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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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Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Topic: Bush

The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours…

This site, and the weekly parent site Just Above Sunset, seldom deal in breaking news. They have evolved from whatever they were when the weekly started in May of 2003, and the daily a month later, into places for commentary and analysis, with photography, and comment on music and books and sometimes science, not to mention weekly columns from "Our Man In Paris," and now "Or Man in London," and sporadically, "Our Man in Tel-Aviv" - not to mention the weekly columns from The World's Laziest Journalist and The Book Wrangler (both Bob Patterson), and photo-essays from Phillip Raines and fiction from our MD friend in the Boston area.

We don't do news, as such.

Thus there has not been much of anything on either site about this worst-of-all hurricane that slid across the bottom of Florida, grew strong in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, then slammed into the Gulf Coast, pretty much destroying Biloxi and leaving four-fifths New Orleans underwater, in some places twenty feet deep, and now under marshal law to stop the looting. What's to say? You can go elsewhere for the folks on the left spinning this as a told-you-so about global warming and the right saying baloney, or go to the business-minded folks fretting about what it means to have a quarter of our domestic oil supply offline and multiple refineries flooded and not operable (and what that means to the economy and interest rates and a possible recession and all that). You can find many commenting that a lot of the manpower that would help with recovery - and heavy equipment for the recovery - is now in Iraq. We sent the National Guard there, didn't we? There's also a lot out there on how FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been sort of disassembled since it was subsumed under the Department of Homeland Security and its funding cut left and right. Stopping terrorists was more important. Now?

All this may be important, but it seems ghoulish. And it seems, well, just a little wrong to hitch one's political views to all this misery and death. Let the others do it, if they must. But you could send some money to the Red Cross instead. People need help, not polemics.

"When it rains, it pours" actually refers to some odd things in the news on Tuesday, August 30 - political things.

New polling shows a clear majority now supports that woman in Texas, Cindy Sheehan - a clear majority supports protest in that they believe she deserves to ask Bush directly about "the noble cause for which her son died." In contrast, a clear majority disapproves of the way Bush is handling his presidency and objects to the way he's dealt with the war. It breaks down to fifty-three percent supporting Sheehan's efforts to question the war, while fifty-eight percent disapprove of George Bush's efforts to manage the war. All this is discussed in Bush v Sheehan - only one has majority support, which provides links to all the polling data.

Something is changing. The message has been, from the right side (in the political, not logical sense), that she represents a small minority of disturbed people who perhaps ought to be pitied for their personal loss, but certainly ought to be silenced before they give any more "aid and comfort to our enemies," as the statute on treason reads. But the details of the polling? Fifty-two percent of the public says Bush should talk to Sheehan while forty-six percent said he should not. So much for the "small minority." Of course, this is not saying these folks are arguing Bush should agree with her and do what she says, which seems to be to stop the war cold. It reads more like more that half the folks are saying he should just have the common decency to meet with her.

But common decency isn't the man's strong suit.

Of course, to a get a sense of his strong suit it probably would have been a good idea to hop in the car Tuesday and drive out to the San Bernardino area where the president was giving a major address on the sixtieth anniversary of V-J Day. (We actually won that one.)

But it was in the nineties here in Hollywood and out there well over one hundred, and the Just Above Sunset staff car was built in England (Oxford) from a German design and those folks just don't understand what kind of air-conditioning cars need out here. That ninety-minute drive seemed like a really bad idea - and the audiences are screened anyway. A fellow from Hollywood with his artsy, left-leaning web sites wouldn't get in the door.

What the heck, Fox News carried the whole thing, every word. Saw a bit of it. It was more of the same.

But maybe there is a bit of common decency in the fact the White House announced Tuesday afternoon that the president will cut short his vacation so that he can oversee the government's response to this worst-of-all hurricane and what it's done to the lower right quadrant of the country. As the Washington Post explains it, his advisors are "sensitive to the image of a president vacationing amid the hurricane crisis."

Yeah, that looks kind of bad. End the long vacation. Wrong image. The in-your-face now-watch-this-drive sneering isn't polling well. Folks really used to like that - a strong a decisive leader telling the rest of the world to go pound sand. That's now getting old.

But Tim Greive over at Salon has some other questions -
... isn't it also fair to ask, what about Iraq? By our count, 71 Americans have been killed in Iraq since Bush arrived in Crawford on Aug. 2. The president didn't return to Washington on Aug. 3, when 14 Marines were killed near Haditha. He didn't return on Aug. 9, when five National Guardsmen and a soldier were killed in separate incidents. He didn't return when Iraqi negotiators failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline and then failed to reach agreement on a draft constitution.

Instead, the president stayed in Crawford, bicycling with Lance Armstrong and avoiding Cindy Sheehan while making the occasional side trip to Utah, to Idaho, to an RV park in Arizona and finally to an Air Force Base in California. That's where the president was this morning, commemorating the 60th anniversary of V-J Day and talking about the "sacrifice" - he used the word seven times - that Americans have always been willing to make in times of war.

And now the president will make his own sacrifice, albeit for Katrina, not Iraq. The president will squeeze in one more night at Crawford tonight, then he'll fly back to Washington Wednesday.

He'll have spent 28 full days away from the White House, two short of the 30 he had planned.
Well, maybe it's not just the hurricane. Something is changing. He may not know it. His aides seem to.

Even the acerbic and extremely conservative Jack Cafferty over at CNN got into this exchange with Wolf Blitzer on the mid-afternoon news show "Situation Room." -
Cafferty: Where's President Bush? Is he still on vacation?

Blitzer: He's cut short his vacation he's coming back to Washington tomorrow.

Cafferty: Oh, that would be a good idea. He was out in San Diego I think at a Naval air station giving a speech on Japan and the war in Iraq today. Based on his approval rating, based on the latest polls, my guess is getting back to work might not be a terrible idea.
Geez, when you've lost Jack Cafferty...

Well, getting back to work might not be a terrible idea with stuff like this popping up in the Washington Post -
The nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The percentage of people without health insurance did not change... Charles Nelson, an assistant division chief at the Census Bureau, said the percentage of uninsured remained steady because of an "increase in government coverage, notably Medicaid and the state children's health insurance program, that offset a decline in employment-based coverage."

... The median household income, meanwhile, stood at $44,389, unchanged from 2003.
Let that sink in.

Question 1: what's the point of a strong economy if it produces higher poverty rates, declining private sector healthcare coverage, and stagnant incomes?

Question 2: Whenever there are any nuggets of good employment news, the explanation from various quarters is either (a) tax cuts or (b) welfare reform. Do these two things also get the credit when there's bad news?
Ah, when it rains it pours. One more thing for the administration to explain. Back to work. (Explanation to expect: Tax cuts for the wealthy WILL cause the economy to boom one day, and that will trickle down somehow if you damned peasants will just be patient and accept stagnant wages and higher prices and cuts to welfare and services - and besides, corporate profits are soaring, CEO's are earning more than ever, and THAT is economic health - so quit bellyaching!)

Other issues? Tuesday, August 30, down on Sunset, the price of gasoline for the staff car - 3.20 per gallon and rising fast. With the oil platforms off the Louisiana coast out for a bit and the refineries there underwater, that's just going to get higher - much higher.

That'll need some spin. And spinning that one will be hard work.

Here's an idea:

Why high oil prices are a force for good
Eberhard Rhein, The International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, August 31, 2005

That ends with this:
Politicians should be preparing citizens worldwide for a future in which energy prices will remain high, and policy makers should be ready to keep the oil price near the present level by raising the level of excise taxation when necessary. Unfortunately, most politicians are still too myopic or timid to deliver such a message. This needs to change.

The high oil price is a bonanza for advocates of the Kyoto Protocol, who will probably claim for the protocol what the market has achieved: the decline of carbon dioxide emissions.

If oil prices can be maintained at or above today's high levels, there is less urgency for the extension of the protocol beyond 2012. The market is doing the job - and it embraces all types of energy consumption, which the Kyoto Protocol does not. It becomes therefore almost immaterial whether or not China and the United States will one day join.
Yep, high oil prices may save the plant, but one cannot imagine the president spinning it just that way.

Well, the president's vacation is so over. And it was so very French - five or six weeks off, bicycling with Lance through the fields of poppies. But as in France, it's time for the September rentrée - that time the French "reenter" the real world after their long summer vacations - as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, puts it, "when the last French holiday-er is supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone."

As there, so here. The real world needs some attention.

Posted by Alan at 19:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 08:36 PDT home

Topic: Photos

A Photo-Note from Paris

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:
Tuesday, August 30, 2005, Paris:

Today Paris had weather worthy of a fine summer day in July, two days after the last French holidayer was supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone. As usual the usual hordes who never appear to work were holding their positions on the sunlit terraces, the pharmacy thermometre was signaling 31 degrees (a fine score in Anglograds) and the clochards were holding up the side wall of the Monoprix. Motto: "All the Fortified Beer You Can Take Out and Drink Right Outside the Door."
The Local Monoprix:

Cheesy Locals:

The 'Hood:

At the end of last weekend's The SUV Debate - Rearranging the Deckchairs in Just Above Sunset you would find this link noted: Friday, August 26, 2005 - For those who don't have their car confused with their dick, this is the car for you." It was a Citroën "Deux Chevaux."

Ric's comment:
I did look at the URL you sent for the 2CV. I wondered, what's special about this 2CV? Nothing I could see, but the comments of those who had never seen one were amusing. 'How fast does it go with only 2 horsepower?' Well, we both know it does not have automatic transmission. There is a hole in the front for a crank if you need starting help. Nothing special about the one in the photo I'm sending - except that it's an exclusive for Just Above Sunset. Tell Bob Patterson that Just Above Sunset does get exclusives. Like the new photos you'll be showing us soon.

Tomorrow - another brilliant summer day here.

From Ric:

Text, Photos and Cartoon, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

These new Just Above Sunset photos Ric mentions? Last Friday Bob Patterson and I did a photo shoot up at the Getty Center, the big billion-dollar museum complex that opened a few years ago, high above Sunset. Richard Meier and Michael Palladino are the architects, and I despise Meier's work - and this is sort of Le Corbusier meets Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mies van der Rohe in a monumentally Stalinist monstrosity. I've been doing lots of research in architectural journals and editing the photos down to forty good ones for next Sunday's Just Above Sunset. Stay tuned.

Posted by Alan at 16:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005 16:44 PDT home

Monday, 29 August 2005

Topic: The Culture

Values: Assessing the Pre-Ridiculous

One of my friends, a doctor of some repute, an internist, has parents who retired to Las Vegas, Nevada. The place has always fascinated me, from my first trip there with a Chinese-Vietnamese woman I was dating, and her family, and her brother who was participating in the Women's Wear Daily trade show with his line of silk t-shirts. Ah, Vietnamese fish-ball soup in an obscure casino restaurant, chatting with the grandmother, in broken English, about Buddhism, while the slot-machines rattled away in the distance. Not to be missed. And the trade show was a trip.

Later, a software convention or two, drinking scotch in the jazz bar at Paris Las Vegas, chatting with the bartender from Minneapolis. The half-size Eiffel Tower - welded aluminum, not riveted cast iron - had one of its feet near the small stage, where the fifth-rate jazz combo was launching into "Fly Me to the Moon." Frank Sinatra has been dead for years.

All a mere five-hour drive from the world headquarters of Just Above Sunset

Note this:

Why the loaded go to Vegas to lose
Lionel Shriver, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday August 30, 2005

Part of a long and amusing item - a Brit visits Las Vegas -
Las Vegas is impervious to jokes, because it already is one. Vegas is mockery-proof. The strip is so over the top, so jubilantly, unashamedly fake (even the rocks are artificial), so ebulliently and confessedly crass, so contented with or even proud of its own trashiness that you can't make fun of the place. How can you deride a wooden Trojan horse two storeys high that doubles as an FAO Schwarz toy store? It is pre-ridiculous. This frustrates the likes of myself no end, because pejoratives like "tacky", "tasteless", and "garish" ping off a giant gold-painted sphinx like pennies off a curb. Because one cannot parody parody and I do not gamble, I had nothing to do.

So it was inevitable that on a second swing through I'd no longer be able to find Las Vegas a zany, kooky, harmless American one-off, but would disparage it as a ghastly monument to American vapidity. Folks in the richest country in the world do not know what to do with their money in their leisure time save try to scrounge more of it, and do not truly embrace their own supposed work ethic.

Indeed, given that many of my countrymen's concept of entertainment is heading for a line of casinos whose decor is so loud it makes your eyes hurt, whose patterned carpet and even air freshener has been carefully researched as encouraging you to lose your shirt, I am not convinced that most of the gamblers I spied on last week would have any idea on what to spend their winnings even if they improbably hit the jackpot.

All money is not created equal. It means something different depending on what you did to get it. Surely earning money - earning it - is an underrated joy. I find being paid for my labours ceaselessly gratifying, and the harder I've worked for any given cheque, the more sumptuous the texture of the paper. By contrast, how satisfying is dosh that you came by not because you were smart or talented or diligent, but lucky?

If this seems hopelessly humourless about a town that intends to be a laugh, the amount of cash involved is serious. The bar at Wynne's, the newest and most lavish casino on the block, boasts of a $75 martini, and you sense its designers grew frustrated at running out of nooks into which to cram polished Italian marble. My father-in-law tells me that when his car got dusty last week he came upon a woman playing a slot machine who was going through $400 a minute. That was $24,000 an hour, at a car wash.

I do admire the nerve and devil-may-care required to put thousands on the stumble of a roulette ball. I concede that if you're canny enough to follow a few simple rules in blackjack - always double aces and eights, always double-down on an 11, don't take a hit if you're holding 12 or more and the dealer is showing a five or six - you can walk away with a few bills left in your wallet. But a quick look round a casino and you start to wonder, who pays all these croupiers and cleaners, who ultimately finances the orchids in every room? Losers. More losers than winners by a yard, and that rational calculation, aside from sheer wimpiness, explains why I don't gamble.
Lionel Shriver understands America.

By the way, the Frenchwoman who lives a few blocks away, just below Sunset Plaza west of here, loves Las Vegas, and the faux Paris. She became an American citizen a few years ago. And every chance I get, I fly back to Paris to walk in the rain smoking my pipe.

Go figure.

Not Las Vegas, December 2001

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: For policy wonks...

The Blindingly Obvious Strategy of the Day - The Oil Patch

Late last week my copy of Foreign Affairs arrived here in Hollywood, light blue and wrapped in cellophane - one of the two things that arrive here in hard copy. The other is the Los Angeles Times, but I often review that on the net as they have quality control issues with their presses and it really is a bother to find something heavy to stretch out the pages that arrive creased and folded into themselves. It's easier to find out what was in that middle column by calling it up on the computer screen. So Harriet-the-Cat sleeps on the fresh copy of the Times each morning. She likes how it feels.

The Times is fresh bedding for the spoiled cat, but Foreign Affairs is slick - all the pages readable, all nicely bound - very professional. Of course it's for policy wonks, and pricey, but Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, was offered a free year for a friend, and he thought of me. Three doors down, the new guy, the former New Orleans television news anchor and former lawyer, has Daily Variety dropped at his door each day. He's one of those people who chucked it all to come to Hollywood and become a screenwriter. Coming back from the mailboxes with my new issue of Foreign Affairs and a few bills in hand I glance at his Daily Variety on his doorstep. I'm just not doing this Hollywood thing right. Ah well, to each his own.

The new issue of Foreign Affairs has the word "China" in big bold letters on the cover, in red of course. That's the focus. But wouldn't you know, in the world of policy wonks and the fourteen or fifteen people in the country who are thinking about what to do next about the war in Iraq - the rest either just trust the president and figure we go on as we have because he says we should, or just don't trust him after all the oops-wrong-reason-for the-war-here's-another and this-really-is-a-turning-point-this-time-really moments and want out now, or just don't think about the war at all - well, the article in the September-October 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs that everyone is talking about isn't about China at all. It's by Andrew Krepinevich and titled How to Win in Iraq.

We can do that?

Krepinevich says we can. We simply use the "oil spot strategy." We stop focusing all our resources on killing insurgents, and instead pick particular areas, clean them up and provide security for the local population, and then slowly expand outward. It's like an oil spot on your garage floor, or some such thing. The Foreign Affairs summary: "Because they lack a coherent strategy, U.S. forces in Iraq have failed to defeat the insurgency or improve security. Winning will require a new approach to counterinsurgency, one that focuses on providing security to Iraqis rather than hunting down insurgents. And it will take at least a decade."

Each offensive... sweeping through the target area and clearing it of any major insurgent forces..... smaller formations... providing local security. National police would then arrive.... Iraqi army units would switch to intensive patrolling along the oil spot's periphery.... Iraqi and U.S. intelligence operatives... infiltrating local insurgent cells.

Sustained security.... facilitate social reform.... help to convince the local population that the government is serious about protecting them. The overall objective, of course, would be winning their active support, whereupon they would presumably begin providing the government with intelligence on those insurgents who have "gone to ground" in the secured area.
Well, Krepinevich, a retired lieutenant colonel, is Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, and, when a major with the Strategic Plans and Policy Division of the Army, wrote The Army and Vietnam. Maybe he knows something. Counterinsurgency is his thing.

And he received a major endorsement from "the house conservative" at the New York Times, David Brooks, in an op-ed piece on Sunday the 28th - Winning in Iraq - and Brooks notes a minor bandwagon effect:
The article is already a phenomenon among the people running this war, generating discussion in the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the American Embassy in Baghdad and the office of the vice president.

Krepinevich's proposal is hardly new. He's merely describing a classic counterinsurgency strategy, which was used, among other places, in Malaya by the British in the 1950's. The same approach was pushed by Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt in a Washington Post essay back on Oct. 26, 2003; by Kenneth Pollack in Senate testimony this July 18; and by dozens of midlevel Army and Marine Corps officers in Iraq.

... The core insight is that you can't win a war like this by going off on search and destroy missions trying to kill insurgents. There are always more enemy fighters waiting. You end up going back to the same towns again and again, because the insurgents just pop up after you've left and kill anybody who helped you. You alienate civilians, who are the key to success, with your heavy-handed raids.
Yeah, but you show them who's boss, and let them know no one messes with us. (Of course that doesn't get you very far - but it feels good, and polls well.) So now instead of trying to kill insurgents it's more important to protect civilians? We set up safe havens where we can establish good security and because we don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere all at once, we select a few key cities and take control there? Not very sexy.

It sounds so simple. Why aren't we doing this? Brooks notes this:
If you ask U.S. officials why they haven't adopted this strategy, they say they have. But if that were true the road to the airport in Baghdad wouldn't be a death trap. It would be within the primary oil spot.

The fact is, the U.S. didn't adopt this blindingly obvious strategy because it violates some of the key Rumsfeldian notions about how the U.S. military should operate in the 21st century.

First, it requires a heavy troop presence, not a light, lean force. Second, it doesn't play to our strengths, which are technological superiority, mobility and firepower. It acknowledges that while we go with our strengths, the insurgents exploit our weakness: the lack of usable intelligence.

Third, it means we have to think in the long term. For fear of straining the armed forces, the military brass have conducted this campaign with one eye looking longingly at the exits. A lot of the military planning has extended only as far as the next supposed tipping point: the transfer of sovereignty, the election, and so on. We've been rotating successful commanders back to Washington after short stints, which is like pulling Grant back home before the battle of Vicksburg. The oil-spot strategy would force us to acknowledge that this will be a long, gradual war.
So it's not going to happen. Seems so. Don't have the troops, it isn't high-tech, and it works really, really, really slowly. Other than that, it's a cool idea.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly find what Krepinevich proposes deeply depressing for a number of reasons:
First and foremost is the fact that Krepinevich had to write it at all. He acknowledges that even now, more than two years after the occupation began, the Army is still not committed to a counterinsurgency strategy. Whether or not his oil spot approach is correct, this can only leave you shaking your head. If we're still not committed to counterinsurgency as our overwhelmingly primary mission in Iraq, it seems unlikely that anything is going to change that.

Second, there's a lot of wishful thinking in Krepinevich's essay. It depends heavily on figuring out how to navigate the internal politics of Iraq's 150 tribes; gaining the trust of local leaders; mounting successful, large scale reconstruction projects; and improving our intelligence operations by an order of magnitude. Any strategy that depends on doing all these things successfully is walking on a very thin tightrope.

Third, Krepinevich suggests that our first target for oil spot operations should be Baghdad and Mosul. I almost choked when I read that. Baghdad? There's certainly no question that securing Baghdad would be good news indeed, but that's not a "spot," it's a city of 5 million people. I'd sure like to see his approach proven on a more modest scale before tackling Baghdad.
The fourth issue is what Drum calls "some serious waffling in his essay: he's anti-withdrawal but he's also pro-withdrawal." The numbers don't add up, or match any real timeline.

Brad Plummer says the whole thing is Purely Hypothetical -
Krepinevich thinks we can do this with 120,000 troops in Iraq, and significant reductions thereafter. How does he figure? The British had about 20 security personnel for every 1,000 persons in Malaysia, which he cites as a model of counterinsurgency. Baghdad alone has 6,000,000 people, so that would take 120,000 troops right there. Does the US really want to rely on the increasingly out-of-control militias in Iraq? Wouldn't that create as many problems as it solved? (Iraq would resemble El Salvador in the 1980s, which was not successful at all.) Also, presumably the US would need different types of soldiers: fewer heavy vehicles, more police types, more translators, a different type of force structure. Is that feasible?

More crucially, though, consider the political problems with this approach here at home. First, Bush would have to admit that the occupation is going poorly, to say the least, and that the military will now have to completely readjust its strategy and stay in Iraq for, oh, another decade. Second, a counterinsurgency strategy, presumably, works best when the contractors responsible for aid and reconstruction aren't looting and pillaging the country. Just saying... Third, in the short term, many more soldiers are likely to get killed if the US switches to a "traditional" counterinsurgency strategy. It's just the nature of the thing - the troops have to mingle with the locals, walk around in small units, integrate with trained Iraqi units, rely on translators of dubious loyalty. No more zooming by in armored Humvees. This may prove more effective in the long run, but in the short run, people are getting blown up. See how this strategy holds up after a few nights of that on the evening news.
Other than that, it's a cool idea.

So that's the news of the buzz among policy wonks. All moot, really, given our current leadership, but under discussion.

Why is it moot?

You might want to read what Peter Daou has to say in The Ethics of Iraq: Moral Strength vs. Material Strength.

This is about the core disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, "with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter." -
The right (broadly speaking) can't fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left's protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America's moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won't keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world's moral leader...

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the so-called "blame America first" crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can't kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they've done irreparable harm to America.

The antiwar critique of Iraq is that it is an immoral war and every resulting death is a wrongful one. Opponents of the war view the invasion and occupation as a dangerous and shameful violation of international law. Iraq saps our moral strength and the sooner we leave the better. Opposing the invasion on the grounds that the administration lied its way into it, they see every subsequent death, American or foreign, as an ethical travesty and a stain on America's good name.
There may be no bridging that gap.

They have none of this "oil patch strategy" -
... to many of Bush's supporters, anything short of 'victory' is a weakening of America in the eyes of its enemies. They believe we are "taking the fight to the enemy," with the word 'enemy' defined so over-broadly as to conflate Iraq and the attacks of September 11th. It's the "kicking ass and taking names" mentality, moral justifications be damned. Revenge for being attacked is rationale enough. Material strength trumps moral strength.

Bush plays to the basest instincts of this crowd, but he and his handlers know it's not enough. If the left values moral strength over material strength and the right values material strength over moral strength, the common ground between the two, and the place where Bush would find his widest base of support, is a case where material strength is put to use for a moral cause. Bush et al want desperately to prove that Iraq satisfies both conditions. That's why the Sheehan-Bush battle revolves around the words "noble cause."

Faced with the disintegration of the original rationale for war, Bush and his supporters are scrambling to find the elusive moral ground to undergird America's presence in Iraq. But when you're on the record invading a country because it was a grave threat and the threat never materializes, you're left with little but a means-ends argument to justify it. In the eyes of the war's opponents, Bush and his apologists are mired in an ethical swamp trying to justify the mess they created.
Read the rest. It's interesting, arguing we need to adhere strictly to the rule of law, to basic moral precepts, and to established principles of international relations, "something that this administration has failed to do, and that the administration's supporters can dance around but can't justify." Daou doesn't care much for "retroactive ethical justifications for the invasion and occupation of Iraq are flimsy at best."

But of course, the Bush apologists would call him an appeaser, and Ann Coulter would call him a traitor.

I wonder what they're saying about this Krepinevich and this "oil spot" idea? Doesn't matter - it's just policy wonk stuff.


A comment from Digby at Hullabaloo on the Daou item above:
People are naturally suspicious of power and, because of that, it behooves us to ensure that others can trust us and rely upon us behave morally and ethically. Breaking treaties, throwing off old friends and partners, ignoring our own constitution and the rule of law creates an impression that the United States is unreliable, immoral and aggressive. It makes us less safe. Only shallow people think that our country can fight off the whole world. Only delusional people would want us to try. Our moral authority is not an impediment that we can or should toss off when it is inconvenient. It is an absolutely necessary component of our national security.

We are in the middle of a great culture war in this country in which liberals are continually accused of being immoral and indecent by people who profess to hold strong religious beliefs. These morals, however, are almost exclusively confined to personal sexual matters and seem only to apply to the conduct of individuals in their private lives. They seem to have nothing to say about our government conducting itself without regard to morality whenever it is convenient. (Indeed, we have just witnessed one of the most prominent religious moralists in the country calling for our government to assassinate the leader of an oil rich country because it would save money.)

After the last election I read many pieces in which religious people advised that Democrats had to begin speaking in religious terms and appeal to voters on a moral basis. It was immediately assumed that this should be done in exactly the same way that the Republicans do, using their definition of morality. But I would suggest that we should make our own case for moral values - as a government and a nation. It is there that we will find common ground among truly religious people and non-religious people of all stripes. And it is there that politics and morality are appropriately and necessarily linked in a free and democratic society.

If I had been polled after the last election I might very well have said that moral values were a primary reason for my vote. I found the conduct of this war deeply immoral. And I also believe that this immorality makes us less safe. If Democratic politicians want to run on restoring moral values in government they can count me in. I'm a proud member of that moral values crowd and I'll happily hold hands with any religious person who wants to join me.
But as he points out, that is now how they - the Pat Robertson crowd - define moral values.

Posted by Alan at 19:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 August 2005 21:15 PDT home

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

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