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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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Sunday, 28 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Who Do You Trust?
Those of us old enough to remember recall in 1968 when Pete Seeger had been invited to appear on the CBS Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. This was the second season premiere and he was to sing his anti-war song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy." The song was about a gung-ho military officer during WWII - the guy attempts to force his men to ford a strong river only to be drowned in the mucky currents. Of course it was a thinly veiled metaphor for Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam War. (It was his war by then.) CBS said no. The public got ticked off - letters and editorials and all that. CBS gave in. They allowed Seeger to appear on the Comedy Hour later in the season to perform the song. You could look it up, but some of us remember.

And some of us remember part of the lyrics:
Knee deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on
Waist deep! Neck deep! We'll be drowning before too long
We're neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on.
You get the idea. But Iraq is not Vietnam. Bush is no Lyndon Johnson.

But one wonders. The Shiites and Kurds have their proposed constitution, and it goes to the vote on October 15th. The Sunnis say they never agreed to it and they'll vote it down if they can, and one can expect a lot of violence as the vote nears. They're not happy. Campaigning may be dangerous, and voting even more so - perhaps fatal. And if the voting takes place without too many bombing and assassinations, and it passes, perhaps we get a civil war, a Sunni uprising. And if it doesn't pass we may get one too as all three bloc fight for power in the resulting vacuum. Interesting. There will be a vote on the fifteenth - we will meet the schedule (or they will meet our schedule). Meeting the schedule matters. As some have pointed out, the Hindenburg arrived in New Jersey right on time.

But are things, really, when you take away the anti-war hype, going swimmingly, or at leas relatively swimmingly - no one drowning in any muddy river at all? Remember the Truth Tour - that trip those conservative talk show hosts took to Iraq last month? They were supposed to break through the pessimism and bring us the good news. That was covered in these pages here in July. Haven't heard much.

Bill Montgomery over at Whiskey Bar does discuss reporting on whatever the truth is in Notepads on the Ground, which is a sort of "who do you trust" with what the news is.

You might want to click on it for his summary of the reporting on Vietnam - David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan (the fellow who wrote A Bright and Shining Lie), Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune saying she went over there and listened to the commanders and sat in on a lot of military briefings and we were winning that war, damn it! Fascinating stuff. Good quotes. Eerily familiar.

Who do you trust?

Well, Montgomery says things are different there. It's not like Vietnam at all:
All along, the reporters in Baghdad - the American ones, at least - have been operating in a far more restrictive environment than their Vietnam counterparts, both because of the Pentagon's rules and the complete absence of security. (As one old Vietnam foreign service hand recently noted, even at the height of the war, U.S. civilians could go just about anywhere they wanted to go in Saigon. Nobody in their right mind would say that about Baghdad.)

It's also true that the press corps in Baghdad doesn't even seem to get out as much as it used to do, back in the carefree days of mission accomplished and scattered resistance from a handful of "dead enders." With the Baghdad morgue now setting monthly records for new admissions, their wariness is understandable. No self-respecting reporter ever wants to hand their competitors a story, particularly if it involves their own death.

However, for all my complaints about the corporate media and its kneejerk cowardice when it comes to challenging official deceit - in Baghdad as well as Washington - even I have to admit the coverage on the ground in Iraq has been, for the most part, very good, and at times even excellent.

Given the conditions, the willingness of reporters ... to go out and cover the war from the front lines (such as they are) is in the best traditions of the Fourth Estate.
Maybe we are getting something like the truth. He has examples with links to some really good reporting. Check it out.

And note this:
Today, for example, I came across a collection of stories written by Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter, who's spent the past three weeks with the Marines in Anbar province (a.k.a. "the wild, wild west") - not three days in the Green Zone chatting with "white collar soldiers", like our conservative talk show tourists.

Granted, it's still an embed point of view, but Lasseter's interviews with the noncoms and junior officers he meets, and his descriptions of their interactions with the Iraqi soldiers they are shepherding and the population surrounding them, paint a vivid picture of some truly outstanding soldiers who've been sent on an impossible mission - and who are trying very hard not to lose their minds or their humanity in the process. It's tragic, powerful stuff.
An example he cites?
Officers worry about the enemy while trying to make sure their men don't crack under the pressure.

"I tell the guys not to lose their humanity over here, because it's easy to do," said Marine Capt. James Haunty, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. "I tell them not to turn into Col. Kurtz" ...

Asked for an example of the kind of pressure that could cause Marines to crack, Haunty talked about the results of a car bomb: "I've picked up pieces of a friend, a Marine. I don't ever want to see that s--- again."
That is a reality check, and these are some truly outstanding soldiers who've been sent on an impossible mission.

A passage from Lasseter on "Iraqification" -
In Hit, Strickland finally managed to get three of the Iraqi soldiers to help him with the checkpoint. The fourth remained in the shade, making hand gestures indicating that he needed a light for his cigarette. Within five minutes the other three were making frequent motions toward the sun and then in the direction of the base. "Finish?" they asked. "We finish?"

A Marine standing nearby suggested to Stickland that maybe the answer was to train Iraqis as traffic police, give them orange vests and have them do traffic stops on their own.

Strickland laughed. "Yeah, until the muj finds out the Americans gave them the vests; then they'll kill 'em," he said, referring to the insurgents by the Arabic word for "holy warrior," mujahedeen.

"When they have problems, these guys will just leave their uniforms and walk off."
There's more, but you get the idea, such stuff in not in the daily briefings, and wasn't presented to the Truth Tour folks.

There are pockets of good, and progress, but this from Lasseter is telling:
Instead of referring to the enemy derisively as "terrorists" - as they used to - Marines and soldiers now give the insurgents a measure of respect by calling them "mujahedeen," an Arabic term meaning "holy warrior" that became popular during the Afghan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet Union.
Just a little detail.

If you read nothing else about the war in Iraq this weekend - or this month - read Lasseter's stories. True, they're just anecdotal pieces of evidence - although in this kind of war anecdotal evidence is probably more valuable than the reams of statistics and self-serving progress reports spat out by the Pentagon. Lasseter also doesn't paint the troops as the kind of heroic, larger-than-life action figures that make the fighting keyboarders drool with barely suppressed homoerotic envy. But you can't read his stuff and not come away with a profound sense of respect for the men and women who are fighting this war, and a boiling anger over the way they are being sacrificed to a hopelessly lost cause.

If that's "liberal bias," then American journalism - and the American people - could use a whole lot more of it.
Maybe, but what about those fighting keyboarders drooling with barely suppressed homoerotic envy?

You might want to check out James Wolcott and Once More Into The Chickencoop.

Wolcott starts off ticked at the neoconservative thinker Rich Lowry, who had recently written this: "If only members of the military - who are overwhelmingly conservative - were considered competent to decide the nation?s posture on matters of war and peace, we would have an even more forward-leaning foreign policy. I?m comfortable letting the 82nd Airborne decide what we do about anti-American rogue states. Are opponents of the war?"

Well, yes. Wolcott sums up:
First of all, conservative or not, it is difficult to imagine that the US military leadership on its own would be as avid on invading and occupying other countries as the neoconservative architects of World War IV, of which Iraq is but one theater. Who do you think would be more likely to press for preemptive war, General Tommy Franks, who knows what the logistics, manpower, and materiel demands would be, or former undersecretary of defense Doug Feith, "the dumbest fucking man on the planet"?

... The guys and gals of the 82nd don't wake up in their barracks one morning and kibbitz amongst themselves. "What the hell, maybe it's time we took out Iraq. Let's get our gear together and requisition a transport plane, treat ourselves to a few kickass months in the Sunni triangle."

The 82nd Airborne goes where the Pentagon decides it should go, and that strategic decision is made by the civilian leadership. When the quality of the civilian leadership is corroded by arrogance, ignorance, and ideology, it is a formula for catastrophe.
And Wolcott reviews, one more time, what happened to General Shinseki, who said we might need three of four hundred thousand troops to pull this off. He got shit-canned. They don't even listen to the military on military matters.

Wolcott quotes James Fallows on how that went down:
Shinseki has been, through his career, a real by-the-book guy. So he would not go out of his way to make public disagreements that were clearly going on inside the Pentagon. But in the hearing where Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was sort of drawing him out on what he expected the troop levels to be, Shinseki finally said, based on his own past experience, that he thought it would be several hundred thousand troops. This became a real arcane term about, what did several hundred thousand mean? But let's say 300,000 and up. His real level, internally, had been in the 400,000 range.

Several days later, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, appeared before a different committee. [He] went out of his way essentially to slap Shinseki in the face, to say there had been some recent estimates that had been wildly off the mark - using the term, "wildly off the mark." Then he went on to say that it was almost impossible to imagine that it would be harder, and take more troops, to occupy Iraq than it had taken to conquer them; whereas that point, that it would be harder to occupy than conquer, was in fact the central theme the Army had been advancing before the war.
The end of the general's career, there.

Wolcott asks who was right about what was needed to do the job in Iraq, General Shinseki, "or those great military minds and neoconservative intellectuals Paul Wolfowitz and Richard 'The Army guys don't know anything' Perle? None of these guys were military, although the president has often said, "I've been to war and know what it's like." That's stretching a short time in the Texas Air National Guard, entirely stateside, just a bit, and given missed months and cutting out early too. Close enough? Well not like those fakers John Kerry and Max Cleland.

So what to make of these war folks, our self-described "war president" and all the fighting keyboarders drooling with barely suppressed homoerotic envy standing behind them and cranking out the PR? Chickenhawks?

For me, the working definition of a chickenhawk is - a chickenhawk is a cheerleader. A cheerleader for war. And not necessarily just the war in Iraq, or regional war in the Mideast, but war in general. A chickenhawk glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head, mocking those less enthusiastic military aggression as pacifists, appeasers (Michael Ledeen's pet word), even traitors. Who patronize anyone with qualms, from the Quakers to the Chuck Hagel, with edgy impatience and disdain. Who treat the destruction of human life as a stupendous flourish as long as it's the US doing the destroying - who, that is, propose "creative destruction" on a geopolitical scale as an instrument of transformation. Not to mention an opportunity to teach those desert folks in sandals a lesson upside the head.
That about sums it up and you should read how he eviscerates John Podhoretz who explained going to war in Iraq was "luscious" as it put the Democrats in such a bad place. And he lays into Jonal Goldberg for saying, "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

No wonder Colin Powell left early.

But these are the guys we want leading us, or have wanted so far.

That's why this is pure fantasy. If Bush has left us with a choice between two false arguments, his stay the course and get out now, we all know neither will work. So -
Here's what we need to do: Tap into the willingness of the American people to embrace and solve its own problems. This is going to be highly problematic for Bush because he's going to have to come clean. We need to make this our war, not his war. It has to benefit us, not his crones. Here are some suggestions. (Don't count on the Dems to do anything but sniff the polls and lay back.)

Make the transition from oil to alternative fuel mandatory within the decade. It can be done technologically (It was feasible in the late 70s when I covered the auto industry as a reporter for a major automotive magazine). We've lost four years since 9/11 and are likely to lose four more under Bush. We cannot waste another day. Tax gasoline an additional dollar a gallon to cover the R&D and regulatory implementation.

Get serious about protecting us at home. That means shifting the billions of dollars that are lining Halliburton's pockets in Iraq to building a serious border protection capability. Three million people a year enter the US illegally through the Southwest and there is no plan to stop them. It means implementing a massive information architecture that tracks visas, passports and other documents of visitors. Perhaps some of the $300 billion could have been better spent.

Consider stiffening the requirements for alien visas and work permits. Make English proficiency a mandatory requirement.

Police and punish employers of illegal workers. No new laws as are needed, only a commitment to enforce them. Deport all undocumented workers, no questions asked.

Insist on making the war on terror truly global by involving other nations. Bush's military approach does not work. London's policing made the FBI, CIA and the thousand-headed hydra called the Department of Homeland Security look like chumps. Share information. Coordinate activities. Find the terrorists and kill them.

Prepare for the inevitable. There will be civil war in Iraq no matter what anyone does.
This is from "LeftCoast" at Best of the Blogs and doesn't account for national leadership that "glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head." But the writer is right about the Democrats - don't count on them to "do anything but sniff the polls and lay back."

Tom Watson, one of those professional journalists who blogs on the side, explains that nicely:
Yet, of course, the toothless, political cowardice of the Democrats must not slip away into the night of history. Particularly in this Congress, lockstep support for national security in the "time of war" has given the Administration the social checkbook it needs to write the bills for this war. Far too many Democrats went along for the ride, bought too easily into the argument that everything is different after 9-11. They missed the fact that one thing didn't change, despite the panic of the President and his little yelping terriers: we still have some national character in this country, we can't be sold a bill of goods forever, we know when to hold 'em and to fold 'em.

And folks, it's time to fold 'em. When the argument for continuing war is to merely to honor the dead that have gone before with more dead, with more wounded, with more destruction, you know the jig is up, that the military maneuver is merely in the form of a forlorn hope, destined to die for nothing. The Iraqi civil war will rage until there is no Iraq. There never was an Iraq, except as the construct of an empire and a dictator; we had no business in the squabbles of religious tribes. And we have no business in helping to write a constitution that places the lives of women at the mercy of a medieval code of sexist, moralist, symbolist system of humiliation and punishment. Conspiring with the mullahs against women may be George W. Bush's greatest act of treason against the world's people - and it will live in infamy.

There is nothing to this but to admit failure, and save American lives. Perhaps that is not honorable. Perhaps it leaves a vacuum in the east, into which the hard-core religionists can step. To bad: it is done. And we need to be done.
See Pete Seeger, above.

Posted by Alan at 21:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005 21:30 PDT home

Topic: Announcements


The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went online at midnight, Pacific Time. That would be Volume 3, Number 35 for the week of Sunday, August 28, 2005. You will find there, in magazine format, many articles, some extended from what first appeared here, but many entirely new - and there are seven pages of high-resolution photographs, from Paris, from Manhattan, and five from here in Hollywood.

This week the current events items cover the previous week's events sequentially as our efforts in the Middle East spin oddly out of control, and a few key conservatives bail out, and we examine what this "flypaper theory" is all about. Things are hot, and can we "disagree sensibly" - or are we at a stalemate where no one wants news of any kind, the real change in the weather?

Features? "Our Man in London" lets us know about the real game, cricket. We examine a new religion, or one not recognized before, that has to do with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of an elected foreign leader in put in a much broader context - the scientists have lost the dinosaurs. And the SUV debate rages on.

Bob Patterson is back with a rather unusual column for him, quite serious, and his book round-up of new titles you never thought you'd see.

The quotes this week? They're all about photography.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

Last Weekend: As Expected, Nothing Happened - or Things Got Worse
Changing Sides: "When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?"
Flypaper: Some Conceptual and Practical and Moral Issues
Midweek Heat: Some thoughts on 'Disagreeing Sensibly'
Stalemate: No Agreement in Iraq, Dissatisfaction on the Home Front, and No One Doing Much
Weariness: A Change in the Weather

Features ________________

Our Man in London: Stumped
Pastafarianism: The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Religion: Avenging, Angry Christians, and the End of the Enlightenment Confirmed
The SUV Debate: Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - The Oxbow Incident in Iraq?
Book Wrangler: Kreigschmerz? Try "on the road" literature for escapism!

Guest Photography ________________

Our Eye on Paris: Seen This Week
New York: Manhattan River Traffic

Local Photography ________________

Sill Life Studies
Very Far Above Sunset

Quotes for the week of August 28, 2005 - On Photography

The moon at noon in a stone box:

Posted by Alan at 17:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005 17:07 PDT home

Saturday, 27 August 2005

Topic: Iraq

At Last Check: Congratulations, It's a Theocracy!

David Sarno reviewed the news as the week ended with that headline: Congratulations, It's a Theocracy!

Why? Because both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times led with the tale of the collapse of constitution talks in Iraq. (You can find that here and here, respectively.) The Shiite and Kurdish representatives simply called negotiations to a halt when they could find "nothing remotely approaching common ground." The Sunni folks lose. The Sunnis have some problems with the federalism stuff - as Sarno notes, "under the current draft, the Shiites would be able to create an autonomous region in southern Iraq that would contain nearly half the country's population - and all of its best oil fields." Oh well.

We're told, "the Sunni representatives also objected strongly to Shiite stances on the fate of former Baath party members, including Shiite refusal to constitutionally outlaw de-Baathification - the process by which former Baathists are banned from public office. In addition, some Sunnis were deeply suspicious of the theocratic tenets built into the constitution and the resulting similarity the new government might bear to Iran: 'Islam will reign as the official state religion and as a main source of Iraqi law.'"

The New York Times adds - "Clerics will in all likelihood have seats on the Supreme Court, where they will be empowered to examine legislation to make sure it does not conflict with Islam." Sunni leaders saying they'll organize to defeat the new "screw you" constitution at the polls in October. Of course to defeat it requires two-thirds of the votes in all three Sunni-controlled provinces and that might not be possible.

Out here the Los Angeles Times says this looks bad for Bush. No kidding. The whole mess carries "the seeds that could finally destroy the Bush administration's beleaguered strategy" - that would be establishing stability in Iraq. Yep, support for the whole enterprise is falling like a rock. The polls are miserable. This might nail it.

Sarno points to a Knight-Ridder story - "an up-front look at the ramshackle Iraqi security forces. Badly trained, poorly equipped, rarely paid, and in constant danger from insurgents who fiercely despise them, it comes as no surprise that these men aren't up to a mission that even the U.S. Marines are having difficulty with."


What Sarno missed? Try this from the BBC -
Thousands of Sunni Muslims have demonstrated in the Iraqi city of Baquba to protest against the draft constitution being debated in Baghdad.

Some carried pictures of Iraq's Sunni former leader, Saddam Hussein.
Not good. Like old times. But not civil war, of course, yet.

The former CIA guy, Larry Johnson says this -
A hard, clear-eyed look at the current situation in Iraq reveals that we are confronted with equally bad choices. If we stay we are facilitating the creation of an Islamic state that will be a client of Iran. If we pull out we are likely to leave the various ethnic groups of Iraq to escalate the civil war already underway. In my judgment we have no alternative but to pull our forces out of Iraq. Like it or not, such a move will be viewed as a defeat of the United States and will create some very serious foreign policy and security problems for us for years to come. However, we are unwilling to make the sacrifices required to achieve something approximating victory. And, what would victory look like? At a minimum we should expect a secular society where the average Iraqi can move around the country without fear of being killed or kidnapped. That is not the case nor is it on the horizon.

We may even be past the point of no return where we could impose changes that would put Iraq back on course to be a secular, democratic nation without sparking a major Shiite counteroffensive. Therefore the time has come to minimize further unnecessary loss of life by our troops and re-craft a new foreign and security policy for the Middle East.
That's not going to happen.

And there's this historical perspective from Bill Montgomery:
If success really is defined as "putting Iraq back on course to be a secular, democratic nation," then we passed that particular fail-safe point a long time ago - maybe in the early 7th century, when the armies of the Caliphate conquered Mesopotamia. Or at the battle of Karbala in 680, when the prophet's grandson was betrayed and slaughtered, laying the emotional foundation for the Shi'aism. Or when the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and moved the caliphate to Baghdad. Or in 1258, when Baghdad fell to the Mongols and the most magnificant flower of Arabic civilization was destroyed. Or in 1533, when the Ottomans moved in. Or 1917, when the British conquered the place and tried to turn it into a branch office of the government of India - a colony of a colony. Or maybe in 1958, when the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown. Or '68, when the Baathists finally came to power and stayed there. Or '91, when we betrayed the Shi'a to Saddam's tender mercies.

The point is, the land of the two rivers is filled to the brim with historical turning points - ones which most Americans, including the idiots who created this mess, know little or nothing about. And that ignorance, maybe more than anything else, is why the "point of no return" for failure in Iraq was reached before the invasion even started. This has been, and always was, a fool's errand.
Someone's been doing their homework. Should have been someone in DC, it seems.

Larry Johnson again:
We could potentially defeat the Sunni insurgents if we were willing and able to deploy sufficient troops to control the key infiltration routes that run along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys … It would require at least 380,000 troops devoted exclusively to that mission. Part of that mission would entail killing anyone who moved into controlled areas, such as roadways. In adopting those kinds of rules of engagement we would certainly increase the risk of killing innocent civilians. But, we would impose effective control over those routes. That is a prerequisite to gaining control over the insurgency.
Also not going to happen, as that might make things worse, and anyway, we don't have the troops.

Which leaves "Iraqization" as the only viable alternative to withdrawal. But Iraqization is as doomed to failure as Vietnamization, although for different reasons. In Vietnam, it failed because it asked ordinary Vietnamese soldiers to die for a corrupt regime that had virtually no popular support outside the Catholic community and a Frenchified neocolonial elite. In Iraq, it will fail because Kurdish and Shi'a militiamen are willing to die for their own ethnic or sectarian leaders, but not for a country called Iraq. (The Sunnis will die for an Iraq, as long as they get to control it.)

It's all quite hopeless, in other words - in which case withdrawal is not only the correct strategic choice but also the moral one. …
The administration will now provide the counterargument, of course.

Posted by Alan at 16:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005 16:56 PDT home

Friday, 26 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

End of the Week: No Agreement in Iraq, Dissatisfaction on the Home Front, and No One Doing Much

From the New York Times we get this:
Talks over the Iraqi constitution reached a breaking point on Thursday, with a parliamentary session to present the document being canceled and President Bush personally calling one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders in an effort to broker a last-minute deal.

Mr. Bush intervened when some senior Shiite leaders said they had decided to bypass their Sunni counterparts, as well as Iraqi lawmakers, and send the document directly to Iraqi voters for their approval.
From the Associated Press we get this:
[Shiite negotiator Ali] Al-Adeeb said Bush personally telephoned Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and asked him to make compromises on parts of the consitution that would purge former members of Saddam's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from government jobs and political life and on federalism, which the Sunnis strongly oppose.

A second Shiite negotiator also confirmed the Bush call but asked that his name not be published.

Al-Adeeb said al-Hakim told the president that the Shiite bloc was made up of several groups "and they might reject the constitution if the article on the Baath Party is removed.''
The AP follow-up: "The White House confirmed that Bush made the call prior to the midnight Thursday deadline."

Juan Cole: the president bas been "reduced to pleading with a pro-Iranian cleric to please make nice with the ex-Baathists. And he isn't even succeeding in the plea!"

Typical comment from a critic here:
You can bet he wasn't expecting this when he strutted across that aircraft carrier two years ago - or even last year, when Karl Rove had him entering campaign rallies last year accompanied by the theme from "Top Gun."

On the flip side, though, can you imagine the high-fives that were being exchanged in SCIRI headquarters after the call? Al-Hakim will be dining out for years on the story: "So the U.S. president said, 'Please, Mr. Hakim, can you help us?' And I said, "Ahh, I don't know, Mr. President, I'll have to give it some thought..."
This isn't going anywhere.

The poll numbers are tanking. The president's approval ratings are somewhere between thirty-six and forty percent, depending on the poll, with disapproval running about fifty-six percent.

A bad week.

Here's a literary comparison from Michael Signer: Death of a Salesman, 2005.

After a rundown of the situation, this -
Most of the problems about America's situation in Iraq can be traced back not to faults in intelligence, to the Bush's failure at international diplomacy, or to internal disputes in Iraq. They're instead rooted in an earlier, domestic catastrophe: the Bush Administration's failure to convince the American people of the moral rightness of invading Iraq.

It's August, so it's worth remembering this is the month that Andy Card said was, "from a marketing point of view," a bad time to introduce new products.

If they know so much, why was the Bush Administration so bad at selling us this product?

Americans are willing to suffer great numbers of casualties when they believe there's a cause that, morally, rises to the level of mass sacrifice. Osama bin Laden famously said America in Somalia was "paper tiger" that "after a few blows ran in defeat." This belief underlies the ferocity of Al Qaeda's attacks.

The American people want to be convinced by their leaders that they should summon collective moral passion for a military engagement. We tend to approach casualties in a binary fashion -- either they are good (and worth dying for) or not (and worth protesting against -- by the way, Cindy Sheehan is back).
If you click on the item there are embedded links that document all that. And Signer notes that although the casualty level is low compared to the Civil War and the two world wars, although at about Vietnam War levels, he says this:
... unlike many other countries who routinely support grandly bloody conflicts almost as a matter of national culture, Americans apply a high moral standard to casualties: we will not tolerate casualties if they're the result of a conflict in the morally gray area between - which explains why we are convulsing over fewer than 2,000 casualties in Iraq.

Moreover, American constitution-making and nation-building only works when Americans are solidly behind the efforts. Americans fall behind these efforts when they are convinced of their moral rightness. We were more than willing to plow billions of dollars into the Marshall Plan, and to rebuild Germany and Japan, because we were fully convinced of the moral rightness of the missions.

The Bush Administration sold the American people on this war in a hurried, political-blunderbuss sort of way. They worked through politicians first, rather than going to the people. They staged the first vote in Congress a mere three weeks before the 2002 Congressional elections, meaning that the votes (and the "deliberation" that went before them) were shot through with intensely political calculation.

The Administration could have gained more public support for military action in Iraq by focusing less on WMD and more on the stories of Saddam's brutalization of Iraqis, and the fact that his hostile posture threatened our post-9/11 pax Americana.

But, alas, they didn't. They jammed a conclusory war down Congress's throats and presented the package to the American people (the ultimate arbiters) as a done deal.
Singer say we actually were willing to accept this war on faith, but we never really had "that burning, moral passion that has undergirded our greatest military campaigns; the absence of which has gradually corroded our weakest ones (Vietnam, Korea, smaller engagements like Panama, and, now, Iraq)."

Undergirded? Whatever. You see the point. We're losing faith. It been going on for a long time now.

What we face now?
1) A successful Iraq constitution could well take many years of patient cultivation. In America (which was far more stable and internally cohesive), we took ten years. And each of our states (like Iraq's regions) developed their own constitutions in the meantime. But the Bush Administration can't be that patient in Iraq because they need to have a deadline, because they want to get out, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war.

2) To truly establish rule-of-law in Iraq, and stamp out rebellion, would require large numbers of troops, perhaps gained through a draft. Americans have supported drafts before, especially where we've had moral passion for the engagement. But the Bush Administration would never consider a draft, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war

3) To truly win in Iraq (rather than leave behind a fragmented and faltering country) we might well have to suffer more casualties, in the 10,000-or-more range, over the next few years. The American people would certainly grant that sacrifice, if they were behind the war. But the Bush Administration is panicking, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war.
You see where this is going.

Thursday the 25th Jon Stewart had as is guest on "The Daily Show" the facile and experienced, well-traveled and hyper- knowledgeable, and staunchly pro-war Christopher Hitchens as his guest, which was odd. You might note this exchange -
Stewart: But there are reasonable disagreements in this country about the way this war has been conducted, that has nothing to do with people believing we should cut and run from the terrorists, or we should show weakness in the face of terrorism, or that we believe that we have in some way brought this upon ourselves...

They believe that this war is being conducted without transparency, without credibility, and without competence...

Hitchens: I'm sorry, sunshine... I just watched you ridicule the president for saying he wouldn't give...

Stewart: No, you misunderstood why. That's not why I ridiculed the president. He refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults, and falls back upon platitudes and phrases and talking points, that does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people needs to convince."
You can watch the whole thing here - Stewart dismantled him. No pleasantries at the end. Hitchens' comment as the walked off the set? "It's been real."

Actuality it was. This just isn't working. But only the comics can say that - and Cindy Sheehan, who is, of course, a flawed messenger. And Chuck Hegel, a Republican with lots of medals from when he fought in Vietnam. No Democrat would dare.

See this from Fafblog:
Fafblog Interviews: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

FAFBLOG: So what's up, Democrats?

JOE BIDEN: What's up is the war in Iraq, which is terribly mismanaged, Fafnir.

FB: Oh wow! Are you guys against the war, too?

JOE LIEBERMAN: Oh no, we're not AGAINST the war!
HARRY REID: We're all FOR it!
BIDEN: It's the best worst idea in the world, and we're gonna run with it to victory!
HILLARY CLINTON: Watch me eat a bug!

FB: So we can actually win the war! That's great news!

REID: Sort of!
BIDEN: Maybe!
CLINTON: I can wrestle a buffalo!

FB: I'm confused.

REID: The problem is troop levels, Fafnir. The US invaded without enough boots on the ground!
LIEBERMAN: Just another couple hundred thousand soldiers on the ground and hey, we should have this thing wrapped up in no time!
BIDEN: Just like I told George Bush all along! I told him in the Oval Office, "You're gonna go in without enough troops and you're not gonna plan for the occupation and it's gonna be the biggest mistake of your presidency and I'm gonna vote for it!"

FB: Wow, that all seems so prescient.

BIDEN: And then Batman jumped in through the window and said "Senator, the Justice League needs you right away!" and I said "Shut up and move, rich boy, we've got a moon to save!"
CLINTON: I have eaten the heart of a gorilla!

FB: So how come you guys voted for the war if the president was gonna screw it up?

REID: We were misled!
LIEBERMAN: We were deceived!
BIDEN: We were given the impression that the war was actually a match of bareknuckle fisticuffs between a mustachioed Brooklyn brawler and a plucky midget Irishman!
CLINTON: Wanna see me punch out a yak? 'Cause I will!

FB: Will the lies never end. But where will we get the troops from now, Democratic Party? Aren't we runnin out of em?

REID: We've used up plenty of REAL troops, sure, but what about FAKE troops? Why isn't the military pounding the streets looking to recruit new mannequins, crash-test dummies and hand puppets?
LIEBERMAN: Our nation's rich supply of blow-up dolls has barely begun to be explored for national security purposes.
BIDEN: To say nothing of our nation's patriotic trained seal and dolphin population! When will the Pentagon deploy the 101st Fighting Shamu Brigade?
CLINTON: I can tear a boulder in half with my teeth!

FB: Yknow you're right! An that's not even countin what our friends in the fungus kingdom could do.

LIEBERMAN: And you know, Fafnir, if we could train the Iraqi forces to replace our forces more efficiently, we could end the occupation that much faster.

FB: That's such a great idea I can't believe nobody's thought of it before! How do we do that?

REID: Voodoo!
LIEBERMAN: Santeria!
BIDEN: Giant samurai robots piloted by magical fairy children!
CLINTON: If elected I promise to rampage through New York City and swat biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building until my grisly and untimely demise!

FB: Now I like everything I've heard so far today but for some crazy reason most Americans think we should just start pullin our troops OUT of Iraq. Are most Americans crazy?

REID: They're not crazy, Fafnir.
LIEBERMAN: They're just weak, willing to expose America's flabby underbelly to the curved scimitars of a thousand swarthy terrorists.
BIDEN: We can't blink, man! That'd be like... like losing an arm-wrestle to Allah or something! Game over, man! Then they know we're pussies!
CLINTON: I will go back in time and become Richard Nixon and lose the Vietnam War twice as hard as anybody!

FB: Yknow you guys got tons a great ideas but you won't be able to do anything with em unless you win some elections again. How're you gonna do that?

REID: By listening carefully to the American people, and then ignoring them.
LIEBERMAN: By forcefully arguing against the direction George Bush is taking this country!
BIDEN: Just before we vote for it again. ...
Not too far off the mark.

So the one or two maverick Republicans, a few comics, and the ordinary folks, a majority now, those fed up with this all - but not anyone from the "opposition party" - are the ones left to fix this?

Seems so.

Posted by Alan at 21:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 21:50 PDT home

Topic: Photos


Over the last ten days the parent site of this web log, the weekly Just Above Sunset, has seen a dramatic drop in readership, perhaps by fifty percent. This may be the time of year - more and more folks on vacation - but may represent a general weariness with all things political. Perhaps noting much is changing, or will ever change, and everything that needs be said has been said, and said too many times. Or perhaps it's the heat. Los Angeles is in the hottest days of the year and we had scattered blackouts on Thursday the 25th - a major transmission line went down in the middle of peak demand (all that air-conditioning running full tilt as most every place inland from the coast was well over one hundred degrees in the shade).

But if the problem is weariness with all things political - and a collective shrug at current events - the new issue on Sunday will go with the flow. It will be heavy on photography, from Paris, from New York, and from today's photo shoot at the Getty Museum far above Sunset. Here are three of the shots from the 227 we snapped today.

A still life:

An artichoke:

A photographic comment on the passage of time:

Posted by Alan at 18:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 18:39 PDT home

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