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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Thursday, 23 November 2006
Thanksgiving
Topic: Photos

Thanksgiving

No entry today - off to Thanksgiving with the family.


Posted by Alan at 08:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006 08:06 PST home

Wednesday, 22 November 2006
Stuck in Holiday Traffic
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Stuck in Holiday Traffic

Wednesday, November 22 - the day before Thanksgiving - and everyone was on the road. It was a day to stay home - just south of the airport (LAX) a truck full of nasty chemicals overturned and they closed the southbound 405, so if you thought about heading down past Long Beach into Orange County or even down to San Diego, you had to think about some other way to get there. Nothing was moving and there were those guys in the HAZMAT suits - just another disaster on the world's busiest freeway, just by the giant airport, as the largest crowd of the year was trying to get somewhere else. Wait… it seems the 101 freeway just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley is, officially, the world's business freeway. It's hard to keep it straight. They all look alike when its three hours after midnight and the six lanes each way are at a dead stop and twenty thousand cars are idling quietly. And disaster is a disaster. They happen all the time.

And traffic disasters are minor stuff. You'll get there eventually, wherever "there" happens to be. It's the rest of life that's the problem.

Ronald Reagan, of all people, got it right back in 1982 - "If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly."

And that's where we are these days.

Some of it is minor, as in this story from central New York, an evangelical student burns down an Episcopalian church. They had their theology wrong -
Cleveland said Lussier confessed to robbing the Christ Church and setting fire to both houses of worship. He also allegedly admitted to sending threatening letters to three churches in his hometown. He was charged with two felony counts of third-degree burglary and a count of third-degree arson, a felony.

"He didn't think they were following the Bible the way they thought they should," Cleveland said. "He holds to the principle, but he said he went about it in the wrong way."
Well, before he torched the buildings he did gather all the Bibles, bagged them carefully, and made sure they didn't go up in flames. Burning those would be wrong, of course. No word on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. This should make for an interesting case when the fellow comes to trial. His defense - he had to stop a pernicious misreading of what Jesus really meant - will sound a lot like what is said these days in Iraq. Sarasota is hardly Baghdad, but the idea is the same. There the mosques get blown up - and people too - because the other side just didn't get their theology straight. Of course it's more than that - the history of who had been on top and did nasty things plays a part, as does family and tribe. But it's not that much different.

The scale is different. There things are far more grim -
The number of Iraqi civilians killed in sectarian violence last month has reached a new high of more than 3,700, a report for the United Nations said today. Despite the Iraqi Government's commitment to address human rights abuses, the influence of armed militia is growing, and torture continues to be rampant in the country, the report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said.

The civilian death toll for October was 3,709 - the highest to date - according to the UN figures. The report also said that more than two million have fled their homes since the US invasion to escape the rising sectarian violence. "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different parts of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing," the report said. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms."
And we are under this self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts - things are not getting better, and we are not bring peace and democracy and other goodies to these folks. Those who can leave are getting out, fast. Those who stay keep a low profile and hope for the best, as friend and family die left and right.

But we will fix things. But Andrew Sullivan suggests we probably can't -
Tragically, the "government" we have instituted cannot meaningfully represent all Iraqis, because the sectarian divisions, deeply exacerbated by the anarchy of the last three years, have become too deep. The government forces themselves - police and military - are increasingly indistinguishable from sectarian militia forces. The Maliki faction is indistinguishable from the Sadr militia. We do not even know at this point which Iraqi faction is capable of delivering order, or where. Which Shiites have actual control of the streets in the South? Which Sunnis can deliver stability in Anbar? Torture and murder have become endemic. We can retrain as many Iraq soldiers and policemen as we want, but it's no use if we are merely training them to be more skillful in a civil war. That's our fundamental dilemma.

We have only one lever over Iran and Syria - and it is - paradoxically - the chaos we have unleashed. Those regimes do not want to see Iraq completely disintegrate. So a policy of drawing down troops, redeploying to Kurdistan, and waiting to see who emerges from the hideous process of ethnic cleansing and civil war is just about the only option we have left. Iran and Syria will have to ensure that a regional conflagration doesn't tear their entire neighbor apart. That is both a blessing for them - how profoundly they would have loathed a democratic Iraq - but also a curse. It means that both neighbors have to worry about instability spreading from outside to within. This is the silver lining of the Iraq failure. And it is a very slim one.
Did Reagan say something about folly?

If self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly, wasn't it just last month that the president said that he was "trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better" in Iraq. It was matter of framing things - a PR problem. Now it's these 3,709 dead folks. Framing that in a way that says thing are getting better is a bit of a challenge.

Tim Grieve gives it a go -
That's the highest number of civilian casualties in any month of the war so far, and it's a staggering number when you consider that Iraq's population is less than one-tenth that of the United States'. If the death toll were equalized for population, it would be as if more than 42,000 U.S. civilians had been killed in the war last month.

An Iraqi government spokesman told the Associated Press that the U.N. number was "inaccurate and exaggerated" because "it is not based on official government reports." Pressed to explain what an "official government report" would show, the spokesman said that one is "not available yet, but it will be published later."

If the president still needs a matrix or a metric or whatever, perhaps he could spend Thanksgiving simply reading the list of ways that Iraqis are dying in his war now. "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing," the U.N. report says. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms." Sectarian violence is the primary killer, but the AP says Iraqis "also continue to be the victims of terrorist acts, roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, cross fire between rival gangs or between police and insurgents, kidnappings, military operations, crime and police abuse."

One more metric for the president: In a poll taken in September, 61 percent of Iraqis said they support attacks on U.S. troops. Seventy-one percent want U.S. forces out of their country within a year, and more than half of those want them gone within the next six months.
Could we say they're just a little grumpy, and they'll get over it? That may not fly.

The same day gave us this - "A car bomb exploded inside the government Green Zone on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to kill Iraq's controversial speaker of parliament …"

The Green Zone in Baghdad, behind the walls, where the government works and we have our top folks, is the safest place there. Oops. This is a first. And it's ominous.

And this will take some careful framing - "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) - More than 140 bodies have been found dumped across Baghdad over the past three days, police said Wednesday. Police said 52 bullet-riddled bodies were found Wednesday, with 20 of them blindfolded, tied up and possibly tortured."

That may be a record. And this is not like being stuck on the LA freeways. Wherever we thought we were going, we're not going to get to that particular there. Maybe there will be a miracle change in something that fixes everything, but that seems unlikely. As the most popular way of putting things goes these days, you can look for that pretty pony, but there's no pony hidden deep in that steaming pile of horseshit.

And the attempt to keep that hope for a pretty pony alive gets harder all the time, as Associated Press reports in this item. The president does hear these sorts of things - his audiences are carefully vetted - but his father was in quite friendly Abu Dhabi, where he feels quite at home, giving a plesant speech on his family's accomplishments, when a woman rose from the audience to say this - "We do not respect your son. We do not respect what he's doing all over the world."

If the AP is to be believed, the president's father seemed "stunned" when the audience, full of young business leaders, "whooped and whistled in approval."

His voice was "quivering." He gave this reply - "This son is not going to back away. He's not going to change his view because some poll says this or some poll says that, or some heartfelt comments from the lady who feels deeply in her heart about something. You can't be president of the United States and conduct yourself if you're going to cut and run. This is going to work out in Iraq. I understand the anxiety. It's not easy."

Something is up. He wouldn't say he would handle the situation in Iraq differently than his son had. That was a trap, but he gave a hint - "I have strong opinions on a lot of these things. But the reason I can't voice them is, if I did what you ask me to do - tell you what advice I give my son - that would then be flashed all over the world ... If it happened to deviate one iota, one little inch, from what the president's doing or thinks he ought to be doing, it would be terrible. It'd bring great anxiety not only to him but to his supporters."

What did Reagan say about self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts? Well, silence will have to do. That's a subset of folly that's a bit less dangerous. He has apparently not told his boy the he won't be getting a pretty pony this holiday season. And he won't be telling his son that the reason why. What can you do? You stick by your kids. But forget about the pony.

We are, at least, training the Iraqi Military, and that will make things all better. As they stand up we stand down, and all that. But then there's this from the Pentagon reporter at the Washington Post, Thomas Ricks (the fellow who wrote Fiasco, and didn't call it Folly) -
Some advisers reported being personally targeted by infiltrators. "We had insurgents that we detected and arrested in the battalion that were planning an operation against me and my team," Allen said.

But Iraqi officers may have had even more to fear, because their families were also vulnerable. "I went through seven battalion commanders in eight weeks," Allen noted. Dixon reported that in Samarra both his battalion commander and intelligence officer deserted just before a major operation.

Iraqis also had some complaints about their U.S. advisers, most notably that junior U.S. officers who had never seen combat were counseling senior Iraqi officers who had fought in several wars. "Numerous teams have lieutenants … to fill the role of advisor to an Iraqi colonel counterpart," the Lessons Learned report stated.

Farrell, the officer in east Baghdad, said some advisers were literally "phoning in" their work. Some would not leave the forward operating base "more than one or two days out of the week - instead they would just call the Iraqis on cellphones," he said.

Dixon was grim about the experience. "Would I want to go back and do it again?" he asked. His unambiguous answer: "No."
Yeah, but we were told things were going great with all this training, as here. That was one year ago. Someone was being optimistic, or self-delusional. Take your pick.

Perhaps one should listen to the officers involved -
Bing West, a former Marine officer who runs a government-consulting firm and who has been to Iraq numerous times captured the situation thusly:

"140,000 American soldiers, 3,000 advisors. My goodness gracious, less than two percent. If you're serious about building up the Iraqi forces there's something wrong with that equation. I think just coming back from Iraq that really throughout our ranks you sense they know that. They get it. So almost independent of the Congress and the executive branch, the military is most likely going to move in a major way - reducing the overall forces but really building up the advisors. Why? If you go to any Iraqi battalion or any police unit, the first thing the advisors there tell you is they can't stand without us. They're not ready yet and probably will not be for several more years. So if you hear one chorus from over there, it's to embed more Americans with the Iraqis – then you don't need as many Americans."

Jay Garner, the retired Army general who was the American viceroy in Iraq until he was shoved out by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, was also on the panel. Garner gave the problem some scale by offering a guesstimate on how many Iraqi units still need significant advising and training.

"What we have right now is a 100-plus certified Iraqi battalions - about 110, I think," Garner said. "I'm not sure what certified means but it does not mean that they're capable of operating by themselves. A few of them are maybe somewhere between five and ten." Each Iraqi battalion has between 400 and 600 men.
Ah, just about all of the Iraqi forces being called certified can't operate effectively without being "robustly advised" in Garner's opinion. No pony there.

And Christy Harden Smith reports listening to Thomas Hammes, the retired Marine colonel who wrote "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century," during a recent National Public Radio interview saying we need sixty US advisors with each battalion instead of the current ten, and they would need to be non-commissioned officers and be maintained for "a very long period of time." This would mean an additional ten to twenty thousand troops being sent to Iraq.

No pony there. And she points to Frank James in the Chicago Tribune with this -
Not only does the U.S. military not have enough service members devoted to advising and training, but as Ricks's piece indicates, many of the people we've assigned to advise Iraqi forces don't have the right skills or experience to do the job.

All the experts I've listened to recently expect the Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman, to recommend that the U.S. ramp up its advisory and training activities. That is a key part of any responsible exit strategy.

But as Ricks's story and other evidence indicates, the U.S. is frighteningly far from where it needs to be if we are, in good conscience, to move our forces from Iraq and leave behind an indigenous military adequate to the task of dealing with the insurgency and sectarian violence.
Ah, but there is self-delusion. It'll work out. On the others hand, good numbers of Iraqis are seeking asylum in Scandinavian nations. Finland is fine. You can get used to all the herring.

Smith's assessment -
Someone is going to need to sit down with the Shrub soon and have a talk. Because the rose-colored glasses schtick isn't working with anyone whose brain has half a working synapse, and it is getting worse by the hour in Iraq. And it is worth asking, over and over again until someone gets a straight answer, where the President got the idea that the Vietnam War was winnable with just a few more bombs? Because if that is the perspective that he and his advisors bring to the table in any consideration on Iraq, then we are going long and then some… until some time after 2008, at the very least.

This is a mess of George Bush's making, of his choosing, of his pushing. The accountability for this failure is at his feet.

The neocons bear a lot of responsibility for pushing their agenda and failed "flowers and candy" idiocy along - they are not even remotely blameless in this no matter how quickly Richard Perle tries to scuttle away from the bright lights and back into whatever lair he resides in the off-political-seasons. And Adelman and his ilk sure don't get a pass either.

But Iraq and its endless ripples of violence and hatred and cultural and secular division… this will all be laid at George Bush's feet as his legacy, his Presidency, his monumental hubris and failure.

It is past time for accountability.
Yep, "If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly." The man should listen to his hero.

Geez, out here we're only stuck in traffic.

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006 21:44 PST home

Tuesday, 21 November 2006
In Time of War - Visiting Gandhi
Topic: Photos

In Time of War - Visiting Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, CaliforniaRather than an entry on politics and the war, a visit to the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, and the "wall-less temple" erected in his honor. The memorial is a thousand-year-old stone sarcophagus from China, in which a portion of Gandhi's ashes are encased in a brass and silver coffer.

This is at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California, just up the hill from Pacific Coast Highway, at the edge of Malibu. It was established by Paramahansa Yogananda and opened on August 20, 1950 - a ten-acre site, with gardens and natural spring-fed lake, with swans, ducks, koi, and lotus flowers everywhere.

Gandhi's ashes had been sent to Yogananda by an old friend, Dr. V.M. Nawle, a publisher and journalist from Poona, India, who understood the bond between Yogananda and Gandhi. Following the dedication of the memorial, Dr. Nawle wrote - "Regarding Gandhi ashes, I may say that they are scattered and thrown in almost all the important rivers and seas, and nothing is given outside India except the remains which I have sent to you after a great ordeal .... You are the only one in the whole world who received Gandhi ashes outside India."

So here they are.

As we all know - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was a major political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer of Satyagraha - resistance through mass civil disobedience strongly founded upon ahimsa (non-violence). Gandhi is commonly known and spoken of worldwide as Mahatma Gandhi (Hindi - Mahatma - Great Soul) and is sometimes called Bapu (in Gujarati, Father). Gandhi first tried out civil disobedience in the Indian struggle for civil rights in South Africa. When he returned to India, he helped lead poor farmers and laborers to protest oppressive taxation and widespread discrimination. Leading the Indian National Congress, Gandhi worked for the alleviation of poverty, the liberation of women, brotherhood, for the end to "untouchability" and caste discrimination and for the economic self-sufficiency of that nation. Also, Gandhi's work focused upon the goal of Swaraj - self-rule for India. Gandhi famously led Indians in the disobedience of the salt tax through the 400 kilometer (248 miles) Dandi March, and in an open call for the British to Quit India in 1942. That goal, freedom, came at a heavy cost - tens of thousands died in all of his movements as they clashed with the British.

Gandhi remained committed to non-violence even in the most extreme situations. Gandhi was a student of Hindu philosophy and lived simply, organizing an ashram that was self-sufficient in its needs. He made his own clothes and lived on a simple vegetarian diet. He used rigorous fasts for self-purification as well as a means of protest. All this was mainly done to raise the status of India's depressed classes and draw them into the freedom struggle. Gandhi is considered the "Father of the Nation in India." His birthday on October 2nd is celebrated each year with Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday.

Gandhi's teachings have inspired civil rights leaders - Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. And he said things like this -

  • What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy? - "Non-Violence in Peace and War"
  • Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission. Forgiveness is higher still. Vengeance too is weakness. The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm, imaginary or real. A dog barks and bites when he fears. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it too troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him. The sun does not wreak vengeance upon little children who throw dust at him. They only harm themselves in the act.
  • What kind of victory is it when someone is left defeated?

It was worth a visit.

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, 17190 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, California


Posted by Alan at 22:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006 22:14 PST home

Monday, 20 November 2006
What Now?
Topic: Iraq

What Now?

Monday, November 20, the week opened with no one much having any idea what we should do about the situation in Iraq - more troops in massive numbers should be sent, from Senator McCain, and Kristol and Kagan on the neoconservative side, and the rising young Democratic star, Senator Obama, saying it might be wise to manage a rapid but careful drawdown. The three coronals assigned to figure this out at the Pentagon had come up with three options - Go Big (pour in the troops, as many as needed to stabilize things), Go Long (reduce the numbers dramatically but stay for a decade or more training the Iraqis), or Go Home. There was the variation - Go Big then Go Long (a quick bump then a quick reduction and then a decades long training effort) - but we were to avoid "moonwalking out of there" (as in the tricky backward "I'm outta here" dance Michael Jackson used to do back when anyone cared what he did). The idea there is the last thing we want the Iraqis and the world to think is we're just being clever and disguising our bugging out. That whole business is explained here - the Washington Post's Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks got the inside story. The president, on his way back to Washington from a dicey day in Jakarta, said he is waiting for the full report. He hadn't decided what he will choose to do.

And too, he's waiting for the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to recommend something, and his own study group he set up to counter what they might come up with, as what the first group might recommend is "off the table" - partitioning Iraq to keep the angry sides apart, talking with Iran and Syria on stabilizing the region (we don't talk to "evil" people). At least the Pentagon fellows put thing is really simple terms, so he won't get all grumpy when faced with details.

But then Iran and Syria the same say just upstaged us all, as reported here -
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has invited the leaders of Iraq and Syria to a summit in Tehran this weekend to discuss ways of ending the sectarian violence in Iraq, upstaging the US and underlining the growing influence of Iran.

Washington is still casting around with increasing desperation for an honourable [sic] exit strategy from Iraq, a strategy some say should include bringing Iran and Syria into the negotiating process.

Apparently, Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, has already agreed to the meeting, and Syrian leader Bashar Assad is expected to follow suit. News of the summit came after surprise talks in Baghdad between the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and Walid Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister and the highest ranking official from Damascus to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The White House is not happy. This is our problem to fix. Who are these people, and what's this about Iraq and Syria now reestablishing diplomatic relations? Who do they think they are?

The day also brought the neoconservatives in despair about the whole situation. Three of them - Kenneth Adelman, Michael Rubin and David Frum - appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and discussed how it all went sour. Check out the video or the transcript or this analysis.

It hardly matters now. Key neoconservatives may now be distraught, but Cheney is still in the White House, carrying on. He's calling the shots.

Better attend to two retired Army generals, Barry McCaffrey and William Odom, on where matters stand now, as the past is, well, the past.

McCaffrey quoted in the Army Times -

"The country is not at war. The United States armed forces and the CIA are at war. So we are asking our military to sustain a level of effort that we have not resourced," he told Army Times.

"That's how to break the Army is to keep it deployed above the rate at which it can be sustained," he said. "There's no free lunch here. The Army and the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command are too small and badly resourced to carry out this national security strategy."
He says we need to bring home five brigades from Iraq before Christmas to keep the Army from "breaking" - and a redeployment strategy is just not feasible.

Odem says this -
Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq, creating democracy there, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, making Israel more secure, not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain, and others.

But reality no longer can be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.
But the president said in Vietnam, that he now sees the light - the Vietnam War taught us that we will win if we don't quit. That was an amazing assertion, as we sort of did quit there, and no dominos fell, no hoards of communist marines landed in San Diego and fought their way to Yuma, and now Vietnam is the potential "economic tiger" over there. Well, to be fair - he did kind of skip that war.

But the idea was we lose all credibility if we quit - we will be seen as what they used to call in those days "a paper tiger." Perhaps it's something else in the Middle East.

Josh Marshall tries to work out what this all means -
… a few comments on the president's new obsession with the Vietnam War (sort of a sign of how bleak things have gotten in Iraq, on so many levels. Think about it: at this point, it's the president who's arguing that Iraq is another Vietnam).

The argument about the need to maintain "credibility" when deciding whether to withdraw from an ill-fated engagement is not one that, I think, can be dismissed out of hand. But those who wield this argument ignore another argument that is at least as important. If everyone really is watching, what do our actions tell other countries about how rational our national decision-making is about the use of our own power?

To be more concrete, showing other countries that we're willing to bleed ourselves dry because we don't have the common sense to cut our losses doesn't necessarily serve us well at all. Quite the contrary.

Also, and this is another point that I don't think gets raised often enough, a great power has the luxury to make various course corrections without its international standing or "credibility" collapsing in upon itself. In fact, those who don't get this seem to be concealing a profound pessimism about the United States' collective national strength. The Bush crowd (and of course Kissinger in his long-standing and twisted way) sees America's position in the world as exquisitely brittle, liable to being destroyed entirely by what happens in Baghdad or what sort of "mettle" we display in Iraq. (A similar mindset about the "demonstration effect" of whacking Saddam is, in a sense, what got us into this mess in the first place. But let's leave that to another post. )
Then there are the comparisons -
To use a crass but I think not totally inapt analogy, say Rupert Murdoch invests a lot of money in a big business deal in South America. And it just doesn't pan out. Which inspires more or less future confidence in Murdoch's reputation as an international media mogul: a willingness to keep pouring money into the failed venture basically forever, or pulling up stakes once it's clear the deal isn't working and moving on to more profitable ventures? Again, a crass analogy given the cost in lives and treasure we're talking about in Iraq. But I think the analogy and its implications are solid. Denial and moral and intellectual cowardice do nothing for ones "credibility."
And as for Vietnam -
Isn't this trip a really odd venue for the president to be arguing that staying the course basically forever is the only acceptable solution? Though it took a tragically long time, the US, for all the moonwalking, eventually decided to pull up stakes in Vietnam. And what was the result? One might make arguments that the Soviets and Soviet proxies were temporarily emboldened in Africa or Latin America, though I think that's debatable. But what of the real effects? The Soviet Union was dismantling itself within little more than a decade of our pull-out. And now we have a Vietnam that is politically repressive at home but proto-capitalist in its economy and, by any measure, incredibly eager for good relations with the United States.

If geo-political standing and international repercussions are really the issue we're discussing, it seems very hard to argue that our decision to pull out of Vietnam had any lasting or meaningful ill-effects. And there's at least a decent argument to the contrary.

And yet here we have President Bush, stepping on to Vietnamese soil to further our rapprochement with Vietnam, and arguing, in so many words, that the lesson of Vietnam is that we should still be there blowing the place up thirty years later.

We're really deep into the primitive brainstem phase of our long national nightmare of presidential denial and mendacity on Iraq. Poetically, politically and intellectually it's appropriate that Henry Kissinger is now along for the ride.
Yep, it's just like old times. It's just not working - but we are told it will. Almost forty years ago we were told there was a light at the end of the tunnel. They had to retire that old saw. Now we're told if we don't fight them there we'll surely fight them here. And the metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel a working free-market liberal democracy in Iraq where everyone gets along. We're told it could happen. They just don't mention any tunnel and any light these days - but it's the same thing.

But what are our options? Suzanne Nossel provides a comprehensive list that covers just about every one. And she suggests reasons why each has little if any chance of succeeding. It's rather sobering, but the standout is this -
9. If we don't begin a planned exit, there's a good chance we'll find ourselves in an unplanned one - It's surprising that by now we haven't experienced the Iraqi equivalent of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the dragging of a corpse of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu a decade later. But it seems likely that that day will come.
Well, that is possible. Is it likely? Who knows?

But Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly says things really could get worse -
Conventional wisdom tacitly assumes that the worst that can happen in Iraq is a continuation of the current low-level civil war, resulting in the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives and dozens of U.S. soldiers each month. But as bad as that is, it's worth keeping in mind that the American occupation has actually made the Iraqi situation worse every single year since it began, and will probably continue to make things worse as long as we're there. And the worse the violence, the worse the Iraqi theocracy that eventually takes root in its wake is likely to be.

But that's not all. The dynamics of violence are nonlinear in the extreme, and the odds of an Archduke Ferdinand moment continue to rise inexorably as our occupation continues to make things ever worse and ever more unstable. A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?

All of these developments may be individually unlikely, but you're not trying hard enough if you can't dream up plausible scenarios leading to each one of them. Pundits and policymakers alike should keep this in mind when they're mentally totting up the costs and benefits of staying in Iraq and concluding that we might as well try a Last Big Push because, heck, it can't do any harm to try. In fact, it can. The longer we stay in Iraq, the worse things are likely to get.
So how about a cynical interpretation of that from Richard Einhorn, as in -
"A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?"

Possibly.

Or suddenly tomorrow, the scales could fall from al-Sadr's eyes, and from Maliki's, and from everyone else's, and they would realize that after the horror of the Saddam years, it is simply crazy to fight amongst themselves for control of such a potentially wealthy country like Iraq when there are plenty of petro-dollars (or petro-euros) for everyone.

Or maybe tomorrow Osama bin Laden will get on TV and say, "Mein Gott, what a schmuck I've been. After deep study of Torah, and after discovering the joys of matzo ball soup, I've decided to convert and become a Lubavitcher. As for my ex-friend Ayman al-Zawahiri, the heretic! He's renounced all religious belief and become Richard Dawkins personal physician and valet."

Hey! Y'never know.

Let me put this another way, to make the point clear. I'll ask, and answer, a rhetorical question or two.

Are any of Kevin's scenarios even remotely plausible?

Yes, mathematically, they are. They could conceivably happen.

Are the scenarios I proposed even remotely plausible?

Yes, mathematically, they are. They could conceivably happen.

Are they of equal plausibility?

No, of course not. Kevin's scenarios are far more likely than mine.

What is the approximate probability of one of Kevin's scenarios happening? Of mine?

Roughly 10% to 65% for Kevin. As for mine, roughly .000000000000000001% to .00000000000001%.

Using everyday language, how would you best summarize these probabilities?

It's somewhat possible, to likely, that one of Kevin's scenarios may actually turn out to be an accurate prediction.
So why did no one think of these possibilities three or four years ago? Or more importantly, as many probably did, why were the possibilities dismissed and those who raised them marginalized, or let go, or quit in frustration? Why did we think "the power of positive thinking" was anything less than a silly catch phrase to motivate salesmen? Positive self-delusion can be useful if you're cold-calling, trying to sell timeshares is Tucson. It keeps you working the phones, even with all the hang-ups. As the basis for the foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the world, it's deadly. But here we are, a government of Willie Lomans - "personality always wins the day."

But we will, it seems, send more troops, in spite of the possibilities.

Michael O'Hare wonders about that -
It's not clear, I have to note, what these extra divisions will actually do: is there something to attack with arms? A strong point to seize and occupy? A fortress to invest? Maybe it makes sense, and maybe Truman and MacArthur, or Lincoln and Grant, or Bismarck and Von Moltke, could pull this trick off. But we have Rumsfeld to thank for the insight that you go to war, or make your big push, with the administration you have, not the one you wish you had. I think an enterprise like "straightening out Iraq with one short commitment of lots more troops" is completely beyond the competence of the people who will run it, from the president down at least several levels into Rumsfeld's defense department, and maybe into the star ranks that remain after his housecleaning of generals who said what was true. ... My call is that this is a very bad bet.
But then, Iraq and Syria and Iran may work it all out themselves, without our help. It may not be what we like, but there was what happened in Vietnam, and things finally did work out for the best.

Heck, the same day as all this Rupert Murdoch pulled the plug - his Harper Collins folks will not publish the book and his Fox television network will not air the special. OJ Simpson will not be explaining how he murdered his wife and her friend, if he did it (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The affiliates wouldn't show the special, and the book was a big mistake. Cut your losses. Move on. Murdoch should call the White House.  He has the answer.

Posted by Alan at 21:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006 18:22 PST home

Sunday, 19 November 2006
Drumbeats in Los Angeles
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Drumbeats in Los Angeles
Last week, in The Issue of Bullies, there was a link to an item by Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy. That was his post-election letter To My Fellow Neoconservatives. The American people may be fed up with wars of choice to change the world based on innovative and never tested theories - that we have the demonstratively best form of government (secular free-market democracy) and there is an inner-American in everyone in the world just waiting to emerge if encouraged, by our superior military force, and obviously eager to shop at Wal-Mart and buy a Chevy Malibu or whatever - but even though the results of the election were clear, all is not lost. We may have botched the war to make Iraq a prosperous but sandy Iowa, where no one is killing each other over questions regarding the Prophet Mohammed's son Ali, where entrepreneurs come up with amazing start-ups and the government recognizes and rather likes Israel and all the rest - but the theory cannot be wrong. The fall of the Soviet Union proved we have the only system that really works. It's just so obvious.

It was a "buck up the troops" pep talk - full of advice on how to carry on the work of their hero, Rumsfeld, even though he's gone now, how to get Senator Lieberman to run for president in 2008 to carry forward the effort to remake the world in our image by force, and much more. But the centerpiece was what Muravchik said really needed to be done, something that had to be done to show the world the theory - that we are morally compelled to use our overwhelming military advantage over everyone else to remake the world - was, is and always will be is quite right. What must be done? We must bomb Iran to stop their nuclear research - and that would mean also taking out their command structure, and communications, and roads and bridges and anything else that would allow them to start up the program ever again.

It would be the right thing to do. And the world, eventually - after the chaos and massacre of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in reprisal, and the massive terrorist attacks all across America with tens of thousand dead - would thank us.

Muravchik sees the PR problem - "The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as MoveOn.org. We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes."

Muravchik keeps his word, and does start to pave the way. Sunday, November 19, in a major op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, he offers this -
Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat; a show of force is the only answer. WE MUST bomb Iran. It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.
We have no choice, he says. And the caps are his. We cannot live in a world where the crazy folk in Iran have a bomb. And the consequences of using nukes on their underground faculties, and making it impossible for anyone there to even leave their home for a few years, no matter what those consequences are, may not be that bad - people might just thank us and nothing bad will happen at all. Heck, you never know. The Iranians could rise up and overthrow their silly government. It could happen.

Muravchik is a true believer, you see. He may seem whacky. When you abandon yourself to some idealistic theory, saying prudence and common sense are stupidly limiting, you propose all sorts of things that make others scratch their heads, or laugh, or offer Prozac - or vote for the Democrat on the ticket.

No doubt he, and that crew, would wholeheartedly agree with what William Blake, the visionary British poet and artist said back in the late 1790's - "Prudence is an ugly old maid, courted by incapacity." That's from The Proverbs of Heaven and Hell, and Blake doesn't say into which category that one falls.

Muravchik being crazy on a Sunday morning is easy to dismiss. And that day in Los Angeles was too nice to worry about such things - bright sun, blindingly clear, and a record high for the date (well over ninety in the valleys). The football was good - the Steelers actually won and the Colts actually lost. But then, while watering the plants on the balcony, what was that on the television - Seymour Hersh on CNN saying odd things? Yes, it was the same business (video and a link to the transcript here) - he was pimping his latest New Yorker article.

That article is The Next Act, released on the net before it hits the newsstands. He has his sources. It seems there is a new CIA report - Iran doesn't have much of nuclear weapons program, if it has one at all. They're decades away from having "the bomb." They may never get there. And Hersh's sources tell him that this report has made the vice president - who is the one who makes decisions about what we do by way of wars of choice - very, very, very angry. He's said they're wrong - he has his own sources, exiles who have talked to the Israelis, and one source Israel has on the inside. It's the old "the CIA knows nothing" routine. He gets his information directly - as they say, it's "stovepiped" in. And this means war.

If you watch the video, CNN's Wolf Blitzer tried to get Hersh to qualify this all - it cannot be the same thing again, a mirror of the Iraq business where Cheney's Office of Special Plans developed their own intelligence using Chalabi's exile group for "the real truth" that the CIA and intelligence services in Germany and France, and Hans Blix and his people on the ground, said wasn't the real truth at all. They must have learned something - once burned you don't make the same mistake again. Iraq had no nuclear program, and they had no weapons of mass destruction. Surely they'd be more careful now. Hersh said, based on his sources, the answer was a resounding "nope."

What about the elections? Wouldn't the vote - pretty much against elective wars based on truths only the "true believers" can see, that turn out to be self-serving planted information or "anythings" blurted our under torture in foreign prisons - mitigate against going down that road again?

Hersh's first paragraph covers that -
A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting "shorteners" on the wire - that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put "shorteners" on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.
The problem they'd deal with was future legislation to prohibit the White House from financing "operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government."

No Borland Amendments -
In late 1982, Edward P. Boland, a Democratic representative, introduced the first in a series of "Boland amendments,: which limited the Reagan Administration's ability to support the Contras, who were working to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. The Boland restrictions led White House officials to orchestrate illegal fund-raising activities for the Contras, including the sale of American weapons, via Israel, to Iran. The result was the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-eighties. Cheney's story, according to the source, was his way of saying that, whatever a Democratic Congress might do next year to limit the President's authority, the Administration would find a way to work around it. (In response to a request for comment, the Vice-President's office said that it had no record of the discussion.)
But why is Cheney and not Bush the center here? Hersh notes that in late October, Cheney told Time Magazine, "I know what the President thinks," about Iraq. "I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory." And Cheney is "equally clear" that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran. They won't get the bomb.

In any event, various folks in the administration - the attorney general for instance - have stated quite explicitly that they believe Congress has already provided full authorization to the executive to wage its "war on terror" in any way the White House deems "necessary" - and on any front, anywhere, until "war on terror" is over, and they'll say when it is over. This of course would include an attack on Iran. - or on Portugal if they felt like it. That's how they read things.

And diplomacy is out. And don't think the new guy, Gates, in Rumsfeld's slot, will tamp things down -
"Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there" - in the White House - "and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell - the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."

Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld's resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President's father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn't fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. "A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?" the former senior intelligence official said. "Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move - 'You're right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we're looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.'" But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran's weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, "He's not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he'll be taken seriously by Congress."
So Gates is there to sell the implausible. They knew no one would trust Rumsfeld now. Gates is the new sales rep. Maybe the sources here are misquoted.

But the whole thing comes down to showing the world that no one messes with us, and Iraq and Iran are both in the mix -
[M]any in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. "It's a classic case of 'failure forward,'" a Pentagon consultant said. "They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq - like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state."

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, "the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran's nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb - and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq."
Ah, it would be an object lesson, or as Arthur Silber suggests, it's the Michael Ledeen Doctrine -
[H]ere is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
Maybe we do - but the price can be high.

As for the CIA report on the facts on the matter -
A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the CIA analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House's dismissal of the CIA findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. "They're not looking for a smoking gun," the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. "They're looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission."
It doesn't seem to matter if anyone else is uncomfortable. Here we go again.

Posted by Alan at 21:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 November 2006 21:51 PST home

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