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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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Monday, 15 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

What's gone wrong with the narrative?

If Sunday, August 14, was the day The Day the Wheels Fell Off, with Frank Rich in The New York Times saying that, for all intents and purposes, the war is over, except the president doesn't seem to realize it, and the same day Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer in The Washington Post reporting that key people in the administration are admitting we're just not going to get what we fought for, a democracy in Iraq - it seems the best we can hope for is some form of Islamic republic - then Monday was the day things might have been better. The first two major rationales didn't pan out - WMD and ties to al Qaeda - so maybe...

Monday, August 15, 2005 was the deadline for the draft of the new Iraqi constitution. That didn't happen. No WMD, no ties to al Qaeda - so this wasn't war to keep us safe from those - and now this. Democracy, that's the ticket! So we won't get a western-style one – no matter - but now they cannot even decide on the kind of Islamic republic they want to have.

Iraq constitution drafters get extension
Parliament grants seven more days to complete draft; Bush, Rice hail effort
MSNBC News Services, Updated: 6:42 p.m. ET Aug. 15, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's parliament agreed to a seven-day extension for leaders to complete a draft constitution after politicians failed to reach a midnight Monday deadline to agree on the charter. The White House, apparently resigned to the delay, hailed the constitution as "the most important document in the history of the new Iraq" and reinforced the completion procedure as "an Iraqi process."

Parliament adjourned after voting to extend the deadline until Aug. 22, acting on a request from Kurdish leaders for more time.

Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish framers of the charter had reached a tentative deal late Monday, agreeing on issues ranging from oil revenues to the country's name but putting off decision on the most contentious questions - including women's rights, the role of Islam and possible Kurdish autonomy.

Efforts to meet the Aug. 15 deadline showed how determined Iraqis are to maintain political momentum under intense U.S. pressure, but their failure to agree was a clear sign that their sharp political divisions are far from over.
Ah, there are difficulties. Maybe they'll work out something or other.

The best rundown of what those difficulties are is from Juan Cole, the professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, here.

In short? Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani dislikes the idea of a confederation, which would seriously weaken the central government and might pave the way for a break-up of the country. The major advocates of a loose federalism plus provincial confederation are SCIRI and its paramilitary offshoot, the Badr Organization, and they're unhappy. The Kurds have a three-province confederation, which even has its own legislature (Scotland?), and have demanded that it be expanded (adding parts of three other provinces) - and they've also demanded that some proportion of petroleum receipts from Kirkuk in the north stay in the Kurdish confederation. The Shiite south has a bigger and younger field, the Rumaila oil field, and a Shiite confederation of provinces would benefit if they could keep a proportion of the petroleum receipts locally rather than having them go to Baghdad. The Sunni Arabs at the moment have no petroleum fields, so they do not like this system and are making a stand against it. Add to that the Shiites also want a provision in the constitution that no statute may be passed by the federal legislature that is contrary to Islamic law (shariah). The Kurds reject this provision absolutely. And should the prime minister or president actually appoint the provincial governors, who are not elected by the people? That's a regional thing, and how things work in Egypt, for example. And of course the Shiites are moving closer to Iran, and Bush says over the weekend that he could take military action against Iran over its nuclear program - in an interview broadcast in Iraq from Israel. That's what Cole says.


Can this be fixed, even with an additional week of negotiations?

I asked my nephew, Major Cook, in Baghdad - West Point '90, previously posted to Mosul, fluent in Turkish (there was that year's posting in Istanbul and now he knows more about Kurdish matters than anyone I know) - and got this back:
Fixed? Whew, pretty ambiguous - so I think we should use the words "made to work." In actuality, many Iraqis are embracing democracy, but it is old-school lovers of Islamic Law (Sheriat) like SCIRI that continue to drive a wedge between religious factions that keep this country apart. Truth be known, not all will like the constitution, but they all will get a chance to vote on it. That will be the democracy of it - and if "No" is the vote on the constitution, then the December vote will not be to elect the lasting National Body but another temporary government to build yet another constitution. Regardless, the US Military is not in the politics business. It is our job to provide a secure environment to allow the process to continue. But, in the end, I think it will be "made to work" - and if SCIRI doesn't come to the table to facilitate a solution, then the Iraqi people may vote around them, though that is unlikely. But, heck, that is democracy, and I like to see it.
Fair enough. The military secures the environment for the "nation building" to begin, but they don't do the building. Of course that has been a tough go, but Brian and his like are doing their best to make it possible. And the Iraqis will build - what, exactly?

That is not a question for the military. It is not a tactical or operational question. It is a question of strategy, the geopolitical kind. The civilian leadership, the administration we elect, works those questions.

Comments here and there on Monday?

Eric Alterman asks What do we have here? He pulls this quote from the Sunday Post item:
"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
He says this:
Yeah well, you know what's coming next; tens of thousands dead; more than that wounded; hundreds of billions wasted; the hatred of the world; the creation of countless terrorists and torture victims, the destruction of a nation; and the dishonoring of the leadership of the United States of America. All in the service of something that "was never realistic," an "unreality" that was sold to us by a dishonest, fanatical group of ideologues and their cheerleaders in the so-called liberal media.

What's is perhaps most galling about this is the fact that if you tried to warn your fellow citizens against just this likelihood three years ago when it was still preventable, you were part of some decadent, fifth-columnist coastal elite that hated America, while the chest beating patriots were the ones who drained this nation of its blood and treasure is the service of their own lethal combination of ignorance, arrogance, and ideological obsession. Onward Christian Soldiers.
Jerry Bowles says this:
No WMDs, no al Qaeda link, no Iraq oil boom, and now, insult to injury, no democracy. A secular country with relative freedom for women is about to become an Islamic Republic and breeding ground for future terrorists.
Yes, so it would seem. But if is what they choose?

Somehow, in a geopolitical way, this is not what we intended.

But that is what we were sold.

Harold Meyerson covers the press side of sales job in this item in the upcoming edition of Prospect (issue date September 10).

This was a war of choice - a preemptive war (or preventative or prophylactic war, if you will) - and it needed promotion.
A war like the Iraq War, whose public support before the idea was seriously discussed started out well below 50 percent, needs to be sold - "marketed," as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card once put it - needs, well, marketers.

And, in the information age, an administration can't, and doesn't, market alone. It takes an army of salespeople - it takes a village, you might say - to accentuate the positive. And when an administration spreads demonstrable lies and falsehoods, or offers "evidence" that can't be wholly refuted but for which there is nevertheless no existing proof, it takes that same army to stand up and say: "Yes! These assertions are true! Those who deny them are unpatriotic, or simpletons, or both!" And finally, when the war goes terribly, terribly wrong, that same army is called to the ramparts one last time, to say, in a fashion that approaches Soviet-style devotion: "Things are in fact going well! The insurgency is dying! Abu Ghraib is not a scandal! Saddam Hussein did have ties to al-Qaeda; you just don't know it yet!" And so on.

For its war in Iraq, the Bush administration relied on and benefited from the cheerleading of a group of pundits and public intellectuals who, at every crucial moment, subordinated the facts on the ground to their own ideological preferences and those of their allies within the administration. They refused to hold the administration's conduct of the war and the occupation to the ideals that they themselves professed, or simply to the standard of common sense. They abdicated their responsibilities as political intellectuals - and, more elementally, as reliable empiricists.
And so they did.

He singles out William Kristol, working on promoting the war since 1998 - getting rid of Saddam Hussein should be the central goal of our foreign policy. Then came 9/11 and a month later you get this on NPR's Talk of the Nations: "We know that over the last three or four weeks, he has moved many of his chemical and biological weapons programs in preparation for possible U.S. attacks." Yeah, yeah. On November 19, 2001, he and Robert Kagan wrote: "Iraq is the only nation in the world, other than the United States and Russia, to have developed the kind of sophisticated anthrax that appeared in the letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. What will it take for the FBI and the CIA to start connecting the dots here? A signed confession from Saddam?" Right. April 2003 on NPR again: "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America - that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all." And so on and so forth...

Charles Krauthammer (Time and the Washington Post)?

In the spring of 2003, with Secretary of State Colin Powell was trying to slow things down at bit - remember the Pottery Barn Rule business? - Krauthammer: "No more dithering. Why does the president, who is pledged to disarming Hussein one way or the other, allow Powell even to discuss a scheme that is guaranteed to leave Saddam Hussein's weapons in place?" And Meyerson points out that when the interim government of Iyad Allawi was about to come into office, Krauthammer said this on Fox News - "It's the beginning of the end of the bad news. I mean, we're going to have lots of attacks, but the political process is under way." On Abu Ghraib? "A huge overreaction. Nobody was killed. Nobody was maimed." Well, some were.

Victor Davis Hanson, the classics professor and intellectual of the neoconservative right?

"In the same way as the death of Hitler ended the Nazi Party and the ruin of the Third Reich finished the advance of fascist power in Europe, so the defeat of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi dictatorship will erode both clandestine support for terrorism and murderous tyranny well beyond Iraq." Tell the fifty-plus dead in London, Victor. Why would things be all better when we captured Saddam Hussein? "The Romans realized this and thus understood that Gallic liberation, Numidian resistance, or Hellenic nationalism would melt away when a Vercingetorix, Jugurtha, or Mithradites all were collared, dead, or allowed suicide." It seems history doesn't repeat itself.

Meyerson call Thomas Friedman of the New York Times an enabler. Christopher Hitchens? Trotsky in Baghdad. Read the whole thing, if you want to see who was cheering.

Well, the weekend had one right-side guy changing his tune. That would be Armstrong Williams over at Townhall, where they post this bio of him:
Called "one of the most recognized conservative voices in America" by The Washington Post, Armstrong Williams is a pugnacious, provocative and principled voice for conservative and Christian values in America's public debate.

An entrepreneur and third-generation Republican, Williams has become a multi-media wonder, taking stands for what's right on radio and television, in print and cyberspace. Focusing on issues such as the work ethic, personal responsibility, welfare reform, affirmative action, and especially the restoration of morality in today's society, he brings an independent view with a refreshing twist to the central issues of our day.
Monday's refreshing twist - Armstrong Williams suddenly says, Time to Get Out of Iraq:
We cannot win this kind of war of attrition. US soldiers are dying at a rate of one per day. Meanwhile the rest of the world is having trouble supporting the United States. You cannot lead in a global democracy, if people do not trust you. It is undeniable that we went about this in a very flawed manner. We need to admit that. We cannot solve the problem of terrorism by asserting our will on the world. Meanwhile, the deterioration of Iraq continues, serving as a sad reminder of the failed promise of this mission, and the need to pull out.
Oh my! In the compendium of conservatism, Townhall?

Maybe it's time to slap people back in line, as in this:

Bush slaps down top general after he calls for troops to be pulled out of Iraq
Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, Sunday, August 14, 2005
The top American commander in Iraq has been privately rebuked by the Bush administration for openly discussing plans to reduce troop levels there next year, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

President George W Bush personally intervened last week to play down as "speculation" all talk of troop pull-outs because he fears that even discussing options for an "exit strategy" implies weakening resolve.

Gen George Casey, the US ground commander in Iraq, was given his dressing-down after he briefed that troop levels - now 138,000 - could be reduced by 30,000 in the early months of next year as Iraqi security forces take on a greater role. ...
He said the wrong thing. Seems to be a trend.

Note this from USA Today - the Ohio Marine reserve regiment with the nineteen combat deaths earlier this month had repeatedly requested as many as 1,000 additional troops to help defend the area of western Iraq they were covering.
Regimental Combat Team 2 began asking for additional troops to police its volatile 24,000-square-mile territory before most of its Marines deployed in February, said operations officer Lt. Col. Christopher Starling, 39, of Jacksonville, N.C.

Starling said the unit could "optimally" use one more battalion, about 1,000 troops, to take some of the pressure off the Reserve unit, which is spearheading an offensive in the region. "With a fourth battalion, I wouldn't have to play pick-up ball," Starling said.

The requests for additional forces were passed to higher headquarters in nearby Ramadi; it is unclear whether they went beyond that level, Starling said.

14 of the regiment's troops were killed in a single incident when an enormous roadside bomb destroyed their amphibious assault vehicle, and another five were killed in firefights.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita responded to the USA Today story by saying he doesn't doubt that "every colonel wishes he had more in his area, but the decisions about how troops are (deployed) are made by the commanders above them."
Rumsfeld often says that if those commanders requested more troops, they'd get them. There are no more.

But things are fine.

As in this...

The "Marine of the Year" as named in the Marine Corps Times (citation here) is being charged with attempted murder. It seems he "fired a shotgun from his apartment window at a group of revelers outside a nightclub." Previously? He prepared soldiers for open-casket funerals while serving as a military mortician in Iraq.

Folks are edgy.

How did we get in this mess? There's word going around that John Bolton visited Judith Miller in Jail this weekend. See this: "Steve Clemons has verified that John Bolton was one of Judith Miller's regular sources on WMD issues, and that MSNBC stands by its story that Bolton gave testimony to the grand jury about the State Department memo in question. Bolton, you may recall, has previously been identified to have been involved in the Niger uranium claims that Wilson's trip helped disprove ..."

What were they talking about? What's gone wrong with the narrative?

And that woman down in Texas - Cindy Sheehan - is still a bother. She's screwing up the narrative too.

Christopher Hitchens tries to take care of that.

Cindy Sheehan's Sinister Piffle
What's wrong with her Crawford protest.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Monday, Aug. 15, 2005, at 11:50 AM PT - SLATE.COM

No one uses the word "piffle" much these days. Pity. It's a good word.

Note this:
I dare say that her "moral authority" to do this is indeed absolute, if we agree for a moment on the weird idea that moral authority is required to adopt overtly political positions, but then so is my "moral" right to say that she is spouting sinister piffle. Suppose I had lost a child in this war. Would any of my critics say that this gave me any extra authority? I certainly would not ask or expect them to do so. Why, then, should anyone grant them such a privilege?
And this:
What dreary sentimental nonsense this all is, and how much space has been wasted on it. Most irritating is the snide idea that the president is "on vacation" and thus idly ignoring his suffering subjects, when the truth is that the members of the media - not known for their immunity to the charm of Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod in the month of August - are themselves lazing away the season with a soft-centered nonstory that practically, as we like to say in the trade, "writes itself." Anyway, Sheehan now says that if need be she will "follow" the president "to Washington," so I don't think the holiday sneer has much life left in it.
And this:
There are, in fact, some principles involved here. Any citizen has the right to petition the president for redress of grievance, or for that matter to insult him to his face. But the potential number of such people is very large, and you don't have the right to cut in line by having so much free time that you can set up camp near his drive. Then there is the question of civilian control over the military, which is an authority that one could indeed say should be absolute. The military and its relatives have no extra claim on the chief executive's ear. Indeed, it might be said that they have less claim than the rest of us, since they have voluntarily sworn an oath to obey and carry out orders. Most presidents in time of war have made an exception in the case of the bereaved -Lincoln's letter to the mother of two dead Union soldiers (at the time, it was thought that she had lost five sons) is a famous instance -but the job there is one of comfort and reassurance, and this has already been discharged in the Sheehan case. If that stricken mother had been given an audience and had risen up to say that Lincoln had broken his past election pledges and sought a wider and more violent war with the Confederacy, his aides would have been quite right to show her the door and to tell her that she was out of order.

Finally, I think one must deny to anyone the right to ventriloquize the dead. Casey Sheehan joined up as a responsible adult volunteer. Are we so sure that he would have wanted to see his mother acquiring "a knack for P.R." and announcing that he was killed in a war for a Jewish cabal? This is just as objectionable, on logical as well as moral grounds, as the old pro-war argument that the dead "must not have died in vain." I distrust anyone who claims to speak for the fallen, and I distrust even more the hysterical noncombatants who exploit the grief of those who have to bury them.
For the record, Cindy Sheehan did not claim he son was killed in a war for a Jewish cabal. That would be David Duke, the former KKK fellow of the far right.

This demonstration, or whatever it is in Texas, may be "dreary sentimental nonsense" - and even some of us on the left are just tired of it - but is a small matter in a larger drama. Hitchens may wish to scoff at her and erase the problem with hyper-literate scorn. If there is a larger drama, this is only, now, a compelling subplot. Hitchens is slick, and he knows his facts. But removing her from the narrative - she will be "swift boated" away soon - won't make much difference now. The main plot is the problem.

So where's that constitution in Iraq? And in a week, or two or three, what will we have there?

We waged this war for what? Cindy Sheehan is not the only one asking questions now.


An additional comment from Baghdad -

Major Cook says he just doesn't get it - this all it shows the lack of understanding of what is going on over there. From Baghdad:
I really don't understand Mr. Meyerson's posting as all wars need promotion. The way to win, especially against the tyranny of the insurgency, is to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the populace that they rely on for support. The al Qaeda and Zarqawi's of the World are masters at publicizing their crusades. Hell, Zarqawi has his own web magazine. If we leave their sentiments and don't illustrate all the good we are doing, then the wedge will never be driven and the people will never walk away from the crusade of hate. That leads me to another note on Mr. Armstrong Williams' words, "Time to Get Out of Iraq." Does he know Zarqawi? Just as the democracy is gaining momentum and we are training Iraqi forces to stand on their own? Insurgencies, have never been wars of attrition, they are wars, and even campaigns for the betterment of societies. When Iraq gains and can maintain the increased hope and security (provided by a standing government backed by a viable constitution and standing armed forces), the insurgency will be beaten. If we pull out now, the almost 2000 of my brothers and sisters that have sacrificed will have done it for no reason. Relentless resolve will get us through and the results will benefit many.
Resolve is the question, isn't it?

Posted by Alan at 21:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005 07:11 PDT home

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Day the Wheels Fell Off: Three Items from Sunday, Bloody Sunday
It seems the war is over - and no one told me. And Cindy Sheehan didn't end it. What do I write about now?

First is this odd item that will tick off a lot of people. We'll see.

My favorite detail?

"A Bush loyalist, Senator George Allen of Virginia, instructed the president to meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother camping out in Crawford, as 'a matter of courtesy and decency.' Or, to translate his Washingtonese, as a matter of politics. Only someone as adrift from reality as Mr. Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president can't win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7."

That aside, this is worth a read…

Someone Tell the President the War Is Over
Frank Rich, The New York Times, August 14, 2005
LIKE the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. "We will stay the course," he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him. …
Key items:
... the tipping point this month in Ohio. There's historical symmetry in that. It was in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, that Mr. Bush gave the fateful address that sped Congressional ratification of the war just days later. The speech was a miasma of self-delusion, half-truths and hype. The president said that "we know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade," an exaggeration based on evidence that the Senate Intelligence Committee would later find far from conclusive. He said that Saddam "could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year" were he able to secure "an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball." Our own National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 1 quoted State Department findings that claims of Iraqi pursuit of uranium in Africa were "highly dubious."

It was on these false premises - that Iraq was both a collaborator on 9/11 and about to inflict mushroom clouds on America - that honorable and brave young Americans were sent off to fight. Among them were the 19 marine reservists from a single suburban Cleveland battalion slaughtered in just three days at the start of this month. As they perished, another Ohio marine reservist who had served in Iraq came close to winning a Congressional election in southern Ohio. Paul Hackett, a Democrat who called the president a "chicken hawk," received 48 percent of the vote in exactly the kind of bedrock conservative Ohio district that decided the 2004 election for Mr. Bush.
And this:
But just as politics are a bad motive for choosing a war, so they can be a doomed engine for running a war. In an interview with Tim Russert early last year, Mr. Bush said, "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war," adding that the "essential" lesson he learned from Vietnam was to not have "politicians making military decisions." But by then Mr. Bush had disastrously ignored that very lesson; he had let Mr. Rumsfeld publicly rebuke the Army's chief of staff, Eric Shinseki, after the general dared tell the truth: that several hundred thousand troops would be required to secure Iraq. To this day it's our failure to provide that security that has turned the country into the terrorist haven it hadn't been before 9/11 - "the central front in the war on terror," as Mr. Bush keeps reminding us, as if that might make us forget he's the one who recklessly created it.
And this:
Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America: not a shotgun constitution rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline, not another Iraqi election, not higher terrorist body counts, not another battle for Falluja (where insurgents may again regroup, The Los Angeles Times reported last week). A citizenry that was asked to accept tax cuts, not sacrifice, at the war's inception is hardly in the mood to start sacrificing now. There will be neither the volunteers nor the money required to field the wholesale additional American troops that might bolster the security situation in Iraq.

WHAT lies ahead now in Iraq instead is not victory, which Mr. Bush has never clearly defined anyway, but an exit (or triage) strategy that may echo Johnson's March 1968 plan for retreat from Vietnam: some kind of negotiations (in this case, with Sunni elements of the insurgency), followed by more inflated claims about the readiness of the local troops-in-training, whom we'll then throw to the wolves. Such an outcome may lead to even greater disaster, but this administration long ago squandered the credibility needed to make the difficult case that more human and financial resources might prevent Iraq from continuing its descent into civil war and its devolution into jihad central.
A comment from the left, on Daily Kos (Armando):
Frank Rich becomes the first mainstream columnist to say out loud what we have been saying for some time - there are no more corners to turn in Iraq. There are no solutions to this Debacle. Bush has failed. Now we must find a way out that best serves the interests and the security of the United States and the world. A time for new leadership, which long since arrived, remains the most important imperative - because BushCo has no clue and has no resolve. The control of this situation must be snatched from them. By public pressure and by electing Democrats with starch in 2006.
That'll be a tough sell.

But then again, it seems a few folks in the administration are admitting this isn't working. This appeared on the front page of the Washington Post the same morning, Sunday, August 14, 2005.

U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq
Administration Is Shedding 'Unreality' That Dominated Invasion, Official Says
Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer, The Washington Post, Sunday, August 14, 2005; Page A01

Key points?
The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society where the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
And this:
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."
And this:
"The most thoroughly dashed expectation was the ability to build a robust self-sustaining economy. We're nowhere near that. State industries, electricity are all below what they were before we got there," said Wayne White, former head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team who is now at the Middle East Institute. "The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries, large private manufacturing, the national electric" system.
Ah well. But back in the summer of 2002 "a senior Bush official" said this to Ron Suskind of the New York Times: "[Establishment liberals] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

It seems creating our own reality was a bit more difficult than anticipated. Reality is funny that way.

And out in the red states?

Andy Mead, Lexington Herald-Leader (Kentucky), Sunday, August 14, 2005

... on Friday, Comley's grandmother, 80-year-old Geraldine Comley of Versailles, described herself in an interview as a former Republican stalwart who is "on a rampage" against the president and the war.

She said she would like nothing better than to join Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier who has been holding a peace vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Texas.

"When someone gets up and says 'My son died for our freedom,' or I get a sympathy card that says that, I can hardly bear it," Geraldine Comley said.

She said her view, developed before her grandson's death, is that Bush pushed for war because Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate the first President Bush, and to get control of Mideast oil.

"And it irritates me no small amount that Dick Cheney, in the Vietnam War, said he had 'other priorities,'" Geraldine Comley said. "He didn't mind sending my grandson over there" to Iraq.
Sunday, August 14, 2005 - the wheels are coming off.

So what happens now?

Posted by Alan at 08:49 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005 08:51 PDT home

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Topic: Announcements


The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log, has just been posted. This is Volume 3, Number 33 for the week of Sunday, August 14, 2005 and full of new items in magazine format.

This mid-August issue is a bit international - an exclusive letter from an officer in Baghdad, some intensely British humor from Mike McCahill, "Our Man in London," a photo essay from Ric Erickson, "Our Man in Paris" (with nine shots that might actually make you book a flight on Air France right now), and "Our Eye on Paris" this week, Don Smith, will surprise you. Sooner or later we'll hear again from "Our Man in Tel-Aviv" - but not this week.

Current events? Everything regarding Camp Cindy down in Crawford is explored, there's some starting legal maneuvering covered in detail, and there are notes on some reevaluations of Islam - and just why was that four-star general fired?

The Culture? Rick Brown provides a great column on religion, and the stem cell business seems to be tearing up California, and the Rolling Stones get all political (and Arnold Schwarzenegger loves it).

Bob Patterson is back, exploring nihilism and travel, but in separate columns. And this week's Hollywood photography is more photojournalism than the usual local interest shots - we scoop the local press and cover a wildfire in the Hollywood Hills.

But there are the usual, short and snappy quotes, this time about tolerance (needed this week), and a link to yet one more Just Above Sunset photo album.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

The Dominant Story: Raising Questions
Letter from Baghdad: At War
Legal Matters: Dealing with Canadians and Shoplifters
Don't Pretend: It is a War on Islam
Sex: A Four-Star General is Fired

The Culture ________________

Religion: Responding to the Theocrats (Rick Brown)
Trends: What Belief Buys You
Changes: Stones Attempting Significance

The Foreign Desk ________________

Our Man in Paris: A World of Warm Airs (nine new photographs)
Our Man in London: How to Stage An Olympic Games

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - The Return of "The Point of No Return"
Book Wrangler: Who wants to leave "the land of silk and money?"

Guest Photography ________________

Our Eye on Paris: Seen This Week

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Wildfire: Watching the Hollywood Hills Burn (new photographs added Saturday, August 13)

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Quotes for the week of August 14, 2005 - Tolerance
Links and Recommendations: Another New Photo Album, Fire in the Hollywood Hills (21 photos)

Saturday morning in the Hollywood Hills after this week's big fire - Nichols Canyon

Posted by Alan at 23:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 13 August 2005 23:47 PDT home

Friday, 12 August 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

The Dominant Story: Raising Questions

Late last Sunday on the web log in a discussion of how to define this war on terror (GWOT) you would find this pull from the Associated Press, Sunday, August 7:
The mother of a fallen U.S. soldier who is holding a roadside peace vigil near President Bush's ranch shares the same grief as relatives mourning the deaths of Ohio Marines, yet their views about the war differ.

"I'm angry. I want the troops home," Cindy Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville, Calif., who staged a protest that she vowed on Sunday to continue until she can personally ask Bush: "Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?"
Followed by this comment:
Well, he died in the Iraq subset of the larger war against a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works, and are pretty good at acts of terrorism, and don't use submarines. How Iraq is involved in this? Let's see - no trace of WMD like we thought and no real connection to or support for the loose confederation, al Qaeda or whomever, like we thought - but now we have this general idea that a democracy there would help things, even if it turns out to be run by a group of fundamentalist Shiite guys who are all cozy with the fundamentalist Shiite Iraq bad guys....

I'm not sure she'd be happy with that.
She has not had any answer, and she's still there, and still unhappy. And the story built during the week.

The view from the outside:

Bush rejects mother's Iraq plea
President George Bush has said he "sympathised" with the mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq but refused to heed her call to pull out the troops.
BBC World Service, Thursday, 11 August 2005, 22:22 GMT 23:22 UK
Speaking from his Texas ranch where Cindy Sheehan has been holding a roadside protest, Mr Bush said withdrawing would be a "mistake".

Ms Sheehan is vowing to remain until she gets to speak to the president about his justification for the war.

Dozens of well-wishers have turned out to join her demonstration.

"Listen, I sympathize with Mrs Sheehan," Mr Bush said. "She feels strongly about her position. And she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America."

He said he had thought "long and hard about her position" calling for US troops to be sent home. But he had decided against it, he said.

"It would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so," he said.

Mr Bush's remarks came after meeting with security advisors, including Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Ms Sheehan's son Casey was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City in April 2004.

The Californian has been camped outside Mr Bush's property since Saturday and has become a symbol for the US anti-war movement.

"All I want is for President Bush to take one hour out of his vacation and meet with me before another mother's son dies in Iraq," she said.

"You don't use our country's precious sons and daughters unless it's absolutely necessary to defend America."

However, some veterans and relatives have dubbed the vigil a distraction and are keen to ensure support for those serving in Iraq does not wane.

Ms Sheehan met the president once before when he visited Fort Lewis in Washington state to meet relatives of those killed in the war.
Case closed? Hardly.

A lot was happening. According to the AP here's some of it -
Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and a deputy White House chief of staff talked to Sheehan on Saturday. She said the meeting, which she called "pointless," lasted 20 minutes. The White House said it lasted 45 minutes.

By Thursday, about 50 people had joined her cause, pitching tents in muddy, shallow ditches and hanging anti-war banners; two dozen others have sent flowers. Her name was among the most popular search topics Wednesday on Internet blogs.

The soft-spoken Sheehan, 48, is surprised and touched at the overwhelming response - most of which is positive, she says. But not everyone supports her. Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the Washington, D.C., chapter of, said Sheehan's protest is misguided and is hurting troop morale. "She has a political agenda that goes way beyond her son's death in combat," said Taylor, whose conservative group has held pro-troop rallies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and counter-protests of anti-war demonstrations.

... Many supporters decided to go to Crawford because of rumors that Sheehan would be arrested.

But no protesters will be arrested unless they trespass on private property or block the road, said Capt. Kenneth Vanek of the McLennan County Sheriff's Office.

Trucker Craig Delaney, 53, was in Georgia on Monday when he heard numerous radio shows discussing Sheehan - some criticizing her. He altered his route to California, heading for Texas, and got to Sheehan's site Wednesday morning.

"I felt compelled to come and tell her I support her," said Delaney, a self-described hippie from Sly Park, Calif. "The way they were bad-mouthing a mother whose son was killed in the war is un-American."

Nearly 40 Democratic members of Congress have asked Bush to talk to her. On Wednesday, a coalition of anti-war groups in Washington also called on Bush to speak with Sheehan, who they say has helped to unify the peace movement.

"Cindy Sheehan has become the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, leader of the Hip Hop Caucus, an activist group. "She's tired, fed up and she's not going to take it anymore, and so now we stand with her."
Rosa Parks? Maybe so.

It seemed best to leave this to the end of the week to gather the threads of what's happening. Many readers have followed all this, but putting it all in order may be of some use. If nothing else, it is sometimes nice to look back and see just what happened. And these links will all be in one place.

Tim Grieve mid-week with this:
By our way of thinking, families who have lost a loved one in Iraq get a free pass to think whatever they want to think about the war. If getting through their grief requires them to believe that Iraq had WMDs or that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 or that the war will spread democracy through the Middle East or that fighting "the enemy" there means we don't have to fight them here or whatever new story the president is peddling this week - well, whatever. They've paid the price of admission to think whatever it is that lets them sleep at night, and we wouldn't presume to tell them why we're right and they're wrong.

Is it too much to ask for a similar courtesy from our friends on the right?

Apparently so. Cindy Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City last April, and now she's making a scene down at Crawford as she tries to talk with the president about the war. We say she's entitled, and we're pretty sure we'd say that no matter what she was saying about the war. But Bill O'Reilly says Sheehan's behavior "borders on treasonous." And Michelle Malkin, the right's darling blogger and Ann Coulter-wanabe, is complaining that Sheehan has made a "public circus" out of her "private pain." Appearing on O'Reilly's show, Malkin aimed the lowest of blows at Cindy Sheehan: "I can't imagine," she said, "that Casey Sheehan would approve of such behavior."
David Brock over at Media Matters provides the details of who said what.

Cindy Sheehan's a hypocritical liar:
On August 8, Internet gossip Matt Drudge posted an item on his website, the Drudge Report, in which he falsely claimed that Sheehan "dramatically changed her account" of a meeting she had with Bush in June 2004; Drudge attempted to back up his false assertion by reproducing Sheehan quotes from a 2004 newspaper article without providing their context. After the story appeared on the Drudge Report, it gained momentum among conservative weblogs and eventually reached Fox News, where it was presented as hard news and in commentaries. ...

Drudge's August 8 item claiming that Sheehan had changed her story used quotes from a June 24, 2004, article in The Reporter of Vacaville, California, where Sheehan lives. The Reporter article described a meeting that Sheehan and 16 other families of soldiers killed in Iraq had with Bush in Fort Lewis, Washington, earlier that month. Sheehan's son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

Drudge quoted Sheehan seemingly speaking glowingly of Bush: "'I now know [Bush is] sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis,' Cindy said after their meeting. 'I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith,' " and, "For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again. 'That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together,' Cindy said." Drudge contrasted these quotes to Sheehan's statements on the August 7 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, in which she said, of the 2004 meeting with Bush: "We wanted to use the time for him to know that he killed an indispensable part of our family and humanity."
A part of the The Reporter story Drudge omitted?
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."

The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.

But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. ...
The fellow who wrote the story says Drudge got it all wrong here and the editor of the paper where the story appeared later added this "We don't think there has been a dramatic turnaround. Clearly, Cindy Sheehan's outrage was festering even then," Barney wrote. "In ensuing months, she has grown more focused, more determined, more aggressive. ... We invite readers to revisit the story - in context - on our Web site and decide for themselves." Editor and Publisher also quotes the editor of the Vacaville paper saying this: "It's important that readers see the full context of the story, instead of just selected portions. We stand by the story as an accurate reflection of the Sheehan's take on the meeting at the time it was published."

As Media Matters notes, all that made no difference. August 8:
- Drudge posted the Sheehan item on August 8 at 10:11 am ET.

- Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin postedthe item on her weblog one hour later, at 11:22 am ET.

- At 12:40 pm ET, the Drudge story appeared on C-Log, the weblog of the conservative news and commentary website

- At 2:33 pm ET, posted the story.

- At 3:23 pm ET, William Quick of posted the story.
Then Fox News picked it up on the "Political Grapevine" segment of the August 8 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume. Guest anchor and Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle:
ANGLE: Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year, who's now camped outside President Bush's Crawford ranch demanding to see him, said yesterday on CNN that a private meeting with President Bush last year was offensive, insisting, quote, "He acted like it was a party. He came in very jovial, like we should be happy with that. Our son died for the president's misguided policies."

But just after that 2004 meeting, she gave a very different account...
It hit O'Reilly the next day.

The lefties should be so organized. There's much more at Media Matters. Note this from the August 9 edition of The O'Reilly Factor -

Bill O'Reilly says we're dealing with treason here: "I think Mrs. Sheehan bears some responsibility for this [publicity] and also for the responsibility for the other American families who lost sons and daughters in Iraq who feel this kind of behavior borders on treasonous." (audio here)

His guest Michelle Malkin adds: "I can't imagine that Casey Sheehan would approve of such behavior." (audio here)

Yeah, well, they're unhappy.

Sheehan on the Bill Press show: "I didn't know Casey knew Michelle Malkin? I'm Casey's mother and I knew him better than anybody else in the world? I can't bring Casey back, but I wonder how often Michelle Malkin sobbed on his grave. Did she go to his funeral? Did she sit up with him when he was sick when he was a baby?" (audio here)

And Thursday's statement from the woman:
This is George Bush's accountability moment. That's why I'm here. The mainstream media aren't holding him accountable. Neither is Congress. So I'm not leaving Crawford until he's held accountable. It's ironic, given the attacks leveled at me recently, how some in the media are so quick to scrutinize -- and distort -- the words and actions of a grieving mother but not the words and actions of the president of the United States.

But now it's time for him to level with me and with the American people. I think that's why there's been such an outpouring of support. This is giving the 61 percent of Americans who feel that the war is wrong something to do -- something that allows their voices to be heard. It's a way for them to stand up and show that they DO want our troops home, and that they know this war IS a mistake? a mistake they want to see corrected. It's too late to bring back the people who are already dead, but there are tens of thousands of people still in harm's way.

There is too much at stake to worry about our own egos. When my son was killed, I had to face the fact that I was somehow also responsible for what happened. Every American that allows this to continue has, to some extent, blood on their hands. Some of us have a little bit, and some of us are soaked in it.

People have asked what it is I want to say to President Bush. Well, my message is a simple one. He's said that my son -- and the other children we've lost -- died for a noble cause. I want to find out what that noble cause is. And I want to ask him: "If it's such a noble cause, have you asked your daughters to enlist? Have you encouraged them to go take the place of soldiers who are on their third tour of duty?" I also want him to stop using my son's name to justify the war. The idea that we have to "complete the mission" in Iraq to honor Casey's sacrifice is, to me, a sacrilege to my son's name. Besides, does the president any longer even know what "the mission" really is over there?

Casey knew that the war was wrong from the beginning. But he felt it was his duty to go, that his buddies were going, and that he had no choice. The people who send our young, honorable, brave soldiers to die in this war, have no skin in the game. They don't have any loved ones in harm's way. As for people like O'Reilly and Hannity and Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh and all the others who are attacking me and parroting the administration line that we must complete the mission there -- they don't have one thing at stake. They don't suffer through sleepless nights worrying about their loved ones

Before this all started, I used to think that one person couldn't make a difference... but now I see that one person who has the backing and support of millions of people can make a huge difference.

That's why I'm going to be out here until one of three things happens: It's August 31st and the president's vacation ends and he leaves Crawford. They take me away in a squad car. Or he finally agrees to speak with me.

If he does, he'd better be prepared for me to hold his feet to the fire. If he starts talking about freedom and democracy -- or about how the war in Iraq is protecting America -- I'm not going to let him get away with it.

Like I said, this is George Bush's accountability moment.
Clear enough.

Drudge tries another gambit (picked up on all the same sites as above), a statement from the "Sheehan Family" condemning Cindy's "political motivations and publicity tactics" (run under a giant bold headline "Family of Fallen Soldier Pleads: Please Stop, Cindy") - to which she responds:
Still putting out the O'Reilly fires of me being a traitor and using Casey's name dishonorably, my in-laws sent out a press statement disagreeing with me in strong terms; which is totally okay with me, because they barely knew Casey. We have always been on separate sides of the fence politically and I have not spoken to them since the election when they supported the man who is responsible for Casey's death. The thing that matters to me is that our family -- Casey's dad and my other 3 kids are on the same side of the fence that I am.
So that's dying out.

Still there's this (audio and video available at the link):
During the panel segment on Thursday's Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, Fred Barnes recalled Joe Wilson and Bill Burkett as he wondered, "is there any left-wing publicity hound who the media won't build up?" Zeroing in on Cindy Sheehan, Barnes criticized both her and the media's treatment of her: "This woman wants to go in and tell the President that the war is about oil because the President wants to pay off his buddies. She's a crackpot, and yet the press treats her as some important protestor."
No, she wants to ask questions. He made up that thing about oil.

Michelle Malkin here:
I can't imagine Army Spc. Casey Sheehan would stand for his mother's crazy accusations that he was murdered by his commander-in-chief, rather than the Iraqi terrorists who ambushed his convoy. I can't imagine Army Spc. Casey Sheehan would stand for a bunch of strangers glomming onto his mother's crusade and using him to undermine the war effort as they shouted "W killed her son" in front of countless TV cameras.

Cindy Sheehan has surrounded herself with a group of anti-American, anti-military, terrorist-sympathizing agitators, including Code Pink, the Crawford Peace House, and the crackpot crowd.

It's a sad spectacle. President Bush should continue to treat Mrs. Sheehan with the same compassion and sympathy he showed her when they first met - before her heart and mind were poisoned by the professional grievance-mongers who claim to be her friends.
Right. Maureen Dowd in the New York Times wonders about that:
It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W., who has spent nearly 20 percent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his five-week vacation and two-hour daily workouts. He may be in great shape, but Iraq sure isn't.

It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation. His rigidly controlled environment allows no chance encounters with anyone who disagrees. He never has to defend himself to anyone, and that is cognitively injurious. He's a populist who never meets people - an ordinary guy who clears brush, and brush is the only thing he talks to. Mr. Bush hails Texas as a place where he can return to his roots. But is he mixing it up there with anyone besides Vulcans, Pioneers and Rangers?

W.'s idea of consolation was to dispatch Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, to talk to Ms. Sheehan, underscoring the inhumane humanitarianism of his foreign policy. Mr. Hadley is just a suit, one of the hard-line Unsweet Neo Cons who helped hype America into this war.

It's getting harder for the president to hide from the human consequences of his actions and to control human sentiment about the war by pulling a curtain over the 1,835 troops killed in Iraq; the more than 13,000 wounded, many shorn of limbs; and the number of slain Iraqi civilians - perhaps 25,000, or perhaps double or triple that. More people with impeccable credentials are coming forward to serve as a countervailing moral authority to challenge Mr. Bush.

Paul Hackett, a Marine major who served in Iraq and criticized the president on his conduct of the war, narrowly lost last week when he ran for Congress as a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in Cincinnati. Newt Gingrich warned that the race should "serve as a wake-up call to Republicans" about 2006.

Selectively humane, Mr. Bush justified his Iraq war by stressing the 9/11 losses. He emphasized the humanity of the Iraqis who desire freedom when his W.M.D. rationale vaporized.

But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.
And Friday we get this (Associated Press):
President Bush and his motorcade passed the growing camp of war protesters outside his ranch Friday without incident.

The motorcade didn't stop.

Cindy Sheehan, the California mother who started the vigil along the road leading to Bush's ranch, held a sign that read: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"

On Friday, Bush arrived before noon at a neighbor's ranch for a barbecue that was expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee.

About 230 people were attending the fundraiser at Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, a 478-acre spread next to Bush's ranch. All have contributed at least $25,000 to the RNC, and many are "rangers," an honorary campaign title bestowed on those who raised $200,000 or more for Bush, or "pioneers," those who have raised $100,000 or more.
And so the week ends.

What to make of all this? As the week ends, Digby over at Hullabaloo asks the question:
I've been wondering what it is about Cindy Sheehan that's gotten under people's skin. Her loss is horrible and everyone can see that she is deeply pained. (Only the lowest, cretinous gasbags are crude enough to attack her in her grief.) She's a very articulate person and she's incredibly sincere. But she's touched a deeper nerve than just the personal one.
Yep, she finally asked the question clearly. What was the noble cause that her son died in - because that's what he said the other day when those fourteen marines were killed. He did say their families could rest assured that their sons and daughters died for a noble cause. And she asked, "What is that noble cause?"

Good question.

It is not an academic exercise for her. She lost her son - and she'd like to know why. Nobody can explain to her - or to any of us - why we invaded Iraq and why people are dying. They said it was to protect us - but it wasn't a threat. Then they said it was to liberate the Iraqi people, but Saddam and his government are a memory and yet the Iraqi people are still fighting us and each other. Our invasion of Iraq has inspired more terrorism, not less. Oil prices are higher than they've ever been. The country is swimming in debt. People are being killed and maimed with the regularity of the tides.

And everybody knows this. Deep inside they know that something has gone terribly wrong. We were either lied to or our leaders are verging on the insanely incompetent. That's why when Cindy Sheehan says that she wants to ask the president why her son died - in those simple terms - it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It's not just rhetorical.

She literally doesn't know why her son had to die in Iraq. And neither do we.
Of course, there are geopolitical concerns and lots of things happening in the world that command one's attention, and this may be more a curiosity than an important news story. The woman has put the president, his administration, and his supporters, on the defensive, and they may be striking out in anger - but the war will proceed, as will whatever follows it. It seems she will not sway any of those in power.

But they know the danger - a tipping point - something that shifts the terms of all the arguments. You cannot any longer shout WMD and have folks stand behind you, because it turns out there weren't any, as many warned. You cannot shout, "Connection to al Qaeda and all the terrorists!" - because it turns out there wasn't any connection, as many warned. You cannot shout "Democracy in Iraq" as they work out a new constitution there that takes away women's rights even Saddam Hussein granted and aligns the new government with the theocracy in Iran next door, the evil folks working on nuclear weapons. You can shout out, "Remember 9/11" - and they will do that again and again - but that's wearing thin.

Lots of folks asked "the question" - why? It seems it took the mother of a dead soldier asking it for it to seem a serious question that actually deserved more than a perfunctory answer. Lefties and commentators and think-tank folks and ex-diplomats and foreigners asking the question won't do. This woman will do.

But don't expect any answer.

Still, she's dangerous.

Many will dismiss her as addled by grief and thus unqualified to discuss such matters, or just a tool of the left ? those out to destroy Bush because they resent him - or a shameless opportunist who just loves the limelight. Many will? Many have.

Still, now the question is out there, plain as day, no matter what her motives.



This will be continued. Over at the National Review Kate O'Beirne, a commentator one often sees on Fox and CNN and the other talk shows, tells us Cindy Sheehan's efforts should be countered with pro-war grieving mothers: "Surely a fair number of such family members are in Texas? Let's hear from them?" (That's here.)

At the snarky site Wonkette, this:
Is that what the debate has come to? Which side can corral the saddest crop of widows, parents, and orphans? Call it a harms race. Better: an ache-off.

We hope the grimly absurd image of two competing camps of mourners illustrates why it is we've been somewhat reluctant to weigh in on Sheehan's cause: Grief can pull a person in any direction, and whatever "moral authority" it imbues, we can't claim that Sheehan has it and those mothers who still support the war don't.

The Bush administration knows all about exploiting tragedy for its own causes, including re-election.

Whatever arguments there are against the war in Iraq, let's not make "I have more despairing mothers on my side" one of them.

The only way to win a grief contest is for more people to die.
Yep, but it's not about who grieves more sincerely. It's about why they have to.

Posted by Alan at 19:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005 19:34 PDT home

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Topic: The Law

Legal Matters: Dealing with Canadians and Shoplifters

A long time ago the case of Maher Arar was discussed in Just Above Sunset here - December 21, 2003: Bitter Brits. Arar was the Canadian citizen we secretly deported to Syria. We don't do torture. They do. Torture is not US policy. And we thought he was a bad guy. We picked him up at the Newark airport when he was changing planes. But, damn, is seems he wasn't as bad guy. We had bad information. As the 2003 item points out, his crime was that his mother's cousin had joined the Muslim Brotherhood long after Maher Arar moved to Canada. And after ten months of torture and incarceration in a quite tiny cell in Syria, he was allowed to return to his home in Canada.

Oops. Now he is suing the US government. He is not happy.

Well, we were just being careful, and a bit overly enthusiastic. Understandable, of course.

Wonder of wonders, his case is finally being heard. You see there was rental lease agreement from 1997 which he had co-signed and that seemed to indicate he might have known someone who knew someone who… oh heck, the full details and all the supporting documentation are here if you're at all interested.

What's interesting now is the summary of our government's position, now that we're in court, as reported in the New York Times, Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - U.S. Defends Detentions at Airports (byline Nina Bernstein) -
Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday.

The assertion came in oral arguments over a federal lawsuit by Maher Arar, a naturalized Canadian citizen who charges that United States officials plucked him from Kennedy International Airport when he was on the way home on Sept. 26, 2002, held him in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn detention center and then shipped him to his native Syria to be interrogated under torture because officials suspected that he was a member of Al Qaeda.

Syrian and Canadian officials have cleared Mr. Arar, 35, of any terrorist connections, but United States officials maintain that "clear and unequivocal" but classified evidence shows that he is a Qaeda member. They are seeking dismissal of his lawsuit, in part through the rare assertion of a "state secrets" privilege.
You have to love the contentions here, especially the contention the suit should be dismissed because we know stuff we cannot tell even the judge. You have to trust us on this.

Judge David G. Trager of United States District Court of course prepared written questions for lawyers on both sides to address further, including one that focused on the fellow's accusations of illegal treatment in New York. Arar says he was "deprived of sleep and food and was coercively interrogated for days at the airport and at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn" - and he was, of course, not allowed to call a lawyer, his family or the Canadian consul.

Trager: "Would not such treatment of a detainee - in any context, criminal, civil, immigration or otherwise - violate both the Constitution and clearly established case law?"

Mary Mason, senior trial lawyer for the government, "it would not."
Legally, she said, anyone who presents a foreign passport at an American airport, even to make a connecting flight to another country, is seeking admission to the United States. If the government decides that the passenger is an "inadmissible alien," he remains legally outside the United States - and outside the reach of the Constitution - even if he is being held in a Brooklyn jail.

Even if they are wrongly or illegally designated inadmissible, the government's papers say, such aliens have at most a right against "gross physical abuse."
At most? Seems like she's saying he was lucky he didn't get the New York police broomstick up the ass treatment - but he was Canadian, not Haitian.

But here's a cool exchange:
Under immigration law, Ms. Mason asserted, Mr. Arar was afforded "ample" due process when he was given five days to challenge an order finding him inadmissible.

"The burden of proof is on the alien to demonstrate his admissibility," Ms. Mason said, "and he did not do that."

"Do you do this to all people on a connecting flight?" Judge Trager asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Yes, all have to show admissibility," Ms. Mason replied. …
The counterarguments came form David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University, representing Arar. His notion was that the government had denied Arar "a meaningful chance to be heard" - refusing to let him call a lawyer initially, and later by sort of lying to the lawyer about his whereabouts. You see, Arar, who had been told he would be deported to Canada, was not handed a final order sending him to Syria until he was in handcuffs on the private jet heading out over the Atlantic. And we told his lawyer that he had been sent to a jail in New Jersey. Fooled ya!

Cole - "We can't take a citizen, pick him up at J.F.K. and send him to Syria to be tortured. We can't hold against Mr. Arar the failure to file a motion for review when he's locked up in a gravelike cell in Syria."

Wanna bet?

Other issues?
Dennis Barghaan, who represents former Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the federal officials being sued for damages in the case, argued that Congress and recent judicial decisions tell federal courts "keep your nose out" of foreign affairs and national security questions, like those in this case.

At several points the judge seemed to echo such concerns. He said he had refused to read a letter from the plaintiffs detailing testimony before a Canadian board of inquiry into Mr. Arar's case because he did not know how to deal with questions that might require the government to confirm or deny classified information.

"How am I going to handle that?" he asked, rubbing his forehead and furrowing his brow before adjourning the hearing.
That's a real good question.

Tresy, over at Sisyphus Shrugs (great name for a commentary site) suggests this is a little too Kafkaesque for her taste and wonders why this isn't get more play in the media:
You would think that our government kidnapping the citizen of a neighboring democracy and sending him to be tortured, by an official supporter of terrorism no less, simply because of a signature on a rental lease agreement, would have some newsworthiness. Too bad Arar wasn't a pretty white woman. …

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that a government that claims the right to imprison suspects without any due process on grounds of national security would claim immunity from legal process on the same ground when the tables are turned. Still, it takes a bit of chutzpah to claim "clear and unequivocal evidence" that the plaintiff, now walking around free, is a terrorist. Sending him to Syria to be tortured is just what you do with obviously guilty people, you see.

Welcome to America. Have a nice trip.
Our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, commented all this cannot be good for tourism. Maybe it will improve sales of the collected works of that Czech-born German-speaking writer, Kafka - and we can all read "The Trial" (1914). Maybe it will revive interest in that 1967 television series The Prisoner. Not much else good will come of it all.

But finally, the guy is a Canadian, and we've been unhappy with the Canadians for a long time. In an April 27th 2004 radio debate with a Canadian journalist, Bill O'Reilly threatened to lead a boycott of Canadian goods if Canada didn't deport two American military deserters, saying that his previous boycott of French goods - the one he thought-up and championed - cost France billions of dollars in lost export business. (See this - it didn't.) And although they sent troops to fight beside us in Afghanistan, Canada took a pass on Iraq. Seems they weren't impress with the WMD argument, or felt the pressing need for an immediate war. And now those Canadian folks have approved gay marriage and made it all legal.

Like we care what happens to this Canadian?


Other legal matter for the week:

Answers sought in death outside Wal-Mart
Man accused of theft begged to be let up from hot pavement, witness says
Robert Crowe and S.K. Bardwell, Houston Chronicle, August 9, 2005, 8:49 PM
A man suspected of shoplifting goods from an Atascocita Wal-Mart - including diapers and a BB gun - had begged employees to let him up from the blistering pavement in the store's parking lot where he was held, shirtless, before he died Sunday, a witness said.

An autopsy for the man, identified as Stacy Clay Driver, 30, of Cleveland, was scheduled for Monday, but officials said results probably would be delayed by a wait for toxicology tests.

Driver's family, as well as one emergency worker, are questioning company procedure, including whether Wal-Mart workers administered CPR after they realized he needed medical attention.

When Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department paramedics arrived, Driver was in cardiac arrest, said Royce Worrell, EMS director. Worrell said Monday he heard from investigators that Wal-Mart employees administered CPR to Driver, but he was not sure that happened.

"When we got there, the man was facedown (in cardiac arrest) with handcuffs behind his back," Worrell said. "That's not indicative of someone given CPR."
Liability here? Or is the business of America business?

Wal-Mart has been getting a lot of bad press lately. There was the shooting-the-cats business (here) and the big class-action discrimination lawsuit (and by "big" we're talking about 1.6 million plaintiffs) - and now this death-to-shoplifters enthusiasm. Perhaps questioning company procedure is in order.

On the other hand, too much regulation of business hurts the economy. And we love those low prices.

Posted by Alan at 18:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2005 18:07 PDT home

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