issue. "Suppose North Korea or somebody else wants to redefine or 'clarify'" the Geneva Convention protections that U.S. soldiers now enjoy. "To say that we want to modify, clarify or redefine Common Article 3, which has not been modified for the 57 years of its history, I think adds to the doubt" about whether the U.S. really has the high moral ground in the war on terror, he says.
But Powell is now considered a fool. Before, he was a useful idiot.

But this Maher Amar? He's back in the news?

His case was first discussed in these pages here, on December 21, 2003, for goodness sakes.

Two years, eight months, and twenty-nine days later the New York Times reports this -
OTTAWA, Sept. 18 - A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities about their plans for Mr. Arar before transporting him to Syria.

"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada," Justice Dennis R. O'Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference.

The report's findings could reverberate heavily through the leadership of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which handled the initial intelligence on Mr. Arar that led security officials in both Canada and the United States to assume he was a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist.

The report's criticisms and recommendations are aimed primarily at Canada's own government and activities, rather than the United States government, which refused to cooperate in the inquiry.

But its conclusions about a case that had emerged as one of the most infamous examples of rendition - the transfer of terrorism suspects to other nations for interrogation - draw new attention to the Bush administration's handling of detainees. And it comes as the White House and Congress are contesting legislation that would set standards for the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

"The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar's case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion," Justice O'Connor wrote in a three-volume report, not all of which was made public. "They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar's case in a less than forthcoming manner."

… The Syrian-born Mr. Arar was seized on Sept. 26, 2002, after he landed at Kennedy Airport in New York on his way home from a holiday in Tunisia. On Oct. 8, he was flown to Jordan in an American government plane and taken overland to Syria, where he says he was held for 10 months in a tiny cell and beaten repeatedly with a metal cable. He was freed in October 2003, after Syrian officials concluded that he had no connection to terrorism and returned him to Canada.
We refused to cooperate in the inquiry? Yep. State secrets. And we said he couldn't sue us for damages. State secrets.

The Washington Post adds more - in Syria, Arar "was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan - where he never has been - and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for ten months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found."

We have to torture the bad guys to get the vital information that would save lives. But what we get is… what they think we want to hear. Pain and fear of death does that. He screamed out that, yes, he HAD trained in Afghanistan with the bad guys. So, don't we get to sue the guy we tortured if we find out what he said is just something he made up to get us to stop the torture? What are our options in that case? Torture him more, or file a complaint with some court or other? Can we bring an action against him for being innocent AND lying about it when we beat the crap out of him? Surely the Attorney General is working on that.

Is that far-fetched? See Glenn Greenwald here -
For the last four years, the United States has been (and still is) a country which kidnaps other countries' innocent citizens (including those of its own allies); brings them to Jordan, Syria and Egypt to be tortured (sometimes for as long as a year); lies to its allies about what it is doing with their citizens; and then, when the innocent citizens are finally released and they go to an American court to try to obtain compensation from the US government for their disappearance and torture, the Bush administration tells the federal judge that the case must be summarily dismissed because national security would be harmed if the administration were held accountable in a court (and the courts then comply).

Do any other counties in the world kidnap civilians who are citizens of other countries and torture them?

… So on top of operating secret torture gulags in Eastern Europe, we also kidnap people, charge them with no crime, given them no opportunity to defend themselves, send them off to be tortured for months, and then when it turns out that they are completely innocent, we block them from obtaining compensation in our courts because our Government claims that national security would be jeopardized if they were held accountable for their behavior.

How can you be an American citizen and not be completely outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted by this conduct? What the Bush administration is doing on so many levels is a grotesque betrayal of every national value and principle we have claimed to embraced and fought for. Can it even be debated at this point that the Bush administration has so plainly, as Billmon described it the other day, "forfeit(ed) forever its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit?"

Who would ever take seriously the notion that a Government that engages in this behavior can lecture anyone on human rights abuses or import democratic values around the world?
But the same day the president addressed the UN and did just that. As one commentator summed it up - "The sad fact is that, even among Middle Eastern countries governed by aspiring or actual democrats, the United States is less and less a moral model. Our beacon has dimmed not because of who we are but because of what we've done. And President Bush made clear today that he's not going to do anything differently."

Nor are we. This is neither Thailand nor Hungary.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006 07:48 PDT home

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
home

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

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