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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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Monday, 27 November 2006
Traps - Human Experience Filtered and Mediated by Human Linguistic Constructions
Topic: Perspective

Traps - Human Experience Filtered and Mediated by Human Linguistic Constructions

To put things in perspective -
General Semantics is an educational discipline created by Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) during the years 1919 to 1933. General Semantics is distinct from semantics, a different subject. The name technically refers to the study of what Korzybski called "semantic reactions," or reactions of the whole human organism in its environment to some event - any event, not just perceiving a human-made symbol - in respect of that event's meaning. However, people most commonly use the name to mean the particular system of semantic reactions that Korzybski called the most useful for human survival.

Advocates of General Semantics view it as a form of mental hygiene that enables practitioners to avoid ideational traps built into natural language and "common sense" assumptions, thereby enabling practitioners to think more clearly and effectively. General Semantics thus shares some concerns with psychology but is not precisely a therapeutic system, being in general more focused on enhancing the abilities of normal individuals than curing pathology.

According to Alfred Korzybski himself, the central goal of General Semantics is to develop in its practitioners what he called "consciousness of abstracting," that is an awareness of the map/territory distinction and of how much of reality is thrown away by the linguistic and other representations we use. General Semantics teaches that it is not sufficient to understand this sporadically and intellectually, but rather that we achieve full sanity only when consciousness of abstracting becomes constant and a matter of reflex.

Many General Semantics practitioners view its techniques as a kind of self-defense kit against manipulative semantic distortions routinely promulgated by advertising, politics, and religion.

Philosophically, General Semantics is a form of applied conceptualism that emphasizes the degree to which human experience is filtered and mediated by contingent features of human sensory organs, the human nervous system, and human linguistic constructions.

The most important premise of General Semantics has been succinctly expressed as "The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined."
Got it? "The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined." We may need a kind of self-defense kit against manipulative semantic distortions routinely promulgated by advertising, politics, and religion. Our experience of the world is determined by human linguistic constructions - they allow us to think about things. Words are the medium of thought. Words matter.

That is why, on Monday, November 27, this mattered - "On the Today Show, NBC announced to the world that the violence in Iraq can now be labeled a civil war Monday morning. NBC assured us that they didn't just come up with that label. It asked many people and held careful deliberations."

Yeah, well, duh. Out here the Los Angeles Times had made the shift a few days earlier. Of course, there's this video and transcript, Dana Priest of the Washington Post saying that newspaper avoids "Civil War" language because what passes for a government in Iraq says there's no such thing going on, and it's their country after all. And our administration over here says there is no such thing going on. Mark Finkelstein here covers the back and forth at NBC - retired General McCaffrey and the White House saying the term is "Nonsense." It is just not a civil war. The White House view - "The violence is primarily centered around Baghdad and Baghdad security and the increased training of Iraqi Security Forces is at the top of the agenda when [Bush and Maliki] meet later this week." So stop this nonsense.

But it is too late. Newsweek editor and columnist Fareed Zakaria is on it -
We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides.

There can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence.

… To speak, as the White House deputy press secretary did last week, of 'terrorists targeting innocents in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government' totally misses the reality of Iraq today. Who are the terrorists and who are the innocents?
Okay does it matter? Edward Wong in the Sunday New York Times thinks it does -
In the United States, the debate over the term rages because many politicians, especially those who support the war, believe there would be domestic political implications to declaring it a civil war. They fear that an acknowledgment by the White House and its allies would be seen as an admission of a failure of President Bush's Iraq policy.

They also worry that the American people might not see a role for American troops in an Iraqi civil war and would more loudly demand a withdrawal.

But in fact, many scholars say the bloodshed here already puts Iraq in the top ranks of the civil wars of the last half-century. The carnage of recent days - beginning with bombings on Thursday in a Shiite district of Baghdad that killed more than 200 people - reinforces their assertion.

… "It's stunning; it should have been called a civil war a long time ago, but now I don't see how people can avoid calling it a civil war," said Nicholas Sambanis, a political scientist at Yale who co-edited "Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis," published by the World Bank in 2005. "The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945."

On Friday, Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, insisted that the Iraq conflict was not civil war, noting that Iraq's top leaders had agreed with that assessment. Last month, Tony Snow, the chief spokesman for President Bush, acknowledged that there were many groups trying to undermine the government, but said that there was no civil war because 'it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader.
Okay, fine. But what about CNN's Michael Ware talking to Kitty Pilgrim on the previous Friday -
Pilgrim: Michael, the Iraqi government and the U.S. military in Baghdad keep saying this is not a civil war. What are you seeing?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, firstly, let me say, perhaps it's easier to deny that this is a civil war, when essentially you live in the most heavily fortified place in the country within the Green Zone, which is true of both the prime minister, the national security adviser for Iraq and, of course, the top U.S. military commanders. However, for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like.

This is what we're talking about. We're talking about Sunni neighborhoods shelling Shi'a neighborhoods, and Shi'a neighborhoods shelling back.

We're having Sunni communities dig fighting positions to protect their streets. We're seeing Sunni extremists plunging car bombs into heavily-populated Shi'a marketplaces. We're seeing institutionalized Shi'a death squads in legitimate police and national police commando uniforms going in, systematically, to Sunni homes in the middle of the night and dragging them out, never to be seen again.

I mean, if this is not civil war, where there is, on average, 40 to 50 tortured, mutilated, executed bodies showing up on the capital streets each morning, where we have thousands of unaccounted for dead bodies mounting up every month, and where the list of those who have simply disappeared for the sake of the fact that they have the wrong name, a name that is either Sunni or Shi'a, so much so that we have people getting dual identity cards, where parents cannot send their children to school, because they have to cross a sectarian line, then, goodness, me, I don't want to see what a civil war looks like either if this isn't one.
Well, as many have pointed out, this may not matter, really, except to the politicians and those who want us to continue whatever it is we're doing in this post-war war (and that may be an accurate but odd semantic construction in and of itself.). Note Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings - Civil War, Or The Failure Of Reconstruction? Who Cares?

But if you're going to think about how to make thing even a bit better, what words rattle around in your brain that could possibly settle into anything like a coherent policy? What are you working with here?

Maybe these folks just skipped the civil war thing and moved a step or two beyond that - to your basic chaos. Iraq looks like a failed state, with a government that is powerless to control its own factions. And there may be no movement to install "something else." Who is fighting for that, really? We have general lawlessness and every man for himself, or every sect, or tribe, or whatever. Christopher Hitchens sees the whole region disintegrating (and that may be the right word) in his Monday item, From Beirut to Baghdad - The Ghastly Predictability of Nihilist Violence.

So, we're fighting Islamic fanatics there so we don't have to fight them here - and all that stuff that looks like a civil war is just background noise. That would lead you to one set of approaches. Or we have a civil war, with two distinct sides - Sunni and Shi'a - and that needs attention. That would lead you to another set of approaches. Or we have unstructured nihilistic violence - internecine war with no clear objectives, or just criminal thuggish crap. That would lead you to yet another set of approaches.

It does seem to be a matter of how you conceptualize it. Words matter.

But out here in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday morning brought an overarching, and arch, solution proposed by Jonathan Chait - Bring Back Saddam Hussein.

What? It seems this was meant to provocative.

Digby at Hullabaloo assumed so - "I assumed he was making a Swiftian modest proposal. I read his piece to be a satirical left hook to the notion that the Baker Commission was going to find some magical solution to the Iraq quagmire and conclude that the only formula that would work would be to put Saddam back in charge."

But the he saw Chait on Chris Matthews "Hardball" explaining that he was engaging in "a little bit of hyperbole but I think there's something to it" and "maybe we should put it back where we found it."

So he was sort of serious? Chait did say "almost everyone with a brain says we shouldn't have gone in the first place" but then admits that he was for the war but on different grounds - because he thought "weapons of mass destruction were the rationale" and "I didn't pay attention to, I confess, I didn't pay much attention to the possibility of a completely failed state. When the Bush administration talked about democracy I thought they were lying the way they lie about everything else that they do."

Well, maybe they were serious.

The there's this -
Matthews reminded him that in 1991 Baker and Powell had warned about the break up of Iraq if the US invaded and admitted that he got tired of hearing about that and now knows they were right. Chait, however, disagrees. He says that the post war was "bungled as badly as you could have, they had no plan, Rumsfeld threatened to fire the next general who said, 'what do we do about Iraq' in the post war. They didn't have enough troops, they broke up the Baathist bureaucracy, they broke up the army, they did it as badly as you couldn't have, so you know, I think what they could have had was a stable, you know ... last vicious dictatorship.

Matthews asked if he would have gone with the INC and Chait responds, "No, no, I thought what they would do all along was keep the Baath Party in place, get rid of Saddam, get rid of his sons..."

Matthews interrupted as he always does and moved on to another point, so perhaps Chait had something else to say, but I have to admit I was astonished by his point of view throughout the exchange. I had thought his op-ed a rather unsubtle piece of satire and it turns out that it was only barely exaggerated version of what he thought should have happened to begin with and what he still thinks should happen now. He's making a real argument.
Maybe he just got caught up in his own words.

Digby notes there was Jonathan Chait, in The National Review in October of 2002 saying this -
When asked about war, they [liberals] typically offer the following propositions: President Bush has cynically timed the debate to bolster Republican chances in the November elections, he has pursued his Iraq policy with an arrogant disregard for the views of Congress and the public, and his rationales for military action have been contradictory and in some cases false. I happen to believe all these criticisms are true (although the first is hard to prove) and that they add more evidence to what is already a damning indictment of the Bush presidency. But these are objections to the way Bush has carried out his Iraq policy rather than to the policy itself. (If Bush were to employ such dishonest tactics on behalf of, say, universal health care, that wouldn't make the policy a bad idea.) Ultimately the central question is: Does war with Iraq promote liberal foreign policy principles? The answer is yes, it does.

Liberals and conservatives share many foreign policy values in common: encouraging democracy and capitalism, responding to direct aggression, and so on. That is why, for instance, both overwhelmingly supported overthrowing the Taliban and hunting down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In the post-cold-war era, though, liberals have centered their thinking around certain ideals with which conservatives do not agree. Writing in these pages in 1999, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer identified three distinctly liberal principles: advancing humanitarian (rather than merely national) interests; observing international law; and acting in concert with international institutions, such as the United Nations. Krauthammer cited these three principles in order to dismiss them. I disagree. Underlying all three is an understanding that American global dominance cannot last unless it is accepted by the rest of the world, and that cannot happen unless it operates on behalf of the broader good and on the basis of principles more elevated than "might makes right."
Back then was back then. Now it may be time for a friendly dictator. Or maybe that was "really" the idea back then.

But we need to get some democratic western values in that region, right?

Digby -
Indeed, it was the official liberal argument in favor of the war. Only realist misanthropes and dirty hippie throwbacks argued that the democratic domino theory was a crock. We were borderline racist and hated America for even suggesting that it might be just a tad unrealistic.

To be sure, Chait based his argument most fully on the WMD threat, but for all his skepticism about Bush's honesty in other areas, it apparently didn't cross his mind that they might lie about that. Neither did it occur to him and all the other liberal hawks that Saddam might have had good reason to exaggerate his arsenal for regional or domestic purposes, something that the thin gruel Powell presented to the UN and the continuous debunking of "proof" (as with the aluminum tubes and the drone planes) should have made thinking people at least consider.

But now we find out that certain liberal hawks (or Chait at least) always had their own "cakewalk" fantasy. The US was going to invade, get rid of the WMD, install our own friendly dictator and then get out. Who knew?

… But it does raise the question: do liberal hawks think that this is still a solution to the problem? Chait indicated that he was exaggerating to get people "thinking." But perhaps his "bring Saddam back" was as serious a piece of advice as his earlier exhortations that liberals should support the war. I would suggest that it has just as much merit.
Ah, but it is a solution. And the words spin on…

Chait was on with Tucker Carlson also -
We've learned that there are worse things than totalitarianism and one of them is unending chaos... My argument is not an entirely cynical argument... One of the things that foments chaos is the expectation of chaos, when people's behavior changes, when they don't see any established order, and one of the few things we'll be able to do, I was sort of supposing, would be the return of Saddam Hussein - he has high name recognition, people know who he is, they know what he's capable of doing and you have, it's still a recent enough that he was in charge of the state, that you still have the Baath army units and the infrastructure to put in place. So I was hypothesizing that this may be the only force capable of actually ruling the country, not that we want that by any means, it was horrendous, but simply that you have order, I mean it might be the best of some very, very, bad alternatives.

Carlson: Best for us. It seems to me the one thing about Saddam, as deranged as he may have been, he did have something to lose, he didn't want to die, and he wasn't a religious nut, he was incredibly brutal. Does that tell us something about what we would need to do in order to secure Iraq. I mean, he killed people with poison gas, Was that something he had to do? Was that required?

Chait: No I don't think so. But look, he's psychotic so you can't assume that anything a psychotic man does is something he rationally had to do. And he would still be psychotic if he was in power. There would be no doubt about it. I mean, it certainly would be better for us - we wouldn't have the Iranian influence and you wouldn't have Iraq becoming a potential terrorist haven, both things that threaten us a great deal, if we had Saddam in power. You would have someone who would brutalize his own population but again you're getting that right now anyway and you might be getting less of it if he returned.

Carlson: Obviously we're not... because there is a civil war, and according to NBC it officially begins today, that kind of implies we ought to pick a side. And in fact pick a strongman to preside over the country in a less brutal way than Saddam did, but in a brutal way nonetheless and keep that place under control? Should we pick a side?

Chait: I don't know. I think I'm probably like you. You read all these proposals about what to do with Iraq and there all people who specializing in the topic and know more about it than I do and probably more than you do and it just doesn't sound that convincing and when they pick apart the other guy's proposal, when they say "here's why we need a strongman and here's why partition won't work" and you say "that makes a lot of sense" and the other person says "here's why we need partition and why the strongman won't work" and that seems right also, so that sort of the mode I'm in. I just don't know what to do. The only time anyone seems convincing is when they say why everything else won't work.
Yep, words are funny that way. Alfred Korzybski knew a thing or two.

And Digby says this is all "chickenshit nonsense" -
This guy makes a living as a pundit. He wrote an extremely provocative article saying that we should re-install Saddam (or some other strongman.) And then he cops out by saying he's confused because the "experts" don't have any easy answers.

This kind of thinking has permeated the establishment from day one. Plenty of people said in advance that the war was a mistake for exactly the reasons that Chait is now so surprised by. Nobody listened to them then and nobody is listening to them now. In fact, they were and are derided and marginalized. Today allegedly liberal pundits are rather seriously discussing the merits of installing friendly dictators now that their fantasies failed to become reality. How ridiculous.
Words can do that. No one agrees on the terms we should use.

At the end of his interview with Chait, Matthews said something like "what's going on with you guys at The New Republic? You're going liberal." Chait said, "We've always been liberal."

Digby - "Mark my words, soon it will be said that when the going got tough the liberals said we should bring back Saddam Hussein. Everybody knows that the left are totalitarians from way back."

It will be a war of words.

And what of that publication, The New Republic? Their new issue is devoted to "What To Do About Iraq" and it seems it all depends on how you frame the problem. There are two pieces, both by political science professors. They are puzzling.

Kevin Drum suggests that they are "diametrically opposed and yet still manage to contain not a single glimmer of intelligent thought between them." As in "James Kurth suggests we obliterate the Sunnis because they've been such bastards, while suggests we obliterate the Sunnis because they've been such bastards, while Josef Joffe suggests we team up with the Sunnis in order to annoy Iran. Neither writer even remotely explains how we're supposed to accomplish either one of these goals."

But seem to have bought the "civil war" construction. That's the thing now. That's "the word" (or words). And it's a matter of which side to choose for which reason.

And George Packer in the same issue seems to use the Hitchens semantic construction - we not dealing with civil war, but something like nihilist violence. And it may be time to think about saving those who stuck by us -
Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups.

... If the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible. In June, a U.S. Embassy cable about the lives of the Iraqi staff was leaked to The Washington Post. Among many disturbing examples of intimidation and fear was this sentence: "In March, a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate." The cable gave no answer. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad does not issue visas.

... We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts. We should be ready for desperate and angry crowds at the gates of the Green Zone and U.S. bases. We should not allow wishful thinking to put off these decisions until it's too late. We should not compound our betrayals of Iraqis who put their hopes in our hands.
So choosing sides in the civil war is moot. It really is beyond that now.

Drum -
On moral grounds, it's hard to conceive of any argument against Packer. The only question is: Is it practical? Can we actually do what he suggests? How would we address the obvious security problems inherent in a relocation program?

The only way to know is for people with experience to study the issue and create a plan. But what are the odds that anyone in the Bush administration will ever allow this to happen?
The odds are nil. Of the three ways to put this into words - we're fighting Islamic fanatics there so we don't have to fight them here and all that stuff that looks like a civil war is just background noise, or we have a civil war, with two distinct sides and the needs attention, or we have unstructured nihilistic violence - the Bush administration will only credit the first semantic construction. You can only think in the words that you allow yourself to use. It's a funny trick, or maybe it isn't so funny.

Posted by Alan at 22:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2006 06:54 PST home

Sunday, 26 November 2006
Gross Amateurism
Topic: For policy wonks...

Gross Amateurism

There's a reason one doesn't go to class reunions. Unless you've out-trumped Donald Trump or have your Oscar, the whole thing can quickly become and exercise in major defensiveness - it's a "king of the hill" thing, or maybe it's like dodgeball. You don't want to get hit with the humiliation ball. It stings. And when it comes your way you can choose to throw it hard at others, if you wish - or you can use the condescending pity ball, and hit Fred, being so sorry about his seventh divorce and the kid in jail and losing his job and all. It's America - we thrive on competition, and on lying about our successes.

Some of course, have no reason to be defensive. Those of us who knew Steve Holmes back in the late sixties at Denison University - a small liberal arts college in the middle of rural Ohio - knew Holmes would do just fine. Rail-thin and hyper-intellectual, he seemed somewhere else already. And now - more power to him - he's actually there.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, just glancing at what Gregory Djerejian had to say at Belgravia Dispatch, Holmes popped up. Now Gregory Djerejian is based in New York City as Senior Vice-President and General Counsel of a financial services company, and helps manage a philanthropic organization which has supported a number of projects in Armenia, and before that was a corporate lawyer, and before that worked, in conjunction with the State Department, on the "train and equip" program for the Bosnian Federation military and with the International Rescue Committee in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996. And before that he had worked at our Mission to the United Nations and with Congress. To top it off, he's fluent in French and conversant in Spanish and Russian, and a member to the Council on Foreign Relations. He's a Holmes kind of guy. (He previously lived in the Belgravia district in London - where all the embassies are, as noted even in the Sherlock Holmes stories - so that explains the name of his site.)

We're not talking minor musings from the back end of Hollywood here. This is the land of the big boys.

Djerejian is impressed with Holmes - not Sherlock, but Stephen - given what Holmes recently published in the London Review of Books, a review of the new Francis Fukuyama book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (the UK title is After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads, Profile, not Yale University Press, and £12.99). The review is titled Neo-Con Futurology, and it provides an analysis of how these guys were just, basically, full of crap (not a term the big boys use).

The idea here is, that when you look at it, the neoconservatives were, and are, absolute amateurs at foreign policy, and dreadfully shallow and silly. Yes, many had that niggling suspicion, but who would or could say that? This was the "serious policy thinking" that would change everything after the attacks of September 11, 2001. We needed to approach things differently - all those dead people, you see - and this was certainly different.

Holmes carefully points out, in this extended excerpt (emphases added), that this was also nonsense -
The neo-con argument goes roughly as follows. The US had to deploy its military might because American national security was (and is) threatened by the lack of democracy in the Arab Middle East. The premise behind this allegation is not the much debated notion that democracies seldom go to war with one another and, therefore, that democratisation makes an important contribution to the pacification of the globe. The neo-con argument is concerned not with relations among potentially warring states, but with class or group dynamics within a single state that may spill over and affect other countries adversely.

The thesis is that democracy is the most effective antidote to the kind of Islamic radicalism that hit the US on 9/11. Its exponents begin with the premise that tyranny cannot tolerate the public expression of social resentment that its abuses naturally produce. To preserve its grip, tyranny must therefore crush even modest stirrings of opposition, repressing dissidents and critics, with unstinting ferocity if need be. In the age of globalisation, however, repressed rebellions do not simply die out. They splash uncontrollably across international borders and have violent repercussions abroad. Middle Eastern rebellions have been so savagely and effectively repressed that rebels have been driven to experiment with an indirect strategy to overthrow local tyrannies and seize power. They have traveled abroad and targeted those they see as the global sponsors of their local autocrats.

On 9/11, this argument implies, the US woke up in the middle of someone else's savage civil war. The World Trade Center was destroyed by foreign insurgents whose original targets lay in the Middle East. The explosive energy behind the attack came from Saudi and Egyptian rebels unable to oust local autocrats and lashing out in anger at those autocrats' global protectors. Thus, the rationale for reaching 'inside states' is not the traditional need to replace hostile or un-cooperative rulers with more compliant successors (of the type Ahmed Chalabi was apparently slated to become), but rather to 'create political conditions that would prevent terrorism'. The political condition most likely to prevent anti-American terrorism from arising, so the neo-cons allege, is democracy.

Their reasoning at this point becomes exasperatingly obscure and confused, but their guiding assumption is clear enough: democratic government channels social frustrations inside the system instead of allowing discontent and anger to fester outside. Autocratic governments in the Arab world have shown themselves capable of retaining power by sheer coercive force, but their counter-revolutionary efforts, under contemporary conditions, have serious 'externalities', especially the export of murderous jihad to the West. America's security challenge is to shut down this export industry. To do so, the US must find a way to democratise the Middle East.

This convoluted and debatable argument played only a marginal role in the administration's decision to invade Iraq. It plays a more substantial role in the current presentation of its 'mission' in Iraq, however. It is also a central focus of Fukuyama's book. So how should we evaluate the idea? Is a democratic deficit in the Middle East the principal cause of anti-Western jihadism? And is democratisation a plausible strategy for preventing the export of political violence?

The first thing to say is that fighting terror by promoting democracy makes little sense as a justification of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Although the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt may indirectly fuel anti-Western jihad, in Iraq it has never done so. In non-democratic countries with which the US is allied (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), anti-regime violence naturally escalates or swerves into anti-American violence. The idea that a lack of democracy in countries overtly hostile to the US (such as Saddam's Iraq or contemporary Iran) will have such an effect is logically implausible and unsupported by historical evidence.

To argue that creating democracy in Iraq will help defeat Islamic terrorism is to bank on a multi-stage process by which democracy, once established in Iraq, will spread to Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc by force of its inspiring example. Only then, after neighbouring dominoes (including governments allied with the US) begin to fall, would the democratisation of Iraq contribute seriously to draining the terrorists' proverbial recruitment pool. Of course, such political revolutions, in the unlikely event that they actually erupted, would be wholly impossible to control or steer. That is reason enough to doubt that Cheney or Rumsfeld, for example, ever took seriously this frivolous bit of neo-con futurology.

The idea of a democratic cure for terrorism assumes that there are two separate causes of anti-American jihad: Middle Eastern autocracy, and unprincipled or opportunistic American backing for it. Anti-American jihad would subside, the theory implies, if either condition could be eliminated. Thus, the neo-con rationale for regime change in the Middle East seemingly justifies something much less radical, and presumably less difficult, than creating stable multiparty democracy in Mesopotamia: the gradual withdrawal of American support from the region's corrupt oligarchies and oppressive autocracies. Putting daylight between the US and abusive Middle Eastern regimes should be enough to insulate America from the violent backlash such tyrannies produce.

Unfortunately, this pathway is blocked. The US cannot simply disengage from a region in which so many of its vital interests, including the steady flow of oil and the tracking down of terrorists, are at stake. Yet the paradox remains. From the impossibility of disengaging and the perils of engaging with autocrats, the neo-cons conclude that American interests require engagement with a democratic Middle East. The logic sounds impeccable at first. But it is based on the unfounded assumption that periodically elected governments in the region will necessarily be stable, moderate and legitimate, not to mention pro-American.

An even more fundamental argument against fighting terrorism by promoting democracy, however, is that no one in the US government has any idea how to promote democracy. Fukuyama accuses the neo-cons of chatting offhandedly about democratisation while failing to study or even leaf through the 'huge academic and practitioner-based literature on democratic transitions'. Their lack of serious attention to the subject had an astonishing justification: 'There was a tendency among promoters of the war to believe that democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators.' Democracy obviously has many social, economic, cultural and psychological preconditions, but those who thought America had a mission to democratise Iraq gave no thought to them, much less to helping create them. For their delicate task of social engineering, the only instrument they thought to bring along was a wrecking ball.

One might have thought that this 'remove the lid and out leaps democracy' approach was too preposterous ever to have been taken seriously. But it is the position that Fukuyama, with some evidence, attributes to neo-cons in and around the administration. They assumed, he writes, that the only necessary precondition for the emergence and consolidation of democracy is the 'amorphous longing for freedom' which President Bush, that penetrating student of human nature, detects in 'every mind and every soul'. Their sociology of democracy boils down to the universal and eternal human desire not to be oppressed. If this were democracy's only precondition, then Iraq would have no trouble making a speedy transition from clan-based savagery and untrammelled despotism to civilised self-restraint and collective self-rule: sceptics who harped on the difficulty of creating a government that would be both coherent and representative in a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and tribally fragmented country, simply failed to appreciate the love of freedom in every human heart.

Neo-cons, Fukuyama implies, seldom do the hard work required to learn about the evolving political and social dynamics of specific societies. Instead, they over-personalise any 'regime' that they dream of destabilising, identifying it with a single reprehensible ruler who can, in principle, be taken out with a single airstrike. But here again they walk into a serious self-contradiction. One of their principal claims is that a bad regime will have long-lasting negative effects on the society it abuses. A cruel autocracy puts down 'social roots' and reshapes 'informal habits'. Thus, 'Saddam Hussein's tyranny bred passivity and fatalism - not to mention vices of cruelty and violence.' It is very likely, in other words, that Saddam unfitted the Iraqi people for democracy, for a time at least. This is a logical implication of the neo-cons' theory of 'regimes', but not one they considered, presumably because it would have knocked the legs from under their idealistic case for war...

... The proposal to pull Mesopotamia into the modern world, he says, is based on a facile optimism reminiscent of 1960s liberalism and publicly rebutted by the original neo-cons. Progressive dreams are bound to be dashed on the hard realities of social habit. One of the fundamental goals of neo-conservatism, in its formative period, was to show that 'efforts to seek social justice' invariably leave societies 'worse off than before'. They were especially 'focused on the corroding effects of welfare on the character of the poor'. All distribution from the rich to the poor and from whites to blacks is inevitably counterproductive. Progressive attempts to reduce poverty and inequality, although well-intentioned, have 'disrupted organic social relations', such as residential segregation, triggering a violent backlash and failing to lift up the downtrodden. According to the neo-cons, it is wiser to concentrate on the symptoms, using police power and incarceration to discourage violent behaviour and protect civilised values.

The neo-cons, according to Fukuyama, never explored the relevance of such warnings to US foreign policy. Proponents of the Iraq war, very much like old-style liberal advocates of welfare, 'sought worthy ends but undermined themselves by failing to recognise the limits of political voluntarism'. Their failure in Iraq was just as predictable as the failure of American liberals to improve the lives of poor American blacks. In short, the plans of today's idealistic hawks for creating Iraqi democracy show how utterly they have betrayed the neo-con legacy. Perhaps the deepest irony is that their enthusiasm for destroying the status quo and overthrowing the powers that be (without giving much thought to how to replace them) recalls the institution-bashing antics of 1960s student radicals more than the counter-revolutionary posture of the founding fathers of neo-conservatism.
So in the end, they come off just like the long-haired smash-everything "down with the establishment" types Holmes probably remembers from the sixties (even though there weren't many of those in central rural Ohio in the winter of 1966). Holmes had no use for them then - there just weren't serious and shouldn't be taken seriously. He doesn't much care for them now.

Sorry for the long quote (and for the British spelling and punctuation), but if this were a class reunion, some of us would give Holmes the floor and cheer him on. In this matter he wins "king of the hill."

Gregory Djerejian adds that he came across this "on a day when Dick Cheney, more or less hat in hand, is in Saudi Arabia looking for any assistance the Kingdom can render to stabilize Iraq and counter Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon (still foolishly without engaging in direct dialogue with them)." He is also not pleased with this "more rubble, less trouble" crowd, those who want to "end all evil." This isn't the sixties. And he adds - "Would that this only constitutes but burlesque farce and cheap entertainment, save that some of these personages still (amazingly) wield not insignificant influence in the Beltway."

No such luck - no cheap comedy here. These guys run the show, for now.

And people listen to them, for some odd reason. They have ideas on how to make the Iraq business all better - fifty thousand more troops and whatnot.

Glenn Greenwald has the final word on that -
Seeking input from the neocons on how to solve the Iraq disaster would be like consulting the serial arsonist who started a deadly, raging fire on how to extinguish it. That actually might make sense if the arsonist were repentant and wanted to help reverse what he unleashed. But if the arsonist were proud of the fire he started and actually wanted to see it rage forever, even more strongly - and, worse, if he were intent on starting whole new fires just like the one destroying everything and everyone in its path-- it would be the height of irrationality for those wanting to extinguish the fire to listen to what he has to say.
Gregory Djerejian - "What he said." Hollywood - "What Holmes said too."

Now back to watching the helicopters outside the window, covering the annual Christmas parade on Hollywood Boulevard. It'll be something to talk about at the next class reunion.

Posted by Alan at 19:52 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 26 November 2006 19:54 PST home

Saturday, 25 November 2006
Thanksgiving is so over...
Topic: Perspective

Thanksgiving is so over…

For your amusement, so be grateful. (More in tomorrow's Just Above Sunset…)

"Persons thankful for little things are certain to be the ones with much to be thankful for." - Frank A. Clark

"Having listened to people for a long time, I believe many of us should be thankful not to be shot." - Leston Havens

"Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed." - Mark Twain

"Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life." - Robert Louis Stevenson

"I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the 'history' I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America's traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it's a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all. - Ellen Orleans

"Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for - annually, not oftener - if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments." - Mark Twain

"I feel a very unusual sensation - if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude." - Benjamin Disraeli

"Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive." - Edward Gibbon

"Gratitude - the meanest and most snivelling attribute in the world." - Dorothy Parker

"Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs. - Joseph Stalin

"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues." [Gratus animus est una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum onmium reliquarum] - Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), Oratio Pro Cnoeo Plancio (XXXIII)

"He is ungrateful who denies that he has received a kindness which has been bestowed upon him; he is ungrateful who conceals it; he is ungrateful who makes no return for it; most ungrateful of all is he who forgets it. [Ingratus est, qui beneficium accepisse se negat, quod accepit: ingratus est, qui dissimulat; ingratus, qui non reddit; ingratissimus omnium, qui oblitus est.] - Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca), De Beneficiis (III, 1)

"In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

"It's a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation." - Roberto Benigni

"When I'm not thanked at all I'm thanked enough." - Henry Fielding

"Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance. - Jose Ortega Gasset

"One of the effects of a safe and civilized life is an immense oversensitiveness which makes all the primary emotions somewhat disgusting. Generosity is as painful as meanness, gratitude as hateful as ingratitude." - George Orwell

"No favor can win gratitude from a cat." - Jean de La Fontaine

Posted by Alan at 15:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Friday, 24 November 2006
The End of Thanksgiving
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The End of Thanksgiving

Here in the states we had our Thanksgiving - everyone ate too much, the kids ran around screaming and laughing on the sugar high after pumpkin pie and this and that, and earlier in the day, as is traditional, the Detroit Lions lost the football game that no one watched (it just seemed to on in the background). Someone might have watched the Macy's parade in Manhattan- it seems it rained.

In Iraq, other things were happening -
So as Thursday began, Sunni Arab guerrillas surrounded and attacked the Ministry of Health, which is dominated by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The guerrillas trapped 2,000 employees in the compound and threatened to kill any who came outside. They also subjected the building to mortar fire. The ministry guards, who are probably Mahdi Army, kept them at bay but lost 7 men doing it. It took US and Iraqi forces 2 hours to respond, and the guerrillas were only finally dispersed by helicopter gunships. The siege probably came in revenge for the Mahdi Army attack on the Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education two weeks ago.

Then US troops searching for a kidnapped US soldier in Sadr City were approached by van traveling at a high speed, which did not slow as they instructed it. They shot up the van, killing 4 civilians and creating some unhappy families in Sadr City; then this incident was overshadowed by several big attacks.

Steven R. Hurst of the Associated Press reported that the death toll in the string of car bombings targeting Sadr City and other Shiite neighborhoods on Thursday has risen to 161, with 257 wounded. Altogether, he says, "Counting those killed in Sadr City, at least 233 people died or were found dead across Iraq on Thursday." Oh, my. Since Iraq is 11 times smaller in population than the US, that would be like the deaths of 2,563 Americans. On September 11, on the order of 2,783 Americans were killed, and several hundred of other nationalities.

Armed Shiites came into the streets amid the charred and bloody corpses, says al-Hayat, cursing Sunni Muslims and firing their automatic weapons in the air in frustration and rage. They were taking mortar fire. The footage from Sadr City on Aljazeera looked like the seventh level of hell, with vehicles burning, the air thick with smoke, and mortar shells and small arms fire boiling in the background.

KarbalaNews.net reports in Arabic that after the car bombs were detonated in Sadr City, the Sunni Arab guerrillas set up checkpoints and attacked ambulances and rescue crews, stopping further ambulances from getting through. The Sunni Arab guerrillas also surrounded hospitals near to Sadr City and prevented cars bearing the wounded from getting through, firing on them.

The Iraqi government imposed a curfew on Baghdad and closed the Baghdad and Basra airports, cutting the country off from the outside worlds. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Basra ports were also closed "until further notice."
This has the smell of the end of the noble ideal - tossing out an awful government and introducing a new way of life, a western-style secular liberal democracy with an unregulated free-market economy where entrepreneurs would thrive and everyone would get along, and get rich. It wasn't a bad idea, but like everyone in the world learning Esperanto or everyone in American having a flying car to get around, it wasn't workable. Those who pointed that out were ridiculed, and still are ridiculed - that's just thinking small and not having the courage to try the impossible. Now these faint-hearted folks aren't saying "I told you so" as much as they are just depressed. Those in charge of everything are still thinking big.

But when the Shiite Ministry of Health is under siege in response to the hundreds blown to bits earlier at the Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education, something is wrong. Imagine the National Institute of Health with its quiet grounds in Bethesda being surrounded and shot up by armed forces angry that someone blew up the Federal Department of Education downtown. Add both sides blocking ambulances to the hospitals of the "other side" - and firing on the paramedics as they slip on body parts trying to find someone relatively intact to save. Washington is a nasty place with some bad neighborhoods and a sadly high crime rate, but it's not like this. Still it's not civil war there - or so we're told.

And no one watches the news on Thanksgiving Day. The administration can be thankful for that. And the Christmas shopping season kicked off the next day - Black Friday. Some stores opened at midnight, others at dawn, the every route everywhere was jammed by the middle of the morning - another day when the news was not on anyone's mind.

Black Friday of course will edge any number of low-margin business just into the black for the year. That's how it got its name. The day can keep you in business, or sink you. It's important.

Black Friday in Iraq seemed to mean something else - "Revenge-seeking militiamen seized six Sunnis as they left Friday prayers and burned them alive with kerosene in a savage new twist to the brutality shaking the Iraqi capital a day after suspected Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in Baghdad's main Shiite district." It should be noted the six Sunni worshippers were doused with kerosene and burned alive "as Iraqi soldiers stood by." There are Iraqi soldiers of this sort and of that sort. These were the wrong sort of the unlucky six - they were Shiite or Kurd guys. They saw no reason to stop this.

What to make of it all? Don Surber argues here that the Democrats big win in the midterm elections here in the states is the real reason for the new chaos in Iraq. They saw we're not serious about bringing peace to Iraq - we tossed out the stern Republicans and elected the wimp Democrats - so they cut loose. This would have never happened if Americans voted the other way. They'd know better. They'd be good, as they'd understand getting out of line would get them slapped down by the young American guys in the sunglasses and body armor. Now they know we're not serious. That's what's really going on.

One wonders if they really care who was elected in Idaho. You can file that under "interesting theory - not provable either way." On the right it's no doubt moving into "conventional wisdom."

The real mystery, of course, is whether Vice President Cheney visited Baghdad on Thanksgiving. No one knows. If he did, perhaps the visit didn't go well. We'll never know.

And the air was full of hindsight and worry. Over in the UK, Boris Johnson, an MP for Henley, seems to have stirred awake - "No quantity of troops could have prevented this catastrophe; and the dreadful thing is that I think Saddam knew it."

So now he decides this? Well, yes -
It was the moment I should have twigged. It was the moment I should have realised that I had voted for the biggest British military fiasco since the Second World War. I was wandering around Baghdad, about 10 days after Iraq had been "liberated", and it seemed to me that the place was not entirely without hope.

OK, so the gunfire popped round every corner like popcorn on a stove, and civil society had broken down so badly that the looters were taking the very copper from the electricity cables in the streets. But I was able to stroll without a flak jacket and eat shoarma and chips in the restaurants.

With no protection except for Isaac, my interpreter, I went to the Iraqi foreign ministry, and found the place deserted. The windows were broken, and every piece of computer equipment had been looted. As I was staring at the fire-blackened walls a Humvee came through the gates. A pair of large GIs got out and asked me my business. I explained that I was representing the people of South Oxfordshire and Her Majesty's Daily Telegraph.

That didn't cut much ice. Then I noticed a figure begin to unpack his giraffe-like limbs from the shady interior of the Humvee. He was one of those quiet Americans that you sometimes meet in odd places.

He was grizzled and in his mid-50s and with a lantern jaw, and unlike every other US soldier I'd met he had neither his name nor his blood group stitched on his person. I grasped at once that this quiet American was no soldier. He had that Brahmin air, a bit Ivy League, a touch of JK Galbraith. Yes, folks, he was some kind of spook.

I remember how he walked slowly towards the shattered foreign ministry building, stroking his chin. Then he walked back towards us, and posed a remarkable question. "Have you, uh, seen anyone here?" he asked.

Nope, we said. All quiet here, we said. Quiet as the grave.

"Uhuh," he said, and started to get back in the Humvee. And then I blurted my own question: "But who are you?" I asked. "Oh, let's just say I work for the US government," he sighed. "I was just wondering if anyone was going to show up for work," he said. "That's all."

And that, of course, was the beginning of the disaster. Nobody came to work that day, or the next, or the one after that, because we failed to understand what our intervention would do to Iraqi society. We failed to anticipate that in taking out Saddam, we would also remove government and order and authority from Iraq.
Oh, that.

As he says, it is now commonplace for people like him, who supported the war, to say that we "did the right thing" but that it had mysteriously "turned out wrong." Now he sees this is "intellectually vacuous." (He's British, after all.) And more troops won't help. What are they supposed to do?

Of course one thing they need there is doctors, but they're all leaving, and according to one doctor, the "hospitals look more like barns" - so what's the point?

Richard Clarke makes the case that "It's time to admit it's over."

That's pretty clear -
Americans tend to think we can achieve almost any goal if we just expend more resources and try a bit harder. That spirit has built the greatest nation in history, but it may be dooming Iraq.

As the head of the British army recently noted, the very presence of large numbers of foreign combat troops is the source of much of the violence and instability. Our efforts, then, are merely postponing the day when Iraqis find their way to something approaching normalcy. Only withdrawal offers a realistic path forward.
And he knocks down the arguments for staying, like the "sink cost" one - we must honor the American dead by staying until we can build something worthy of their sacrifice. It doesn't work in business, and it doesn't work in Vegas - "what is gone is gone, and what is left we should conserve, cherish and employ wisely." But it does feel bad.

But if we leave now there'd be chaos. Here's it's "not so fast" -
The flaw lies not in the concept that chaos will happen, but rather in thinking that chaos would only happen if we withdraw in the near-term. Chaos will almost certainly follow any U.S. withdrawal, whether in 2008 or 2012.

Even granting that chaos after a 2008 pullout may be worse than what would follow a 2012 withdrawal, is the difference between those two levels of disaster worth the cost? This cost comes in American dead and wounded, Iraqi dead and wounded, billions of dollars in military expenditures, the continued damage to U.S. influence in the world, and the further strengthening of radical Islamist terrorists everywhere.
How did that old Fram oil filter commercial go? "You can pay me now or you can pay me later." You're going to pay.

But al-Qaeda will be emboldened by our departure, and we cannot have that. Yeah, but "Al-Qaeda is already sufficiently emboldened." What's the difference? And that's followed by a draw-down plan you can follow at the link. It's what many have suggested.

None of it matters -
President Bush insists on staying in Iraq, and it is easy to understand why. In "The March of Folly" (Ballantine, 1985), Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deus ex machine or to eventually shift the blame.
But everyone knows who's to blame, and it's not the newly elected Democrats. And this is a real war in Iraq, not some Greek tragedy where a flimsy contraption is lowered form the ceiling and an actor aboard speaks in his god-voice and makes everything all better. That's not what's coming down.

As for what is coming down, note this exchange between Matthews on "Hardball" and retired Major General John Batiste -
Matthews: This proposal for beginning a withdrawal within 4 to 6 months, what would that be in terms of policy? Would that make any difference to anything or is that just a political move?

Batiste: I think it's a political move. Chris, I think we're fighting a protracted war against the jihadists, and these people mean business. They have as a stated objective the destruction of our way of life. We got off to a terrible start in Iraq, a strategy that was fundamentally flawed, that opened up Pandora's box, that unleashed hell, and now we've got to get this thing under control quickly.

Matthews: Are we fighting jihadists in Iraq?

Batiste: Exactly.

Matthews: Are we?

Batiste: This is important, Chris. This group, this movement is after us, big time. We need to stop this.

Matthews: We have the Shi'a militia, we have the Sunni insurgents, and we have al Qaeda terrorists in that country. Which group is associated, or is part of this jihad?

Batiste: Clearly the al Qaeda, that foreign influence in Iraq, that has as their stated objective the destruction of our way of life, and my point is, we need to take this very, very seriously. To simply leave Iraq, to set timelines without conditions, set us up to fail big time in the future.

Matthews: The troops we have over there, 140,000 of them, what percent of our troops, what chunk of them are fighting jihadists, and what percent are fighting militias on the side of the government we're putting in there, and what percent are fighting Sunnis who are upset because they're losing out on the loss of power since Saddam fell?

Batiste: To the troops on the ground, it really doesn't matter; they're all the same.
Ah, it's the General Sherman thing. Kill them all and let God sort it out.

Matthews does press it - "Well, help us. What should we do in Iraq? Who should we be shooting at and fighting at, and who should we be defending? What side should we be on in Iraq? Tell us what's going on over there. What should we be doing?"

But he doesn't get much of an answer, other than this is serious, and we need funding - maybe a war tax. The Army and the Marine Corps need resources.

Matthews - "I think you'd be more successful with that argument, General, if you would tell me who we're fighting in Iraq right now, and why should we be fighting them, and who should we be fighting for in Iraq?"

He doesn't really get an answer, other than we need to fight on. It's important.

And then it gets interesting -
Matthews: General, the problem from my perspective, watching this, and you're the expert, the military man, we're reporting on numbers every day, coming out of Iraq, something like 3,700 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis, the Shi'a militia going after Sunni, the Sunni insurgents going after Shi'a - they're killing each other. If that's the case, that Muslim is killing Muslim, how can you describe it as some jihad against the West?

Batiste: That's exactly what it is. Chris, inside Iraq, we're fighting a multi-faceted enemy, but make no mistake about it: we're fighting the jihadists. What do you think the attack on 9/11 was?

Matthews: Wait a minute, let's talk about Iraq. The Iraqis are killing each other, General, every day, over 120 a day on average this month, 3,700 Iraqis being killed each month, by Iraqis; how can you define that as an anti-Western war?

Batiste: It's all part of it, and it's exactly why we need -

Matthews: How so? Just explain how an Iraqi killing another Iraqi is an attack on the West.

Batiste: It's a mix of multi-faceted enemies that are coming at us, and part of it is a civil war - no question about it - but it's why we need a new, dramatic strategy on the ground in Iraq now, to solve this problem.

Matthews: Who are we going to be shooting? Who do we shoot?

Batiste: It's why we need leadership that can explain all this to the American people. We need to stand up —

Matthews: Stand up against whom?

Batiste: It doesn't matter.
It doesn't? This is very curious. You don't deal with a problem by breaking it down, looking at all the parts, and seeing what you're dealing with? You just stand firm? It's a good thing the general is doing talk shows in his retirement, and didn't open an auto repair shop.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Alexander Cockburn argues we're not really controlling event in Iraq -
Imagine a steer in the stockyards hollering to his fellows, "We need a phased withdrawal from the slaughterhouse, starting in four to six months. The timetable should not be overly rigid. But there should be no more equivocation." Back and forth among the steers the debate meanders on. Some say, "To withdraw now" would be to "display weakness". Others talk about a carrot and stick approach. Then the men come out with electric prods and shock them up the chute.

The way you end a slaughter is by no longer feeding it. Every general, either American or British, with the guts to speak honestly over the past couple of years has said the same thing: the foreign occupation of Iraq by American and British troops is feeding the violence.

Iraq is not on the "edge of civil war". It is in the midst of it. There is no Iraqi government. There are Sunni militias and Shi'a militias inflicting savagery on each other in the awful spiral of reprisal killings familiar from Northern Ireland and Lebanon in the 1970s. Iraq has become Chechnya, headed into that abyss from the day the US invaded in 2003. It's been a steep price to inflict on the Iraqi people for the pleasure of seeing Saddam Hussein die abruptly at the end of a rope.

If the US is scheduled for any role, beyond swift withdrawal, it certainly won't be as "honest broker", lecturing fractious sectarians on how to behave properly, like Teacher in some schoolhouse on the prairie. It was always been in the US interest to curb the possibility of the Shi'a controlling much of Iraq, including most of the oil. By one miscalculation after another, precisely that specter is fast becoming a reality. For months outgoing ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to improve the Sunni position, and it is clear enough that in its covert operations the US has been in touch with the Sunni resistance.

If some Sunni substitute for Saddam stepped up to the plate the US would welcome him and propel him into power, but it is too late for such a course. As Henry Kissinger said earlier this week, the war is lost. This is the man who - if we are to believe Bob Woodward's latest narrative - has been advising Bush and Cheney that there could be no more Vietnams, that the war in Iraq could not be lost without humiliating consequences for America's status as the number # 1 bully on the block. When Kissinger says a war is lost, you can reckon that it is.
So basically America is not controlling events in Iraq. If the Shia choose to cut supply lines from Kuwait up to the northern part of the country, the US forces would be in deep, deep trouble. The problem is that there is a precedent.

What to do? Dave Lindorff argues that the first thing Democrats should do in January is to rescind the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that was nothing but trouble -
The first thing Democrats need to do when they walk into the Senate and House chambers this January is to vote out a joint resolution repealing the September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was the authorization for the U.S. attack Al Qaeda forces and the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

That AUMF has been used, wholly inappropriately and wantonly, by President Bush as the justification for his assault on the US Constitution, for his willful violation of laws domestic and international, and for his unconstitutional usurpation of legislative and judicial power.

The president has claimed that the AUMF, far from simply being an authorization to go to war against Afghanistan and against the Al Qaeda organization there, was an open-ended authorization for him to initiate an unending "War on Terror," which he has subsequently claimed has no boundaries, and will be fought around the globe and within the U.S.

Bush has further claimed, without a shred of Constitutional authority, that this AUMF makes him commander in chief in that never-ending global conflict, and that as commander in chief, he is not bound by either law or Constitution. It is this spurious and sweeping claim of dictatorial power that the president has used to justify his signing statements, which he has used to render inoperative in whole or in part some 850 or more acts passed by Congress since 9-11. It is this same claim that the president has used to justify his deliberate violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - a felony and violation of the Fourth Amendment.

It is likewise this AUMF that he has used to justify his authorization of torture, kidnapping and detention without charge, his refusal to answer legitimate requests for information from Congress and the 9-11 commission, and his ignoring of direct orders from the federal courts.

All of these actions by the president are manifestly unconstitutional, and cry out for his impeachment. (The Constitution clearly defines and limits the president's commander in chief role to simply making him the senior officer of the military, not a generalissimo. Furthermore, as Barbara Olshanski and I explain in our book "The Case for Impeachment," the AUMF never gave Bush any authority at all to conduct war inside the U.S. (In fact, Tom Daschle, who as a Democratic Senator from South Dakota was the Senate Majority Leader at the time the AUMF was passed, specifically denied a last-minute request from the White House to have the words "in the United States" inserted into the wording of the resolution authorization.)
Yeah, yeah - no one is impeaching anyone. But it is over -
Afghanistan is no longer a war. The U.S. is simply contributing military assets to a NATO action in that country at the request of the elected government in Kabul. Such an action requires no AUMF. Meanwhile, the prevention of terror is clearly an intelligence and police issue, not a war.

It too does not require an AUMF.

A simple majority vote of House and Senate would put the U.S. Constitution back in place, and would restore the balance of power between executive, legislative and judicial branches.
That's a thought. And GlobalSecurity.org's John Pike thinks the Bush administration will use the AUMF to bomb Iran before the end of 2007. (See the first interview in Part 2, here). But he said that in Canada, so that may be wrong. Still, better safe than sorry. It can be rescinded. It won't be, of course. We'll be told we'll all die if the "tool" is taken away. Sigh.

But all the news got buried in the Thanksgiving holiday. Somewhere in there, that Russian spy died, the one who was digging up dirt Russian President Vladimir Putin - "The bastards got me." Putin condemned the fellow's deathbed statement as a "provocation." If Ann Coulter suggested that the same should happen to Justice Stevens, as she once hoped, it didn't make the news. Everyone was eating turkey then shopping, and Lebanon fell apart after the assassination of the anti-Syrian minister Pierre Gemayel. Too much news is too much news.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006 22:38 PST home

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

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