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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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Wednesday, 7 June 2006
The Dog That Didn't Bark
Topic: In these times...

The Dog That Didn't Bark

Things that didn't happen on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 - the Senate didn't vote to start the ball rolling on changing the constitution to ban gay marriage (basic facts here). Yawn. So "banning gay marriage" didn't pass. The House has decided that even though now anything they do on the issue is utterly meaningless they will vote on the issue in a week or so anyway, just to get everyone on the record, for the folks back home, and future attack ads. Double yawn.

And the results of the special elections and primaries the day before were revealed - there was no big political upset presaging big changes in the political landscape of America, as in the special election to replace Republican "Duke" Cunningham, the congressman now in jail for accepting about two and half million in bribes for this and that, the people of the coastal area north of San Diego replaced him with another Republican, a former professional lobbyist, not the Democrat running. Well, she was dull, and dressed in JC Penney pantsuits, and in the district the Republican registration was more than double that of the Democrats. It was a long shot anyway. But the whole thing indicates not much will change in Encinitas, or in America. The whole idea the Republicans are corrupt? That was met with the response that should have surprised no one - "Yeah? So what?"

And too there was the meeting that wasn't. One sees here that the US ambassador to Iraq, that pleasant and smart and sensible Zalmay Khalilzad fellow, was to brief senators on the situation there. The White House abruptly cancelled the meeting, and said they'd send no replacement. No meeting. The Senate Democrats are asking the president why. The Senate Republicans aren't - not their business. They know congress is now not in that game, or any other, and pretty much useless. They're okay with that.

And the woman who is statistically the most likely next Democratic presidential candidate - no, don't expect a Gore-Obama ticket - is rarely mentioning the war at all. The opposition that wasn't, or that isn't. The New York Observer notes here that when Hillary Clinton is forced to talk about the war, she "continues to articulate a plan that is difficult to distinguish from that of the White House." She voted for the use of force. She can't say she was wrong, or she was fooled. Rush Limbaugh would say that's just like a woman, and she'd have no chance. She knows she's trapped. No news here. Move on.

As for what did happen on the day, there was this, the Council of Europe issued a report saying more than a dozen European countries have helped the CIA with the rendition of terrorism suspects - to secret prisons and countries that will do the torture stuff for us. And the report says it seems probable that Romania and Poland operated secret torture prisons for us, in their old Soviet facilities. Big news? All parties deny it all. So this also didn't happen.

On the other hand the Washington Post reports on something that did happen, but since it happened in the fifties it's hardly news, just a curious historical footnote - newly released documents show that the CIA helped hide the location of Adolf Eichmann from everyone looking for him. They knew where he was, but didn't want to embarrass certain West German officials with details of their own Nazi pasts, which would have come out. You protect your allies. Fascinating - but meaningless now. Eichmann was found, and tried, and executed. So?

But the fascinating "it didn't happen" story hit the wires in the last hours of the day, Pacific Time, as Sidney Blumenthal came up with this -
Former President George H.W. Bush waged a secret campaign over several months early this year to remove Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The elder Bush went so far as to recruit Rumsfeld's potential replacement, personally asking a retired four-star general if he would accept the position, a reliable source close to the general told me. But the former president's effort failed, apparently rebuffed by the current president. When seven retired generals who had been commanders in Iraq demanded Rumsfeld's resignation in April, the younger Bush leapt to his defense. "I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain," he said. His endorsement of Rumsfeld was a rebuke not only to the generals but also to his father.
Now that's Freudian. And it may not be true, as Blumenthal is carefully not naming the general, his one source, and may be being played here in some power game. It's hard to tell. And Blumenthal is a Clinton man - assistant and senior adviser to Bill Clinton from August 1997 until January 2001. So think what you will.

But we do get this -
The elder Bush's intervention was an extraordinary attempt to rescue simultaneously his son, the family legacy and the country. The current president had previously rejected entreaties from party establishment figures to revamp his administration with new appointments. There was no one left to approach him except his father. This effort to pluck George W. from his troubles is the latest episode in a recurrent drama - from the drunken young man challenging his father to go "mano a mano" on the front lawn of the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, to the father pulling strings to get the son into the Texas Air National Guard and helping salvage his finances from George W.'s mismanagement of Harken Energy. For the father, parental responsibility never ends. But for the son, rebellion continues. When journalist Bob Woodward asked George W. Bush if he had consulted his father before invading Iraq, he replied, "He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to."
Yeah, well, that's famous now. And what Blumenthal is up to here really has little to do with "the scoop" - the father trying to bail out the son with some anyone but Rumsfeld - which may or may not be true. He moves on to a meditation on reality and stubbornness.

That would be this -
The former president, a practitioner of foreign policy realism, was intruding on the president's parallel reality. But the realist was trying to shake the fantasist in vain. "The president believes the talking points he's given and repeats on progress in Iraq," a Bush administration national security official told me. Bush redoubles his efforts, projects his firmness, in the conviction that the critics lack his deeper understanding of Iraq that allows him to see through the fog of war to the Green Zone as a city on a hill.

Just as his father cannot break Bush's enchantment with "victory," so the revelation of the Haditha massacre does not cause him to change his policy. For him, the alleged incident is solely about the individual Marines involved; military justice will deal with them. It's as though the horrific event had nothing to do with the war. Haditha, too, exists in a bubble.
This then is old ground, the Bush Bubble and all that. It's all been said, although some of the reminders are amusing, like the February 2003 paper from the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute (here in PDF format). The administration tossed that aside. It was called "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." Ha. Blumenthal mentions it really did mention the likelihood of civil war, sectarian militias, anarchy, suicide bombers and widespread insurgency - if there was a lengthy occupation. There was. There is.

But what Blumenthal points out now was the warning that insurgents could incite violence to provoke repression, forcing U.S. troops into an uncontrollable "action-reaction cycle." And that is what Blumenthal really wants to talk about. That's what the Marines in Haditha got into, or so he sees it. That's worth a read. He explains it, but it's rather obvious.

But this is good, on the broader issues -
The Bush way of war has been ahistorical and apolitical, and therefore warped strategically, putting absolute pressure on the military to provide an outcome it cannot provide - "victory." From the start, Bush has placed the military at a disadvantage, and not only because he put the Army in the field in insufficient numbers, setting it upon a task it could not accomplish. U.S. troops are trained for conventional military operations, not counterinsurgency, which requires the utmost restraint in using force. The doctrinal fetish of counterterrorism substitutes for and frustrates counterinsurgency efforts.

Conventional fighting takes two primary forms: chasing and killing foreign fighters as if they constituted the heart of the Sunni insurgency and seeking battles like Fallujah as if any would be decisive. Where battles don't exist, assaults on civilian populations, often provoked by insurgents, are misconceived as battles. While this is not a version of some video game, it is still an illusion.

Many of the troops are on their third or fourth tour of duty, and 40 percent of them are reservists whose training and discipline are not up to the standards of their full-time counterparts. Trained for combat and gaining and holding territory, equipped with superior firepower and technology, they are unprepared for the disorienting and endless rigors of irregular warfare. The Marines, in particular, are trained for "kinetic" warfare, constantly in motion, and imbued with a warrior culture that sets them apart from the Army. Marines, however well disciplined, are especially susceptible because of their perpetual state of high adrenaline to the inhuman pressures of irregular warfare.

As Bush's approach has stamped failure on the military, he insists ever more intensely on the inevitability of victory if only he stays the course. Ambiguity and flexibility, essential elements of any strategy for counterinsurgency, are his weak points. Bush may imagine a scene in which the insurgency is conclusively defeated, perhaps even a signing ceremony, as on the USS Missouri, or at least an acknowledgment, a scrap of paper, or perhaps the silence of the dead, all of them. But his infatuation with a purely military solution blinds him to how he thwarts his own intentions. Jeffrey Record, a prominent strategist at a U.S. military war college, told me: "Perhaps worse still, conventional wisdom is dangerously narcissistic. It completely ignores the enemy, assuming that what we do determines success or failure. It assumes that only the United States can defeat the United States, an outlook that set the United States up for failure in Vietnam and for surprise in Iraq."
So the conclusion, obviously, is that Haditha is "a symptom of the fallacy of Bush's military solution."

That's a new take. If you dismiss repeated warnings about the appalling pressures on an army of occupation against an insurgency then you get such things. And you send the guys in where they can easily confuse "a population that broadly supports an insurgency" with the real terrorists, and you give them a sense they're there to exact revenge for the World Trade Center and the Pentagon back in 2001, and what do you expect?

Add this of course -
Bush's abrogation of the Geneva Conventions has set an example that in this unique global war on terror, in order to combat those who do not follow the rules of war, we must also abandon those rules. This week a conflict has broken out in the Pentagon over Rumsfeld's proposed revision of the Army Field Manual for interrogation of prisoners, which would excise Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions that forbids "humiliating and degrading treatment." And, this week, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., proposed a bill that would make the administration provide "a full accounting on any clandestine prison or detention facility currently or formerly operated by the United States Government, regardless of location, where detainees in the global war on terrorism are or were being held," the number of detainees, and a "description of the interrogation procedures used or formerly used on detainees at such prison or facility and a determination, in coordination with other appropriate officials, on whether such procedures are or were in compliance with United States obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture." The administration vigorously opposes the bill.
And you want our guys to play nice out there, and want to punish them if they don't? We're talking major mixed messages here.

Reading all that it's hard to avoid the idea that we're losing this thing, and it is, in fact, impossible to win, because there's no way to define winning in any context that makes any sense. What would be the marker, or markers, that would mean we had won? The enemy doesn't fight set battles, and doesn't hold fixed territory. No help there - no D-Day or capture of a capital. We sort of did that kind of thing already, a few years ago. And now we have leveled cities like Fallujah and the bad guys come back, or pop up elsewhere. The new government there is forming slowly, if it's forming at all, and at what point do we say "look - done." Ambiguity and flexibility may be the president's weak points, and that's all the situation offers.

The scoop here is interesting, the president's father trying to force Rumsfeld out, but irrelevant. The political leadership in Washington is trapped. And Blumenthal argues saving Rumsfeld is Bush's way of staying the course when he can understand no other options - and also sends a signal of unaccountability from the top down. He says it's deranged. But he's partisan, and logical.

And that's why nothing is happening. No news here.


For a companion piece on what did happen in Haditha, Iraq, last November, see Mark Benjamin here - "You want to shoot them" - Convinced that kids were spying on them, sick of seeing buddies blown apart, the Marines accused of the Haditha massacre cracked.

That's an eye-catching title. Benjamin interview Marines, some in Kilo Company.

There are many anecdotes and this -
Interviews with Crossan and another Marine who earlier served in the same platoon (3rd platoon, Kilo Company), as well as with military experts and psychologists, help provide some of the context for the reputed events at Haditha. The portrait that emerges is of an exhausted and overextended unit that participated in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war. The unit had fought at Nasiriyah during the initial invasion of Iraq, and in late 2004 engaged in 10 days of house-to-house combat during the battle for control of Fallujah. And last year - in the months before the civilian deaths in Haditha - at least 20 Marines were killed in ambushes and bombings in the town.

None of this, of course, can possibly justify what apparently occurred at Haditha or exonerate any Marine who participated in the barbarities. "The description of the event is called murder," said John Pike, the director of, a Washington-area think tank. "If, due to the stress of the situation, the Marines lost fire discipline and killed people, it is murder or, at least, manslaughter. At the same time, we need to understand why it happened and how it happened."

Dr. Paul Ragan, a former Navy psychiatrist now a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, suspects that the "ambiguity of mission and ambiguity of enemy" played a role at Haditha. He stressed that there is only so far you can push combat troops. "There is a concern that the psychological resources, no matter how well trained, are stretched too thin," Ragan said. "There is a reality here. These are not superheroes or X-men. These are real people on their third tour" of duty in Iraq.

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military in 2003 and 2004, made an analogous point when he told Salon, "What we have right now is a very stressed ground force."
And so on.

The closing -
As prominent Republicans such as John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talk of holding congressional hearings into what happened at Haditha, the underlying question becomes - like the furor over Abu Ghraib - how far up the chain of command responsibility rests.

Clearly, the responsibility for burnt-out Marines serving two and even three tours of duty in Iraq does not stop with Kilo Company. "There is no question in my mind that lapses like Haditha can be traced to a lack of understanding of the nature of this war at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the White House," declared David R. Segal, the director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, in an e-mail.
Of course. And even if this one day was filed with what didn't happen, what might have happened or should have happened is still in the air.

Posted by Alan at 22:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006 06:44 PDT home

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