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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, 10 October 2006
Heroes and Villains - It's Somebody Else's Fault
Topic: Perspective
Heroes and Villains - It's Somebody Else's Fault
Mutual Recrimination Day - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - and it's either the start of a new national holiday, or a continuation of how things work, given human nature.

But now we could have greetings cards - "You know, _________ was not my fault at all, but really the fault of _________." You just fill in the blanks and drop it in the mail. Cards purchased by Republicans would have the second blank already filled in, with Bill Clinton's name. Cards for purchased by Democrats would have, in that space, George Bush or Dick Cheney. The graphics present a problem, of course. What best conveys "You're a fool and have it all wrong?" A smirking Garfield-the-Cat, for the Democrats who send a card? Jesus sitting on a rock, head in hands, weeping, for Republican posters? Einstein shrugging in disgust, for the Libertarians? Ralph Nader grinning, for the anarchists to send? Hallmark can work out the details.

But this particular Tuesday it wasn't greeting cards. Someone was to blame for North Korea testing their first nuclear weapon, especially after the president had vowed for several years he'd never let that happen. North Korea was a charter member of the Axis of Evil, and those three nations were top priority. The test may have been a fake or a failure, but that was hardly the point, as David Sanger of the New York Times points out -
North Korea may be a starving, friendless, authoritarian nation of 23 million people, but its apparently successful explosion of a small nuclear device in the mountains above the town of Kilju marks a defiant bid for survival and respect. For Washington and its allies, it marks a failure of nearly two decades of atomic diplomacy.

North Korea is more than just another nation joining the nuclear club. It has never developed a weapons system it did not ultimately sell on the world market, and it has periodically threatened to sell its nuclear technology. So the end of ambiguity about its nuclear capacity foreshadows a very different era, in which the concern may be not where a nation's warheads are aimed, but in whose hands its weapons and know-how end up.
Yep, it's a mess. So it was time for finger-pointing, and not with greeting cards.

You can click here (Crooks and Liars, the database of record) for a video clip of Republican Senator John McCain publicly declaring the whole business was Bill Clinton's fault (in Windows Media Player or QuickTime format). The man was weak.

Or you can get the gist from Reuters -
"I would remind Senator (Hillary) Clinton and other critics of the Bush administration policies that the framework agreement of the Clinton administration was a failure," McCain said in a statement, referring to a 1994 deal under which North Korea agreed to halt work on a plutonium-based nuclear facility, partly in exchange for free fuel oil deliveries.

"The Koreans received millions of dollars in energy assistance ... and what did the Koreans do? They secretly enriched uranium," McCain said.

"We had a carrots-and-no-sticks policy that only encouraged bad behavior. When one carrot didn't work, we offered another."
We should have hit them with a really big stick back in the late nineties - carpet bombing or something nuclear of our own. Yeah, they would have wiped out several hundred thousand of the folks in South Korea and tens of thousands of our guys stationed there - but they wouldn't have the bomb now. Actually he just says Clinton should have spent a couple hundred billion or two on an anti-missile system, so Bush wouldn't have to be futzing around with one now that doesn't even work yet. The man was just weak, and stupid.

Of course, not shopping for any greeting card, Hillary Clinton shoots back -
A missile shield alone cannot protect us from the Bush-Cheney Administration's incompetence in their approach to Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and it is unfortunate that Republicans such as John McCain continue to blindly defend their failed policies for partisan gain rather than exercise true leadership. Five years after 9/11, President Bush has allowed the "Axis of Evil" to spin out of control. Our Iraq policy is a failure. Iran is going nuclear and North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. President Bush's foreign policy failures have made America less safe, not more so, and it is time for a new direction.
So THERE, you fool.

There must be an election coming up.

But there's more -
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are firing back at criticism of how the former president handled North Korea.

Republican Senator John McCain had some tough words for Senator Hillary Clinton's criticism of the Bush administration's policies. McCain said "her husband's administration" came up with a framework agreement that was a "failure."

But the William J. Clinton Foundation calls it an "unfortunate" attempt to "rewrite history to score political points." Their statement says under Clinton's watch, the North Koreans never conducted a nuclear weapons test.

His wife's spokesman says this is no time to "play politics of the most dangerous kind" with the North. He also blames the Bush White House for doing nothing to stop the North.
So the logic is that they never had a bomb on Clinton's watch, and on Bush's watch they do. Who's the bigger fool, as if it matters now?

And then there's this curious exchange on CNN's Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer goading Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -
RICE: We have been through bilateral talks with the North Koreans in the 1994 Agreed Framework, it didn't hold. They…

BLITZER: That was a mistake the Clinton administration…

RICE: No. I will not blame anyone for trying. I just know that the 1994 agreement, of course, didn't hold. The North Koreans cheated.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence that what the Clinton administration did helped North Korea build these bombs?

RICE: Oh, I think North Korea has been persistent and has been consistent in pursuing this nuclear weapons program for decades. Now, it is going to have to be fought. And the international community is speaking with one voice very loudly, because the North Koreans crossed an important line when they proclaimed that they had conducted a nuclear test.
Oops - she didn't get the White House memo about Mutual Recrimination Day. Karl Rove will have to spank her (no, get that image out of your mind right now, pervert).

And it went on -
North Korea's claimed nuclear test Sunday capped six years of failure by the Bush administration, a U.S. think tank said Tuesday.

"By virtually every measure, Bush's North Korea policy has been a failure," the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff John Podesta said Tuesday.

When the current president took office, "North Korea had produced enough plutonium under President George H.W. Bush for 1-2 nuclear weapons. Today, the country possesses material for 4-13 nuclear weapons. If North Korea unloads another batch of fuel, it may have enough nuclear material for 8 to 17 nuclear bombs by 2008," the CAP said in a statement.

Sunday's test was simply the culmination of the "Bush administration's haphazard diplomacy in Northeast Asia over the past six years," said the CAP's Joseph Cirincione, an expert on non-proliferation issues.

Cirincione said that the Bush administration had failed to produce a strong and consistent policy on North Korea because of an "internal argument about whether to negotiate with the country or try to plot its collapse."

The CAP said the current president and his team "ramped up the rhetoric" about North Korea and included it in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran in the president's 2002 State of the Union address. However, "When North Korea responded by expelling international inspectors and unsealing its nuclear facilities, the Bush administration had no effective response," the CAP said.
Well, they did call them more names. That's something.

Anne Gearan of the Associated Press tries to detangle all this here (emphases added) -
North Korea's apparent nuclear weapons test may bear out the warnings of Bush administration hard-liners that the reclusive regime can never be trusted, but it also forces an examination of whether the silent treatment those same hard-liners have given North Korea for years has backfired.

Convinced that the Clinton administration got conned when it offered carrots to the North Koreans, the Bush administration has offered mostly sticks. The White House has firmly withheld the biggest carrot of all - direct, one-on-one talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

The United States is the power North Korea most fears and is the foil for the propaganda that helps keep the communist regime afloat. The North says it needs nuclear weapons, and missiles to deliver them, to counter U.S. aggression. The United States is also the nation the North would most like to talk to, for both the prestige that direct talks could bring the regime and the security promises the talks might produce.

One interpretation of this week's test holds that it is North Korea's latest and most alarming attempt to get Washington's attention. But the United States has insisted on talking to North Korea only with four other nations at the table, including China and South Korea, the two countries that Pyongyang relies on most for its economic survival. That, the U.S. argues, makes it harder for the North to walk away from negotiations. "The United States tried direct dialogue with the North Koreans in the '90s, and that resulted in the North Koreans signing onto agreements that they then didn't keep," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during an interview Tuesday on CNN.
Okay, the idea is North Korea wants to set up a confrontation with the United States and direct talks would be foolish - that gives them what they want. Se we insisted on talks "only in the awkward company of four other nations" - they get no chance to play the heroic David to our mean and stupid Goliath. South Korea, Japan, China and Russia are sitting there, so that's not possible. Well, it's a theory.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, our top negotiator for North Korea - "The North Koreans would like to make this about the United States, and I prefer that the Chinese and the South Koreans and the Japanese are saying the same thing to the North Koreans today that we are saying."

Fine, but North Korea just won't attend any six-way talks now, and haven't for a year or more, and they just worked on the bomb instead. So much for that theory. Six years ago Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the first ranking US official to meet with Kim Jong Il. And what was going on then?

In any event, the AP item reviews all the events since then - Colin Powell saying we'd continue the Clinton face-to-face approach, as that held great promise, the South Koreans cheering, then Powell being publicly rebuked by the president and having to eat his words. He was humiliated and the South Korean government embarrassed, and voters changed things there. Cool.

And now Colin Powell gets his revenge, sort of. Heather Wilson, from New Mexico, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee and a retired Air Force officer, comes out and says this - "I feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with straight, tough talk with countries that are not our friends. I think that there is an argument that says doing this in a bilateral way sends a much stronger message."

So Powell sighs and old-fashioned one-on-one diplomacy - even with Iran and Syria - is being urged by all sorts of folks, even James Baker, Bush's father's man and head of the Iraq Study Group. The AP notes - "Drawing a bright line against engagement with bad guys has the value of purity. But it also leaves little room to negotiate - there is no fallback position and any shifting of position, as US. did earlier this year on Iran, risks being painted as capitulation."

Yep. You get painted into a corner - but you are pure, of course.

And there's the damned logic of the facts, as Josh Marshall points out here -
The bomb that went off yesterday was made with plutonium, the same stuff that was off-limits from 1994-2002. In all likelihood some of the same stuff that was on ice from 1994-2002.

To the best of my knowledge, no one thinks the North Koreans are close to having enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon that way. And it's not even completely they were ever trying to enrich uranium.

So Clinton strikes deal to keep plutonium out of the North Koreans' hands. The deal keeps the plutonium out of reach for the last six years of Clinton's term and the first two of Bush's. Bush pulls out of the deal. Four years later a plutonium bomb explodes.

Clinton's fault, right?

There's certainly an argument to be made that you don't make agreements with parties you don't trust, like the North Koreans. And perhaps President Bush would have had some leg to stand on if he'd pulled out of the Agreed Framework and replaced it with something better - either force or a better agreement. But he didn't. He just did nothing for four years. Now we have plutonium, probably uranium and actual bombs. And according to McCain, it's all Bill Clinton's fault.
But what about purity? Doesn't that count for something? About thirty percent of the electorate still thinks so.

And then there's this final kick in the teeth, from Iran, of the original Axis of Evil -
Iran on Tuesday distanced its own nuclear dispute from the North Korean crisis, reiterating its claim that it opposes nuclear weapons.

While analysts abroad speculated that Tehran could be emboldened by North Korea's defiance, comments from officials and the media put the emphasis on the different paths taken by the two countries. Tehran, they stressed, remained committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

… Tehran insists its nuclear experiments are designed for the production of energy but western governments suspect the Islamic Republic is intent on developing nuclear weapons. The US and European governments are now seeking to raise the pressure on Iran through gradual sanctions at the UN Security Council. But in the Iranian press on Tuesday some commentators warned that undue US pressure on North Korea had backfired.

Jam-e Jam, a conservative daily, blamed Washington's "unilateral, expansionist military policies" for the collapse of the six-party talks over Pyongyang's atomic programme.

The reformist paper Etemad-e Melli said the "west should have known intimidation and threats would be not only inefficient but would also push a country's resources towards an end with little benefit for its people."
Ouch. That hurts.

But at least the war in Iraq is going well, or not as badly as folks say, or you have to look a the long-term big picture and see that even if it's tough now it really is a fine war, or something.

Except there's this -
Mr. Bush clearly faces constraints as he seeks to address the public concerns about Iraq that have shrouded this midterm election: 83 percent of respondents thought that Mr. Bush was either hiding something or mostly lying when he discussed how the war in Iraq was going.
Eighty-three percent? Yipes. This requires a massive PR blitz.

And there's staunchly pro-war Ralph Peters in the New York Post saying things like this -
If Iraq's leaders stop squabbling and lead, and if Iraq's soldiers and police fight resolutely for their constitutional state, we should be willing to stay "as long as it takes." But if they continue to wallow in ethnic and religious partisanship while doing as little as possible for their own country, we need to leave and let them face the consequences.

Give them one more year. And that's it.

... Make no mistake: Were our nation directly threatened, our ground forces would surge to respond powerfully and effectively. But as far as Iraq goes, they've given their best. They're willing to die for our country. But we should never ask them to give their lives to postpone a political embarrassment.

... Iraq is not yet lost, but it's harder every day to be optimistic. It's still too soon to give up - we must have the fortitude to weather very dark days. But we also need the guts to recognize when it's time to cut our losses. In Iraq, the verdict must come in 2007.
Well, aside from the fact a whole lot of our guys have died in the last three years to postpone a political embarrassment (think about it), Kevin Drum suggests here we may have a different strain of conservatism that's also soured on the war -
These guys basically think the Iraqis haven't shown much gratitude for the favor we did by invading them, and if that's the way they feel then the hell with them. I've heard this more than once from distinctly non-elite conservative acquaintances.

So what does it mean? George Bush says he's going to stay in Iraq even if Laura and Barney are the only ones left supporting him, and that may be exactly where he finds himself before long. Liberals of even the hawkish variety abandoned him long ago, and both the center-right and the isolationist right are now following right behind. When James Baker III makes it official with whatever he recommends after the election, it's just going to be Laura, Barney, and Bill Kristol left baying at the moon, and not much of anyone else.
The festivities of National Mutual Recrimination Day were in full swing.

And it was hard on that day to not see something was wrong, whoever you sent the card to, as in this -
Iraqi police found 60 bodies dumped across Baghdad in the 24 hours until Tuesday morning, the apparent victims of sectarian death squads blamed for escalating violence that threatens to pitch the country into civil war. A bomb placed under a car outside a bakery in the mostly Sunni southern Baghdad district of Doura exploded at midday, reducing the shop to rubble and killing 10 people, many who had been queuing outside to buy bread, police said.
And there was this -
A U.S. ammunition dump on the southeastern edge of Baghdad caught fire late Tuesday, setting off at least a half-dozen thunderous explosions and several smaller ones that rattled windows across the city.

Despite the size of the blasts, no casualties were reported, Spc. Jennifer Fulk, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said early Wednesday. There was no information yet on the cause of the fire, Fulk said.

An insurgent group called Al Fataheen Army took credit for the damage in a posting on an Islamic forum used by various insurgent groups in Iraq.

The group said it had attacked the base with several missiles at 11:55 p.m., but that timing cast suspicion on the claim. The explosions, which could be felt throughout the city, had begun about an hour earlier.

The same group claimed responsibility for attacking U.S. camps in northern Iraq on Sunday.

… An unknown number of troops from the 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, were at Forward Operating Base Falcon when the base's ammo dump began to explode.

A military statement said the fire began at about 10:40 p.m. and ignited tank and artillery shells and small arms ammunition.

The fire, clouds of smoke and flashes from the ammunition detonating could be seen for miles.
And there was this -
A barrage of about 20 blasts rocked districts across Baghdad on Tuesday night, police and witnesses said.

Reuters reporters counted more than 10 explosions in the space of a few minutes.

The blasts began around 11 pm.

Police and witnesses reported explosions in the mainly Sunni areas of Doura, Sulaikh and Amiriya and Sadr City, a stronghold of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

… Flares were fired into the night sky in the area of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound in central Baghdad that houses the Iraqi government and the US embassy.

Earlier, police said they had found 110 bodies over two days in a city in the grip of a vicious sectarian war. Security officials said they had gathered the bodies of 60 murder victims from the city's streets on Monday and 50 more on Tuesday, and the United States military confirmed the deaths of two more of its own soldiers.

… As night fell, a suicide car bomb killed two Iraqi soldiers in northern Baghdad and an improvised explosive device killed two police in the south.
Some recriminations for getting us into this, and for almost four years of things on the ground getting worse by the hour, might be in order. Do you have to trust your president that things just aren't this bad? Or do you send the card?

Maybe it's just the press. They report the bad news. They're ruining things.

See Jane Arraf, NBC's Baghdad correspondent, here -
Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.

I'm more puzzled by comments that the violence isn't any worse than any American city. Really? In which American city do 60 bullet-riddled bodies turn up on a given day? In which city do the headless bodies of ordinary citizens turn up every single day? In which city would it not be news if neighborhood school children were blown up? In which neighborhood would you look the other way if gunmen came into restaurants and shot dead the customers?

… Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

I don't know a single family here that hasn't had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there's been all-out fighting going on, I've interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.
Any recriminations in order?

And what about this, from a Baghdad blog, on the sectarian murder of a family friend -
When my father returned from his work today and heard the news, he immediately went to the balcony and sat all by himself, saying nothing, looking at the sky, I was afraid to look at him, and I experienced a cold shudder of sadness and molten anger.

I do not know Tariq al-Hashimi personally or his family relatives, but I know my father, and I know the sort of people he hangs out with. In the place where I come from, a religious person meant a guy who knew his rights from his wrongs, a person you could trust, a person who could never lie or steal; my father never scolded me for my guitar-playing or forced me to wear certain things ever, and he has the sign of praying (a patch of changed skin on the forehead that results of much praying when the forehead touches the ground) on his face. The people who he hung out with were good, honest people, people you could really love, people of virtue. NOT the extremist, life-hating, vengeful caricatures Muslims have been cornered into, nor are they the pro-Baathist dictator scum Sunnis in Iraq have often been shoe-horned as.

Whenever I would go into a mosque and sit down after prayer I would feel the peace engulfing me, a calamity and understanding that becalms one outside the cyclone of life outside, the constant searching for meaning and answers ... the tough-guy posturing and the struggle for bread.

But now these people are exterminated, exploited and destroyed in this meaningless Wahabi vs Rafidhi war.
Any recriminations in order? Or does this kid just not understand what Secretary Rice called the birth-pangs of a new Middle East?

Okay, let's not think about it. Let's think about the recent sex scandal in the House. The leadership knew about the predator and did nothing? Oh my. These guys are the "values" people. What up with that?

Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews discuss that on MSNBC here (Crooks and Liars, the database of record) - in Windows Media Player or QuickTime format -
CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in…

MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?

CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.
Major recriminations coming. As they say on the battlefield - INCOMING!

On the other hand, Cliff Kincaid, of Accuracy in Media, has a different thought. The "values people" - Hastert, DeLay, Cunningham - are just fine. But they've been had - "House leaders permitted homosexuals to infiltrate and manipulate the party apparatus while they publicly postured as friends of family values and traditional marriage. The facade is now in ruins."

Ah, those sneaky gay guys with the show tunes and all - they corrupted the good guys. The evangelical Family Research Council says the same thing here - a gay Republican cabal is secretly blocking the religious right agenda on Capitol Hill. They got to Hastert, poor fellow.

Hastert got the message and had a private prayer meeting - one on one with one of the godly, and evangelical preacher who Josh Marshall points out here was once caught faking his own leper colony for fun and profit - the same guy who "takes credit for getting Charles Taylor to step down as Liberian dictator and other international hat tricks."

What can you say to that? "You know, _________ was not my fault at all, but really the fault of _________." How do you even begin to fill in the blanks?

The November election will be about filling in all the blanks in all these items.

Posted by Alan at 22:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006 07:59 PDT home

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