"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"
Wednesday, 17 December 2003
Topic: Iraq Another Hamburger at The Washington Post - What to do with Saddam Hussein now... In an earlier post I made reference to a long, a book-length poem, In a Cold Season by Michael Hamburger, about the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann. The core premise of the poem was to raise the question of whether it was good for us that instead of six million dead, we now had six million and one dead. What does that make us?
In the Post today we get the same argument from one of their editorial staff.
See Let Saddam Live Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, December 18, 2003; Page A35
Here's this gist of it:
This column may be the most futile of my long career. I am about to plead for Saddam Hussein's life. I do so not because I have the slightest doubt that he is a killer, responsible for taking the lives of many thousands, but because sparing his life would send a message to the world that judicial death - so often abused - is no longer acceptable.
Well, Cohen goes on to review how the death penalty is already illegal in Europe - in fact, renunciation of it is required for admission to the European Union. Yeah, but they're weasels, of course.
Cohen points out that the Untied States, and Sudan and a few others, still executes children (under 18) and the mentally feeble - and, inevitably, the innocent. We think the death penalty is just fine.
Both sides agree. Bush has said Saddam Hussein should be executed, and Joe Lieberman said so too - Sunday on Meet the Press where Lieberman worried that Hussein might be tried in some venue that didn't allow for the death penalty.
The Brits are getting all wimpy on us - Britain's senior envoy to Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock, unfortunately blurted out this: ''The United Kingdom is against the death penalty. So we would have no part of a tribunal or a process that had the death penalty as one of its penalties.''
Perhaps George can have Tony speak with Jeremy about this. The UK abolished the death penalty in 1964 - but the world has changed, right?
As for Lieberman saying we need this death, Cohen points out that probably most of the Democratic presidential candidates agree. Cohen says, rightly, that in the United States the right of the government to take life is almost universally accepted - if not applauded. Yes, in Europe there is no such consensus. Cultural differences. They remember fascist leaders "legally" executing lots of folks - and they didn't like it much at all. The experience made them into skittish wimps, I guess.
Cohen draws a parallel:
In many ways Iraq was the equivalent of a European totalitarian country. Call it Baathist if you will, but Iraq under Saddam Hussein was essentially fascist, with the death penalty meted out willy-nilly, sometimes for serious crimes, sometimes for trivial infractions such as possession of a cell phone. The Iraqis no doubt expect to treat Hussein as he treated them.
It would be marvelous if they were disappointed.
We can do better than an eye for an eye.
We can establish the principle of limited government that should be so dear to American conservatives such as Bush: Among the things government should not do is take a life.
Ah, this Cohen fellow is swimming against the tide. We all know where this is heading. This Hussein fellow will pay with his life.
Cohen adds that Saddam Hussein will certainly understand why he is being executed: "In his reptilian brain, he will understand. He would have done the same thing himself."
Indeed so. _______
Footnote: Of course such views have been floating around the blogs for a few days. Here's a long one that begins as follows:
If we really wanted to kick-start democracy and try to narrow the differences between Americans, Europeans and Arabs, the White House could contribute the most immense boost to the whole process by declaring tomorrow, for all to hear: We will not seek, indeed, we will actively oppose, the death penalty for Saddam Hussein.
Of course, George W. Bush is in the White House, so nothing of the sort will be said.
But that's what we should do. Not kill Saddam.
And it goes on for quite a while, building the argument quite logically. As if logic were relevant. "Vengeance may sometimes be sweet, but it is always poisonous. So let's break the circle. Let's set an example with Saddam."
That was a discussion of something on the preceding Wednesday, the 27th, when the command of Special Operations in the Pentagon held a screening of The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 classic film about a rather famous urban terrorist insurgency, the conflict between Algerian nationalist insurgents and French colonial forces in the late nineteen-fifties.
The Pentagon flier read in part:
How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. ... Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.
This was supposed to be instructive.
Now it seems The Battle of Algiers will be released again next month in theaters here, so we can catch up with the Pentagon viewers.
This prompted a column in The New Yorker over the weekend.
See WINNING AND LOSING Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker, Issue of 2003-12-22 and 29, Posted 2003-12-15
Gourevitch comments that now the film comes at an interesting time.
Appalling, intolerable-in all senses, maddening-as the terrorist tactics of the Iraqi insurgents may be, their truck bombs, donkey-cart missile launchers, and sniper rifles are tactical political instruments that have steadily and systematically succeeded in isolating American forces in Iraq. They have effectively driven the United Nations, the international staff of the Red Cross, and other aid groups from the country, and - more disastrously - they have fostered a mutual sense of alienation between the American forces and the Iraqi people they are supposed to be liberating. Triumphalist pronouncements from Washington notwithstanding, our occupying forces are now clearly on the defensive. And the more aggressive their defense becomes, the more it serves the insurgents' purposes. When an American adviser in Iraq speaks of a new strategy of "terrorism versus terrorism," ... and an American lieutenant colonel tells the Times, "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," one may be forgiven for concluding that the enemy is defining the terms of the fight to his advantage.
But how is this like Algiers in the late fifties?
Gourevitch says this:
The ugly truth that Pontecorvo lays vividly bare, as his camera tacks back and forth between the Algerian guerrillas and the French paratroopers, is that terrorism works. For, although the film focusses on a chapter in the Algerian struggle when France succeeded in crushing the rebel movement, the final moments of the movie show how within a few years the French were forced to accept defeat and retreat, an outcome that in retrospect appears historically inevitable.
Does that mean we are to one day, next year perhaps, or later, accept defeat and return home with our tail between our legs. The administration, and most everyone else, says no. That is not acceptable. We are the good guys, the liberators.
As Gourevitch points out, rightly one thinks, unlike the French mission in Algeria, Washington's goal in Iraq is not to prevent the people from governing their own country but to help them to do so. Presumably, the insurgents - about whose politics, allegiances, organization, and objectives little is known - also want to see Iraqis in power, if not the same ones that Washington might favor.
Well Algeria finally had its elections. In the early nineties, an Islamic fundamentalist party won by a solid majority but was prevented from taking power by the secular military, which refused to accept the democratic election of an anti-democratic government. As a result, the country descended into a civil war that now has cost around a hundred thousand lives.
As for Iraq, well, we want them to be free, to elect who they want from their own people, but not to elect to have an Islamic fundamentalist state. We appointed the current interim government, the CPA, and that told them who of them we thought fit to govern. That was, one presumes, a sort of guideline, and warning.
So it won't turn out like the mess in Algeria.
But it will be messy.
Last night I saw the moralist Bill Bennett on Fox News arguing that now that we have captured Saddam Hussein we have the moral right, if not the fundamental moral duty, to use torture to extract the greatest possible information from Hussein. And he said we should be open about it - we should announce we are using torture, and rightly claim that this is for the greater good, to make the world safer. He said the world would rally to us in agreement.
Perhaps so. I don't think so. But Bill Bennett knows things. He served as Secretary of Education and Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Ronald Reagan and Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under the first President Bush. His most recent project is Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). He co-chairs, with former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, the National Commission on Civic Renewal and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. He has written or edited fourteen books. His current book is Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism - so who am I to disagree? Even if he has, or had, a gambling problem.
His comments might remind one of a scene in The Battle of Algiers when the commander of the French paratroopers, Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu, realizes that, despite of strategic successes against the insurgency, he is losing the larger battle for public opinion. At a press conference, reporters confront him with allegations that his men have tortured Algerian informants. Mathieu reminds the reporters that the press had originally been unanimous in calling for the suppression of the rebellion. "That's why we were sent here," he says. "And we're neither crazy nor sadistic.... We are soldiers. Our duty is to win. Since we're being precise, I'll now ask you a question. Is France to remain in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, you must accept all the necessary consequences."
Okay then. This is who we are now too.
Footnote: And what is the current thinking on this torture business?
Consider this exchange on CNN where anchor Wolf Blitzer posed the question to the author and Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. This is from Monday, March 3, 2003, so you see the topic has been ongoing. They are discussing what to do with a fellow who had been recently captured and might know some dangerous things, or might not.
BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz, a lot of our viewers will be surprised to hear that you think there are right times for torture. Is this one of those moments?
DERSHOWITZ: I don't think so. This is not the ticking-bomb terrorist case, at least so far as we know. Of course, the difficult question is the chicken-egg question: We won't know if he is a ticking-bomb terrorist unless he provides us information, and he's not likely to provide information unless we use certain extreme measures.
My basic point, though, is we should never under any circumstances allow low-level people to administer torture. If torture is going to be administered as a last resort in the ticking-bomb case, to save enormous numbers of lives, it ought to be done openly, with accountability, with approval by the president of the United States or by a Supreme Court justice.
... I would talk about nonlethal torture, say, a sterilized needle underneath the nail, which would violate the Geneva Accords, but you know, countries all over the world violate the Geneva Accords. They do it secretly and hypothetically, the way the French did it in Algeria. If we ever came close to doing it, and we don't know whether this is such a case, I think we would want to do it with accountability and openly and not adopt the way of the hypocrite.
ROTH:... The prohibition on torture is one of the basic, absolute prohibitions that exists in international law. It exists in time of peace as well as in time of war. It exists regardless of the severity of a security threat. And the only other comparable prohibition that I can think of is the prohibition on attacking innocent civilians in time of war or through terrorism. If you're going to have a torture warrant, why not create a terrorism warrant? Why not go in and allow terrorists to come forward and make their case for why terrorism should be allowed?
... Torture is not needed. If you start opening the door, making a little exception here, a little exception there, you've basically sent the signal that the ends justify the means, and that's exactly what Osama bin Laden thinks. He has some vision of a just society. His ends justify the means of attacking the World Trade Center. If we're going to violate an equally basic prohibition on torture, we are reaffirming that false logic of terrorism. We are going to end up losing the war ...
DERSHOWITZ: Well, in fact, we've done that [attacked civilians]. Of course, we've done that. We have bombed civilian targets during every single one of our wars. We did it in Dresden. We did it in Vietnam notwithstanding these rules. So you know, having laws on the books and breaking them systemically just creates disdain ... It's much better to have rules that we can actually live within. And absolute prohibitions, generally, are not the kind of rules that countries would live within.
What you enter is slammed against the policy statements, position papers and public statements of the folks running for president, and the thing spits out your results, in rank order.
Here's the odd thing. On the first try, the candidates who really stood for what I thought was right, proper and good were these - in rank order of agreement with my positions.
01. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%) 02. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (75%) 03. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (74%) 04. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (72%) 05. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (68%) 06. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (65%) 07. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (61%) 08. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (57%) 09. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (57%) 10. Libertarian Candidate (42%) 11. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (38%) 12. Bush, President George W. - Republican (12%) 13. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (10%)
It seems that after the ideal candidate, who doesn't exist, Sharpton, Clark and Dean give me three quarters of what I want in a guy to run the country.
Reverend Sharpton? I don't think so. But this is based on his stated positions and what he has said in public. I liked him on Saturday Night Live but I don't think this tool factors in Sharpton doing his James Brown imitation. Maybe it does.
On the second try, something came up that my friend Bonnie in Boston will find amusing. It seems I really align with "Dennis the Menace." Why the change? I let it rip and decided to ask for it all. See below.
01. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%) 02. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (82%) 03. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (76%) 04. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (71%) 05. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (70%) 06. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (66%) 07. Libertarian Candidate (66%) 08. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (63%) 09. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (51%) 10. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (33%) 11. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (33%) 12. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (32%) 13. Bush, President George W. - Republican (30%)
Now I don't think Sharpton or Kucinich have a snowball's chance in hell of actually winning a general election, so Clark and Dean seem the guys who should get my vote. But....
Topic: Election Notes Howard Dean's chances against Bush, as seen from the UK Well, sometimes it's amusing to see how others see us. Here a fellow in London argues the American economy is going down the tubes, and that has dire implications for Bush, and may make Dean a possible winner. Maybe so.
I know what I heard when I had dinner with a conservative CEO last Sunday night, a man who voted for Bush, and who now feels betrayed. "This is not what I signed up for!" Those were his words. The incredible growing deficit, the twenty-seven percent increase in federal spending, the billions in farm subsidies, the dollar dropping through the floor, the steel tariff business... the list went on. Not that my friend would ever vote for Dean, but he is unhappy with Bush. So, what does that portend?
He's the take from a Brit.
Bush is still in a real hole The US president is facing a financial nightmare of his own making, and needs all the good news he can get Albert Scardino, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday December 16, 2003
Scardino sets the stage this way:
... The dollar has already lost a third of its value against the euro. The decline could accelerate as the world loses confidence in the ability of the US to repay its massive and increasing debts. As a result, the dollars being paid to oil suppliers and to Chinese manufacturers are also declining in value. Might China revalue its currency? Could the oil industry shift to a euro-based pricing system? Either could send American inflation soaring, driving up interest rates. The bond and stock markets would crash. So would house prices and consumer spending.
Well, that is a worst care scenario.
The question is how things got to this pass. Here Scardino isn't very nice:
Bush has engaged in a campaign of voter bribery in the past two years unrivalled in US history. The tax cuts came first, a gift to corporate and upper-income America that will hobble the country for a generation or more. And there were breathtaking increases in farm subsidies to buy loyalty in the heartland.
Illegal tariffs in 2002 on steel imports bought support from coal miners, railway workers and steel unions in the critical states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Proposals last month for duties on Chinese textiles were intended to purchase the loyalty of low-wage workers in Georgia and the Carolinas - even if they offended a nation emerging as one of America's biggest bankers.
The tax cuts have created runaway deficits. The farm subsidies contributed to the collapse of the Cancun trade talks. Bush had to abandon the steel tariffs last week in the face of threats of counter-measures from the EU.
Heck, you'd think things were out of control! Well, really, you might.
But we captured Saddam Hussein, didn't we. That will, if this week's buzz is correct, get Bush reelected in a landslide. The critics of the war, and even more so, the actual opponents of the war, like Dean, have had their legs cut out from under them. They have no real issue now.
But it always is the economy that drives the election, or so some say.
Scardino comments on Dean:
... with a commitment to bringing the troops home by June, an anti-war campaign may seem a weak platform. And a proportional voting system that will leave the winner with only a handful of the delegates needed to win the nomination at the party convention in July means that, as a group, Dean's opponents will collect more votes.
When it comes to the southern states in early February, Dean faces more serious problems. More than a third of southern Democratic primary voters are black. Dean saw them off when he said he wanted to be the candidate of the boys with a confederate flag emblem on their pick-up trucks.
He is no more tutored in national and international economics than in southern racial politics. A gaffe or two here could help reignite the campaign of Richard Gephardt, the candidate with the broadest experience of public life, or John Kerry, an astute Washington insider.
Bush campaigners were already at work over the weekend trying to imply that Saddam's arrest makes Bush a shoo-in, a line they promoted in the Florida recounts three years ago. This time, their biggest opponent may be the bond markets, not the Democrats. The odds look a long way short of a sure thing.
But how can Scardino tell from way over there in the UK, of all places?
Will Bush chanting "I got Saddam! I got Saddam! I got Saddam!" still enchant my Republican friends next autumn? I don't know. That's a long way off.
Topic: Iraq Now will everything will be all better? Reactions to the capture of the big guy... It all comes down to individuals? So what are we to make of the personalization of foreign policy as Richard Cohen discusses it here? The question he's discussing is the capture of Saddam Hussein of course, and what that really changes on the ground in Iraq.
... The attempt to take out Hussein evinced a certain kind of thinking, the personalization of foreign policy that held that without him, Iraq would become malleable. It's true, of course, that there were good military reasons to try to decapitate the regime by killing the nation's leader, but we now know that even without him - even with him in hiding and isolated - a resistance movement materialized. From all accounts, we still do not know who these fighters are.
Really? I think the official line is otherwise. But I like this analysis from Cohen:
On occasion the administration has said they are Arab or Islamic terrorists from outside Iraq. At other times we have been told they are bitter-end Baathists. Sometimes we are told they are paid common criminals - although common criminals are not likely to conduct suicide missions.
There's probably some truth to all these theories - and to one hardly mentioned at all. Some of the insurgents may well be Iraqi nationalists who resent the U.S. presence and are willing to fight it. Nationalism in Iraq is often discounted, but it exists - fostered first by Ottoman and then British occupations and, more recently, by the wars of Saddam Hussein, which were followed by United Nations sanctions. Hussein was to blame for much of this, but that does not mean that some - maybe many - Iraqis did not come to resent the United States even while hating their own leader. The Arab sense of grievance is hard to overstate.
So we don't get to say "mission accomplished" this time? The president was careful not to say that Sunday. Here's Cohen's take:
At least twice now, Americans have celebrated the end of the war in Iraq - once last April when the statute of Hussein was toppled in Baghdad's Firdaus Square and again the next month when Bush himself declared major combat operations over. "Mission Accomplished," the banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln proclaimed. Since then, more than 300 Americans have died in Iraq.
Bush clearly learned from that mistake. In his speech to the nation on Sunday, he specifically warned that "the capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq." On the USS Abraham Lincoln, he had proclaimed the war all but over and linked it repeatedly with Sept. 11 and al Qaeda. He mentioned Roosevelt and Truman, Normandy and Iwo Jima. This time, Bush was restrained. In fact, Hussein may turn out to be like weapons of mass destruction - much less there than anyone thought.
The good news is that we got the bastard - and who cannot cheer? But the bad news - even as I continue to believe the United States will prevail - is that we found him, craven, disheveled and, fittingly, in a hole. Because of the mistakes of the Bush administration, that's where we are too.
And what kind of hole is that? The locals resent us and want their country back sooner than makes us comfortable?
But maybe all the attacks on our guys will stop now, or taper off.
That will happen if personalization of foreign policy is appropriate. Cut off the head and the snake dies. One must accept the "snake" metaphor to believe the analogy is proper. Metaphors can make the complex a bit more understandable. Reducing political and diplomatic conflict to one personality (Hussein) versus another (Bush) can also make the complex a bit more understandable. But one always risks oversimplification.