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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
There's News And Then There's News
Topic: Couldn't be so...

There's News And Then There's News

By the end the day, Tuesday, February 28th, it was clear there was no more to be said about the deal to allow Dubai Ports World (sounds like a cheesy theme park), a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, to take over the operations at six major US ports. Everyone had said everything. The president made his statement, there were hearings where the administration said there was no problem with this deal, and many of our representatives did that impressive posturing that maybe there was a problem. Positions hardened. Positions changed - Senate leader Frist did a complete turnaround and said after private meetings with the White House he now thought this was just fine).

It was all over the news shows and the web. Dubai Ports World had agreed to a forty-five day period for further review of all security issues, after the low-level functionaries had blown that off and not passed the word up to the White House. The deal closes Thursday - Dubai Ports World takes over the company they bought, P&O - but actual operations are on hold. The details are reviewed here - "Bush Administration Insists Dubai Ports Deal Low Risk" (AFP) - the senior folks say so. And there's this - "Bush Still Backs Dubai Ports Deal" (Reuters) - the president says he'd never approve this if it put any of us in any danger, you can trust him. (The news shows ran endless clips of him saying that, leaning forward in his chair, all loose and informally candid, and kind of humorously surprised that anyone would think anything else - which was, one assumes, an attempt to show us we all should relax and think about the Oscars or college basketball or what's for lunch or whatever.)

This is a done deal. He won the election. He can do what he wants. As he said, he has his mandate and his political capital. The previous day's CBS poll - a record low thirty-four percent approval rating and a "favorability rating" of twenty-nine percent - doesn't matter. As he has famously said, there was only one "accountability moment" - the election.

And who knows what's going on here? This deal has seventy percent of Americans opposed, and fifty-eight percent of the Republicans polled. "Because I said so" looks stupid and seems, even to key members of his own party, condescending. Why do this? And if it's such a good deal, why not sell it?

Some say he got blindsided because no one told him about it until after it was approved and hit the press. And in that case in spite of his body language he's just ticked off that anyone is questioning this, which seems to be his fall-back position when things go sour. You want me to explain why something that seems boneheaded isn't? Screw you.

But if he really wants this to happen, why does he want this? Why doesn't he explain?

In a vacuum like that you get all sorts of speculation. Joseph, over at Martini Republic, found this, a fellow thinks hard, goes to a lot of sources, and the light dawns -
But then I saw that Dubai is also spelled Dubayy and I had a revelation. I rushed to confirm my suspicions with an Arabic man who runs the local grocery store near me (on whom I am keeping a watchful eye for any suspicious activity) and he confirmed what I discovered. The Arabic spelling of Dubai (right) is exactly the same as the Arabic spelling for "Dubya." Suddenly, I understood why Bush wanted "Dubai" to control our ports and make the terrorists believe that they were actually under the control of a friendly Arabic government. At that moment, I got down on my knees and said, "Mr. President, how could I have ever doubted you?"
That may be it. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Of course the news of the day was Anna Nicole Smith's day in court, in the Supreme Court. Reuters covers the story here, but you should really see what a lawyer has to say and read Dahlia Lithwick here. (And for the Just Above Sunset close-ups of Anna Nicole Smith at the West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade click here, here and here.)

What's this? A twenty-six-year-old stripper and former Playboy Playmate of the Year marries an eighty-nine-year-old Texas oil-baron husband and he dies fourteen months later. She gets his money? There's a will. No, the family objects and produces other documents, with three forged pages, and they go to court. The Texas probate court finds against her, a California circuit court finds for her, and appeals court finds against her, and it goes up to the top. Who has jurisdiction? The dispute is actually about the boundaries between state and federal courts, and the Bush administration sent over someone from the Solicitor General's office to argue on her side - the federal courts tromp the state courts. Is there a zone outside ordinary federal court jurisdiction known as the "probate exception." Whatever. Dahlia Lithwick was there and gives, pardon the expression, a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings.

This was the news of the day? It's hot stuff if you're a probate lawyer. It's great material for the late night comics. But it's juicy tabloid escapist crap for the masses who find the "hard news" to hard to consider. All this political stuff and the war, and the whole world in turmoil, just makes you head hurt.

And sometimes you do want to escape. As Nicole gathered her wits (that might be singular, actually) after her day in front of the old men in robes (insert your own joke here), the president made his own escape. As Reuters puts it Bush Heads To Asia, Leaving Domestic Troubles Behind.

Ah, a little break. Not really.

Associated Press here -
Demonstrators in India shouted "Death to America!" and burned effigies of President Bush on Tuesday, demanding that he be barred from visiting the country this week.

... About 1,000 Muslims demonstrated in Bombay, some waving placards reading "Devil Bush Go Back," with caricatures of Bush as a cross between Superman and Satan - dressed in the superhero's red-and-blue costume with devil's horns and clutching a missile.

"Bush is terrorist No. 1, and it is an insult to Indian Muslims that he is coming to India as a guest of the government," said Mohammed Saeed Noori of the Bombay-based Muslim organization Raza Academy. "Bush first destroyed Afghanistan, then Iraq. He should be stopped from entering India."
Someone should have told him that of the billion people there, mostly Hindu, they do have the world's second-largest population of Muslims. And the communists - key allies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government - plan a protest Thursday at India's Parliament in New Delhi. You do recall India was chummy with the Soviets during the Cold War. And both groups are unhappy we want to report their "longtime ally" Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency over the allegations Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. They buy the line that Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

So much for a little escape from all the heat.

And Fred Kaplan here explains the diplomatic problems, and the pattern that got us in a mess - we don't think ahead.

He says "the pattern is hair-raising."

In Iraq we "crashed the gates with no plan for what to do after the country crumbled."

In North Korea, we called off nuclear talks and waited for the regime there to collapse and that short, strange man to just go away, "with no plan for how to stop his weapons program if he managed to stay at the helm." He's still there. And they seem to have the weapons.

In the Palestinian territories, we pushed for elections with no plan for how to react "if the wrong side won." The wrong side won.

Same deal in India.

It began last July, when Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement pledging to "transform" their two countries' relations - for many decades hostile, even now ambivalent - into a "global partnership." This was a shrewd geopolitical maneuver. A grand alliance with India - the world's largest democracy, one of the fastest-growing economies, a natural partner in the war on terrorism, a vast market already oriented toward American goods and services, a counterweight against the prospect of an emergent China -would serve U.S. interests in every way and help regain our standing on a continent where our influence has waned.

But there was a catch, or at least a knot that would have to be untangled. What India wanted out of this deal, above all else, was access to materials for nuclear energy. India faces staggering energy demands over the coming decade, yet it lacks the resources to meet them. The Nonproliferation Treaty obliges the existing nuclear-armed powers - including the United States - to supply such resources to the treaty's signatories, under specific terms of inspection, as a reward for forgoing nuclear weaponry. However, India already has an arsenal of A-bombs, and it never signed the NPT.

Bush and Singh dealt with this dilemma last summer by simply ignoring it. India, their joint statement declared, would be treated "as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology" and should therefore be allowed to "acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states."

In other words, India would receive the same rewards as countries that had signed the NPT - without actually having to sign it and thus to put up with its restraints. (America's reward would be that India buys the nuclear materials, as well as a lot of other products, from U.S. companies.) The deal violates the NPT - and a treaty governing the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, an organization of 44 nations that sets rules on importing and exporting nuclear materials.
But as signatory to the treaty we have no authority to grant such an exemption on our own - "This point is not a legal nicety. If the United States can cut a separate deal with India, what is to prevent China or Russia from doing the same with Pakistan or Iran? If India demands special treatment on the grounds that it's a stable democracy, what is to keep Japan, Brazil, or Germany from picking up on the precedent?"

And this violates not just international agreements but our own laws regulating the export of nuclear materials. But then, what laws should a president follow? The UN Security Council, the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, and Congress get blown off here -
Not just as a legal principle but also as a practical consideration, these actors must be notified, cajoled, mollified, or otherwise bargained with if the deal has a chance of coming to life.

The amazing thing is, President Bush just went ahead and made the pledge, without so much as the pretense of consultation - as if all these actors, with their prerogatives over treaties and laws (to say nothing of their concerns for very real dilemmas), didn't exist.
Well, that's the kind of guy he is. Of course, Bush and his team realized something had to done to make this seem somewhat okay, if not playing by the rules - he wanted India to let the IAEA inspect all seventeen of India's "currently unmonitored civilian reactors." The Indian government told him to stuff it - maybe four get inspectors, if he's a good boy. Otherwise? No "global partnership."

So much for escaping your problems. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

There's a reason the president gets to bed every night by 9:30 and gets at least eight hours of sleep, and exercises four hours each day, seven days a week, and goes down to the ranch to cut brush every chance he can. These are avoidance behaviors. This isn't Yale. You can't blow off classes and get your gentleman's C's because your famous father George and his famous father Prescott are renowned alumni. Sometimes you have to go to India and get an earful. And you have to deal with people who don't automatically respect you, and who don't give you a pass no matter what you do. Hiding makes sense, particularly since Rove and Cheney have their own issues and aren't much help these days. One suspect he didn't expect a world where it's not enough to be famous and Texan. These folks don't watch John Wayne movies. They watch those epics from Bombay's Bollywood.

Of course there does seem to be a problem with these "I" countries, like Iran. AFP reports here and Reuters here on the talks they're having with the Russians as the president wings his way to India. Iran is building nuclear weapons. We say they must not. We say it loudly, and often. But if we, or Israel, take out the scattered facilities with airstrikes, there will be hell to pay - regional war. So, bad idea. We could invade and occupy, as we did in Iraq, but we don't have the resources. So maybe the Russians will save our butt and reach that agreement that they supply Iraq with fuel for reactors for electric power, so the Iranians aren't enriching uranium themselves and diverting the byproducts for a tad of plutonium here and there. But that's not going well. Iran wants lots of concession for that. And we are not in the game. And we have no other options that make sense. Texas bluster and glad-handing is not an option. Damn.

And that other "I" country?

As the president wings his way to India things seemed to get worse in Iraq. Tuesday was bad, and that term was coming up again - Civil War Looms With 68 Killed in Baghdad. Yep, Associated Press is openly using the words "civil war."

No, no. Just before the flight out, this (Reuters) - "President George W. Bush, hit by polls showing America's support for the Iraq war at an all-time low, denied on Tuesday Iraq was sliding into civil war, despite the worst sectarian strife since a U.S. invasion."

It's just a rough patch. The Iraqis must choose between "chaos and unity" - so that's what we're seeing. It's just a "choice point" and such things happen. And of course they'll choose the right thing. (Yeah, like the voters in Palestine.)

They have really chosen yet? Maybe.

But while the president's staff was packing for India, and while he was getting his briefings on customs and food and whatever, there were those senate hearing. The chief of US military intelligence, Army Lieutenant General Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and John Negroponte, the civilian director of national intelligence, were asked just what's up. Neither was admitting "civil war," preferring to say the situation was "very tenuous."


Senator Lieberman (Connecticut, nominally Democrat but says we must never ever question the president in such dangerous times) asked that if this sectarian conflict, a civil war if you like, escalates, could other nations get involved. It seems he had in mind Iran pouring in troops and irregulars to back the Shiite government and the Saudis pouring in troops and irregulars to back the Sunni opposition. That would make it a regional religious war.

Negroponte said, well, that could happen. One never knows.

Interesting. That's not what George is thinking.

Does he follow things like this? These two groups diverged after the death of Mohammed in the seventh century. One side chose Abu Bakr, Mohammed's companion and adviser, to succeed him, and the other thought it should be Mohammed's son-in-law, Ali (married to Mohammed's daughter Fatima). Shiites say Ali and his two sons, Hassan and Hussein, are the first of the twelve imams, or holy leaders of Islam. Sunnis don't accept the imams.

They're calling each other heretics and godless apostates and killing each other over this.

Of course the two administration guys said we're not taking sides. Like we care whether it was Abu Bakr or Ali? Not our business.

But we're also not protecting key religious sites, as each side blows up the holy places of the other side, and that's curious. As the occupiers we are supposed to assure basic services and security - international law, treaties we've signed, custom, common sense. But that's too dangerous, politically, and we don't have the manpower anyway.

Watching bit of the hearings on television was surreal. What are we doing? We're out getting the bad guys. We're too busy for that other stuff. These folks are on their own. What are we supposed to do? We got rid of Saddam Hussein. What more do you want?

If, as Kaplan puts it, In Iraq we "crashed the gates with no plan for what to do after the country crumbled," then this shows it.

What's happening now?

Shiites Told: Leave Home Or Be Killed
Sunnis Force Evictions As Iraq Tensions Grow
Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post
Wednesday, March 1, 2006; Page A01 [front page, above the fold]


How'd this all come to pass? The Post here reports how the chief of US military intelligence, Army Lieutenant General Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, explains the root cause - "The elections appear to have heightened tension and polarized sectarian divides."


Okay, he just said the election that was supposed to fix everything - establishing a nice Jeffersonian democracy where everyone sat down and reasoned together, and got things organized for the general, national good (Mission Accomplished, version 5.0, revision 2.11) - had the exact opposite effect.

Interesting. That's not what George is thinking. But he's left town.

But what of our guys on the ground? Well, someone finally asked them what they thought of this all.

There was, the same day, the release of the new Zogby Poll -
An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.

... 29% of the respondents, serving in various branches of the armed forces, said the U.S. should leave Iraq "immediately," while another 22% said they should leave in the next six months. Another 21% said troops should be out between six and 12 months, while 23% said they should stay "as long as they are needed."

... Three quarters of the troops had served multiple tours and had a longer exposure to the conflict: 26% were on their first tour of duty, 45% were on their second tour, and 29% were in Iraq for a third time or more.
One view (here) is that "the troops in Iraq are pretty confused about why they're there and whether they're doing any good. After all, 68% think the mission was simply to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and with that done apparently a lot of them aren't quite sure what the point of staying is."

Well, yes, but the same poll same shows almost ninety percent of our troops in Iraq think the war is, plain and simple, retaliation for Saddam Hussein's role in 9/11. The administration long ago got backed into a corner and had to disavow any such thing. There was no connection. He had no role in that at all. Bush, finally, said so himself.

But then, when you're there, putting you life on the line and watching your buddies die, that may have to do. Down the road, after they're home and are doing civilian life, and glancing at the news now and then, someone might be pissed off.

On the other hand, information is vague sometimes. The government line is things look somewhat bad at the moment, almost four hundred Iraqis from both sides had died since the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra was blown to pieces the previous week. But here the Washington Post says it's more than thirteen hundred. They went to the morgues. Not that it matters. Dead is dead.

But then, if you're trying to make policy decisions based on the severity of the situation, you might want to get your facts straight. Just a thought.

Well, we do have problems in these three "I" countries.

And when the president returns he can add a "C" country - Chad. The genocide (we called it that) in Darfur has spilled over into Chad. It isn't just the "D" place anymore.

See this (NY Times) -
"You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn't get worse, but it has," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a recent statement.

... The United Nations Security Council has agreed to send troops to protect civilians, but they will take months to arrive. In the meantime, President Bush has said, NATO should help shore up a failing African Union peacekeeping mission there, but a surge of violence has chased tens of thousands of people from their homes in recent weeks.
Yep, send NATO. We're busy. And this genocide has now spread to Chad. Send even more NATO troops, of course. And you can see the scene from the movie, "Now watch this drive."

There's a reason the president gets to bed every night by 9:30 and gets at least eight hours of sleep, and exercises four hours each day, seven days a week, and goes down to the ranch to cut brush every chance he can. These are avoidance behaviors. And they're understandable.

One can assume he never thought he'd have to deal with all this stuff. But that's the news. It's not all Anna Nicole Smith's day at the Supreme Court.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006 22:53 PST home

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