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Consider:

"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, 22 August 2005

Topic: Iraq

As Expected, Nothing Happened - or Things Got Worse

No news is just, well, no news - not good news, and then again, not bad news. One can discuss the efforts to write a satisfactory constitution in Iraq at great length - the deadline loomed and there was a bit of drama in it all. But on Monday nothing happened:

Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote
Qassim Abdul-Zahra with correspondents Bassem Mroue, Sameer N. Yacoub and Omar Sinan, Associated Press, Monday August 22, 2005 11:01 PM London (UK)
In another dramatic last-minute standoff, Iraqi leaders put off a vote on a draft constitution late Monday, adjourning Parliament at a midnight deadline in a bid for more time to win over the Sunni Arab minority whose support is key to stopping the insurgency.

The Shiite-Kurdish faction that submitted the draft constitution expressed optimism that a deal was still possible within a few days. But top Sunni Arab leaders said flatly that compromise was far off.

More than 20 issues still divide the sides, said Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of four top Sunni Arab negotiators. Those issues include federalism, power sharing and even how the constitution should speak about Islam.

"This constitution is full of land mines that would explode on Iraqis. This constitution will divide the country,'' al-Mutlaq said.
AP reports that all the remaining issues "cast doubt whether the Iraqis would be able to finish the document within a few days since the various groups have widely differing positions" - and that the repeated delays are "a deep embarrassment for the Bush administration at a time of growing doubts within the United States over the mission in Iraq."

No kidding.

They also report we lost two more of our guys Monday to a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, and two more in a military operation near Tal Afar. The AP count is now at least 1,870 lost since the war started in 2003 - and that Bush defended the war Monday, saying "a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety'' - from terrorism.

Who was suggesting that? I though the ideas presented had to do fighting smarter, and maybe elsewhere, and by different means, and had to do with involving a lot of other nations instead of telling them they're all fools. The man has a Jones for Iraq - and Iraq may not be the problem at all. And the "new Iraq" we're about to get is, anyway, not what we wanted in the first place. All that was said by all those people was in the vein of "work smarter - not harder" and that sort of thing.

As for the draft (or daft) constitution that emerged late Monday, it was a Shiite-Kurdish thing, and, as noted by AP and most everyone else, this thing "would fundamentally transform Iraq from the highly centralized state of Saddam Hussein into a loose federation of Kurds, Shiites and Sunni Arabs." The Sunnis lose. They ran the place under Saddam. Is it any wonder they oppose decentralization? That cuts them out of all the oil revenues and leaves them just about powerless. They're not signing on to that. The Shiite-Kurdish draft actually was finished up on Monday, and was formally submitted it to parliament just before a midnight deadline. "But the negotiators quickly withdrew the draft because of the fierce Sunni Arab resistance."

This is not looking good.

Other matters?

It seems the Sunnis also objected to the draft because it called Iraq "an Islamic country" and not "an Islamic and Arab" country. Well, yes, the Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims and they are not Arab. Are they being too picky? Down the road that could make a difference - "Hey, you don't belong here - you may be Muslim, but you're not any kind of Arab - so get your sorry ass out of here or die." Well, it's possible.

It seems too that there were fifteen Sunni Arab members of the drafting committee - and they said the other two groups just didn't play by the rules. They issued a statement early Tuesday about that - the government and the committee did not abide by the previous agreement for consensus. Sunni delegate Nasser al-Janabi - "We reject the draft constitution that was submitted because we did not have an accord on it."

But is this a big deal? The Democrats got over the Florida 2000 thing and that Harris woman and all the rest - or most did - so does this matter? Sometimes you get steamrolled. It happens.

The AP makes a lot of this Tuesday statement, however:
Although the statement was issued after parliament had deferred a decision, it was significant because it indicates the Sunnis may try to block any accord, if they do not agree with it entirely.

That could severely complicate negotiations in coming days.
Yep, blocking any accord messes things up, big time, as Dick Cheney would say.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, who is a Sunni Arab, said there was strong interest in reaching unanimity on the draft "so that the constitution pleases everyone.''

Everyone? The AP tells us this fellow later ticked off the remaining issues: federalism, the formation of federal units, problems related to mentioning the Baath Party in the constitution, and the division of powers between the president, the parliament and the Cabinet. Geez.

But the bottom line is the Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for any sort of draft constitution they'd like - without the Sunni guys. On the other hand this Sunni minority could blow that constitution away when voters decide whether to ratify it - that would be October 15 referendum. If it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in any three of the eighteen Iraq provinces it's toast, and the Sunni Arabs hold the majority in at least four provinces. And if the Shiites and Kurds do win ratification of this hypothetical constitution, there are always car bombs and assassinations, and our guys don't come home any time soon.

Worst part? They can't even take this to the US Supreme Count and let Scalia and Thomas and the rest decide matters.

It's a mess. Do we just walk away - do we just get out now? We took care of the bad guy, Saddam, so let them solve they own problems? Bring the troops home and let them squabble.

No. See Juan Cole here -
Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76 ?.

People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.

All it would take would be for Sunni Arab guerrillas to assassinate Grand Ayatollah Sistani. And, boom. If there is a civil war now that kills a million people, with ethnic cleansing and millions of displaced persons, it will be our fault, or at least the fault of the 75% of Americans who supported the war. (Such a scenario is entirely plausible. Look at Afghanistan. It was a similar-sized country with similar ethnic and ideological divisions. One million died 1979-1992, and five million were displaced. Moreover, all this helped get New York and the Pentagon blown up.)

I mean, we are always complaining, and rightly so, about the genocide in Darfur and the inattention to genocides in Rwanda and the Congo earlier. Can we really live with ourselves if we cast Iraqis into such a maelstrom deliberately?

And as I have argued before, an Iraq civil war will likely become a regional war, drawing in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. If a regional guerrilla war breaks out among Kurds, Turks, Shiites and Sunni Arabs, the guerrillas could well apply the technique of oil pipeline sabotage to Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as they do now to the Kirkuk pipeline in Iraq. If 20% of the world's petroleum production were taken off-line by such sabotage, the poor of the world would be badly hurt, and the whole world would risk another Great Depression.

People on the left often don't like it when I bring this scenario up, because they dislike oil; they read it as a variant of the "war for oil" thesis and reject it. But working people, whom we on the left are supposed to be supporting, get to work on buses, and buses burn gasoline. If the bus ticket doubles or triples, people who make $10,000 a year feel it. Moreover, if there is a depression, the janitors and other workers will be the first to be fired. As for the poor of the global South, this scenario would mean they are stuck in dire poverty for an extra generation. Do you know how expensive everything would be for Jamaicans, who import much of what they use and therefore are sensitive to the price of shipping fuel? It would be highly irresponsible to walk away from Iraq and let it fall into a genocidal civil war that left the Oil Gulf in flames.

On the other hand, the gradual radicalization of the entire Sunni Arab heartland of Iraq stands as testimony to the miserable failure of US military counter-insurgency tactics. It seems to me indisputable that US tactics have progressively made things worse in that part of Iraq, contributing to the destabilization of the country.

So those who want the troops out also do have a point.
You could click on the link and read his suggestions. None of them suggest jumping ship, even if our global strategies and policies have jumped the shark.

So they cannot agree on the New Iraq (does that get a ® or a ™ or a ©?) - not even close - and we shouldn't stay and we really can't leave.

Now what?

Posted by Alan at 19:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005 19:16 PDT home

Sunday, 21 August 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Down to the Wire: "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?"

Late on Sunday, August 21, the Associated Press was reporting that the day before the deadline for the new Iraq constitution, Sunni Arabs were asking the United States to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq. The final talks? Monday morning. Kamal Hamdoun, one of the negotiators for the Sunni minority - "I am not optimistic. We either reach unanimity or not."

AP puts it dryly -
A Sunni Arab backlash could complicate the U.S. strategy of using the political process to lure members of the minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. Washington hopes that a constitution, followed by general elections in December, will enable the United States and its international partners to begin removing troops next year.
Well, Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet the new, second deadline - they will present a final document to the National Assembly, but that is dominated by Shiites and Kurds. The Sunni folks don't get much say - they may be twenty percent of the population but they hold only 17 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly. That's what happens when you boycott an election, isn't it? The Shiites and Kurds have more than enough seats in parliament to push thought this draft constitution without the Sunni folks getting any say - but that just looks bad.

So now the chief government spokesman is "suggesting" another delay may be necessary. This is not easy. They have to amend the interim constitution one more time to extend the deadline, or they have to dissolve the government and start over - new elections and all that, and more purple fingers.

The AP summary of the issues: federalism, distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, power-sharing questions among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy.

Other complications?
- Some radical groups within the insurgency, notably al-Qaida's wing led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, oppose any constitution as an affront to Islam and have vowed to kill anyone who votes in the referendum. Sunni clerics, however, have urged their followers to register to vote.

- Also Sunday, the Iraqi government said neighboring Jordan has allowed Saddam's family to fund a network seeking to destabilize Iraq and re-establish the banned Baath Party.
The Jordanian government had no immediate comment, but their police have detained a few Iraqis and other foreign suspects regarding that rocket attack Friday the 19th - the one that barely missed one of our ships docked in Aqaba

Things seem a tad unstable.

But one thing about the Iraqi constitution has been settled. We're getting a theocracy of sorts according to this from Reuters:
U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said on Saturday as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense U.S. pressure.

U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.

Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.

But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam "the", not "a", main source of law - changing current wording - and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.

"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."
Maybe, and maybe not. So we get a fundamentalist theocracy with limited rights for women. It's a little concession. Heck, the evangelical right in this country want just that here, for Jesus, so what's wrong with one over there, for Allah?

Bill Montgomery here:
Actually, if it staves off civil war long enough for the Pentagon to withdraw the bulk of the troops from Iraq, then I'd say it's precisely what the American people want.

Outside the neocon and neoliberal elites (plus the Republican true believers, who support whatever they're told to support) the American public never has shown much enthusiasm for Bush's revolutionary aspirations in the Middle East, and it has even less of an appetite for grand historical transformations now that it has a better idea of how much they cost. Which means the firm of Democracy Unlimited, Inc. ("Shouldering the White Man's Burden Since 2003") is going into liquidation. And, as always, the least valuable assets are being discarded first, meaning women's rights in the Iraq are bound for the bottom of the scrap heap.

... It is increasingly clear, though, that whatever the original face value of Bush's promises of liberation, the American public is no longer willing to pay the price to redeem them. The enterprise is busted - as broke as Arbusto Energy and Spectrum 7 ever were. All that's left in the corporate till now are the lies that will now be used to obscure the birth (in all but name) of the Islamic Republic of Iraq.
That item has a rather complete analysis of the details of the law as it will be in Iraq.

Juan Cole, that professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan adds this - "... the idea that Americans in Iraq aren't just giving up on women's rights, but actively participating in the elimination of those rights is stunning. The only thing worse than Americans thinking they can control other people is an American ambassador encouraging the abuse of more than half the people in the country."

Well, he kind of did that. But we need them to meet the deadline. How else are we getting out?

The curious reaction to this compromise on the right comes in the National Review from Andrew McCarthy. Something is changing in the conservative ranks when he, there, says this is where I get off the bus -
For what it's worth, this is where I get off the bus. The principal mission of the so-called "war on terror" - which is actually a war on militant Islam - is to destroy the capacity of the international network of jihadists to project power in a way that threatens American national security. That is the mission that the American people continue to support.

... Now, if several reports this weekend are accurate, we see the shocking ultimate destination of the democracy diversion. In the desperation to complete an Iraqi constitution - which can be spun as a major step of progress on the march toward democratic nirvana - the United States of America is pressuring competing factions to accept the supremacy of Islam and the fundamental principle no law may contradict Islamic principles.

... But even if I suspended disbelief for a moment and agreed that the democracy project is a worthy casus belli, I am as certain as I am that I am breathing that the American people would not put their brave young men and women in harm's way for the purpose of establishing an Islamic government. Anyplace.
But that seems to be just where we find ourselves.
Digby, on the left, over at Hullabaloo, is in alignment, sort of -
His argument is that establishing an Islamic theocracy in Iraq furthers the goals of the violent Islamic fundamentalists, which is a big "no shit." But, of course, the war itself, from the very beginning, has furthered the goals of violent Islamic fundamentalists. This is just frosting on the whole fetid cakewalk.

What this really does is put the coda to the last phony cassus belli - that by bringing freedom and democracy to a country in the heart of the middle east we would plant the seeds for a thousand flowers to grow. Now, along with the other rationales, we can throw this one on the "no longer operative" pile.

I got an e-mail from someone I respect asking me why I made such a big deal out of women's rights being denied when there are so many other freedoms at stake. It's a legitimate question I suppose, but I think the question answers itself. The fact is that under Saddam, in their everyday lives, one half of the population had more real, tangible freedom than they have now and that they will have under some form of Shar'ia. The sheer numbers of people whose freedom are affected make it the most glaring and tragic symbol of our failed "noble cause."

Iraqi women have enjoyed secular, western-style equality for more than forty years. Most females have no memory of living any other way. In order to meet an arbitrary deadline for domestic political reasons, we have capitulated to theocrats on the single most important constitutional issue facing the average Iraqi woman - which means that we have now officially failed more than half of the Iraqis we supposedly came to help. We have "liberated" millions of people from rights they have had all their lives.

This is not to say that an Islamic theocracy is fine in every other way. It will, of course, curb religious freedom entirely. Too bad for the local Jews and Christians - or secularists, of which there were many in Iraq. It will restrict personal freedom in an infinite number of ways. Theocracies require conformity in thought, word and deed.

And all of this must be viewed within the conditions that exist in this poor misbegotten place as we speak. The country is on the verge of civil war. Chaos reigns. Daily life is dangerous and uncomfortable.

It simply cannot be heroic for the richest, most powerful democratic country on earth to claim the mantle of liberator only to create a government that makes more than half the population second class citizens and forces the entire country live in conditions that are less free and more dangerous than before.

It is certainly not acceptable for that country to take any credit for spreading freedom. Creating an Islamic theocracy is anything but noble. It is a moral failure of epic proportions.
Yes, the emphases, in bold, are mine. The right and the left have suddenly agreed on something? Well, this is just one conservative, one Republican who stood behind Bush. Chuck Hegel was always a maverick and you expect him to say things like the longer we spend time in Iraq, the more that conflict starts looking like the Vietnam War, as he did on national television Sunday, August 21 - he got his two Purple Hearts there and a few other medals and he remembers too much. One wouldn't expect a big conservative bailout on Bush over this.

Still there is Stephen Bainbridge saying this:
It's time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent. We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly five decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority?

... if Iraq's alleged WMD programs were the casus belli, why aren't we at war with Iran and North Korea? Not to mention Pakistan, which remains the odds-on favorite to supply the Islamofascists with a working nuke. If Saddam's cruelty to his own people was the casus belli, why aren't we taking out Kim Jong Il or any number of other nasty dictators? Indeed, what happened to the W of 2000, who correctly proclaimed nation building a failed cause and an inappropriate use of American military might? And why are we apparently going to allow the Islamists to write a more significant role for Islamic law into the new Iraqi constitution? If throwing a scare into the Saudis was the policy, so as to get them to rethink their deals with the jihadists, which has always struck me as the best rationale for the war, have things really improved on that front?

... While we remain bogged down in Iraq, of course, Osama bin Laden remains at large somewhere. Multi-tasking is all the rage these days, but whatever happened to finishing a job you started? It strikes me that catching Osama would have done a lot more to discourage the jihadists than anything we've done in Iraq.

... In sum, I am not a happy camper. I'm very afraid that one hundred years from now historians will look back at W's term and ask "what might have been?"
Make that another Bush guy bailing out.

On the other hand, on the same Sunday morning Chuck Hegel was invoking Vietnam, Reuel Marc Gerecht was on Meet the Press - a spokesman for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and one of the fellows from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Heck, you don't get any more Cheney-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Bush neoconservative use-the-military-to-change-the-world than that. And he says this issue with women's rights is no big deal. Check the transcript:
In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there. I think they will be there. But I think we need to put this into perspective.
In his words, "Actually, I'm not terribly worried about this."

Well, an Iraqi Susan B. Anthony could come along in a decade or two and force matters. It happened here, and Iraqi women could then get back to where they were back in 1955 or so. Of course there is this account of the constitutional agreement from the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat:
An agreement was reached that Islam is the religion of state, and that no law shall be enacted that contradicts the agreed-upon essential verities of Islam. Likewise, the inviolability of the highest [Shiite] religious authorities in the land is safeguarded, without any allusion to a detailed description ... A Higher Council will be formed to review new legislation to ensure it does not contravene the essential verities of the Islamic religion.
Think about that. Osama hated Saddam because Saddam's Iraq was a secular state and just insufficiently fundamentalist - that's why there was little if any cooperation between them that anyone could, eventually, find - and now?

So who won this war?

And what do we do now?

Here Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly asks the questions -
Is it time to announce a withdrawal plan for Iraq? Or is there still a chance that an open-ended commitment there will eventually create a semi-stable, semi-liberal, semi-democratic state?

I don't think there's any question that we owed the Iraqi people a sustained and intense effort to rebuild their country. We are, after all, the ones who invaded and occupied it in a war of choice. But several months ago I concluded that we were chasing a lost cause in Iraq, and that's why I started talking openly about withdrawal back in June.
This is followed by a long story of his life in software development, his previous career, where sometimes after a lot of time, money and effort, you had to abandon a project, because it just wasn't worth it. Good managers know this, and accept the obvious.
... One of the biggest differences between good managers and bad managers is that good managers are willing to face up to bad news and act on it. That's what needs to happen here. There are too many big trends working against us to allow us to pretend that a few schoolhouses and half a dozen squads of Iraqi MPs are going to turn the tide.

So: we can wait until things get even worse and withdrawal becomes even more painful, or we can announce a plan now that makes the best of a bad situation and encourages the best outcome still plausibly open to us. We can put specific goals and specific timetables in place, do our level best to meet them, and then leave. Or we can wait until disaster forces us out. But don't let minor events fool you. One way or another, we'll be gone soon. Shouldn't we do it on our terms?
Maybe so. The trends are against us.

And here Drum cites many experts saying we should publicly announce a firm plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Why? The open-ended presence of American troops is helping to fuel the very insurgency that we're trying to fight. Well, duh.

Drum adds:
None of these people is suggesting that we should withdraw immediately. Neither am I. But if we announce a plan for withdrawal based partly on hard objectives - not vague "when the job is done" pronouncements - and partly on a hard end date of, say, 2007, that would mean that we had spent nearly five years occupying Iraq and three years training Iraqi security forces. Quite aside from operational issues that will require us to start drawing down our troops before then anyway, let's face it: if we haven't achieved success in five years, we're never going to achieve it.

That being the case, why not give ourselves a leg up by announcing our plans now? Not only would it put us in control of our own destiny, but there's a good chance that it would also splinter apart a substantial fraction of the insurgents and their supporters, some of whom are motivated by a belief that we plan to be a permanent occupying force. A firm, credible plan for withdrawal would at least partially pull the fangs of the insurgency and probably increase our chance of eventual success in Iraq. Why not take it?
Why not? Here's why.

Refusal to See Sheehan Is Second-Guessed
A Decision Characteristic of Bush Has the Potential to Be a Consequential Act
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, Sunday, August 21, 2005; Page A05

Off topic? After a review of all the Sheehan business:
Bush aides said that, beginning on Monday, he will try to bolster support for his Iraq policy by giving three speeches in military settings over the next two weeks. They said he will argue that just as "the greatest generation" saw World War II through to victory, the nation must be patient while today's military combats terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citing the approaching fourth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush will contend that the ideology of terrorism and the willingness to kill innocents link the insurgency in Iraq to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and to last month's bombings in London.

Some of Bush's aides acknowledge now that they did not anticipate the reaction to turning Sheehan away, but they also are not expressing any regrets about it. These aides maintain that one of the strengths of this White House is a willingness to resist "what appears to be the easy PR route," as one aide put it, and to have the discipline to stick to long-laid plans.
"One of the biggest differences between good managers and bad managers is that good managers are willing to face up to bad news and act on it. That's what needs to happen here. There are too many big trends working against us to allow us to pretend that a few schoolhouses and half a dozen squads of Iraqi MPs are going to turn the tide."

Is facing the facts - every reason for this war has, one by one, turned to dust, and we're getting a mini-Iran for all our efforts, and our being there makes things worse by the day, and leaving is an awful choice too - are those facts worth considering? Or would that too be bowing to PR pressure, and you can't do that?

In response to an accusation of inconsistency, John Maynard Keynes is often reported to have said, "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?" It seems the administration prefers to ignore the facts.

Posted by Alan at 20:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 21 August 2005 20:36 PDT home


Topic: Announcements

Redirection

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 34 for the week of Sunday, August 31, 2005 - was posted on the web late last night. This is the weekly parent site to this web log and contains, in magazine format, extended and corrected versions of current events items that first appeared here, along with a wealth of new material.

In this week's issue the first five current events items center on the drama in Crawford and its implications, and include an exchange with our Major Cook in Baghdad. Additionally, as Henry Kissinger brought up Vietnam in this context of Iraq, we cover that and Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has some pointed words there. The Vietnam War also plays a part in the Canadian item this week – as something we did up north in the late sixties is causing a lot of anger today, and again, Ric in Paris adds some exclusive detail to that story.

In the features section, "Our Man in London," Mike McCahill, tells us that on the telly over there London has become somewhat American, while "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, tells us of "Smoke" - and other matters in Montparnasse (with six new photos). And there is a lot going on in over here - Hollywood becomes less Hollywood as the house that George and Ira Gershwin bought from Carole Lombard, where they did their best work, has been demolished for something new (three photos). And there's a bit about the pope and whether he answers to the law or not.

Bob Patterson is back with questions about reality television - we all have those - and with his weekly book roundup.

Photography? Paris in August from Don Smith, "Our Eye on Paris" – locally, "the last of America's great rail stations" here in Los Angeles, looking much as it did in 1939, and in the plaza next door, that mariachi band (you'll see a man and his guitarrón).

And of course there are the usual pithy quotes - this week on dissent, as that seemed appropriate given the Sheehan business - and a link to one more new photo album that will take you back to the romance of the rails in the late thirties.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

The Day the Wheels Fell Off: Three Items from Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Chatting With Baghdad: What's gone wrong with the narrative?
Missing Link: A Vacuum Where the "Noble Cause" Should Be
Momentum: From Brighton, New York to Paris, France
Wrap-Up: This is the way the world ends - not with a bang but a whimper …

Echoes of Vietnam ________________

Oh Henry!: Kissinger's Worse-than-Vietnam Analysis [completely new]
Inside Story: Angry Canadians [new, exclusive material added]

Features ________________

Our Man in London: Lost In Transmission
Our Man in Paris: Smoke Saved!
Local History: We Don't Do That - We Obliterate Our Past
Religion and the Law: "Ha, ha - you can't TOUCH me!"

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the Desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Reality TV as Dadaist Entertainment
Book Wrangler: Take off your glasses, Joe! - or, The Saga of the Fighter Pilot versus the Hausfrau

Guest Photography ________________

Our Eye on Paris: August

Local Photography ________________

Union Station, Los Angeles
A Mariachi Band

The Usual ________________

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

Teaser: A man and his guitarrón…



Posted by Alan at 11:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 21 August 2005 13:32 PDT home

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Topic: World View

Inside Story: Angry Canadians

It seems the Canadians are an ungrateful lot - they're ticked off about this, of all things - the US military sprayed Agent Orange over a manned Canadian military base in New Brunswick in the mid-60's - but did they expect we'd test this stuff south of the border? Up there? A bunch of Migmag, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Acadian, Brayon - and Scottish, Irish and other Loyalist Tories. And it was a long time ago. And it helped us win in Vietnam.

As noted in Harry Shearer's "Eat the Press" column there is this from Wednesday, August 17, 2005 - Page A6 of the Globe and Mail up there in Canada -
FREDERICTON - Federal officials say they're launching a fact-finding mission to uncover the truth about the use of toxic defoliants at a New Brunswick military base in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Fredericton MP Andy Scott, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, announced a process yesterday to gather as much scientific and anecdotal evidence as possible concerning the spraying of such herbicides as Agent Orange and Agent Purple at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick.

"I hope that people find the truth, whatever it is, and that the government, faced with that truth, will do the right thing, whatever it is," Mr. Scott told a news conference in Fredericton. …
This has been percolating for a few months.

Canada reviews Agent Orange cases
Lee Carter - BBC News, Toronto - Published: 2005/06/24 03:49:29 GMT

In short, the Canadian government says the testing was on a small scale and unlikely to harm local civilians - but they will start the processing compensation claims. They now admit US military sprayed Agent Orange - in 1966 and 1967 - over a Canadian forces base in New Brunswick. This BBC item covers the public meeting with the angry folks there.
One man at the meeting said that people who were in the area at the time changed colour because of the spraying.

"We didn't know what it was, we weren't told what it was, it won't hurt you," he said.

"Now we find out this stuff here is killing us. No wonder all my buddies are all dead."

Speaker after speaker berated the officials with their stories about health problems they associate with the dioxin and the defoliants including cancer, premature death, ulcers and lung disease.
Yes, up there they change colour, while down here we change color.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, born in Canada, who holds his weekly Café Metropole Club meeting each Thursday on the Right Bank:
I'm sending this post to a club member living in this Fredericton. If he's still alive.

Serves us right. There we were, smug and warm in a Safeway bakery on the midnight shirt, tossing cotton bread from the oven to a conveyor belt. And there was this guy, picking up a bit of easy bread, between being in the Canadian army stationed with an UN peacekeeping unit on the DMZ in Vietnam and going to Hollywood, to get in the movies.

He said, "The army wouldn't let me stay on the DMZ. Two tours and I gotta rotate, but there's no other wars, so I quit. Was in 20 years anyway, get my pension; maybe get a job as a tech advisor for war movies." He didn't want to even stay around for the free bread. It was winter and as usual, it was horrible, raining all the time.

You know, a guy who was in Vietnam as a volunteer. Watching the B-52s flying north, powerless to prevent them breaking the peace, bombing Uncle Ho. So maybe he was volunteering to be sprayed with Agent Orange too, not like those hapless jerks sitting around in New Brunswick, about as far as it's possible to get from Indochina.

Let you know if my guy in Fredericton says anything.
And here's the inside story.

Exclusive report via email to Just Above Sunset from Dr. B. Poole, Canadian medical expert and Café Metropole Club member since June, 2004:
FREDRICTON, Saturday, August 20: - This Agent Orange isuue in New Brunswick has flared up from time to time for over 20 years. The military chemical testing went on back in the Vietnam war era. Obviously precautions were a lot more lax with chemical exposure back then and I have little doubt there was inappropriate exposure.

On the other hand, any number of health complaints in the exposed individuals is being blamed on the chemicals. Remember those exposed are now 35-40 years older and susceptible to other health problems just like the aging population at large. Also many of the complaints are quite vague in nature - headaches, poor concentration, memory loss, anxiety as well as cancers, respiratory/cardiovascular disorders etc. - in a group that were usually heavy smokers.

In short it is difficult to sort out illness due to other causes versus chemical exposure. Of course those who feel they have been wronged are looking for financial compensation. This often confounds the objective evaluation of the situation. Also, detailed records of spraying activities and old health records are often lacking or poorly detailed.

I'm not intimately involved in evaluating these patients but was asked to do neurological testing on a study of these individuals 15-20 years ago - but I don't think the study ever got off the ground.
I don't know how accurate this analysis is but that's the way I see it.
Exclusive comment via email to Just Above Sunset from Radio Ric, inexpert Canadian and Café Metropole Club secretary since October, 1999
PARIS, Saturday, August 20, 2005 - This does not answer the essential question of why the Canadian government permitted this spraying, when its only involvement in the Vietnam conflict was as a member nation on the UN's peacekeeping mission. Did the government have a dirty secret agenda?

Was the Canadian government secretly plotting with the US Selective Service, to spray American draft dodgers, deserters and defectors, hiding out north of the border in the dense Canadian forests? New Brunswick seems to be an ideal hideout area; its main attraction is its location not near anywhere. Both governments probably thought they were only spraying bears, perhaps ones that had drifted north from Maine.
Ah, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

This may be (relatively) ancient history. But it doesn't help matters with our neighbors to the north. There was that business with Maher Arar. And, as you might recall, 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 in the current war, 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 impressed with the WMD argument, or felt the pressing need for an immediate war. And those Canadian folks have approved gay marriage and made it all legal. And now, echo of Vietnam weapons…

What next?

Posted by Alan at 09:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 20 August 2005 09:15 PDT home

Friday, 19 August 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Wrap-Up: This is the way the world ends - not with a bang but a whimper -

This fizzled out at the end of the week. Reread Eliot The Hollow Men (1925). Cindy Sheehan left Crawford, Texas, Thursday, to deal with a family emergency - she and her sister flew into LAX and then traveled down the way to Hawaiian Gardens, inland, south of Los Angeles, to be with her seventy-four-year-old mother who suffered a stroke. The bare-bones from CNN:
Sheehan said she and her sister were going to Los Angeles "to assess the situation" but that her supporters will continue her protest outside Bush's Texas home.

"If I can, I'll be back. If I can't, I won't be back. But I will be back as soon as possible," Sheehan told reporters outside "Camp Casey," the protest site named for her son.
It somehow seems unlikely the momentum of the thing will continue.

Digby puts it succinctly:
Without her, the protest becomes something different, less compelling and less meaningful. What a shame.

But it was very worthwhile. The questions about Iraq have crystallized for a lot of people who up until now just felt vaguely uncomfortable. The press has been forced to see the anti-war sentiment that has clearly been showing up in the polls in human terms. And Democrats and others have been able to connect with one another in a personal and meaningful way for the first time in a long time. That is not something that we should ever underrate. People need to feel part of things; they need to be allowed to be human. Cindy Sheehan and her protest gave a vast, frustrated and near hopeless number of Americans something to believe in. Let's hope it changed the zeitgeist for good.
Did it?

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal: Best of the Web," Friday, August 19, says it's all over for the Most Hated Woman in America:
Our confidence in the evanescence of Sheehanoia looks to have been well founded. Cindy Crawford - sorry, Sheehan - left Crawford, Texas, yesterday …

We're guessing Sheehan won't come back, and even if she does, who cares? Cindy's here! Cindy's gone! Cindy's back! Fenton Communications, the left-wing PR firm that has been flogging the Sheehan story, put out a press release this morning titled "Cindy Sheehan Requests Privacy." Although this request reflects not a small amount of chutzpah, it's likely that the press will comply. Reporters can't possibly be both bored enough and creative enough to keep this story going.

Mrs. Sheehan has been through a lot in the past year and a half: the loss of her son, the collapse of her marriage, a two-week stint as the Most Hated Woman in America, and now her mother's serious illness. Any of these on its own would be highly stressful, but all four together have got to be brutal. That the second and third items on the list resulted from her own actions makes it clear that Mrs. Sheehan does not cope well with emotional difficulty. We hope she gets whatever help she needs to achieve some semblance of balance. …

What lasting effect will Sheehanoia have on American politics? Not much, it seems safe to say. A Rasmussen Reports poll suggests that she didn't change many minds…

The whole kerfuffle was, however, informative in some ways. For one, it reveals that very few people on the antiwar left have any compunction at all about making common cause with someone who espouses virulent anti-American and anti-Semitic views. For another, it showed something we've long suspected: that some on the left - and not just the America-hating fringe - want America to lose this war.
Is that what she wants? In that what those who question Bush want?

No, and a discussion of that whole concept filled the web logs at the end of the week.

Kevin Drum notes a whole lot of Democrats saying "failure is not an option" - but we have to do things differently - with this:
… if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let's hear what you mean by "win" and how you think we can do it, and let's hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences. "Stay the course" isn't enough. What Bush is doing now obviously isn't working, so what would you do that's significantly different?

Conversely, if you don't believe we can win in Iraq, and you're only suggesting we stay there because you can't stand the thought of "looking weak," then your moral compass needs some serious adjustment."
And this:
The insurgency is not going to give up, the Army doesn't seem to have any kind of consistent commitment to using counterinsurgency techniques against it, we don't know for sure that they'd work anyway, and let's face it: the track record of major powers beating large-scale overseas insurgencies is close to zero in the past half century.
So, now what?

Digby here:
The neocons are convinced that everything from the rise of terrorism to male pattern baldness is the result of looking weak. They have been very explicit in their view that American presidents Reagan and Clinton both made terrible mistakes by withdrawing from Lebanon and Somalia. It is a fundamental part of their threat analysis.

Likewise, Bin Laden credits the mujahadeen running the Russians out of Afghanistan as precipitating the destruction of the Soviet super power. There are undoubtedly many of his followers who think that the insurgency running the US out of Iraq would accomplish the same thing, which is, of course, ridiculous. But providing bin Laden with the opportunity to declare "victory" is enough to give the neocons apoplexy.

I don't happen to think we should make decisions based upon what bin Laden thinks about anything. We have provided him with plenty of recruiting material by invading Iraq - there is little margin in worrying about whether withdrawal will result in bin Laden taking a victory lap. (How ironic it would be, too, considering that it was Bush who created a fictitious connection between al Qaeda and Iraq in the first place.) The neocons worry incessantly about this. It's almost as if they share the Japanese obsession with "face" and they will do almost anything to save it. They will fight withdrawal with every breath in their bodies.
Then, curiously, this:
There is no real way to win in Iraq with or without George Bush and his staff. But there are different ways of losing. He is not going to stand for a complete withdrawal, timed or otherwise. They aren't leaving. The military is forcing them to draw down, and they probably will for practical and domestic political reasons. But they will not just pick up and leave, which means that the perception of American occupation - and certainly the perception of American involvement in the government - will continue. And, of course, the civil war that is developing will also continue. I cannot realistically see another scenario developing.

That's the real world we are living in until 2008. The Bush administration will watch Iraq turn into the ninth circle of hell before they will completely withdraw. So, Kevin's challenge to Democrats to come up with a better plan is actually a political challenge. They can try to put pressure on the government, but they will not make any headway on policy. Not with this group.

Everything is about positioning for the next two elections.

… I'm sorry to have to reduce this to politics. It is an absolutely horrible situation that should have been prevented and wasn't. That was our failure. But it has happened and it is what it is. The only thing we can do is ensure that Republicans are held accountable for this failure and prepare the ground for the future. If I thought we could convince the GOP to do anything different, I would put politics aside and say that we should all work together. But that is clearly impossible. They will not listen. They will not admit that they've made any mistakes. And worst of all, they will not do the one thing that might make a difference - take the US off the playing field in Iraq. They believe that doing that in past situations from Vietnam to Somalia is the reason terrorism is a threat today. More importantly, they would lose face and that they will not do.

All we are left with is politics.
Maybe so. And there are many others in on this discussion.

Now what? One basic problem is what Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn Rule - we broke it and now we own it, and the corollary seems to be that common decency demands we stay and try to make things better. Get the electricity working again, make sure there's running water, and that the sewers systems work - for a start. It's not a "noble cause" - but that would help.

Winning? That would come next, if possible.

Sheehan hasn't an answer to the issue of winning.

Note this:

What Cindy Sheehan Really Wants
Now imagine if she gets it.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Friday, Aug. 19, 2005, at 1:44 PM PT - SLATE.COM

Much of this is Hitchens out to prove Sheehan really is anti-Semitic and unhinged. He said she is, she said she never said any of the thing he says she said, and he spends much of this item calling her a flat-out liar and dangerous fraud.

Be that as it may, he does say some things about what's next, and the idea of just leaving Iraq appalls him:
Some have perhaps been drawn to "Camp Casey" out of reverence for life. Their demand, however, is an immediate coalition withdrawal from Iraq. Have they seriously asked themselves how humane the consequences of that would be? The news of a pullout would put a wolfish grin on the faces of the "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" brigade, as Mr. Zarqawi's force has named itself in order to resolve all doubt. Every effort would be made to detonate every available car-bomb and mine, so as to claim the withdrawal of coalition forces as a military victory for jihad. I can quite understand Ms. Sheehan's misery at the thought of her son being killed on some desolate road. But will she be on hand to console the parents whose sons are shot in the back while being ordered to surrender and withdraw?

I hope I don't insult the intelligent readers of this magazine if I point out what the consequences of such a capitulation would be for the people of Iraq. Paint your own mental picture of a country that was already almost beyond rescue in 2003, as it is handed back to an alliance of homicidal Baathists and Bin-Ladenists. Comfort yourself, if that's the way you think, with the idea that such people are only nasty because Bush made them so. Intone the Sheehan mantra - repeated this very week - that terrorism is no problem because after all Bush is the leading terrorist in the world. See if that cheers you up. Try it on your friends. Live with it, if you are ready to live with the consequences of what you desire.

This is an argument, about a real war, that deserves moral seriousness on all sides. Flippancy and light-mindedness have no place. Cindy Sheehan's cheerleader Michael Moore has compared the "insurgents" in Iraq to the American minutemen and Founding Fathers. Do I taunt him for not volunteering to fight himself in such a noble cause? Of course I do not. That would be a low and sly blow. Do I say that he is spouting fascistic nonsense? Of course I do. Is Cindy Sheehan exempt from any verdict on her wacko opinions because of her bereavement? I would say that she is not. Has she been led into a false position by eager cynics who have sacrificed nothing and who would happily surrender unconditionally to the worst enemy that currently faces civilization? That's for her to clarify. While she ponders, she should forgo prayer, stay in California, and end her protest.
Yes, the argument, about a real war, deserves moral seriousness on all sides.

Sheehan actually doesn't matter any longer. The question is what we now do. Hitchens sides with Bush - we should slog on. Cutting out now presents real problems. Is there a third alternative - or fourth or fifth?

Sheehan has done her job. Let her comfort her mother. The new issue is on the table.

Posted by Alan at 17:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005 17:50 PDT home

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