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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Saturday, 2 July 2005

Topic: Breaking News

Busted: Friday Night Follies

As the friends of young Harry Potter would say, the news is of "He Who Cannot Be Named" - breaking late in the week, Friday night, after the news cycles closed -

From Editor and Publisher:
MSNBC Analyst Says Cooper Documents Reveal Karl Rove as Source in Plame Case
Published: July 01, 2005 11:30 PM ET
NEW YORK - Now that Time Inc. has turned over documents to federal court, presumably revealing who its reporter, Matt Cooper, identified as his source in the Valerie Plame/CIA case, speculation runs rampant on the name of that source, and what might happen to him or her. Tonight, on the syndicated McLaughlin Group political talk show, Lawrence O'Donnell, senior MSNBC political analyst, claimed to know that name - and it is, according to him, top White House mastermind Karl Rove.

Here is the transcript of O'Donnell's remarks:

"What we're going to go to now in the next stage, when Matt Cooper's e-mails, within Time Magazine, are handed over to the grand jury, the ultimate revelation, probably within the week of who his source is.

"And I know I'm going to get pulled into the grand jury for saying this but the source of... for Matt Cooper was Karl Rove, and that will be revealed in this document dump that Time Magazine's going to do with the grand jury."

Other panelists then joined in discussing whether, if true, this would suggest a perjury rap for Rove, if he told the grand jury he did not leak to Cooper. …
The business with Time Magazine keeping its reporter out of jail, and avoiding big fines, by releasing his confidential sources, and the New York Times going the other way, isn't just a media story now. (Quick summary here.) It seems something is up. Rove is, it seems, the fellow who exposed the name of a covert CIA agent, ended her career, and possibly shut down a number of intelligence gathering operations on loose nuclear weapons, in order to punish her husband for telling on Rove's boss, George Bush. Robert Novak is the one journalist who published the name.

This story is still alive? Last July 4 this came up in these pages in a discussion of Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" -
The other day, on the CNN show Crossfire, Robert Novak called Moore un-American. Simply un-American. Of course Novak is the man who gladly published the name of an undercover CIA agent (Valerie Plame) who had been working on our efforts to get nuclear stuff off the black market. He blew her cover to help punish her husband for exposing Bush and crew fibbing about Iraq trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. He sees no problem with that. Yeah, he knows a lot about a being a good American.
One year later Novak is still in the clear and still a star on CNN, while Miller and Cooper, who published nothing, face jail time.

What's up with that?

This is what’s up, as explained by Jeralyn Merritt at one of the legal blogs -
Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has stated in court pleadings that he already knows the identity of Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper's sources regarding the senior white house official who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to Robert Novak.

… So, why is it so necessary for them to provide the information?

As the Washington Post article suggests, the investigation has moved from one involving the identity of the White House official to one involving perjury - i.e., a cover-up. The source may have been questioned in front of the grand jury and lied.

Knowing the identity of the source is not enough for a perjury conviction. There must be two witnesses to the perjurious statement. Telephone records would not be enough, because they only provide the number dialed, not the identity of the person speaking. Matthew Cooper's and Judith Miller's e-mails and notes may provide that corroboration.
Ah, it's not the crime so much as the cover-up. This sounds familiar, kind of like the good old days of the early seventies.

Lawrence O'Donnell himself confirms here:

Rove Blew CIA Agent's Cover
I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's emails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but didn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury.

McLaughlin is seen in some markets on Friday night, so some websites have picked it up, including Drudge, but I don't expect it to have much impact because McLaughlin is not considered a news show and it will be pre-empted in the big markets on Sunday because of tennis.

Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow.
With Bush in Europe, the turmoil mounting over the Supreme Court nomination to come, selling the war not going well, the news on the ground dismal and recruiting figures in trouble, with dismantling Social Security seeming less and less likely - would Newsweek really kick Bush when he's down by running with a story that his chief advisor and life-long friend pulled an illegal dumb-ass revenge trick and then liked about it?


And who is this panelist on "The McLaughlin Group" making so much trouble for Bush right now, just up and naming "He Who Cannot Be Named" on national television? You could look it up. Lawrence O'Donnell is a good Irish-Catholic fellow from Boston who now lives out here in la-la land and is executive producer of "The West Wing" television show. He's done some screenplays. The "West Wing" episode he co-wrote on the death penalty won the 2000 Humanitas Prize for writing that "communicate(s) those values which most enrich the human person." A dilettante? From 1989 until 1992 he served as Senior Advisor to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He began his association with Moynihan as Director of Communications in the Senator's 1988 re-election campaign. He's the former Chief of Staff of the Senate Committee on Finance. Harvard, class of '76 - so he's not just a Hollywood guy. Odd.

Kevin Drum in his "Political Animal" column over at Washington Monthly isn't surprised -
... We all remember what Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, said two years ago: "At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words."

Based on this and other tidbits of information, Rove and 'Scooter' Libby have been the prime suspects for a while. What's more, the White House knows it. So if Newsweek does break this story on Sunday, what do you think their reaction will be? They've had plenty of time to prepare for this day, after all.

My guess would be: furious counterattack. Karl did nothing wrong. Everybody knew about Plame already. Wilson is on a witch-hunt. Patrick Fitzgerald is out of control. Liberals are just trying to get even for Clinton. Etc.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

But perhaps Newsweek, after be so roundly scolded by the White House over the Koran business, and sort of retracting and apologizing (see May 22, 2005 - Newsweek, Suckered, Sucks the Air Out of the Room), will not run with this. Who needs the trouble? The White House may have taken care of them already.

Posted by Alan at 12:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 1 July 2005

Topic: The Law

O'Connor Retires: The Game is Afoot

As Holmes says to Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia - "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

So Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court and a sometimes a key swing vote on issues like abortion and the death penalty, said Friday that she is retiring after twenty-four years on the bench. This is the first court vacancy in eleven years, and of course there's also the possibility that Justice John Paul Stevens, 85, might consider stepping down. And Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has cancer. This first vacancy could change things, as could the others to come, and all over the place there is speculation on who will be nominated to fill this first opening. Who will Bush choose?

Will it be a hard-line conservative promising to overturn Roe v Wade and end all this affirmative action nonsense? Will it be some overtly evangelical Christian who will promise to rule from what is in the Bible and not in the Constitution, and bring back those Ten Commandments displays? Will it be Bush's Texas friend, Attorney General Alberto "It's Really Not Torture if You Look at it This Way" Gonzales? Or will it be someone only moderately conservative as a consensus choice, to stop all this national fussing and fighting?

Who knows? Bush says he will announce a nominee for the seat in "a timely manner" - but he's off to Denmark for the G8 summit and will make his announcement no sooner than the Friday he returns. That would by July 8.

What will he do and why will he do it, whatever it is? Stick with what Holmes says to Watson. There's no data here.

Still the Associated Press reports -
… Conservative and liberal groups immediately began phoning, e-mailing and contacting supporters to mobilize support for the upcoming Senate confirmation battle.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, set up a war room in downtown Washington for the Supreme Court battle. It has already sent out thousands of e-mails and is setting up phone banks to build support for Senate Democrats.

The liberal political action group MoveOn said it already has a TV ad urging senators to "protect our rights" against a rightwing nominee.

For its part, the conservative group Progress for America has launched Internet ads mocking Senate Democrats.
And so it begins.

For up-to-date news of the legal sort on this matter check out what the blogging constitutional lawyers (good name for a rock group) are saying at Scotus Blog and How Appealing, and on the left, the lawyers at Talk Left (and note here they endorse Edward C. Prado for the vacancy).

What's up? Reverend Flip Benham, Director of Operation Save America, here says O'Conner was pretty much a terrorist and we need someone new - "Although we applaud her decision to step down and care for her ailing husband, her 'swing-vote' status on the Supreme Court over the issues of abortion and homosexual rights wrought more havoc upon our nation than our foreign enemies ever have."

Yeah. Whatever.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family has issued a press release - saying we need another Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, as Bush promised us that.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued his competing press release - Bush should do what Reagan did, have "the courage to stand up to the right wing extremists in his party by choosing a moderate, thoughtful jurist."

So there's lots of advice floating around.

Progress Now is worried and released this:
As you read this, James Dobson and the conservative social warriors are marshalling their forces and raising the money to sustain their fight. They've waited over thirty years since Roe v. Wade for this opportunity, and they are determined to see President Bush pack the Supreme Court.

We know that President Bush will nominate a radical right judge. We know that Republican Senate leadership will push for confirmation. And we know this will likely come down to a vote on invoking the "nuclear option" to circumvent the confirmation process.

We cannot allow James Dobson to drown out our voices. We need your involvement and support to apply constant pressure and help moderate senators like Ken Salazar stand against the tyranny of the right.
And the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty feels about the same.

People for the American Way are worried: "A Scalia-Thomas majority would not only reverse more than seven decades of Supreme Court legal precedents, but could also return us to a situation America faced in the first third of the 20th Century, when progressive legislation, like child labor laws, was adopted by Congress and signed by the President, but repeatedly rejected on constitutional grounds by the Supreme Court. A shift of one or two votes would reverse Roe v. Wade's guarantee of reproductive freedom and the right to privacy...". Actually their list of worries is detailed - Privacy Rights, Civil Rights and Discrimination, Church-State Separation, Environmental Protection, Workers' Rights and Consumer Protection, and Campaign Finance Reform

Of course Move-On has started running its advertisement - "The almost $280,000 ad by will air on CNN in ME, NE, SC and VA, and on CNN and FOX in NY and DC as part of MoveOn PAC's grassroots mobilization to empower Americans and persuade the Senate to protect our basic rights by rejecting an extremist nominee." You'll see it somewhere.

This is just like a presidential campaign, except no citizens get to vote. There's a lot of money floating around.

Predictions? From Brad Plummer there's this that lots of folks are pointing to -
Some lunatic winger will get nominated - maybe even Janice Rogers Brown - the Democrats in the Senate will say, "Oh hell no" and launch a filibuster. So the battle will rage on for a while, Bush's "base" will get riled up and motivated to send in lots and lots of money, conservative judicial activists will blast their opponents with fairly superior firepower, and bobbing heads in the media will start carping on those "obstructionist" Democrats (bonus carping here if the nominee is a woman, minority, and/or Catholic).

Finally Bush will give a very somber speech about withdrawing his nominee, announce that he's very disappointed in the Senate, toss in a few bonus 9/11 references, and nominate some slightly-less-lunatic ultraconservative instead. The new nominee gets treated as the "compromise" candidate, is lauded far and wide as a moderate, and finally gets confirmed after pressure on the Senate Dems to "act like grown-ups" by television pundits who can afford to get their abortions abroad and will have no problem with a Supreme Court hostile to labor and environmental protections.

One would hope not, of course, but is there anyone who finds this scenario wildly implausible?
Digby at Hullabaloo does and says this -
... let me ask you, when has Bush ever done a strategic retreat on anything? Homeland security is the only thing I can think of and I think that stemmed from a belated realization that they really would like to have some fat patronage jobs and a new entrenched "security" bureaucracy that tilted Republican by nature and temperament. It wasn't a plan.

Here is how this White House views itself: President Bush subscribes to the momentum theory of politics: that success breeds success, and political capital accrues to the one who spends political capital.

... Being willing to stage a retreat - particularly on something about which the base is rabid and out of control - at a time when his popularity is sliding precipitously is not believable to me. I think they are desperate to show strength and get a big win that makes the Dems look weak. That is their theory of governance. The more you win the more people love you.

In their minds it's the public perception of losing on Bolton, social security, Schiavo and Iraq that is causing their problems, not Bolton, social security, Schiavo or Iraq themselves. I think they want a big fight and they expect a big win. And they want that win to "create political capital" with which to consolidate their majority.
And Jeffrey Dubner seconds the thought - "... this president will not allow himself to appear to be defeated on something so important. He certainly won't set himself up for failure, as Brad predicts, even if such a failure is deemed to be a PR victory that results in an ultra-conservative justice anyway. Just not, as his father might say, gonna do it."

Is this all just idle chatter?

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Or is there a train wreck coming, where more anger and self-righteousness is generated than we've yet seen? Probably.

But we won't know for sure until July 8 or so.

Posted by Alan at 16:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 1 July 2005 20:35 PDT home

Thursday, 30 June 2005

Topic: The Media

Web Notes: No More Blogs?

The business with Time magazine keeping its reporter out of jail, and avoiding big fines, by releasing his confidential sources, and the New York Times going the other way, isn't the only media story out there. (Quick summary here.) Is it important that the press be able to gather inside information from people who don't want their names revealed? Isn't what is said by the government or a large corporation good enough for us all? Why do we think we have a right to know what's really going on, and have a free press? Don't we trust our leaders? You get the idea. Yes, it is a bit more complicated than that. But if you have some "whistle-blower" kind of information, or think you know something others should know, don't tell anyone from Time - as soon as they get a court request from those in power, to find out who is saying all these bad things, they'll give you up. You're toast. Keep to yourself - or tell Judy Miller from the New York Times when she gets out of jail.

This is big stuff.

Little stuff, however, is still important.

For example, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is proposing to bring blogs and other forms of Internet political advocacy under the umbrella of the federal campaign-finance and spending laws. The agency held a hearing into the proposal Tuesday, June 28.

This all boils down to a simple issue. Expressing a political opinion in a magazine is the stuff of having a free press - the Weekly Standard can cheer our current neoconservative empire builders and the Nation can rail against them. No big deal. Newspapers can write editorials advocating what they will. Out here some newspapers even say Arnold Shwarzenegger is a joke as governor, a bumbling fool. Really. They all have what is called a "media exemption" from the federal campaign-finance and spending laws. Expression opinion is not political campaigning. Even Fox News has this exemption, although their preference as to who is elected to which office is always clear. The press can rant in all directions. It's what they do.

The Federal Election Commission is proposing that those of us who have daily political web logs (blogs), or weekly sites like Just Above Sunset, do not merit this exemption. What we write, whether or not we are paid for writing what we write by any campaign, is, under the proposed new rules, in fact, an "in kind" campaign contribution to the left or right, or whomever. (Disclosure: no one pays the editor or anyone who writes for Just Above Sunset or its daily web log anything to say what is said, or for any reason.)

This proposal is most curious. The idea is that if something appears on these sites that suggests, for example, the current administration might be a bit wrong-headed in attempting X, Y or Z - then that should be reported as an "in kind" contribution to some group or other - the Democratic Party or Move-On or whomever - with all the bookkeeping that might involve. And they would have to estimate its monetary value somehow – by the number of page hits? – and count that as a contribution. If I say George Bush is a cool guy, the same applies. The Republican Party or whomever would have to note that as an "in kind" contribution.

The general idea is that somehow we have to get campaign spending under control.

For a run-down of what was said at the hearings visit Tech News World for this where Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of, asserts, "We have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens publishing their thoughts through research, through journalism, their activism and encouraging others to do the same."

Yeah, but does one get a "media exemption" to the FEC rules? Moulitsas is working with a lawyer who volunteered to help bloggers fight new government regulations - and he says he is prepared to lobby Congress himself if necessary. Note he is the treasurer of BlogPac, a political action committee formed last year by bloggers. Yes, this web writer is a member.

What about the guys on the right? Michael Krempasky, founder of - which is just what you think it is - called bloggers "citizen journalists" and said that like traditional media, they should get an exemption from campaign finance regulation. His question? "What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh's multimillion-dollar talk radio program, but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?"

Yes, Limbaugh has the "media exemption."

An editorial from one of the few outlets addressing the issue here -
… The proposed rules exempt Internet communications from these laws - except for paid political advertising. That's a huge, unacceptable exception because the entire contexts of overtly political blogs could be classified as political ads.

Moreover, the commission would decide whether a given blog should be included in the "media exemption" in the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. That exemption protects the traditional media from campaign-finance contribution and expenditure rules.

The notion that a government agency should get to decide which forms of communication are media and which are ads runs counter to the spirit of American free speech. We have never liked McCain-Feingold for that reason. Americans who are willing to do the work of civic engagement can make these distinctions.

The First Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in an era of partisan printers, revolutionary committees and correspondence, and pamphleteers - long before the conventions of modern journalism came about. The blogosphere is part of that proud tradition. Even minimal regulation would stifle its growth, which is why bloggers should seek relief in court if the commission follows through on regulation.
Yeah, whatever. The commission really wants to decide who gets the exemption.

Whatever are we who write commentary going to do?

It seems we're going to do an end run.

We'll call ourselves magazines, not blogs!


See this from Talk Left, Thursday, June 30, 2005:
The Day the Bloggers Died

As of yesterday, blogs are dead.

Say hello to the Online Magazine Community. Others joining so far:

Crooks & Liars
Sadly, No!
Swing State Project
Law Dork
Dispassionate Liberalism
Chaos Digest
The Political Forecast

Talk Left is joining the community. We are now "the online magazine for liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, was really put off when I started Just Above Sunset more than two years ago and kept referring to it as "an online magazine." In March of 2004 when I switched to a new hosting service and changed the masthead to Just Above Sunset Magazine he was more than wary.

Now it seems I was prescient. I'm claiming a media exemption. Just Above Sunset is a magazine, really. And the daily web log isn't called a blog anywhere - As Seen from Just Above Sunset in the masthead only says "Notes on how thing seem to me from out here in Hollywood" - although to be safe I could change that to "A Daily Magazine from Hollywood." Hey, Time and Newsweek are online. Daily newspapers have online editions. Works for me.

But I don’t think that's going to wash with the Federal Election Commission.

I just wish someone on the left would pay me.

No, I don't. This is just fine.

And if some leftie organization has to count what I write as a campaign contribution, that's their problem, not mine.

Posted by Alan at 16:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2005 16:25 PDT home

Topic: Selling the War

So it is out of this deep faith in the future that they are able to move out and adjourn the councils of despair, and to bring new light in the dark chambers of pessimism…

As a follow up to the previous post Failure Is an Option note that this idea is gaining some momentum.

Well, there is a conflict here. As Peter Baker and Dan Balz report in the Washington Post on the June 30 front page -
In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.

Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: "Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?" and "Can the United States ultimately win?" In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls - such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level - are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.

"The most important single factor in determining public support for a war is the perception that the mission will succeed," Gelpi said in an interview yesterday.
And that's the problem. This war may just not be winnable.

At Juan Cole's site Informed Comment the idea has been under discussion for some time, particularly with Professor Cole's deconstruction of the Tuesday night Bush speech to explain why we must "stay the course." Cole, often mentioned here, is that professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress. He thought the speech way far beyond foolish. Although he did not use the word "delusional" he did note Bush was not discussing any reality Middle East experts know.

Thursday, June 30, Cole published a letter from Alan Richards.


Here is who he is, as made clear by the Naval Warfare College (our own navy, by the way) -
Alan Richards is a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was educated in political science, Middle Eastern studies, and economics at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Between 1992 and 1994 Professor Richards worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development as a senior political economist, conducting or directing political economy analyses. He has taught economics at the University of Wisconsin, Harvard University, and the American University in Cairo. With John Waterbury he coauthored A Political Economy of the Middle East (2d ed., 1996). He was a MacArthur Fellow in International Environmental Policy for the University of California. He is an advisory editor of Middle East Policy and a frequent consultant to the U.S. government on Middle Eastern affairs.
Well, he seems to be reputable, even if Santa Cruz is known out here as the true center of left-over sixties hippie culture, the land of bra-less old women with hairy legs, wearing Birkenstocks of course, lunching in shady vegan restaurants. But the University of California Santa Cruz is pretty well respected.

Richards' take on things? "The Iraq Avalanche Cannot be Stopped"

In reviewing all the discussion of the speech, Richards notes this:
… I am troubled by what I perceive as a tacit assumption - a very American assumption - underlying most of the discussion. It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

I regret to say that I think this is wrong. There is no "solution" to this mess; it is sometimes not possible to "fix" things which have been broken. I can see no course of action which will prevent widespread violence, regional social upheaval, and economic hammering administered by oil price shocks. This is why so many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq so strenuously in the first place! We thought that it would unleash irreversible adverse consequences for (conventionally defined) US interests in the region. I am very sorry to say that I still think we were right.
Then he lists six specific reasons why, and those who like details of the region and economics can click on the link and read all about the situation, as this man sees it. It's not pretty.

And he ends with this:
Please don't misunderstand me: I am not advocating regional-crisis-cum-oil-price-spike. I simply think that it is probably unavoidable. If we leave, there will be violence, mayhem, slaughter, and instability, and if we stay there will be violence, mayhem, slaughter, and instability. If there is (as I tend to think) a large crisis looming on the horizon, it will certainly be ugly, even hideous. And then - something else will happen. The one thing I don't think is possible is to avoid it.

So let me close where I began: I think it is delusional to imagine that there exists a "solution" to the mess in Iraq. From this perspective, the folly of Bush, Cheney and Company in invading Iraq is even worse than most informed observers of the region already think. Starting an avalanche is certainly criminal. It does not follow, however, that such a phenomenon can be stopped once it has begun.
But who are you going to believe. "Most informed observers" - or our leaders?

Many on the left, like Geov Parrish, have decided (he didn't like the speech either) -
How many times must we hear this president, this administration, use 9-11 as a suggested free pass for pursuing any half-assed policy that comes to mind? How often is our intelligence going to be insulted by the vaguely racist insinuation that any war against a Muslim nation is justified because the 9-11 terrorists were Muslim? How many more American soldiers are going to die while this White House insists, against all evidence, that there's a "clear path to victory"? How many more Iraqis must die to sate the stubbornness of political leaders halfway around the world?

… I'm tired of the thin rationalizations that have characterized not only the case for going to war, but the supposedly informed assessments of how that war is going - polyannaish drivel contradicted every time one turns on the evening news. The sacrifice, Bush told us Tuesday, is "worth it." To whom? Halliburton? Bechtel? And let's not even try to talk about how we extract ourselves from this mess. It's a verboten topic, in part because Bush doesn't have the guts or honesty to admit that it's a mess in the first place.

The question of what to do about Iraq is a tricky one with no easy answers. Now that we're there, we have a responsibility to help clean up the mess we've created. Too, there's a clear national interest in not allowing Iraq to slip into another Shiite autocratic theocracy ala Iran, an all too realistic possibility. Iraq's current puppet government and its army is no match for the insurgency, in large part because it has no legitimacy among Irarqi people. Rumsfeld and Bush, meanwhile, are trying to get away with using far fewer troops than their generals think are needed for the job. And the services can't recruit the soldiers needed to do the job. A multinational force would be most effective, but Bush won't cede that kind of control.

In such a policy quagmire, the least helpful possible approach is exactly what Dubya is doing: squeezing his eyes real tight, proclaiming his fealty to the flag, and swearing that he loves the troops. It's meaningless gibberish, and the American public knows it. It's also dishonest, because Bush is refusing to deal with the very real problems that are a direct consequence of decisions that he, and nobody else, made.
Well, that appeared in Working for Change, and may be "out of the mainstream," so to speak.

More in the mainstream is Bob Herbert in the New York Times with is June 30 column, Dangerous Incompetence. That open with this: "The president who displayed his contempt for Iraqi militants two years ago with the taunt "bring 'em on" had to go on television Tuesday night to urge Americans not to abandon support for the war that he foolishly started but can't figure out how to win."

Had to go on television? Had to? I'm not sure that is what Bush supports would say. But be that as it may, you get the idea.

What Herbert is saying is more of the same -
The incompetence at the highest levels of government in Washington has undermined the U.S. troops who have fought honorably and bravely in Iraq, which is why the troops are now stuck in a murderous quagmire. If a Democratic administration had conducted a war this incompetently, the Republicans in Congress would be dusting off their impeachment manuals.

The administration seems to have learned nothing in the past two years. Dick Cheney, who told us the troops would be "greeted as liberators," now assures us that the insurgency is in its last throes. And the president, who never listened to warnings that he was going to war with too few troops, still refuses to acknowledge that there are not enough U.S. forces deployed to pacify Iraq.

The Times's Richard A. Oppel Jr. wrote an article recently about a tragically common occurrence in Iraq: U.S. forces fight to free cities and towns from the grip of insurgents, and then leave. With insufficient forces left behind to secure the liberated areas, the insurgents return.

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country."

The latest fantasy out of Washington is that American-trained Iraqi forces will ultimately be able to do what the American forces have not: defeat the insurgency and pacify Iraq.

"We've learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills," said Mr. Bush in his television address. "And that is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting, and then our troops can come home."

Don't hold your breath. This is another example of the administration's inability to distinguish between a strategy and a wish.
They're different? Don't tell anybody.

At Groom Lake's Best of the Blogs you get this more succinct summary of the message Tuesday night: "You trusted me to screw this up, trust me to screw it up more, and if you don't trust me to screw it up more you hate America."

So the opposition is railing against Bush. Many more sense they've been had - as early in the week ABC News reported a record fifty-seven percent of the population now says the administration intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, and fifty-three percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting. Maybe he had to make the speech.

Will those numbers change? Perhaps.

But this does not bode well -
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President Bush's address to the nation, urging Americans to stand firm in Iraq, drew the smallest TV audience of his tenure, Nielsen Media Research reported on Wednesday.

Bush's speech on Tuesday night at the Ft. Bragg military base in North Carolina averaged 23 million viewers combined on the four major U.S. broadcast networks and three leading cable news channels networks that carried the speech, Nielsen said.

That number was 8.6 million viewers below Bush's previous low as president, his Aug. 9, 2001 speech on stem cell research, which was carried on six networks.

Even Bush's last prime-time address, his April 28 speech on Social Security overhaul, drew more viewers, 32.7 million.

Bush garnered the biggest U.S. TV audience of his presidency -- 82 million viewers on nine networks -- when he addressed a joint session of Congress nine days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

By comparison, his May 1, 2003, speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq averaged 48.4 million viewers.
Nor does this, from the other Hollywood, the one in Florida, reporting that local veterans there say the backing for Bush on Iraq is just gone -
June 29, 2005
HOLLYWOOD - The televisions at VFW Post 2500 in Hollywood were tuned to President Bush on Tuesday, but his words weren't getting rapt attention.

About 30 people were around the bar drinking, chatting, smoking as the president talked. "Does it have to be so loud?" asked Barbara Flint as she sat next to Jerry Giblock, a visiting Vietnam veteran.

"He's running scared," said Giblock, 63, a former Post 2500 member who lives in Anchorage, Ala. "His poll numbers are so low, he's got to say something, but the support is gone. It's gone. I don't think there's anybody in here who's behind him." ...
Not good.

One senses the numbers aren't going to change. Those two political scientists from Duke may be onto something - the key task is to stress winning this thing. Say we can fix this. Change the perception. That will change the numbers.

But it didn't work - or it hasn't worked this week.

The new Zogby Poll was released late in the day June 30 - No Bounce: Bush Job Approval Unchanged by War Speech; Question on Impeachment Shows Polarization of Nation with this summary from Tim Grieve:
A Zogby poll taken a week before the speech had 56 percent of the public saying they disapproved of the president's job performance. The new poll, taken after the speech, has 56 percent of the public saying they disapprove of the president's job performance. The percent of the public that approves of the job George W. Bush is doing dropped from 44 to 43 percent, a change John Zogby called statistically insignificant.

"It's all about the war,'' Zogby tells Bloomberg. "This war has really polarized Americans. This is what his presidency is all about. The only thing that could change is if things start to go better on the ground, and it's not good to be at the mercy of external events."

Another poll result that's "not good" for the president: The concept of impeachment is slowly sinking in for a substantial portion of the American people. It's not a majority, but 42 percent of the public, including 25 percent of the Republicans surveyed, now say that Bush should be impeached if - and is this really an "if," now? - he misled the country about the reasons for going to war.
Zogby himself was on MSNBC, on the Olbermann "Countdown" show, remote from Utica, New York, commenting on the poll. Olbermann played up the one-quarter-of-Republicans-would-impeach number. Zogby shrugged and said they'd poll that again next month. And they did not discuss that big "if" - which is only a hypothetical. Most of that twenty-five percent of impeachment-minded Republicans would ask, "What really is a lie?"

Curiously, over at Corrente, Tom points to these numbers (with links to the source data) -
ABC News Poll. December 16, 1998. N=510 adults nationwide.

"As you may know, the House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on whether or not to impeach Bill Clinton. If the House impeaches him, the Senate will hold a trial to decide whether or not Clinton should be removed from office. Based on what you know, do you think the House should or should not impeach Clinton?"

Should - 40 percent
Should not - 58 percent
No opinion - 2 percent
Yes, support for Bush's impeachment is now higher than it ever was for the impeachment of Clinton.

So what?

Now the people who know the region and its history and its current politics say, essentially, even that doesn't matter much. Some things cannot be fixed.

There is perception. There is reality.


Note: The title here is from a speech that Martin Luther King delivered in 1961 to the annual meeting of the Fellowship of the Concerned in Atlanta.

Posted by Alan at 10:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2005 19:34 PDT home

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

More Fallout from the Speech to Explain Everything: Failure Is an Option?

Okay, you could compare last night's presidential address on what the real situation is now in Iraq - full text of the speech here - to Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech (here) back in the days of the Vietnam War. Taking the lead from Digby at Hullabaloo we tried that here. Both were exhortations to "stay the course" no matter how we got to where we are. We cannot pull out. That's no way to end this war.

The parallels are spooky.

But are they useful? Perhaps not.

Although Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, commented -
NIXON: "But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world."

Did he?
No. We may be there again, and in the commentary all over comparisons to the Vietnam War are growing by leaps and bounds.

Be that as it may, others are just dumbfounded by now having to deal with a third rationale for why we in Iraq. Just after the speech John Kerry on CNN's "Larry King Live" said we had just been offered such a "transformation" to this third reason for the war - "The first, of course, was weapons of mass destruction. The second was democracy, and now, tonight, it's to combat the hotbed of terrorism. But most Americans are aware that the hotbed of terrorism never existed in Iraq until we got there."

True, but is that relevant? Perhaps through incredibly bad judgment, for reasons that will forever be obscure, we have created this new hotbed of terrorism, alienated almost all the nations of the world and made ourselves almost universally reviled (see this and this in the latest issue of Foreign Policy for detail and discussion), inspired the jihadists everywhere - with many pouring into Iraq now, and learning there to become far more efficient and effective, and others gleefully planning new attacks elsewhere - and have come close to stretching our military to the breaking point.

It's a bit of a mess.

As Kevin Drum puts it bluntly: "These guys still can't face the reality of what's happened to their lovely little war. They willfully ignored the advice of the uniformed military officers who had actual experience in fighting modern wars, and because of that they didn't know what they were getting into before the war, they didn't know what they were up against after the war, and they're apparently still clueless about what to expect in the future."

So what? What do we do now?

BUSH: "To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban - a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends. And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."

A comment from a pro-war fellow here -
The inference here is clear. The U.S. intervention, and its ill-planned, under-manned, haphazard execution, has made Iraq more of a terrorist threat than it might otherwise have been. I say "might," because an eventually unconstrained Saddam could well have become such a menace. But the president here outlined the case of the war critics: that this war may have made matters worse; that Iraq could become another Taliban-Afghanistan; and that is now why we can't afford to lose. …
But he goes on to say that these are fights over the past, and the question is now what?


Bill Montgomery (Billmon) over at Whiskey Bar has an idea: Failure Is an Option

And why would that be?
The critical reaction to Bush's speech - I'm talking here about the "respectable" establishment critics, not the antiwar left and right - seems to revolve around three points:

- Bush falsely tried to connect Iraq to 9/11.

- He lied when he said we have enough troops in Iraq.

- Failure in Iraq is not an option.

Unfortunately, all three statements are wrong. (Actually the second one, the bit about not having enough troops, is correct but also completely irrelevant. We don't have any more troops to send, and Bush and his establishment critics both know this.)

It's true, of course, that Bush shamelessly waved the bloody shirt of 9/11 in hopes (probably vain) of recovering his war president mojo. And we can sit around and make stupid jobs about Bush and fat jokes about Karl Rove and dream of the day when we can spit on both their graves for what they have done. Why not? It's therapeutic.

But it doesn't change the fact that Bush has managed to make himself right at last: Iraq indeed has become the central front in the war against Al Qaeda (although the eastern front in Afghanistan is heating up quickly, and there's always the risk of a breakthrough on the Southern front - Saudia Arabia - or the Western front - the Maghrib and/or Europe.)

But saying that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism is neither an argument nor a strategy. At the moment, it's pretty clear the Cheney administration and its pet military commanders don't have a strategy, other than to pin their hopes on a political process that is going nowhere slowly, and that in any case is extremely unlikely to break the insurgency's base of support - at least, not before it breaks the American volunteer army.
So Bush has managed to make himself right at last? Seems so.

And there is much that follows on why more troops would not make a difference - our military has made itself enormously unpopular in Iraq: "It's hard to see how putting more jittery, haji-hating American soldiers on the streets of Iraq is going to help peel away the insurgency's 'soft support' or induce more Sunnis to cooperate with a government led by Shi'a fundamentalists."

Fine. And he sees that, with or without more troops, "it seems inevitable that Iraq will continue to descend into chaos and (ultimately) something close to Hobbes's war of the all against the all - a condition which may already be near at hand."

The situation? This staying-the-course business is likely to result in a completely failed state and the Pentagon is stuck with the worst of both worlds: "trying to fight a counterinsurgency campaign with a ground force that is far too small to pacify the country, but far too big (and visible) to avoid acting as the insurgency's recruiting officers. Meanwhile, a hefty cut of whatever supplies or weapons are given to the Iraqi security forces are likely to end up in hostile hands - meaning the Army could wind up being the insurgency's quartermaster corps as well."

Can it be this bad? Can't we just soldier on?

Under the circumstances, the mindless chants of "failure is not an option" are starting to sound like the desperate prayers of the terminally ill. Failure is always an option - particularly for morons who launch a war of choice under the impression that they can't possibly lose it.

Is the war hopelessly lost? I tend to think so, although I'm realistic enough to admit that I don't have all the facts, and couldn't interpret them all correctly even if I did. I know there are some military analysts whose opinions I respect who think the war is lost - analysts such as William S. Lind, who, for all his wing-nuttery on cultural and social issues, is one smart cookie when it comes to "Fourth Generation" warfare:

"There's nothing that you can do in Iraq today that will work," said Lind, one of the original Fourth Generation Warfare authors. "That situation is irretrievably lost."

Even if Lind is wrong, it would seem rational and wise to plan for the eventuality that he may be right. (I know, I know: When has the Cheney administration ever been rational and wise about anything? But somebody should be thinking about these things.)

What's the correct response, if the war in Iraq is indeed lost? It seems to me that planning would have to be done on the tactical, strategic and grand strategic levels.
And he provides an outline of how that would work. And that is recommended reading, a detailed discussion of phased withdrawal options and realignments of alliances and priorities.

Likely? Hardly.

And there is good reason -
... it would require us to admit that the traditional thrust of U.S. foreign policy - the relentless drive to open the globe to American trade, American capital, American ideas and American values - has left us facing some hard questions, like: How far is America willing to go to ensure the rest of the world adapts to its economic and cultural preferences?

And: How does America reconcile its stated aspirations for "democracy" and "freedom" with its more prosaic needs for cheap oil, cheap labor and pliable regimes willing to guarantee our access to those things?

And, most importantly: What do we do when we encounter cultures - or large groups within those cultures - that refuse to accept or even negotiate over the terms we are offering?

At this point, Americans aren't even willing to ask those questions, much less answer them.
So we muddle on. And failure is an option.

The best summary of "The Speech to Explain Everything" is from Tom Tomorrow over at This Modern World. That would be his Shorter George Bush: "We really screwed the pooch, and now you have no choice but to let us try to clean up the mess."


A note on whether we can change the "traditional thrust" of how we approach the world -

A reader's letter on the Andrew Sullivan site that strikes me as about right -
"It seems to me that so much of the political divide boils down to the issue of American exceptionalism. The dominant conservatives have blind faith in American exceptionalism (more and more fueled by religious faith) and have no reservations about the use of American power. The most vociferous liberals categorically reject American exceptionalism and any use of American power (internationally). Independents (as well as independent thinking liberals and conservatives) seem to be tolerating simultaneously seeing that America is great, we do have special role in the world, and that we are capable of intentional and unintentional bad acts. We therefore see the use of American power as sometimes appropriate but approach it cautiously. Too bad that, in the current climate, any politician capable of independent thought gets eviscerated and 'disciplined' by their own party."
As was said in these pages on June 22, 2003 -
If Canadians were like these guys - the conservative Republicans who have the helm down here now - they would be out to transform the world and put a Tim Horton franchise on every corner in every third-world country, and force people to watch endless curling events. And every single one of my pleasant Canadian friends would ask the same question. Why do that? What's the point? There is national pride, and then too there is pure foolishness.
Foolishness or not, we are where we are, still doing the Manifest Destiny thing.

Posted by Alan at 18:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 29 June 2005 19:10 PDT home

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