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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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Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Political Strategy - Going on the Offensive
Topic: Election Notes
Political Strategy - Going on the Offensive
"I knew the Republicans would react like animals if they ever found themselves on the losing end of an election," or so says Digby at Hullabaloo here. But whatever is he talking about?

It might be the Michael J. Fox political ad that everyone is buzzing about - the one Rush Limbaugh attacked, saying Fox is faking it. You can watch that here.

The Limbaugh attack sort of matches with what happened in Illinois where a Democratic house candidate, Tammy Duckworth, the Army helicopter pilot who while fighting in Iraq lost both her legs when she was shot down and now wants to wind this war down, was attacked by her opponent as someone who wants to "cut and run." She pointed to her aluminum legs and smiled. You can read about that here in the Chicago Sun Times -
Calling it "crude" and "offensive," Democrat Tammy Duckworth's campaign team is accusing Republican congressional rival Peter Roskam of tarring the war veteran who lost her legs in combat with advocating a "cut-and-run" strategy in Iraq.

But Roskam's camp fired back that the GOP state senator was being "misquoted" and "misrepresented" and Duckworth's campaign was lying.
It is getting nasty out there.

As for Limbaugh, David Montgomery, of the Washington Postgives the basics here -
Possibly worse than making fun of someone's disability is saying that it's imaginary. That is not to mock someone's body, but to challenge a person's guts, integrity, sanity.

To Rush Limbaugh on Monday, Michael J. Fox looked like a faker. The actor, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, has done a series of political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Democrat Ben Cardin, who is running against Republican Michael Steele in a Maryland U.S. Senate race.

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act.... This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."

Limbaugh was reacting to Fox's appearance in another one of the spots, one for Democratic Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill against Republican James M. Talent.

But the Cardin ad is similar. It is hard to watch, unless, for some reason, you don't believe it. As he speaks, Fox's restless torso weaves and writhes in a private dance. His head bobs from side to side, almost leaving the picture frame.

"This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has," Limbaugh said. "He can barely control himself."

Later Monday, still on the air, Limbaugh would apologize, but reaction to his statements from Parkinson's experts and Fox's supporters was swift and angry.
No kidding. The Post provides a roundup off all that, but Michael Fox himself was silent. Fox was campaigning for Tammy Duckworth, oddly enough, and his spokesman said Fox had no public comment. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh will start cracking jokes about the lame and the halt sticking together - losers that they are. He's one piece of work.

But of course he made some adjustments - ""Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial. All right then, I stand corrected. So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."

Then came the classic pivot, as something else must be going on - "Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democratic politician."

Then he really is as sick as he appears, and those nasty Democrats are using him and exploiting him, so you have to feel sorry for the poor guy, and angry with the Democrats for somehow tricking him into the whole thing. If they hadn't clouded his mind with their evil powers he'd remember stem cell research involves the murder of actual children, or close enough. Yep, that must be it.

The same ground is covered by the Associated Press here, but as the story is from the entertainment desk, you get different details -
Celebrities have a long history of supporting political candidates. But there's no question that Fox, who campaigned for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, is uniquely suited as a spokesman for embryonic stem cell research, which some scientists believe could aid in discovering treatments or cures to Parkinson's and other diseases.

"The reason that he's powerful is that he's comparatively young," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director for the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. "As a result, a lot of people in that age range can look at him and say, `If that can happen to him, it can happen to me.'"

Jamieson notes that the issue of stem cell research has the potential to be an advantage to Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections since polls have shown the majority of Americans favor some form of stem cell research. The risk, she adds, is that the ads could appear as using Fox's hopes for a cure for political gain, as some claimed was the case when the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve lobbied for stem cell research before his death in 2004.

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive disorder of the central nervous system that leaves patients increasingly unable to control their movements. In his ads, Fox shows a remarkable nakedness that recalls Dick Clark's appearance last Dec. 31 on ABC's "New Year's Rockin' Eve," displaying the effects of his debilitating stroke a year prior.

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 and revealed his condition publicly in 1998. In 2000, the "Spin City" and "Back to the Future" star quit full-time acting because of his symptoms and founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which has raised millions of dollars.

So that put things in celebrity context, for what that's worth.

The AP notes only one other bit of context, from John Boockvar, a neurosurgeon and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical Center at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, who calls Limbaugh's claim that Fox was acting "ludicrous." It was the evil mind-control rays from the Democrats - "If there is one single disease that has the highest potential for benefit from stem cell research it's Parkinson's." And as for worrying about all the dead children - small clumps of sixteen cells that would be discarded anyway don't seem to be children.

But this was a political move by Rush - he's just supporting the side he thinks is right, and attacking those who question them.

It's standard stuff. You might remember the 2002 attacks on Max Cleland, as in this video. He was a highly-decorated Vietnam War guy, a triple amputee who fell on a grenade to save his buddies. He wanted changes in the original Patriot Act to preserve the bargaining rights of the few unionized federal employees - so he was unpatriotic and on the side of the terrorists. That cost him his senate seat. And note here that two years later, Ann Coulter claimed Cleland had actually wounded himself in combat - he cleverly transformed his bumbling carelessness in some sort of false heroic myth. That was about the time such folks were saying John Kerry did the same thing in Vietnam, to get his purple hearts - and delegates at that summer's Republican convention all wore purple band-aids to mock him, and support the real hero, George Bush. Some things never change.

It's just politics.

But Bill Montgomery notes it's not very good politics -

If you're Claire McCaskill (Missouri) or Ben Cardin (Maryland) this is the best thing since the invention of the teleprompter. Both are running against anti-abortion, anti-stem cell Republicans; both badly need a big turnout among pro-choice, pro-stem cell voters to win. But both are also running in Border South states with large Catholic voting blocks - i.e. states where the anti-abortion movement is strong and a pro-choice stand can alienate a lot of voters who might otherwise be willing to pull the Democratic lever.

But Rush, in his infinite wisdom, has now ensured that the issue isn't abortion. It isn't even stem cells. Now it's all about Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's Disease - which is exactly how you don't want it framed if you're the GOP candidates in those races (or a supporter of Missouri's proposed constitutional ban on stem cell research.)

I don't know where Limbaugh got the idea that telling scurrilous lies about one of America's favorite celebrities - and someone who enjoys a huge amount of public sympathy to boot - was a shrewd political move. But the Dems should be damned glad he did. Considering how razor-close the Missouri race appears to be, Rush may have just single-handedly booted away a Republican Senate seat.

Go Rush! Go!
Yep, sometimes firing up the base can backfire. As we know out here in Hollywood, a select few celebrities are just plain off limits - you just don't rag on them. Others - Tom Cruise, Barbara Streisand, Paris Hilton - no problem. Rush did not just make a reprehensible moral mistake, and a major political blunder - he attacked a pop icon. Bad move.

But something is going on here. In the absence of being able to defend the war, the economy (at least as it seems by the eighty-eight percent of us for whom it's worse than ever), Medicare Plan D, the deficits, the way the government handles domestic emergencies like big hurricanes, the healthcare system and so on and so forth, dealing with these "challenges" has taken some strange twists.

You get your basic lying, as in this -
A Democratic congressional candidate accused in a political ad of billing taxpayers for a call to a phone-sex line suggested he may have misdialed the number while trying to reach a state agency.

The ad that began airing Friday shows Democrat Michael Arcuri leering at the silhouette of a dancing woman who says, "Hi, sexy. You've reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line."

But Arcuri's campaign released records showing the call two years ago from his New York City hotel room to the 800-number sex line was followed the next minute by a call to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. The last seven digits of the two numbers are the same.

Arcuri, the district attorney in Oneida County, said the ad was "clearly libelous" and threatened to file a lawsuit. His GOP opponent, state Sen. Ray Meier, described it as "way over the line."

At least seven television stations in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton refused to run the ad, Arcuri said.

The ad's sponsor, the National Republican Congressional Committee, stood by the 30-second message. Spokesman Ed Patru insisted it was "totally true" and said Meier was not consulted.
Wait, wait, wait - the Republican candidate said it wasn't true and way out of line and the National Republican Congressional Committee said they'd keep running it anyway, as they didn't particularly care what their own candidate thought and that various media outlets wouldn't show it as it was clearly not factual and they the have their rules about such things? That couldn't be so. But it is.

And the same thing happened in Tennessee with this television ad, which prompted this exchange on CNN's Situation Room between William Cohen, the former Clinton administration Defense Secretary and once Republican senator from Maine -
COHEN: I think the Republicans have to be careful, also, in terms of not engaging in conduct. And I was watching the - the Tennessee race, specifically. It reminded me of what happened in North Carolina with Harvey Gantt, a purely overt racist approach.

BLITZER: You are talking about the new RNC ad which has this white woman talking about Playboy and the - the African-American candidate, Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate.

COHEN: It's - to me, at least as I watch that, is a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment. And when the question is always asked, why - he would be the first African-American since Reconstruction elected to the Senate, you say, well, why is that the case? So, why is the South different? Why would they not elect someone...

BLITZER: So, you're a former Republican senator. Is the RNC playing the racial card against Harold Ford in Tennessee right now?

COHEN: I think they are coming very close to it, if not doing it exactly. And I think they ought to stop it. I think that they have a candidate, and discuss the - the issues on the merits, and not get into that kind of personal type of an attack.
You have to watch the video to see what he's getting at - the center of the ad is basically reminding folks that these oversexed black men want our white women folk, and they must be stopped.

And of course, as they say in the infomercials - But wait! There's more? That would be a web site called FancyFord.com created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to mock what they're trying to establish as Ford's high living ways - and that used to have a photo of a few nubile white women on the home page, but they removed that image.

The item linked here does, by the way, explain the Harvey Gantt ad to which Cohen referred - that was the 1994 North Carolina Senate race with Jesse Helms. The ad showed a white man's hands tearing up an employment rejection letter as the narrator mournfully intones that the job had to be given to a minority because of racial quotas. Gantt was one of those, an African American, as they say. It worked. Helms was reelected.

But as in New York, so in Tennessee - Bob Corker, Ford's opponent for the Senate seat, has asked the Republican National Committee to pull the ad. He says it's tacky, and way over the line. The Republican National Committee says they won't, and in fact they can't. Maybe they remember Tennessee was where the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, and will ride this out, no matter what their own candidate says.

And here's the video, Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee, telling Tim Russert on national television that the ad stays on air -
RUSSERT: Ken Mehlman, the Republican candidate in Tennessee has asked that you take that ad off the air, that it is over the top. Former Republican Senator William Cohen says it's, quote, "overt racist appeal." Will you take that ad down?

MEHLMAN: Tim, I don't have the authority to take it down or put it up. It's what called an independent expenditure. The way that process works under the campaign reform laws is I write a check to an independent individual. And that person's responsible for spending money in certain states. Tennessee is one of them. I'll tell you this, though. After the comments by Mr. Corker and by former Senator Cohen, I looked at the ad. I don't agree with that characterization of it. But it's not an ad that I have authority over. I saw it for the first time the same time that they did.

RUSSERT: Hilary Shelton, the director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP has criticized this ad. And he said, Ken Mehlman, that you went down to the NAACP in July of 2005 and apologized for the southern strategy of Republican candidates under Richard Nixon and using race as a wedge issue and that this ad does exactly that.

MEHLMAN: I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Shelton. I don't believe that ad does that. I will tell you this: I'm very proud of that speech I made. I think that there is nothing more repugnant in our society than people who try to divide Americans along racial lines. And I would denounce any ad that I felt did. I happen not to believe that ad does, but as I said before, I don't have the legal authority to take the ad down. It's an independent expenditure. I looked at it. I just disagree with what Mr. Shelton said about it.

RUSSERT: Well, it's not only Mr. Shelton. Former Senator Cohen, Vanderbilt professor John Green says it makes the Willie Horton ad look tame, that it's filled with racial polarization.

MEHLMAN: Again, I just don't agree with that at all. I showed it to a number of people when the complaints came out about it after it was put up - African-American folks, Hispanic folks and myself. We all looked at it. All of us, I think, are very sensitive to that. And we did not have that same reaction to it. So I just think there's a disagreement about it.

RUSSERT: The whole idea of having a blond white woman winking at a black congressman, the notion of interracial sex is not in your mind racist?

MEHLMAN: I think that that ad talks about a number of people on the street talking about things that Mr. Ford allegedly has either done or a proposal he has for the future. I think it's a fair ad. As I said, we didn't have anything to do with creating it. I just think those criticisms of it are wrong.

RUSSERT: And so the NAACP Washington director, an organization that you tried to court, is denouncing the ad - and it doesn't seem to phase you.

MEHLMAN: Well, the Washington director of the NAACP and I happen to disagree about this. I was proud of that speech I made. I took some heat for saying it. It was the right thing to say. I'm proud of the fact that our party under this president and under my leadership has made an incredibly aggressive effort to reach out to African-Americans. I'm proud of the increased number of African-Americans who are running. I believe there is nothing more important we can do than bring people together. I just happen to disagree about the characterization of this ad. And more importantly, there's nothing I can do about it, because it's not an ad over which I have authority or control. This is an independent expenditure.

Make of all that what you will.

Everyone knows the ad is racist - one of those "they're after our white women" things. It's a bit obvious. Even the candidate it's supposed to benefit is appalled and wants it pulled. And it carries the tag line - "This message was paid for and approved by the Republican National Committee" - but they have no power to pull it, and won't anyway. They said they were sorry for that Southern Strategy - pulling in formerly Democratic voters by opposing all civil rights legislation way back when. But this is politics, after all. And there is a precedent Mehlman is counting on - McCain forgave Rove and Bush for that business in the 2000 South Carolina where the Rove guys spread the word that McCain a fathered a mixed-race love child with a black crack addict. McCain got clobbered and Bush was then assured the nomination, and later Bush apologized, explaining it was only politics.  McCain was okay with that.  Surely the black folk will be as understanding.

We'll see about that.

So it's nasty out there - or sometimes it's just silly -

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't fazed by a report that her Republican challenger John Spencer said she was unattractive in her youth and must have had "millions of dollars" of plastic surgery.

"My high school picture was cute," Clinton joked with reporters during a campaign stop Monday, the same day Spencer's alleged comments were reported in the New York Daily News.

Spencer, in an interview with The Associated Press, denied making the comments to a reporter-columnist during a flight Friday from New York City to Rochester for the first of two weekend debates between the Senate contenders.

"It's a fabrication. I would never call Hillary Clinton ugly," the former mayor of Yonkers told the AP. "That's outrageous. I didn't do it."

Clinton said comments about her appearance strayed from the issues of the campaign.

"It's unfortunate that when you don't have anything positive to say about the issues that we can get off in some pretty swampy territory," Clinton said during the stop at a senior citizens' center in Watervliet just north of Albany.

Spencer did acknowledge talking to reporter Ben Smith on the flight.
So Spencer is backing off the "vote for me because the woman running against me was a butt-ugly teenager" ploy. Well, it was worth a try. The problem is people just laughed at him. Time to shift gears.

And it's not really nasty, like this - the Republican congresswoman who now holds Cheney's old seat in Wyoming and wants to hold onto it says to her opponent, a wheelchair-bound MS sufferer, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face."

Now that's a classic. Such things happen when you listen to too much Rush Limbaugh.

There's detailed rundown of the incident here, in everyone's favorite paper, the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Start Tribune, but it's a bit convoluted. You might try this summary -
OK, let's go to instant replay: Asked to comment on the political sewer that is the Republican Congress, the Democratic candidate starts babbling about giving away taxpayer dollars to finance the kind of sleazy shit we're all seeing on the tube these days - in Wyoming! The Libertarian candidate, on the other hand, deftly plants the Abramoff shiv directly between the GOP candidate's bony shoulders, causing her to go completely ballistic and threaten to slap a person in a wheelchair.
Well, they don't call it the wild west for nothing.

What to make of the five incidents? It's a bit like that old saw about how lawyers sometimes have to win a case in court - if you don't have the facts on your side, pound the law, and if you don't have the law on your side, pound the table. The idea is that you'd better pound something.

The problem is that for the incumbents, there's nothing handy.

Posted by Alan at 22:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006 08:00 PDT home

Monday, 23 October 2006
Stuck on Stupid
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Stuck on Stupid
"Stuck on stupid" somehow moved from ghetto slang into general parlance. Take yourself back to September 20, 2005 - Hurricane Katrina had done its damage and Rita was on the way, heading for Galveston and cities inland. Susan Olasky notes this from one of the press conferences -
Lt. General Russell Honore, in charge of the National Guard in New Orleans, is trying to get reporters there to focus on getting out evacuation instructions for Hurricane Rita: "Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people, please."

When a reporter persisted - "General, a little bit more about why that's happening this time, though, and we did not have that last time..." - Honore responded, "You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out. We can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months."
You can find the full transcript and audio here. The general is more than frustrated. The reporters keep pressing him on why he thinks things will go fine this time, when they didn't go fine last time and New Orleans was lost. Then he explodes and blurts out the real classic - "Wait a minute. It didn't work the first time. THIS AIN'T THE FIRST TIME!"

If something didn't work the first time, you keep doing it. It'll work the second time, maybe. It really should. And if it doesn't, you try it the third time. You stick with what you think should work. Evidence that it doesn't work is being stuck in the past - you always have to look to the future, and do whatever it is again and again. To the reporters that seemed like being stuck on stupid but didn't use those words, and it worried them, but the general thought they were stuck on stupid, stuck on what happened in the past, and he kept hammering them with those three words. But there was no test of who was stuck - Rita veered away and missed the cities.

Fast forward one year, one month and three days to Monday, October 23, 2006, where the Associated Press reports here - "Under election-year pressure to change course in Iraq, the Bush administration said Monday there are no plans for dramatic shifts in policy or for ultimatums to Baghdad to force progress."

So two weeks before the midterm elections where the Republicans may lose control of at least one house in congress, the White House tried to calm folks down about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq - what seems like chaos no one can contain. And both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are calling on the president to change his war plan. It's that "stuck on stupid" thing again - and the question is just who is stuck. Is it the administration, persisting in doing what clearly doesn't work in the hope it might work if we just try harder or adjust some details? Or is it the growing opposition - stuck on the idea it won't work, not realizing this is not early March 2003 - Saddam is now gone, so are his incredibly nasty sons, there have been a series of elections and an actual government has been put in place, however hapless, and the conditions are really quite promising now? Take your choice.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, doesn't much care - "We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working." He told the Associated Press that United States and Iraqi officials really should be "held accountable for the lack of progress." Heads should roll and all that. So they asked him who he had in mind. Would that be Rumsfeld or the generals leading the war? Graham said - "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan." Note he did not name the president. Having a plan, a new one that might work, does not seem to be the commander-in-chief's job. It must be like professional football - the coach and his assistants come up with what should be a winning game plan, while the owner sits above it all in his air-conditioned skybox, sipping bourbon, chatting with his friends, and waiting to see how the plan works out. The grunts on steroids and amphetamines, mostly minority freaks, slamming into each other for sixty minutes are a minor matter. And if it looks like you're losing, or do lose, the coach can explain that all in the post game interviews. Maybe it's not exactly like that. But Lindsey Graham did exclude the president for some reason. In any event, he thinks someone is defiantly stuck on stupid.

The president says it's not him. The same day he appeared on the business network CNBC - this is the week he is scheduled to talk up how well the economy is doing and that all the middle class folks who don't think so should be just be a little more patient. He gave CNBC an exclusive interview - with the sultry and smoldering money-babe Maria Bartiromo (video here) - and said he's not stuck. That went like this - "Well, I've been talking about a change in tactics ever since I - ever since we went in, because the role of the commander in chief is to say to our generals, 'You adjust to the enemy on the battlefield.'"

Maybe the professional football analogy was fine - owners don't lose games, coaches do. You tell them to come up with a good game plan, you tell them to be flexible, but sometimes they screw up. What are you going to do?

And the head couch was working on things. Rumsfeld, in simultaneous remarks at the Pentagon, said we're now working with Iraq to set "broad time frames" for when Iraqis can take over sixteen provinces that are under our control - and no one was talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don't hit certain benchmarks. Heck, they already have taken control in two provinces - nothing anywhere near Baghdad of course, but there was a plan. And earlier in the day Rumsfeld had visited the White House with General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a chat about when the Iraqis might move a bit closer to setting up a reconciliation process to help things between Sunnis and Shiites. See? There's some sort of game plan. There just won't be a change in policy - no force drawdown, not talks with Iran or Syria or any other nation in that neighborhood, no choosing other cities for attention, no negotiations or diplomacy of any kind. Nothing like that. Whack-a-mole is the policy. When the locals can whack their own moles, we'll move on.

The more dignified and official way of putting that is this - "Our policy is stand up/stand down; as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down."

That's it, all of it.

Still AP notes that Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said two Republicans have told him they will demand a new policy in Iraq after the election. They're fed up with stand up/stand down and tinkering around the edges - but Biden wouldn't say who the two were. He said both knew the Rove Rule that went out to all Republicans - don't make waves before the election because it could cost the party seats. You don't cross Rove.

Our kids are dying, but there are the midterm elections to think about. It's a matter of priorities, and everyone has them -
Showing progress in Iraq is critical with the approaching elections, which are widely viewed as a referendum on public support of the war. In Baghdad on Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander there, are scheduled to hold a rare joint news conference.

Facing growing impatience with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to stem the carnage, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said international forces must not abandon Iraq while the situation there remains volatile.

"I do believe there is no option for the international community to cut and run," he told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. He said Iraqis and the international community need to be realistic, "but not defeatist."

"We need to understand that there is a need of utmost urgency to deal with many of the problems of Iraq but we must not give in to panic," he said.
Nope, panic is bad. As you recall the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has just two words on the cover - "Don't Panic" - and recommended you should always have a dry towel handy. You could look it up.

So make sure you have a towel and don't panic, even when the same day you see things this -
Shiite militiamen loyal to a fiery anti-American Shiite cleric re-emerged in the troubled southern city of Amarah on Monday, dragging four policemen aligned with a rival Shiite militia from their homes and killing them.

Witnesses said the Iraqi army, camped on the edge of the city, was doing nothing to stop the resurgence of Shiite-on-Shiite violence. Iraq's leaders sent a force of about 500 soldiers to the city late last week after Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militiamen stormed the city and attacked police stations, manned primarily by loyalists of the rival Badr Brigades, also a Shiite militia.

… In Amarah, gunmen dragged police Lt. Sarmad Majid al-Shatti from his home before dawn, then dumped his bullet-riddled body at a farm on the city's outskirts, said Ali Chaloub of Sadr General Hospital. Another policeman, Lt. Alaa al-Kabi was shot to death outside his home, Chaloub said.

At about the same time, provincial policemen Hamid Majeed and Hassan Abdullah were kidnapped from their homes, and their bodies were later found dumped outside the city, Chaloub said.

Badr fighters took revenge, killing and beheading the teenage brother of the local Mahdi Army commander. The Mahdi commander was killed Thursday, setting in motion the Amarah violence.
The Washington Post here notes that this isn't the Sunni-Shiite violence - it's fighting between rival Shiite militias operated by factions actually within the ruling coalition. That renders the "we stand down when they stand up" thing a bit absurd. They're not standing up in any sense we expect - they have other issues. And our role is what, exactly?

But there was an adjustment - over the weekend the president said "staying the course" was never his strategy. (See this and this.) But what is our strategy? What are the new options?

Dan Froomkin in the Post has this -
Said Bush: "Well, listen, we've never been stay the course, George. We have been - we will complete the mission, we will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting the tactics, constantly."

… So it would be big news if Bush were finally considering a change in strategy - not just tactics. And that's precisely what David S. Cloud reported in the Sunday New York Times.

Cloud wrote: "The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, senior American officials said.

… "[F]or the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.
Bill Montgomery deals with that here -
None of this babbling makes any sense, in other words. Nor is it remotely in scale with the size of the Cheney administration's failure in Iraq. Part of me thinks it's all being driven by the need of beltway journalists and think tankers alike to have something new to say about Iraq, something that isn't a variation on: "Yep. We're still fucked." But there's obviously a hard edge of real desperation - if not despair - behind this. America's ruling elites have had things largely their own way for the past couple of decades. But now they're looking at a bottomless quagmire that may have a much bigger disaster (like loss of access to Persian Gulf oil) hidden somewhere in the mud. And they don't have a clue about what to do. They've lost control, which is the last thing any ruling elite can afford to admit.

Small wonder then, that the policy "debate" has now crossed the line into complete fantasy - like a long piece of dialogue pulled from Waiting for Godot. The realists have turned into surrealists. Baker now sounds almost as naive and deluded as Bush.
And they cannot even keep their story straight. Note Alex at Martini Republic here -
After all, what real choices are we left with, after nearly four years of bungling? How does "stability first" or "stand up/stand down" differ from "stay the course," except for semantics? And how are we going to get an Iraqi government to "stand up" and achieve "stability first" when militias allied with the two strongest factions of the ruling Shiite coalition are executing each other's people in the street in front of their homes?
Good question, and the answer is not - "Wait a minute. It didn't work the first time. THIS AIN'T THE FIRST TIME!"

No, things are different now. And before the Tribune Corporation disassembles the Los Angeles Times and turns it into a shopping guide with movie reviews, they still offer the background only a good newspaper can with, Monday, October 23, Into the Abyss of Baghdad -
I keep seeing his face. He appears to be in his mid-20s, bespectacled, slightly bearded, and somehow his smile conveys a sense of prosperity to come. Perhaps he is set to marry, or enroll in graduate school, or launch a business - all of these flights of ambition seem possible.

In the next few images he is encased in plastic: His face is frozen in a ghoulish grimace. Blackened lesions blemish his neck.

"Drill holes," says Col. Khaled Rasheed, an Iraqi commander who is showing me the set of photographs.

He preserves the snapshots in a drawer, the image of the young man brimming with expectations always on top. There is no name, no identification, just a series of photos that documents the transformation of some mother's son into a slab of meat on a bloody table in a morgue.

"Please, please, I must show these photographs to President Bush," Rasheed pleads in desperation, as we sit in a bombed-out palace along the Tigris, once the elegant domain of Saddam Hussein's wife, now the command center for an Iraqi army battalion. "President Bush must know what is happening in Baghdad!"
Like he would care? He listens to the vice president who thinks people literally getting holes drilled in the head is an Iraqi tactic to deny them a Republican majority, as in this -
On Oct. 17, Cheney told Limbaugh: 'I was reading something today that a writer - I don't remember who - was speculating on increased terrorist attacks in Iraq attempting to demoralize the American people as we get up to the election. And when I read that, it made sense to me. And I interpreted this as that the terrorists are actually involved and want to involve themselves in our electoral process, which must mean they want a change.

… [The] show was not the first time Cheney has suggested terrorists have picked favorites in the upcoming election.

In August, Cheney told wire service reporters that 'al-Qaeda types' were looking to break the will of the American people to stay and fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He linked that al-Qaeda effort to the Connecticut Democratic primary rejection of Iraq war supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman.
As Digby at Hullabaloo points out, It's all about them, you see. And so it is.

More from the Times -
Every day the corpses pile up in the capital like discarded furniture - at curbside, in lots, in waterways and sewer lines; every day the executioners return. A city in which it was long taboo to ask, "Are you Sunni or Shiite?" has abruptly become defined by these very characteristics.

Once-harmonious neighborhoods with mixed populations have become communal killing grounds. Residents of one sect or the other must clear out or face the whim of fanatics with power drills.

… People are here one day, gone the next. Those who do go out often venture no farther than familiar streets. In the sinister evenings, when death squads roam, people block off their lanes with barbed wire, logs, bricks to ward off the killers.

Many residents remain in their homes - paralyzed, going slowly crazy.

"My children are imprisoned at home," says a cook, Daniel, a Christian whom I knew from better times, now planning to join the exodus from Iraq. "They are nervous and sad all the time. Baghdad is a big prison, and their home is a small one. I forced my son to leave school. It's more important that he be alive than educated."

But homes offer only an illusion of safety. Recently, insurgents rented apartments in mostly Shiite east Baghdad, filled the flats with explosives and blew them up after Friday prayers. Dozens perished.

Even gathering the bodies of loved ones is an exercise fraught with hazards. A Shiite Muslim religious party controls the main morgue near downtown; its militiamen guard the entrance, keen to snatch kin of the dead, many of them Sunni Muslim Arabs. Unclaimed Sunni corpses pile up.

… On a recent patrol in Adamiya, one of the capital's oldest sections, U.S. soldiers went door to door speaking with merchants and residents, trying to earn their confidence. Everyone seemed cordial as people spoke of their terror of Shiite militiamen. Then a shot rang out and a soldier fell 10 yards from where I stood with the platoon captain; a sniper, probably Sunni, had taken aim at this 21-year-old private from Florida ostensibly there to protect Sunnis against Shiite depredations. The GI survived.

Coursing through the deserted cityscape in an Army Humvee after curfew empties the streets is an experience laced with foreboding. U.S. vehicles, among the few on the road, offer an inviting target for an unseen enemy. Piles of long-uncollected trash may conceal laser-guided explosives. Russian roulette is the oft-repeated analogy.

"Everyone's thinking the same thing," a tense sergeant tells me. "IEDs," he adds, using the shorthand for roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices.

One evening, I accompanied a three-Humvee convoy of MPs through largely Shiite east Baghdad. Before leaving the base, the commander performed an unsettling ritual: He anointed the Humvees with clear oil, performing something akin to last rites.

… At this point, anything seems possible here, a descent of any depth into the abyss. Militiamen and residents are already sealing off neighborhoods by sect. Some have suggested district-to-district ID cards. Word broke recently of a plan to build barriers around this metropolis of 6 million and block the city's entrances with checkpoints. The "terror trench," as some immediately dubbed it, seemed to have a fundamental flaw: The killers already are in Baghdad.
They do not seem to be thinking about our elections. And Digby is reduced to sarcasm -
Sure, it's a little "untidy" and all, but they should be a lot more grateful to the liberators who freed them and created this wonderful Democratic paradise. Interfering with the Republicans' ability to do more of this good work in their country is drilling through their faces to spite their noses.
What? That needs some work. But this is all absurd after all, or surreal - or something like that.

Josh Marshall here tries to work out what the current problem really is -
… it's worth remembering why President Bush, short of being forced kicking and screaming, will never and can never withdraw American forces from Iraq.

Fundamentally, it doesn't have to do with military strategy or ideology. It has to do with coming to grips with the monumental failure he has wrought, which of course he can never do.

Setting aside the vast costs in human life, national treasure and regional stability, I see President Bush's adventure as a failed business venture, a start-up that went bad - an analogy that, come to think of it, he could probably relate to.

A failed company can lose money for a very long time before it makes money and becomes a success. It only really fails when the investors decide that the problems aren't transient but terminal. They decide to stop throwing good money after bad. And then that's it.

If we look at the matter in those icy terms, that moment of reckoning came at least two years ago, certainly before the 2004 election. By then it was depressingly clear the whole matter was never going to come to a good end. But President Bush got the country to reinvest and the country has kept on doing so since then with some factor of lives, money and time.

As long as that's the case President Bush and his supporters can keep up the increasingly ludicrous pretense that Iraq isn't a horrendous failure but simply a work in progress that hasn't been given the necessary time to work.

In fact, I think if you look back over the last two years, President Bush has been engaged in what amounts to a cynical game of chicken with his fellow Americans.

Think of the president as a failed or deadbeat entrepreneur (again, not such a stretch) who's already lost his investors a ton of money. He goes back to them and says, 'Okay, fine. You think I'm a moron and a screw-up who lost you guys a ton of money. Fine. But do you really want to finally, totally, conclusively kiss that $300 billion goodbye. You wanna just totally call it quits? Admit it's a total loss? What about giving me just another $10 billion and maybe somehow I'll actually pull this off? Or, since that's just not gonna happen, a mere $10 billion to put off for six months having to write the whole thing off as a loss, having to come to grips once and for all with the fact that all the money's gone and the whole thing's a bust?'

That's really what this is about. And I think we all know it pretty much across the political spectrum. In this way, paradoxically, the very magnitude of the president's failure has become his tacit ally. It's just such a big thing to come to grips with. And reinvesting in the president's folly, even after any hope of recouping the money is gone, carries the critical fringe benefit of sustaining our own collective and increasingly threadbare denial.

But President Bush's interests are not the same as the country's. He's maxed out, in for 100%. If Iraq is a failure, a mistake, then the same words will be written right after his name in the history books. A country, though, can take missteps and mistakes, course corrections and dead ends, and move on. We've done it before and we'll do it again.

But President Bush can't and won't withdraw from Iraq because when he does, under the current conditions, he'll sign the epitaph, the historical death warrant for his presidency. Unlike in the past there are no family friends to pawn the failure off on and let them take the loss. It's all his. So he'll keep kicking the can down the road forever.
And that may be the classic definition of stuck on stupid. And if you use the metaphor here, his venture capitalists, those who provide the funding - that would be us - are pulling out and investing elsewhere. Some things are just bad ideas.

Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, now part of Time Magazine, Monday, October 23, was also the day there was an open discussion of the whole idea of this Iraq adventure. Sullivan, once all for it, is now saying it was a fine idea but bungled badly by some real fools. After World War II we got a great Germany and Japan - open, democratic and vital - and "reverse domino theory" does work - when the Soviet Union fell all the eastern block nations woke up and became modern democracies and all that. The idea wasn't bad - just the execution.

A reader here -
The theory in Iraq was that we would not need to occupy the nation, not need to impose martial law, not need to do the things that we did in both Germany and Japan because it wouldn't be necessary. Iraqis were going to do by themselves and for themselves what Germans and Japanese did guided by the firm hand of occupation forces which dominated every aspect of their post-war civil life.

If you wish to cite Germany and Japan as the examples, you'll have to explain why our leaders believed, and repeatedly affirmed, that the aftermath of Iraq would require so much less time, effort and manpower than our occupations of those Axis powers. America and its coalition partners never lacked the competence to occupy Iraq, we embraced a theory that said occupation would be unnecessary.

As for the Soviet Union are you seriously suggesting that toppling Saddam could possibly have the same effect on his neighbors, some of whom were sworn enemies, that the collapse of the Soviet Union had on its component and client states? The similarities between the two are limited to the term "change of government." You're better than this sophist argument.

The point still stands. The philosophy behind our effort Iraq doomed it, not an incompetent implementation of that philosophy.

It was conservative members of the US government who predicted that Iraq would take longer, cost more, and require hundreds of thousands more troops to turn out the way Germany and Japan turned out. Their opinions were dismissed out-of-hand as "old thinking." Neo-conservatives predicted that we'd be pretty much done militarily in Iraq within a few months, that our efforts would cost next-to-nothing, and that the entire region would then change for the better.

You say that we were just being over-optimistic. Optimistic thinking would be that it would only take three years, 300,000 troops and $300 billion dollars to succeed. The pre-war predictions of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz weren't "over-optimistic," they were magical thinking enshrined as policy. Our nation acted upon those sunny predictions as if they bore any relationship with reality, and reality is now kicking our behinds.
That's another way of saying stuck on stupid, shifting the emphasis to the second element. Using the Josh Marshall business metaphor, we were asked to invest in a venture to rid the world of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, but there were none. We were asked to invest in the same venture, but to rid the world of one of the main supporters of al Qaeda and perhaps one element of the 9/11 plot - but it turns out that wasn't the case. So we were asked to invest in the same venture, but to set up a model democracy that would inspire other nations in the region to change everything about how the thought nations should be run. And that's not going well.

Just why did we keep investing in this venture? Another of Sullivan's readers here -
The project was always doomed because our strategy was the result of philosophical hogwash.

Back before the war there were many of us who asked a simple question: When in recorded history have human beings reacted to the sudden toppling of their systems of governance the way Iraqis are supposed to react after we topple Saddam, by peacefully and immediately creating an entirely different system of governance?

The answer: Never

We asked a second question: When in recorded history has a change of government in one nation led to a peaceful and spontaneous change of governments in neighboring nations?

The answer: Never.

The operating assumption of the Bush administration was that Iraqis would not act in historically predictable ways because our motives were pure. The notion other human beings will defy human nature if our hearts are pure must be called what it is: new-agey poppycock.

Our motives were pure; we were going to liberate Iraqis from an awful dictator, period. The people of Iraq, upon experiencing this act of selflessness on the part of "good guy" America, would then be guided by peace and love and immediately start rebuilding their society in our image, or something close enough that we could be proud of it. Their neighbors, seeing how the Age of Aquarius had broken out next door, would then rush to join the love-in... and the world would live as one. Thus we would be able to bring most of our troops home very quickly after toppling Saddam, leaving behind only enough to protect Iraq from its evil neighbors until they, too, saw the light.

The effort was doomed from the start because it was based upon magical thinking.
It is odd that so many invested in this venture for so long - but maybe we wanted to believe in magic after the 9/11 attacks. But as entertaining as magic can be, it's quite stupid stuff. The whole premise of it is odd. You're amazed that you could be fooled, and admire the skill used to fool you, and you pay to participate in being fooled. Magicians like to be called illusionists, and the more effectively they make their audiences feel stupid, the better the illusion. It seems we're no longer stuck on that particular kind of stupid.

So the magicians stand on stage, working the cards and scarves and rabbits in the hats, while the audience shuffles up the shadowy aisles, through the lobby smelling of stale popcorn, and out into the unexpected and very bright sunlight and fresh air. Show's over, folks.

Posted by Alan at 23:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006 08:40 PDT home

Sunday, 22 October 2006
Notes on Leadership as Pathology
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Notes on Leadership as Pathology
As things fall apart for those in power, the president and his party, people do muse on the issue of leadership. Just what is it?

Iraq is a train wreck, our elective war there perhaps the most counterproductive decision the nation has ever made. No one wants us to lose and withdraw from Iraq in shame, but no good alternatives seem available. And the nation might have hung on and agreed with the president's "stay the course" approach - even if now he says he just never said those words at all - but for what we all saw in the administration's absurd response to Hurricane Katrina more that a year ago.

That seems to have been a turning point. Other things then appeared in relief - the attempt to get his less than prepossessing personal attorney a seat on the Supreme Court that had even his own party in revolt, a look back at the Terri Schiavo business where he cut short a vacation to sign legislation to keep the body of one brain-dead woman functioning against the wishes of her husband and what appeared to be her own wishes, and was shot down in every court where the matter was considered. There was stumping the country for changes in the Social Security program, for changing it from an insurance program with defined benefits to a federal program offering investment advice. No one wanted that, yet he persisted. And he claims this is leadership. He didn't care if more than half the country despised him for his actions and positions - leaders are visionaries, or something.

Over in the UK Tony Blair has the same problem -

Over the course of little more than a week, we have learned that civilian casualties so far in the Iraq war may be more than 600,000; that Britain's Chief of the General Staff believes the conflict could break the army apart; that a federal solution to the growing chaos involving the effective dismemberment of the country is being openly discussed in America; that the US Iraq Study Group, headed by Republican grandee James Baker, is recommending that the US military withdraws to bases outside Iraq and seeks Iranian and Syrian help; and that Britain is now the number one al-Qaeda target, partly, it seems clear, as a consequence of events in Iraq.

There should be at least one universal response to this in Britain. Why is Tony Blair still Prime Minister after leading his country into such a disastrous war? Any large company would by now have got rid of a managing director guilty of a mistake on that scale. Any institution you care to name would have done the same. Why is Blair immune from the normal requirements of high office?

Why, instead of being allowed by the cabinet to establish six new policy committees designed to entrench his legacy, has he not been impeached and thrown out of office? Even if his Iraq policy was formed in good faith, the scale of the error surely requires us to ask him and all those concerned with this disaster to leave.
It seems someone - Henry Porter in the case - is most unhappy, but there they have a mechanism for taking care of such things. A vote of no confidence would force new elections - but that won't happen. Barely enough people are mesmerized by Blair's sincerity and consistency (or resolve, if you will), and his stunning articulateness, that, even if he was wrong, is wrong, and will be wrong the future on so many critical issues, at least he is a leader.

So it is with President Bush - save for the stunning articulateness. We only get the stunning gaffs. But two out of three isn't bad. We think Bush, as disastrous as his decisions have been, is still a leader.

Frank Rich of the New York Times, of all people, seems to hold this view, in spite of how much he hates what has happened here. On Sunday, October 22, he writes this -
Call him arrogant or misguided or foolish, this president has been a leader. He had a controversial agenda - enacting big tax cuts, privatizing Social Security, waging "pre-emptive" war, packing the courts with judges who support his elisions of constitutional rights - and he didn't fudge it. He didn't care if half the country despised him along the way.
No, he didn't. But is that leadership

Richard Einhorn doesn't think so -
Say whatever you want about George W. Bush, but he is a leader only in the same way that the 9/11 hijackers were brave.

When the term is used in modern American political discourse, "leader" does not have the standard generalized meaning of "a person in authority" regardless of whether they are good or bad. When Americans use the term "leader" in reference to their own politics, they are not talking about Kim Jong Il or Vladimir Lenin. Americans are invoking the imagery of great American political and cultural leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Coltrane.

First and foremost, a leader persuades others, by proposing sensible ideas in an honest and convincing rhetorical voice.

A leader is NOT someone who doesn't care "if half the country despised him along the way." A leader is NOT someone who hides a tyrannical agenda under the skirts of priests and behind cheesy bromides like "compassionate conservatism." A leader is NOT someone who does exactly as s/he pleases.

Bush does not persuade, he does what he wants, and if anybody stands in the way, he ignores or blackmails them. His ideas are not sensible, but nuts. He is thoroughly dishonest and his inability to articulate even the simplest ideas is a national embarrassment.

In addition, a leader recognizes when a given course of action, especially one that he himself endorsed, is failing. A leader takes responsibility for failures as well as successes. Bush, of course, is notorious both for following his delusions until they lead into total fiasco and for simply refusing to recognize that he ever made a single mistake.

In American public discourse, rightly or wrongly, words like "leader" and "brave" are typically descriptive of people with positive virtues. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader. Idi Amin was not. The students in Tiananmen Square were brave, the man who assassinated Rabin was not.

By drawing a direct comparison between Bush and the 9/11 hijackers, am I saying that Bush is a religious fanatic in the grip of dangerous narcissistic delusions of grandeur and who has no regard for the death of innocents?

You bet I am. And that is not what Americans mean by a leader, Mr. Rich.
Note - you can click on the link and find out how the late John Coltrane got on the leader list, remembering of course that Einhorn is also a noted composer. But this all is curious.

What to make of it? What do we expect our leaders to be?

The widely read Duncan Black ("Atrios") here argues that eagerness to support military adventure is often confused with gravitas. If you don't want to go to war, you're just not a serious leader. One "Winston Smith" here denounces Duncan Black as a weak fool, and a bad writer, and a few other things - sometimes war is necessary and the only alternative we have. No one really wants war, but what are you going to do?

Professor Mark Kleiman of UCLA tries to sort it all out -
Atrios is complaining that eagerness to support military adventure is often confused with gravitas. That complaint has considerable merit. Conservatives have convinced many voters that aversion to warfare as a means of policy displays cowardice: real men, they say, are hawks. Atrios is right to say that a preference for violence reflects a character disorder, though he's mostly wrong to call it sociopathy; it has much more to do with sadism and narcissism.

Winston is right to say that no sane person actually prefers warfare to other means of achieving the same ends, if those ends are in fact achievable without warfare. But he's wrong, I think, to say that the relevant kind of insanity is rare enough to ignore. And the political process tends to select for that kind of insanity.
Now there's a thought - the political process tends to self-select pretty awful people. Those that survive and rise are quite mad. Cool.

Kleiman turns to Machiavelli -
Good people, he [Machiavelli] points out, don't like to hurt others; they prefer generosity to stinginess and mercy to cruelty. But stinginess and cruelty are necessary elements of statecraft, because a public policy of immoderate generosity and mercy boomerangs: generosity winds up by taking money from many to give it to few, and mercy winds up cruelly exposing victims to the violence of undeterred domestic predators and foreign aggressors.

So for good people - generous, merciful, compassionate people - to rule successfully from the viewpoint of those they rule, they need to learn to be able not to be good: to restrain their impulses toward generosity and mercy when it is necessary to be stingy and cruel. When it's necessary to bomb Serbia, killing lots of innocent Serbs, to stop the Serbian government from committing genocide, good rulers go ahead and order the bombing, without enthusiasm but not without resolution. They try to minimize the amount of blood they shed (as Sheldon Wolin says, they economize on the use of violence) but they don't shrink from inflicting some violence to avoid more violence. They aim at the Aristotelian mean.
They do, but it can destroy them -
It's easier for people with a cruel streak to use cruelty than it is for compassionate people to use cruelty, even in a good cause. (As Miss Hardcastle, the head of the secret police, says in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the people who volunteer to do that sort of job are mostly the ones who get a kick out of it.)

So good, compassionate people - liberals - naturally tend to use too little violence. Everyone more or less knows that; the fact that John Wayne is a standing joke among liberals is not lost on our fellow-citizens. So there's a reasonable and natural tendency to want your rulers not to be too good. And that's how a tendency that everyone will admit is pathological gets to be valued in office-seekers, while a tendency that everyone will agree is sane gets to be viewed with distrust. Currently, that's the basic political tactic of the American right: convince the public that liberals are too nice to be entrusted with the national security (and too generous to trust with the public purse). They did it to Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry.
So we want pathological leaders, not sane ones, as we know they get the job done. That explains a great deal. Maybe Frank Rich was right.

But let's assume you think that having a pathological nut case running the most powerful nation on earth isn't a fine idea, given the state of things now. What would you want?

Here's want Kleiman would have -
I'd try to find liberal leaders (e.g., Wesley Clark) who have fully absorbed both halves of the Machiavellian lesson, and who are willing but not eager to suppress their goodness when its suppression is a public necessity.

And I'd have those leaders appeal to the true andreia of the John Wayne character against the defective andreia of the Clint Eastwood character. Defending yourself and others against real threats is manly. Picking fights just for the hell of it is juvenile. Bullies are cowards. Only perverts like hurting people. Torture is for girly-men. Real Americans are above all that.
Andreia, by the way, is the ancient Greek word for manliness and represented the virtue of the warrior - bravery or courage. You can tell Kleiman, using this word, teaches at a major university - UCLA - and one that is just a few miles west of Hollywood, thus references to the celluloid warriors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

So, of Bush's leadership, are we dealing with a pervert, coward and "girly-man?" That's possible.

Steve Gilliard suggests a different pathology -
George Bush has never explained Iraq in terms which a logical person could understand. Iraq has been an emotional appeal from the first day going after Saddam was raised. It was never about any actual threat, but an emotional desire to prove we could dominate anyone who opposed us.

For Bush, who has failed at every task ever put before him, from work, to the military to school, this was going to be his vindication. He so desperately wanted to be a hero and Iraq was going to solve all of his issues. He would defeat an enemy, prove himself worthy and gain the respect from his family he so desperately wanted.

Which is why he chose men his father kept at arms length. Bush never wanted advice, he wanted confirmation of his beliefs. His narrow world view, shaped by the dust dry plains of Midland as much as any movie, this idea that a man didn't need or want questions, he just did.

Which is how he approached the American people, not with facts, but an emotional appeal. He's out there, he's guilty, let's get him first. That was the goal, get them first, show them who is boss, Those who don't get that are weak, even if they are in uniform. We will show the world they better not fuck with us again. Iraq will be first, and the rest will bend to our will. We will show them what a superpower does.

This was never a logical argument, it was never a reasoned one, it was pure emotion, which the anti-war movement never got. Iraq was a challenge to us, our manhood, our power and anyone in the way just didn't care.

It wasn't anything to do with concrete facts. It wasn't just fear, but emasculation which Bush sold and that worked on women like a charm. People wanted to believe that the US could run down Iraq and then all manner of miracle would follow, not because of what people wanted but because people feared the US. It wasn't democracy, but control, to finally make Iraq like Israel, a Westernish country loyal to the US. It wasn't anything about what the Iraqis wanted, although the exiles fed into those delusions, which fell into their own delusions, that Iraq was just waiting for their leadership.
So this is why so many people believed in Bush for so long - it was all emotional, and only now reality is messing that up. The Iraq War psychological payback for 9/11 and all that - even if he was the wrong guy who had pretty much left us alone. He'd do.

But nothing worked out and now all we have is the sad pathology we as a nation selected (if Kleiman is right) -
Bush is a bully and a coward at heart. Iraq was chosen because Iraq would be easy, and then the rest of the Middle East would follow. It was the easy way to solve our problems, not our real problems, but our emotional pain, the unresolved conflict over being attacked. And Bush would resolve his lifelong lack of success.

Bush will not leave Iraq, not because he thinks we can win, or he thinks it's part of the war on terror. But because he cannot face another failure. Which is why Scowcroft and Baker have had no influence on him. They are his father's men, veterans, despite their politics, realists. Bush is not and never has been. When he wasn't hiding from his failure with booze and coke, he hid from it with Jesus. Now he has Henry Kissinger whispering in his ear, telling him what he wants to hear. He doesn't want advice, he wants support and only support. Those who do not support him, are diminished, then banished.

This is a man who has never honestly looked himself in the face and said I have failed. He has always been protected from failure.

Which is why Rumsfeld keeps his job. To admit he was incompetent, and some days he seems positively addled, would reflect poorly on Bush.

When people look to understand Iraq, they look at the facts and see failure, but that isn't what Bush sees. He sees one more chance for personal glory and he will not quit until he is forced to.
Gilliard argues many Republicans have no idea that they have bought into this odd psychodrama. The man "seeks redemption as desperately as he drank - and his redemption is in Iraq." He's just dragging us all along with him, and now people want out. It's too late for that. This is not the UK - there isn't any "no confidence" vote. The midterm election may hobble him, should the Democrats gain the House or Senate, or both. But that won't change much. Now he can use the veto he never used before. He'll just dig in - they call it "hunkering down." Maybe thing will slowly begin to change after mid-January 2009 as someone else is sworn in. Or maybe not. Perhaps the system does self-select nasty people.

Until then? This -
As bad as Saddam was, you could walk the streets without being kidnapped by criminals or having your daughters raped on the way to school. We have created a charnel house in Iraq because of Bush and his refusal to listen to advice he didn't want to hear.

Phased withdrawal is bullshit. Once you start withdrawing troops from Iraq, the demand to do it quicker will mount. Because Iraq is a house of cards, once it goes, it goes quickly. Anyone who would serve in an occupation government isn't strong enough to lead a real government and Maliki is doomed to join Kerensky as the leader of a failed state.

Iraq is only now become fact, not emotion, and we have to find a way out of it. George Bush's psychodrama is going to end badly.
Ah, but will it end? Is there any way out?

The administration is talking about creating a "blueprint" for making progress in Iraq, and it goes like this -
Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

... A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said that Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he added, "If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment" of the American strategy in Iraq.

... "We're trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming," a senior Bush administration official said. "We can't be there forever."
But when the New York Times reported all this on Sunday, October 22, the White House was all over the media saying this was not a "timetable" thing - timetables are evil, they encourage the enemy to hang on and wait us out, and we'll never set timetables. We'll set milestones - it's a different thing entirely.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is exasperated -
Take your pick: (a) They're serious about this. (b) They're trying to put together a plan - any plan - in order to prevent James Baker's forthcoming recommendations from becoming the default "sensible" middle course accepted by everyone in the DC punditocracy. (c) It's meaningless except as political theater. Bush just wants the country to think he's busily working on something, and this is the something.

I actually don't know which of the three it is. Maybe all of them to some degree. But while we're on the subject, note that this is all coming in the same week that the former head of the British armed forces gave his considered opinion about how we're doing in our various wars: "I don't believe we have a clear strategy in either Afghanistan or Iraq. I sense we've lost the ability to think strategically." He was talking about Britain, but obviously his remarks were aimed at the United States as well. After all, we're the ones primarily setting the strategy.

I wonder how long it will take America to recover from George Bush's uniquely blinkered and self-righteous brand of ineptitude. In the past five years he's demonstrated to the world that we don't know how to win a modern guerrilla war. He's demonstrated that we don't understand even the basics of waging a propaganda war. He's demonstrated that other countries don't need to pay any attention to our threats. He's demonstrated that we're good at talking tough and sending troops into battle, but otherwise clueless about using the levers of statecraft in the service of our own interests. If he had set out to willfully and deliberately expose our weaknesses to the world and undermine our strengths, he couldn't have done more to cripple America's power and influence in the world. Beneath the bluster, he's done more to weaken our national security than any president since World War II.

So how long will it take - after George Bush has left office - for our power and influence on the world stage to return to the level it was at in 2001? When I'm in a good mood, I figure five years. Realistically, ten years is probably more like it. And when I'm in a bad mood? Don't ask. It's really all very depressing.
Of course it is. There's no way out, and (c) is most likely - it's meaningless except as political theater, the administration wanting the country to think they're busily working on something, and this is the something. One thing sounds as good as another. Consider it an appeal to the emotions. That's what leadership comes down to these days - not doing much of anything, but creating the right attitude in the general population, one that keeps you in office.

And they know all of it is show. Take the case of Alberto Fernandez, our director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the state department -a special appointment by Condoleezza Rice herself, a long and distinguished career, and dead-flat fluent in Arabic. Sunday, October 22, we get this -
A senior U.S. State Department diplomat told Arab satellite network Al Jazeera that there is a strong possibility history will show the United States displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity" in its handling of the Iraq war.

Alberto Fernandez, director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs, made his comments on Saturday to the Qatar-based network.

"History will decide what role the United States played," he told Al Jazeera in Arabic, based on CNN translations. "And God willing, we tried to do our best in Iraq."

"But I think there is a big possibility ... for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq," the diplomat told Al Jazeera.

… "I can only assume his remarks must have been mistranslated. Those comments obviously don't reflect our policy," a senior Bush administration official said.

Fernandez told CNN that he was "not dissing U.S. policy."

"I know what the policy is and what the red lines are, and nothing I said hasn't been said before by senior officials."
In short, everyone knows we've been extraordinarily arrogant and quite stupid in myriad ways. What Fernandez is saying is that it hardly matters. Leadership is doing what we do, whatever it is, and often it is nearly insane. But it's leadership. History, which will judge all this, is for later. Leadership is for now. It was a big shrug. What are you going to do? We did what we did.

What it comes down to, what Frank Rich was reflecting, is that we now seem to define leadership as "doing" - and it hardly matters if what's being done is stupid, or if it doesn't work, or even if it does the opposite what the leader says it will do (like make us all safer). And even if this "doing" is generated from some very odd pathology, it's still doing something. So we go along, as it's emotionally satisfying to do so.

Things have to get really bad for people to withdraw support from a leader who is "doing things." We may be there. We can live with the pathologies - we've done so before (Nixon and others of your choice). But now it's what has actually been done. Breaking everything is not leadership, even if it is doing something.


Posted by Alan at 20:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006 07:23 PDT home

Saturday, 21 October 2006
Gloom and Doom
Topic: Perspective
Gloom and Doom
Eleanor Hall hosts The World Today - a weekday lunch hour current affairs show on ABC Local Radio and Radio National, except the ABC in this case is the Australian Broadcast Company - think BBC with kangaroos or something. It's one of those NR-style shows - background and debate from Australia and the world - offering what Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, calls thumb-suckers. It's background on the news, extended background. But the show on Thursday, 19 October, seems to have caused a stir beyond the land down under. And of course noon Thursday in Sidney was seven in the evening Wednesday in Hollywood, and it wasn't until Friday before folks here started to notice this - Eleanor Hall interviews a famous military strategist who says the United States has lost control Iraq, and maybe never really has it anyway.

This is depressing. Could it be so? The link has the transcript and the audio in three different formats, but the gist of it is in her introduction -
A key US military strategist who counts the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, among his students, is absolutely scathing about the current Bush administration's strategy in Iraq and says no one except the President is in any doubt that it should change. Harlan Ullman who's now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says the US lost control of events in Iraq almost immediately after the invasion and that far from assisting in the development of democracy, the US-led allies, including Australia, have fomented chaos. But Dr Ullman says he holds out little hope that either the escalating US deaths in Iraq or the recommendations now being developed by a senior policy adviser to the former Bush administration, James Baker, will convince the President to change his mind.
That's cheery, or in his own words -
We lost control of events on the ground probably in April or May of 2003. And it's taken a long time for that recognition to dawn in the White House.

The President and the administration has refused to recognize reality. Iraq is a disaster. It is a disaster at every level, and to think that they've got a functioning government and to think that the situation is better today than it was in 2003 or 2004, or 2005, is unbelievable.

We have a catastrophe on our hands and of course we've got to make course corrections and the only guy in town who seems not to be able to recognize that, sadly, is the President.

And so under these circumstances, it's very difficult to move forward because of the power of the President, and how you get the President to change his or her mind, in this case his mind, is extremely difficult.

But of course we're on a stupid course, but that doesn't mean that we are going to change it quickly enough to make a difference.
Well, we elected someone resolute - so we'd better learn to live with it, except for the troops who die, who won't.

But, but… they had elections and we could eventually get a fine democracy there.

No -
It's just not conceivable, it is not feasible, probably in our lifetime. We should have understood that from the beginning, but we haven't, and what we have to do now is limit the damage in Iraq, so it does not spill over the borders and create a further catastrophe in the Middle East, which we cannot contain.
But James Baker's Iraq Study Group will come up with something, won't they?

No -
I know the people on the group, they are rational, and they are smart. And anybody who has looked at this, who is rational, smart and objective, understands that we are losing, that we have to change things, that we have to change our strategy, we have to take American, British, Australian troops out of the line of fire, get them out of Baghdad, get them out of Basra. It's up to the Iraqis.

We know what we have to do is to defend the sovereignty of Iraq, that is the borders, we've got to train, but it's up to the Iraqis. We also have to have a regional conference on Iraq with all the powers, we've got to talk to Iran, and we've got to talk to Syria. Question is, how do you get the President to listen?
Well, you don't. Everyone knows that, and more than a few people have pointed out the one of the dynamics in play here - like so many former alcoholics (or dry-drunks or "recovering alcoholics" or whatever term you use) who skipped AA and declined medical treatment and quit by sheer force of will or in Bush's case, as he claims, by finding Jesus, you get stuck in a certain kind of rigidity. That's what saved you. You know that any kind of wavering on anything will destroy you. That rigidity is what holds your whole personality together. Loosen up and you'll go mad, or be back on the sauce - you'll lose who you are, the person you worked so hard to create from the previous chaos. Your will, and in this case, your belief in Jesus as your most very personal savior, is all you have. Many of us have met these folks - it's classic, and commonplace. There's no point is asking them to consider alternatives, to consider different points of view. All they see there is a black pit that will swallow them whole. It's an existential thing.

Ullman, of course, is not concerned with the psychodynamics here. He just observes the overt behavior, and of the suggestions floating around that the Baker group will recommend the United States seek should seek assistance from Syria and Iran - open a diplomatic front with these two states and get everyone together to work out some sort of stability - he knows that's not going to happen -
No, and that's the problem, because the President is going to hold and is going to say I've got to stay the course and I can't talk to members of the axis of evil. This is the issue.

I mean, George Bush will not change his mind, he's the President. Iraq, the government there, is divided along ethnic lines, it cannot control the militias, it cannot control anything.

And so to say we can't change our course means that we're going to lose this. And what I mean by "lose" is that Iraq becomes a chaotic state, and that chaos extends throughout the greater Middle East. And all of us will suffer for it.

… James Baker is not well received by George W. Bush. Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Jim Baker, they worked for his father. And they are rational, they are pragmatic, and they are right. And their views butt directly against the President's.

So, it is tough, even though Jim Baker was instrumental in helping George Bush win the (inaudible) and gain the presidency, I think that there is little friendship in that area.

And what you're saying to the President of the United States, somebody who's got a huge ego, who is very, very, very stubborn, "you are wrong". And George Bush does not want to admit he's wrong.
There's more. It's not pretty. But it's not the "huge ego" - it's the desperate rigidity, the fear you see in the man's eyes, the fear he may lose it all.

Dan Froomkin, late Friday in his Washington Post compilation of who's said what about all this, suggests the problem is simply the ugly truth -
It's often said that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But there may be nothing that goes against President Bush's nature more than doing just that.

When it comes to Iraq, Bush's political strategy in the run-up to the mid-term elections has been to stress the possible downsides of the "cut and run" approach - civil war, increased carnage, instability at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq as a base for terror - while refusing to acknowledge that his "stay the course" approach, ironically, appears to be delivering all those things and more.

Now, a presidency that has been all about aggression risks a major public rebuff as a sizeable majority of the Americans appears to have accepted what Bush can't: That his brassy approach has backfired - and that it's we who are getting beaten up.

Evidently, something needs to change. But what?

The Bush White House (and its press corps) often confuse tactics, strategy and goals. Tactics are what you use in the service of the strategy you choose to achieve your goal. Even the best tactics, in pursuit of an ill-chosen strategy, will not achieve the desired goal.

Bush's goal is a stable, secure, democratic Iraq. His strategy is for American troops to stay there until that happens. The tactics are getting those troops killed.

And while the president has been talking about adjusting tactics lately, he can't accept that his strategy may need changing - or even his goal. At least not yet.
And William Arkin puts the facts on the table -
Long ago, the Bush administration decided, with its stand-up/stand-down policy, that it was content not to "win" the Iraq war.

The American people got it, and withdrew their support.

Beyond politics, because American honor and credibility, and American security, were at risk if we precipitously withdrew, the Bush administration promised we were on the road to turning Iraq over to the Iraqis, and it grasped at every possible indicator that things were getting better to justify continued American deaths and injuries. Maybe they believed it.

Many months later, the vision has been proven wrong, and we are no where near standing down. Iraq is close to anarchy, and American boys and girls are held hostage until after next month's elections and until after the new political line-up emerges.

It is tragic, and there is no magical or easy answer. Withdrawal of U.S. forces is a foregone conclusion at this point. That is to say, it is one hundred percent certain that the United States will be out of Iraq before there is peace, Republican or Democratic rule.
But what do the Democrats purpose? That kind of doesn't matter, as one of Josh Marshall's readers points out -
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were in the front seat.

They drove the Iraq car off a cliff.

Then they turned to the Dems in the back seat.

And said the Dems couldn't complain unless they could come up with a plan of their own.

The tragedy is that there is no rational hope for a plan (any plan) that will work well. When you've driven the car off the cliff, your range of options is quite limited. We're in the hands of gravity at this point.
Gravity is notoriously unforgiving.

One more voice might be worth listening to - Chas Freeman. He might know a few things. He hangs around in the background. He was the principal American interpreter during the President Nixon's visit to China in 1972, but wasn't in the opera about all that. Ping, Pang and Pong are the diplomatic guys in Turandot. Adams would have none of that in his opera.

Freeman was also Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from 1993-94, and has his public service awards from the Department of Defense for his roles in designing a NATO-centered post-Cold War European security system and in reestablishing defense and military relations with China. And he was our ambassador to Saudi Arabia during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Previously he served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires in our embassies at Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984). He was Director for Chinese Affairs at the Department of State from 1979-1981.

So he knows a few things, and he knows we're in trouble - we have lost international support not because foreigners hate our values but because they believe we are repudiating them and behaving contrary to them -
Americans began our independence with an act of public diplomacy, an appeal for international support, based upon a "decent regard to the opinions of mankind."

And through the end of the 20th century, no country was then more widely admired or emulated than ours. The superior features of our society - our insistence on individual liberty under law; the equality of opportunity we had finally extended to all; the egalitarianism of our prosperity; our openness to ideas, change, and visitors; our generous attention to the development of other nations; our sacrifices to defend small states against larger predators both in the Cold War and, most recently, in the war to liberate Kuwait; our championship of international order and the institutions we had created to maintain it after World War II; the vigor of our democracy and our dedication to untrammeled debate - were recognized throughout the world. Critics of our past misadventures, as in Vietnam, had been silenced by the spectacle of our demonstrable success.
But then we had our national nervous breakdown. It seem 9/11 did change everything All that was "before" stuff -
It was before we panicked and decided to construct a national-security state that would protect us from the risks posed by foreign visitors or evil-minded Americans armed with toenail clippers or liquid cosmetics. It was before we decided that policy debate is unpatriotic and realized that the only thing foreigners understand is the use of force. It was before we replaced the dispassionate judgments of our intelligence community with the faith-based analyses of our political leaders. It was before we embraced the spin-driven strategies that have stranded our armed forces in Afghanistan, marched them off to die in the terrorist ambush of Iraq, and multiplied and united our Muslim enemies rather than diminishing and dividing them. It was before we began to throw our values overboard in order to stay on course while evading attack.

It was before, in a mere five years, we transformed ourselves from 9/11's object of almost universal sympathy and support into the planet's most despised nation, with its most hateful policies.

You can verify this deplorable reality with polling data or you can experience it firsthand by traveling abroad. Neither is anything a thoughtful patriot can enjoy. In most Arab and Muslim lands (which include many in Africa and Asia) the percentage of those who now wish us ill is statistically indistinguishable from unanimity. In many formerly friendly countries in Europe and Latin America, those with a favorable opinion of us are in the low double digits. Polls show that China is almost everywhere more admired than the United States. We used to attract 9 percent of tourists internationally; now we're down to 6. The best and the brightest from around the world came to our universities; now, very often, they go elsewhere. We are steadily losing market share in the global economy.

Suffice it to say that the atmosphere is such that men like Hugo Chávez Frías and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad felt confident of a warm response to their unprecedentedly anti-American diatribes at the UN. And that's what they received. Clearly, we are now more than "misunderestimated," to employ a useful word coined by our president; we are badly misevaluated and misunderstood abroad.
And we have reacted in one of three ways, the first being the Roman model -
Caligula's motto for effective foreign policy was ODERINT DUM METUANT - "let them hate us, as long as they fear us." Some, many of whom seem to inhabit the bubble universe created by our media as an alternative to the real world, agree with Caligula and the cult of his followers in the Administration and on the Hill. They think it's just fine for foreigners to hate us as long as we've got the drop on them and are in a position to string 'em up. They're surprised that "shock and awe" has so far proven to be an inadequate substitute for strategy, but they're eager to try it again and again on the theory that, if force doesn't work the first time, the answer is to apply more force.
The second is your basic denial -
That's the only way I can explain the notion of "transformational diplomacy" coming up at this time. Look, I'm all for the missionary position. But, let's face it, it's hard to get it on with foreigners when you've lost your sex appeal. A democracy that stifles debate at home, that picks and chooses which laws it will ignore or respect, and whose opposition party whines but does not oppose, is - I'm sorry to say - not one with much standing to promote democracy abroad. A government that responds to unwelcome election results by supporting efforts to correct them with political assassinations and cluster bombs has even less credibility in this regard. (If democracies don't fight democracies, by the way, what are Gaza and Lebanon all about? But that's another discussion.)
The third is the new call for a return to public diplomacy, "this time on steroids." But that's probably not going to work -
… as we all know, Americans no longer do diplomacy ourselves. We are very concerned that, by talking to foreigners with whom we disagree, we might inadvertently suggest that we respect them and are prepared to work with them rather than preparing to bomb them into peaceful coexistence. Both at home and abroad, we respond to critics by stigmatizing and ostracizing them. To avoid sending a signal of reasonableness or willingness to engage in dialogue, we do threats, not diplomacy. That's something we outsource to whomever we can find to take on the morally reprehensible task of conducting it.

Usually, this means entrusting our interests to people we manifestly distrust. Thus, I note, we've outsourced Korea to Beijing even as we arm ourselves against the Chinese; we've outsourced Iran to the French and other fuddy-duddies in the officially cowardly and passé "Old Europe;" and we've outsourced the UN to that outspoken international scofflaw, John Bolton, who, despite representing us in Turtle Bay, remains unconfirmable - as well as indescribable in polite company. We can't find anyone dumb enough to take on the Sisyphean task of rolling the Israeli rock up the hill of peace or to step in for us in Iraq so we try to pretend, with respect to both, that the absence of a peace process equates to the absence of a problem. Everything is under control and going just fine.
But that's not the biggest problem. There's this -
As our founding fathers understood so well, for public diplomacy to persuade foreigners even to give us and our policies the benefit of the doubt, let alone to support us, we must put on at least the appearance of a decent respect for their opinion. Persuasiveness begins with a reputation for wisdom, probity and effectiveness, but succeeds by showing empathy and concern for the interests of others. Finally, it's easier to make the case for judgments that have some grounding in reality, and for policies that have a plausible prospect of mutually beneficial results, than for those that don't.

I will not dwell on how poorly our current approaches measure up to these standards. Americans are now famous internationally for our ignorance and indifference to the world beyond our borders. We are becoming infamous for our disregard for the fate of foreigners who perish at our hands or from our munitions. Some of our military officers sincerely mourn the civilian Arab deaths their operations and those with whom we have allied ourselves cause; there is no evidence that many other Americans are the least bit disturbed by them.

Not content just to let foreigners - Arabs and Muslims, in particular - hate us, we often seem to go out of our way to speak and act in such a way as to compel them to do so. Consider Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the practice of kidnapping and "rendition," our public defense of torture, or the spectacle of American officials fending off peace while urging the further maiming of Lebanon and its people. Catastrophically mistaken policies based on intelligence cooked to fit the policy recipe have combined with the debacle of Iraq reconstruction and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina to discredit American competence with foreign governments and publics alike. It's hard to find anybody out there who believes we know what we're doing or that we have a sound grasp of our own interests, let alone any understanding or concern for theirs. We have given the terrorists what they cannot have dared dream we would - policies and practices that recruit new terrorists but that leave no space for our friends and former admirers to make their case for us or for our values or policies.
So we're screwed. And it seems not much will change, even if the upcoming elections sweep the Democrats into power -
Judging by its record, the so-called opposition party has suffered from the same hallucinations that made us so sure that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that there was an urgent need to eliminate them; the same delusional beliefs that foreign occupation - because it was by Americans - would be seen as liberation, that regime removal in Afghanistan and Iraq would result in democratization, and that inside every Arab there is an American struggling to come out; the same disorganized thinking that equates elections to democracy, and the same ruthless impulse to reject and punish the results of democracy when - as in the case of the Palestinian elections this past January - Americans find these results uncongenial.

Neither party is in the least introspective. Both are happy to attribute all our problems to the irrationality of foreigners and to reject consideration of whether our attitudes, concepts, and policies might not have contributed to them. Both are xenophobic, Islamophobic, Arabophobic, and anti-immigrant. The two parties vie to see which can be more sycophantic toward whoever's in charge in Israel and to be most supportive of whatever Israel and its American lobby wish us to do. Neither has a responsible or credible solution to the mess we have created in Iraq, a plan for war termination in Afghanistan, an answer for how to deal with Korean issues, a vision for relations with China or other rising powers, or a promising approach to Iran or the challenge of post-Fidel Cuba, among other issues. … Neither party displays any willingness to learn from the successes and errors of foreigners, and both are unjustifiably complacent about our international competitiveness.

Both Republicans and Democrats seem to consider that statecraft boils down to two options: appeasement; or sanctions followed by military assault. Both behave as though national security and grand strategy require no more than a military component and as though feeding the military-industrial complex is the only way to secure our nation. Both praise our armed forces, ignore their cavils about excessive reliance on the use of force, count on them to attempt forlorn tasks, lament their sacrifices, and blithely propose still more feckless tasks and ill-considered deployments for them. Together, our two parties are well along in destroying the finest military the world has ever seen.

So now what. The contention he is we get real - "the threat the United States now faces is vastly less grave but much more ill-defined than that we faced during the Cold War."

Think about it -

Muslim extremists seek to drive us from their lands by hurting us. They neither seek to destroy nor to convert nor to conquer us. They can in fact do none of these things. The threat we now face does not in any way justify the sacrifice of the civil liberties and related values we defended against the far greater threats posed by fascism or Soviet communism. Terrorists win if they terrorize; to defeat them, we must reject inordinate fear and the self-destructive things it may make us do.

… Muslim extremists cannot destroy us and what we have stood for, but we can surely forfeit our moral convictions and so discredit our values that we destroy ourselves. We have lost international support not because foreigners hate our values but because they believe we are repudiating them and behaving contrary to them. To prevail, we must remember who we are and what we stand for. If we can rediscover and reaffirm the identity and values that made our republic so great, we will find much support abroad, including among those in the Muslim world we now wrongly dismiss as enemies rather than friends.
That's not going to happen with our own Caligula, Cheney, directing everything. We may be "a far better and more courageous people than we currently appear," but those who represent us don't seem to want anyone to know that.

It seems that things are not going well. There's little or no reason to think they'll get any better.

Posted by Alan at 15:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 21 October 2006 15:44 PDT home

Thursday, 19 October 2006
Beyond Kafka
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Beyond Kafka
Well, on Thursday, October 19, it became clear the Baghdad thing didn't work out -
The U.S. military acknowledged Thursday that its two-month drive to crush insurgent and militia violence in the Iraqi capital had fallen short, calling the raging bloodshed disheartening and saying it was rethinking its strategy to rein in gunmen, torturers and bombers.

The admission by military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell came as car bombs, mortar fire and shootings around the country killed at least 66 people and wounded 175. The dead included the Anbar province police commander, slain by gunmen who burst into his home in Ramadi.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of three U.S. troops in fighting, raising the toll for American troops in October to 74. The month is on course to be the deadliest for U.S. forces in nearly two years.
But while there may be some "rethinking the strategy," the word from the very top, and that's not the president, was tinker all you want, but keep throwing those warm bodies into the meat grinder -
Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States was not looking for a way out of Iraq. "I know what the president thinks. I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory," Cheney said in an interview posted on Time magazine's Web site Thursday.
Cheney was doing damage control, dealing with some unfortunate remarks from what he might as well have called a lily-livered fool. He seems to think these military guys just don't understand warfare. They have the wrong experience and come to the wrong conclusions. It was a bit of that "we sent a boy to do a man's job" thing - it just wasn't professional. Perhaps he avoided military service back in the Vietnam War days because he knew the services were filled with people who knew nothing about war, and serving under them would drive him crazy.

Anyway, Caldwell told reporters the joint effort with the Iraqis to just crush all the violence in the capital (no little irony there) - the operation that started back on 7 August - had not delivered "the desired results," as attacks in Baghdad rose twenty-two percent in the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan. He apparently decided it wouldn't be wise to say everything was fine, no matter what Cheney wanted. He decided reality had to be acknowledged - "In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence." And he added - "The violence is indeed disheartening."

He just about said that this isn't working. The New York Times headline was General Urges New Strategy for Baghdad, but this implied much more. The efforts in the city imply the efforts in the country. It wasn't very subtle. This isn't working.

So, General Caldwell said that the new security plan for Baghdad hasn't reduced violence there at all. And this was a model for how to get things done. Of course"the American military was working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts." It seems "as they stand up, we stand down" - the central administration answer to when we wrap up this thing and boogie on home - needs a whole lot of work. Caldwell also pointed out that American troops had to return last week to Dora, a nasty southern Baghdad neighborhood that had been our "showcase" - it was one of the first areas to be cleared of the bad guys. We fixed that, moved on and left things to the Iraqi forces, and the bad guys were back. The plan seems to be crap.

So did William B. Caldwell just ruin his career by offending Cheney? Well, he tried to do his own damage control there. There was a new special reason things had gotten to bad - "We also realize that there is a midterm election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur."

Sentence structure aside - West Point doesn't exactly have the best English Department in the northeast - he just said what's going on is an effort by the bad guys to get Democrats elected in November. One can imagine Cheney grinning at those words. It's Dick and Karl and the Republicans up against the Islamic terrorists and Iraqi insurgents and the allies in the Democratic Party. This general can be useful.

There is of course the report from the Iraq Study Group - James Baker, Lee Hamilton and those guys - that will come out after the election. The "wise old men" - Baker was secretary of state for the president's father and the lawyer who managed the recount suit in 2000 that convinced the Supreme Court to give the son the presidency, stopping all vote recounts and in spite of the son losing the popular vote (the swing vote being Justice Scalia, appointed by the father) - were going to fix this problem too. But there had to be a problem, and Cheney doesn't think there is one. How could there be?

These guys were apparently going to say victory was not possible and there were two basic alternatives here - give up on a unified Iraq, divide it into three parts and let what happens just happen - and slowly drawn down and hang around the neighbor to go back in now and then to solve problems as the arise. Or maybe both could be done. The leaks had been carefully staged, to prepare the nation for the inevitable.

These "wise old men," like the general, are just stupid. Why does no one but Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld know anything at all about war? The sound of the vice president grinding his teeth could be heard throughout the land, or more precisely this -
Awaiting the recommendations of a commission exploring U.S. options in Iraq, the White House on Wednesday emphatically ruled out some proposals to end the long and unpopular war.

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said a suggestion to divide Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions, each with high degrees of autonomy, was a "nonstarter." Similarly, he said a phased withdrawal of American troops - perhaps by 5 percent every two months - also was a "nonstarter."

"You withdraw when you win," Snow said. "Phased withdrawal is a way of saying, 'Regardless of what the conditions are on the ground, we're going to get out of Dodge.'"
So that's that. The "plan" isn't working because the bad guys are just trying to mess up our election and get their friends, the Democrats, elected, and anyone who is suggesting alternative will be shut down - they're fools and cowards, and they know nothing.

So nothing will change. If he Democrats regain control of congress, if the "wise old men" do recommend these things, they all can just go pound sand. It's called resolve - being steadfast. Or you can call it other things. Many words come to mind.

But, bottom line, as they say, is that no one tells Dick Cheney what to do, unless someone does -
A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to release information about who visited Vice President Dick Cheney's office and personal residence, an order that could spark a late election-season debate over lobbyists' White House access.

While researching the access lobbyists and others had on the White House, The Washington Post asked in June for two years of White House visitor logs. The Secret Service refused to process the request, which government attorneys called "a fishing expedition into the most sensitive details of the vice presidency."

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said Wednesday that, by the end of next week, the Secret Service must produce the records or at least identity them and justify why they are being withheld.
Cheney will also tell the court to go pound sand. The "unified executive" argument will save him - the courts and congress cannot tell the executive branch what to do. That's been the operating principle for the last six years. The courts may have told Nixon to turn over those Watergate tapes, but this administration has established that he was foolish to comply - there was no need. This should be interesting.

So nothing will change, and we will keep sending troops into the meat grinder, all but a few -
Thousands of U.S. troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt they are considered security risks, according to an Associated Press review of military records.

The number of troops held back has climbed dramatically in the past few years. And while they appear to represent a very small percentage of all U.S. military personnel, the increase is occurring at a time when the armed forces are stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We cut their benefits and combat pay to teach them responsibility, and some couldn't handle it, it seems. As Cheney is no doubt thinking - "What's wrong with these people?"

Odd - it's all like some sort of bad novel about a banana republic run by characters lifted from a Woody Allen or Marx Brothers movie. It cannot be Kafka - it's too comically absurd for something that middle-European Czech sourpuss to crank out in his Prague garret.

But then the day, Thursday, October 19, wasn't all bad news, as there was this -
Gina Lollobrigida, once dubbed "the most beautiful woman in the world" after the title of one of her movies, is getting married to a man 34 years her junior.

"We wanted for this to happen sooner, but it just wasn't possible," Lollobrigida, 79, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday, without elaborating.

Lollobrigida said she met her husband to be, Javier Rigau y Rafols of Barcelona, Spain, at a party in Monte Carlo and the two have been dating for 22 years.
Even Kafka couldn't come up with something that strange. That's well beyond the tale of the poor fellow who woke up to discover he was a cockroach. Javier Rigau y Rafols will wake up in a far stranger world.

Where we all are these days is in a world far beyond Kafka. Or maybe not.

There's Kafka's short novel The Trial - Josef K. wakes up one morning and, for reasons never revealed at all, is arrested and subjected to all the rigors of a very unsettling judicial process for an unspecified crime. He never finds out what his crime is. This thing has been filmed by Orson Welles, and there's a more recent remake, with the screenplay from Harold Pinter, no less. But as we say out here in Hollywood, who need movies when you have the real thing? (No one out here ever says that, of course)

But it does come down to this -
Once President Bush signed the new law on military tribunals, administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress wasted no time giving Americans a taste of the new order created by this unconstitutional act.

Within hours, Justice Department lawyers notified the federal courts that they no longer had the authority to hear pending lawsuits filed by attorneys on behalf of inmates of the penal camp at Guantánamo Bay. They cited passages in the bill that suspend the fundamental principle of habeas corpus, making Mr. Bush the first president since the Civil War to take that undemocratic step.

Not satisfied with having won the vote, Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, quickly issued a statement accusing Democrats who opposed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 of putting "their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America." He said the Democrats "would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans' lives" and create "new rights for terrorists."

… While the Republicans pretend that this bill will make America safer, let's be clear about its real dangers. It sets up a separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an "illegal enemy combatant." It raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions. It does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.

The law does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents. And it chips away at the foundations of the judicial system in ways that all Americans should find threatening. It further damages the nation's reputation and, by repudiating key protections of the Geneva Conventions, it needlessly increases the danger to any American soldier captured in battle.

In the short run, voters should see through the fog created by the Republican campaign machine. It will be up to the courts to repair the harm this law has done to the Constitution.
That's from the New York Times lead editorial for Thursday, October 19 - but they have it wrong in one detail. Most constitutional law experts read it more carefully - the president now has been given the option to declare any American citizen he decided is an "unlawful enemy combatant" and deny them any opportunity to prove they are not. That may not be a minor detail. Anyone so designated has no right to challenge this status, no right to one of these tribunals to figure out what's up - convening such is only an option if the president so chooses - and can be tried and convicted on evidence they may not be allowed to know, evidence obtained by "coercive techniques" that the rest of the world says is torture but we say isn't quite torture (the president has been given the option to decide on a case by case basis what is and what is not torture). This is Kafka territory.

But it's a little too abstract for most folks. The president is supposed to keep us safe so let him do his job - so the thinking goes. What does it matter?

There are a few voices in the wilderness screaming that this is madness. In the low-ratings wilderness of MSNBC cable news - those hapless souls far behind CNN and way, way behind Fox News - there is the astonishing Keith Olbermann, on fire about such things. But General Electric (GE), the corporation that owns NBC-Universal (and Universal Studios and Telemundo out here), which in turn owns MSNBC, is about to perform a mercy killing and disassemble MSNBC - they aren't making enough money.

But before GE - "We Bring Good Things to Life" - pulls the plug on this particular appliance, Olbermann is make the most of the last days. His midweek commentary (transcript here and video here or here) turned so heads.

Some of what he said -
We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived as people in fear.

And now - our rights and our freedoms in peril - we slowly awaken to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before - and we have been here before, led here by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors.

American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.

We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as "Hyphenated Americans," most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.

American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America.

And we have been here when President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that Executive Order 9066 was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that order to imprison and pauperize 110,000 Americans while his man in charge, General DeWitt, told Congress: "It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen - he is still a Japanese."

American citizens, in American camps, for something they neither wrote nor said nor did, but for the choices they or their ancestors had made about coming to America.

Each of these actions was undertaken for the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

… In times of fright, we have been only human.

We have let Roosevelt's "fear of fear itself" overtake us.

We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, "The wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass."

We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.

… We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.

You, sir, have now befouled that spring.

You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.

You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And - again, Mr. Bush - all of them, wrong.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that "the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values" and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens "unlawful enemy combatants" and ship them somewhere -anywhere - but may now, if he so decides, declare you an "unlawful enemy combatant" and ship you somewhere - anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" - exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

This President now has his blank check.

He lied to get it.

He lied as he received it.

Is there any reason to even hope he has not lied about how he intends to use it nor who he intends to use it against?

"These military commissions will provide a fair trial," you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, "in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them."

"Presumed innocent," Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain "serious mental and physical trauma" in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

"Access to an attorney," Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

"Hearing all the evidence," Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

… Habeas corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be "the beginning of the end of America."

And did it even occur to you once, sir - somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations of the horrors of 9/11 - that with only a little further shift in this world we now know -just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died - did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a "competent tribunal" of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of "unlawful enemy combatant" for - and convene a Military Commission to try - not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And doubtless, Sir, all of them - as always -wrong.
You can click on the links and read it all, the elided detail, but you get the idea. The style may be over the top, but what he's getting at isn't.

Readers react - the high-powered Wall Street Attorney whose photos sometimes appear in these pages, and who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino of Watergate fame -
This doesn't seem over the top to me, nor would it seem over the top to Peter Rodino.

Because there are so few in the media speaking out against Bush, those who do so must do so loudly.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Actually, I don't think Olbermann is really over the top, not in general and not in this piece. I not only totally agree with what he says but also share his anger and apparent frustration that not enough attention is being paid to what this man is doing to the country. (Still, I do wish he'd stop punctuating his sentences with the word "Sir" - it reminds me too much of a state trooper asking to see my license and registration.)

In regards to the frustration mentioned above, it knocked me backwards the other day when I heard on NPR a soundbite from a woman in Missouri who, explaining why she plans on voting Republican this year, said she didn't want to see any terrorist having the same freedoms she has, on account of he wants to kill her just because she's a Christian! It's been paraphrased before but needs to be paraphrased again, that our problem is not just in our leaders, it is mostly in ourselves.

Yeah, I know the problems with this, but every now and then I toy with the idea that some sort of standardized historical literacy test - covering the kind of material found in a course on the founding of the United States and the adoption of its constitution - needs to be passed before a person is allowed to register to vote - and of course, also to run for public office.
Nope, literacy tests and such are illegal. They can be abused, however useful they might be. But it is a thought. And we really did bring this on ourselves.

From Wall Street - "Regarding the use of the word 'Sir' - I hear it differently. I think implied are the two words missing prior to 'Sir' which would be F- You."

From Atlanta - "No, no, that's the way I hear it, too! Although in my mind's eye, it's coming through the window of my car.

From our musician-mason-photographer Phillip Raines -
"Sir" could have been code for simply-idiotic-Republican, but I think it was recognizing the respect of the office. As far as theater goes it was a punctuation device, but Olbermann still rates as a B+ speaker in my humble opinion even though I agree with what he says. The vapors of testosterone hang heavy with this rant, but Bush and his "knuck when you buck" posturing toward the press is more pervasive and low brow. I'll be interested in how Keith is silenced. Maybe by a dirty bomb at a football game.
Nope, it'll be the budget cuts and reorganization that does him in.

And perhaps Olbermann knew his rant would be seen as a bit much. He is a former sportscaster and a bit of an oddball. On the same show he tried to counter that with someone who isn't either - Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, and that interview added the substance behind the angry words - 
OLBERMANN: I want to start by asking you about a specific part of this act that lists one of the definitions of an unlawful enemy combatant as, quote, "a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a combatant status review tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the president or the secretary of defense." Does that not basically mean that if Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld say so, anybody in this country, citizen or not, innocent or not, can end up being an unlawful enemy combatant?

TURLEY: It certainly does. In fact, later on, it says that if you even give material support to an organization that the president deems connected to one of these groups, you too can be an enemy combatant. And the fact that he appoints this tribunal is meaningless. You know, standing behind him at the signing ceremony was his attorney general, who signed a memo that said that you could torture people, that you could do harm to them to the point of organ failure or death. So if he appoints someone like that to be attorney general, you can imagine who he's going be putting on this board.

OLBERMANN: Does this mean that under this law, ultimately the only thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out of Gitmo is the sanity and honesty of the president of the United States?

TURLEY: It does. And it's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president. In fact, Madison said that he created a system essentially to be run by devils, where they could not do harm, because we didn't rely on their good motivations. Now we must. And people have no idea how significant this is. What, really, a time of shame this is for the American system. What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values. It couldn't be more significant. And the strange thing is, we've become sort of constitutional couch potatoes. I mean, the Congress just gave the president despotic powers, and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to, you know, "Dancing with the Stars." I mean, it's otherworldly.

OLBERMANN: Is there one defense against this, the legal challenges against particularly the suspension or elimination of habeas corpus from the equation? And where do they stand, and how likely are they to overturn this action today?

TURLEY: Well, you know what? I think people are fooling themselves if they believe that the courts will once again stop this president from taking over - taking almost absolute power. It basically comes down to a single vote on the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy. And he indicated that if Congress gave the president these types of powers, that he might go along. And so we may have, in this country, some type of über-president, some absolute ruler, and it'll be up to him who gets put away as an enemy combatant, held without trial. It's something that no one thought - certainly I didn't think - was possible in the United States. And I am not too sure how we got to this point. But people clearly don't realize what a fundamental change it is about who we are as a country. What happened today changed us. And I'm not too sure we're going to change back anytime soon.

OLBERMANN: The president reiterated today the United States does not torture. Does this law actually guarantee anything like that?

TURLEY: That's actually when I turned off my TV set, because I couldn't believe it. You know, the United States has engaged in torture. And the whole world community has denounced the views of this administration, its early views that the president could order torture, could cause injury up to organ failure or death. The administration has already established that it has engaged in things like waterboarding, which is not just torture. We prosecuted people after World War II for waterboarding prisoners. We treated it as a war crime. And my God, what a change of fate, where we are now embracing the very thing that we once prosecuted people for. Who are we now? I know who we were then. But when the president said that we don't torture, that was, frankly, when I had to turn off my TV set.



TURLEY: Well, this is going to go down in history as one of our greatest self-inflicted wounds. And I think you can feel the judgment of history. It won't be kind to President Bush. But frankly, I don't think that it will be kind to the rest of us. I think that history will ask, where were you? What did you do when this thing was signed into law? There were people that protested the Japanese concentration camps, there were people that protested these other acts. But we are strangely silent in this national yawn as our rights evaporate.
Turley and Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, seem to agree. We did it to ourselves.

Now what?

Kafka never finished The Trial - it was never meant to be published (the manuscript was rescued after his death by his friend Max Brod and published in 1925). But we have to finish this one. What will it be? What sort of ending will we choose?

This does not appear to be a movie. It's quite real.


Posted by Alan at 23:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006 23:25 PDT home

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