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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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Thursday, 17 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Opportunists: Things Coming to a Head

In third volume of the CS Lewis "Perelandra" trilogy, That Hideous Strength (1945), one of the characters say this -
If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family - anything you like - at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.
And that's where we are now. You can learn about the CS Lewis book here, if you're into theological science fiction, but the passage came to mind thinking about events at the end of the day, Thursday, November 17 - a day full of "the possibilities of even apparent neutrality" diminishing real fast.

The national dialog - if there is such a thing, some ongoing discussion of who we are, what we stand for, and what we should do about threats and risk, about those among us in trouble, about what we should or should not build and all the rest - is getting sharper, as in more pointed, as in nasty. The administration is clearly on the ropes, and elsewhere in the pages there are notes on the plummeting polls - massive disapproval and mistrust, with over two-thirds of us thinking the country is going in the wrong direction.

That last poll question is intentionally ambiguous, and used in most polls. It measures discomfort, and doesn't have anything to do with what we should be doing or not doing. It measures the level of "not this" - the sense that something is very wrong, without naming it. It doesn't specify the war is bothering people - the reason we waged it always changing and the execution of our occupation and creating a government we'd like there not going that well - or the high price of gasoline and heating oil, or seeing New Orleans effectively be wiped off the map while the federal government held back and almost criminally bumbled around, or tax policy or low job growth or pension funds going under or the world thinking we're clueless bullies and turning on us - or anything else. It's not all the Republican scandals either - Frist under investigation and DeLay indicted and incompetent cronies in key job exposed. That's part of it - minor notes, grace notes as they say in music. It's rather a sense that something is fundamentally wrong, or really, many things are wrong.

That this distress centers on the war is a matter of the war, with the daily toll of dead Americans and chaos in the world (the bombing in Amman didn't help at all), being the best hook on which to hang all the anxiety. Free-floating anxiety makes people crazy. The war, as a place to ground that anxiety, is quite useful. You can focus. This is making us safer? This is showing what we stand for and what our values really are? This is a reason our kids should face death? This will make the world respect us, when it seems now no one even fears us? This is a reason to give up any number of our traditional rights regarding privacy, and some freedoms? This was something we had to do - the threat was real and no one but us and the Brits understood the real truth?

There's no real anti-war movement like the one that we had in the late sixties. Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan are not a movement. No one is burning draft cards - we don't have one. No one is forming a human ring around the Pentagon and singing Country Joe and the Fish songs. Jane Fonda? Those days are long gone.

What we have now is more dangerous and powerful, perhaps because it is disorganized and leaderless. There's a massive amount of basic discomfort out there, and the questions seem to arise naturally. So whom do you blame for this shift in the zeitgeist?

The press seems to be following, and reporting things they never reported before - inconsistencies, lies (or at least deceptions) - catching a ride on national mood. You don't grab readers and viewers, and maintain you ability to sell ad space and stay in business, offering a product no one wants. They wanted Michael Jackson on trial. They wanted wall-to-wall coverage of the missing attractive young white woman of the week. They wanted Anderson Cooper, angry, ripping into politicians in New Orleans. Now they want this. You cannot blame the press of these low poll numbers. In many ways each component of the broadcast and cable media is just one more business, providing what folks want and hoping they'll sit through the ads between the news items. Print journalism needs circulation. That's what you sell your advertisers, the folks who pay for it all. These guys are not opposing the administration. They're riding the wave.

You could blame the Democrats for the low polls numbers, but that's a joke. They're massively disorganized, as usual, and having trouble riding the wave. Some can't even find a surfboard. Some can't even find the beach. Hillary Clinton is pro-war, Howard Dean is anti-war, and array of others fall in-between the two, or outside the whole issue, watching and wondering what to say.

The problem is the questions that have come up about the war are widespread and free-floating. The press echoes them, and this amplifies them, a few opportunistic politicians decide it's safe to rephrase them (and hope to appear courageous doing so), but the questions are embedded in the "general public" now.

What to do?

Starting with the president's Veterans Day speech, and followed by speeches over the few days (see Parting Shot: Did so! Did Not! Did So! Did Not!), you mount a "conceptual attack."

Anyone who argues we lied to you about why we had to got to war is "rewriting history" and a coward.

By mid-week, the vice president was chiming in, as the BBC summarizes here -
The vice-president called the Democrats "opportunists" who were peddling "cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to gain political advantage while US soldiers died in Iraq.

"The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone - but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," he said.
But he's got it wrong. It's not the Democrats. It's a whole lot of people with reasonable good memories. Much more than half the public smells a rat. They remember what was said. And that of course means the Democrats actually are being opportunistic. If folks feel this way, they'll go with that.

One writer puts it this way -
After watching Bush smear and trash all opponents for two and a half years, the American people have pretty much had enough. But for all the talk we hear about how brilliant Bush's spin team is, they have one fatal flaw - they believe that the more they talk, the more people will come around to their point of view.
Duncan Black adds this -
I actually don't think this is Bush's spin team. I think this is Bush. This is "I won this election so I'm all grown up now and I get to do the presidenting my way and I'm the president and I know what's best and if other people disagree it's because they're stupid and I need to keep explaining until they're smart." It comes out of Bush's unwavering belief in his own rightness.
Now, as of a new poll Thursday, November 17, thirty-four percent of the public has the same unwavering belief in this guy's rightness.

And that's were, as Doctor Dimble, the character in that CS Lewis novel, had it right. "The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder."

As in this - Hawkish Democrat Calls for Iraq Pullout (Liz Sidoti, Associated Press, Thursday, November 17, 2005) -
One of Congress' most hawkish Democrats called Thursday for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, sparking bitter and personal salvos from both sides in a growing Capitol Hill uproar over President Bush's war policies.

"It's time to bring them home," said Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Korean War and Vietnam combat veteran, choking back tears during remarks to reporters. "Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty."

The comments by the Pennsylvania lawmaker, who has spent three decades in the House, hold particular weight because he is close to many military commanders and has enormous credibility with his colleagues on defense issues. He voted for the war in 2002, and remains the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence," he said.
Well, yeah. It's pretty obvious we have, with this war, made things worse, in a lot of ways, and staying there is fueling a resistance, and creating generations of angry people who are learning how to make really effective bombs. It's madness. Why not cut the bullshit?

Is it pretty obvious? The administration continues channeling the late Graucho Marx - "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?" To matter how many times you say it, is still sounds absurd.

Of course the Republicans said Murtha's position was really "abandonment and surrender" - and said he and folks like him were playing politics with the war and recklessly pushing a "cut and run" strategy. AP quotes House Speaker Dennis Hastert - "They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world." And California's suave David Dreier - "It would be an absolute mistake and a real insult to the lives that have been lost." Hey! Remember that one from Vietnam days? So many have died if we get out now that will mean they died for nothing, so let's send more troops, even if the reason for it all is gone, because we don't want the families of those who've died to think their folks died for nothing, and since there is nothing, more dying will be something? oh heck, you remember the argument.

Anyway, Murtha pulled this off two days after the senate, controlled by the Republicans, defeated that Democratic thing to force Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal - but demanded progress reports and said they'd kind of like to see next year that "conditions are created for the phased withdrawal," pretty please.

Murtha cut to the chase. Get all the troops out in six months.

Of course no one has the balls to agree with him. Other Democrats are running for cover - they say they love the guy be we just can't do this. They'd like to be reelected, and they'd rather avoid the "abandonment and surrender" onus. It's an image thing. The Democrats are the wimps, remember? Have to change that rap.

Murtha doesn't give a damn about image. So Vice President Dick Cheney says that Democrats are spouting "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges" about the Bush administration's use of intelligence before the war?

He says this: "I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

And as for Bush? "I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for criticizing them."

Who's he to talk? Well, he has his Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, and retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990 - after 37 years as a Marine. He's known as an authority on national security - he's been there thirty-seven years and used to be trusted, before this. He voted for this war. Enthusiastically.

AP says he's known "as a friend and champion of officers at the Pentagon and in the war zone," and it's "widely believed in Congress that Murtha often speaks for those in uniform and could be echoing what U.S. commanders in the field and in the Pentagon are saying privately about the conflict."

California's Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says that cannot be so - "This falloff of support among Democratic ranks is not shared by the war-fighting forces. It's not shared by our troops."

But two or three times a year Murtha travels to Iraq - to assess the war on the ground - and we're told he often visits wounded troops in hospitals here, and he sometimes just calls up generals to get firsthand accounts of this and that.

Who are you going to believe? There's no direct evidence. The Republicans, and specifically Bush and Cheney, have been saying, "Trust us." Have they ever been wrong?

Ah well. Decide.

The whole Murtha address is here, and opens with this -
The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.
And the rest is tightly reasoned, with supporting evidence.

But note he says, "The American public is way ahead of us."

People know when they're being conned. He too is riding the wave. And, he says, just doing his job -
Because we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our OBLIGATION to speak out for them. That's why I am speaking out.

Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.
Oh my, this is causing no end of controversy.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum suggests this may be a Walter Cronkite moment -
My prediction: we've already started to see this, but I think Republicans are about to crumble. Pressure is going to mount on the White House to use the December elections as an excuse to declare victory and go home, fueled by equal parts disgust over Dick Cheney's lobbying for the right to torture; unease even among Republicans that the president wasn't honest during the marketing of the war; lack of progress on the ground in Iraq; Congress reasserting its independence of the executive; a genuine belief that the American presence has become counterproductive; and raw electoral fear, what with midterm elections looming in less than a year.

I also think the Rove/Cheney/Bush counterattack is going to backfire. Congressional Republicans are looking for cover right now, and I don't think they believe that a ferocious partisan attack from the White House is what they need right now. The public is looking for answers, not administration attack dogs on the evening news every day, but this particular White House doesn't know any other way. It's going to cost them.
And he notices this comment over at the hyper-conservative National Review -
As I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he's a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party.

From where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.
Note also Republican Senator Hagel is a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations saying this -
The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years

... Vietnam was a national tragedy partly because members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the administrations in power until it was too late. Some of us who went through that nightmare have an obligation to the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam to not let that happen again. To question your government is not unpatriotic - to not question your government is unpatriotic. America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices.
So some smart-ass reporter asks the president, while he's in Korea for whatever it is he's doing there, whether he agrees with Senator Hegel, or the Vice president. The answer was quick - the vice president.

Tim Grieve here -
Lines are drawn, sides are taken. Stand with the president or stand accused of turning your back on the troops stuck fighting his war. "Our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out," Cheney said yesterday. "American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures - conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers - and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie."

But it's not a "few opportunists" who are making that suggestion. It's a majority of the American people. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 57 percent of those asked said they believe that the president "deliberately misled people to make the case for war." In a recent Newsweek poll, 52 percent said they think Cheney deliberately "misused or manipulated" prewar intelligence.

"Us against them" works when there's a lot of "us" and not so many "them." But that's not how it is anymore. Bush and Cheney can circle the wagons and point their fingers at those on the outside. But it's small group inside the circle now, a much larger and still growing one outside. A substantial majority of the American people now believe that George W. Bush lied about the reasons for war.

Keep forcing the country to take sides, Mr. President, and someone is going to be marginalized in the process. It isn't going to be them.
Who needs an anti-war movement? We got one, without the funky music and hippies.

And the press is tagging along, adding what they can, as in this from Knight-Ridder - In Challenging War's Critics, Administration Tinkers With Truth - a point-by-point analysis of just who's telling the truth and who is rewriting history, with what is asserted, what is the context, and what are the facts. The facts are biased against the administration. And this is one of those rare news articles containing, and the end of the he-said, she-said stuff, looks at what was said by one side and says, flat-out, "This isn't true." They actually use those words! Damn.

For the very pretentious elitists - Trahison des clercs ("The Treason of Clerks") is the principal work (1927) of the French writer Julien Benda (1867-1956). The 'clerks' in question are the educated members of Benda's own generation, especially in France and Italy; their 'treason' was their failure to stand firm for Enlightenment ideals ('knowledge values') against the rising tide of nationalism and irrationalism ('action values'). In a more general way it is the kind of treason committed wherever dangerous fads are not being exposed and denounced by the educated class.

The press represents the clerks in this case - so no more treason?

Other evidence that things are changing?

House Democrats Defeat Spending Bill
Jim Abrams - Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2005; 3:17 PM
Legislation to fund many of the nation's health, education and social programs went down to a startling defeat in the House Thursday, led by Democrats who said cuts in the bill hurt some of America's neediest people.

The 224-209 vote against the $142.5 billion spending bill disrupted plans by Republican leaders to finish up work on this year's spending bills and cast doubt on whether they would have the votes to pass a major budget-cutting bill also on the day's agenda.

Democrats, unanimous in opposing the legislation, said it included the first cut in education funding in a decade and slashed spending for several health care programs. "It betrays our nation's values and its future," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "It is neither compassionate, conservative nor wise."

... Twenty-two Republicans voted against the measure, many of them moderates who also are swing votes on the budget-cutting legislation.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said one factor in the bill's defeat was the drop in the president's popularity and his inability to maintain unity among the GOP ranks.

... The vote was "a tremendous defeat" for the Republicans, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "It had the wrong priorities."
Someone thinks not ending food stamps and helping the poor have heat in their homes this winter might be a good thing? Citizens shouldn't die? How odd. The whole thing is that folks should take personal responsibility and anyone who is poor has chosen to be poor isn't selling these days?

And Michael Crowley got this email from one of the Democrats in the fray -
The defeat was embarrassing in more than one respect. First, they lost. Second, they looked hapless while losing. Rather than stopping the bleeding, they held the vote open for a long time, but had a twenty-vote deficit. Very few of those votes were budging. To make the effort to hold the vote open and then to lose looks exceptionally weak.

The reasons for voting against it were pretty obvious. Massive cuts in popular education programs. Cuts in home heating assistance while prices are skyrocketing. And the list goes on. Moderate Republicans could get away with these votes when the President was doing well, but they can't now. Instead of making them take fewer of these votes, the wackos on the right are making them take more. They are pissed that the leadership isn't stepping in and saving them...

Now think about this: one of the very next votes scheduled for today is the Republican budget cutting bill that had to be pulled from the floor [last week] for lack of votes. The moderates have been whipsawed by the leadership and cajoled (dropping the ANWR provision), and they won't budge. The mood must be very sour over there.
No doubt.

And in the other house, this, the same day - Legislation Renewing Patriot Act Stalls -
Legislation reauthorizing the Patriot Act stalled Thursday as lawmakers worked to satisfy senators upset by the elimination of some civil liberties protections.

Negotiators had worked for days to develop an acceptable compromise and presented a draft to senators and representatives late Wednesday.

But senators on the negotiating committee have yet to agree to the compromise, aware that six Republicans and Democrats are threatening to block the final version of the bill when it comes to the full Senate.

"If further changes are not made, we will work to stop this bill from becoming law," the six wrote the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
The want a requirement that the government inform targets of a "sneak and peek" search warrant within seven days to thirty days - and those are the warrants that allow police to conduct secret searches of people's homes or businesses and inform them later. The want to have a rule that requires judicial review when authorities use the Patriot Act law to search financial, medical, library, school and other records. They want seven-year limits on rules on wiretapping, obtaining business records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and standards for monitoring "lone wolf" terrorists who may be operating independent of a foreign agent or power. And they want a new requirement that the Justice Department report to Congress annually on its use of national security letters - secret requests for the phone, business and Internet records of ordinary people.

The old counterargument is that if you want such limitations you want the terrorists to win and you hate America. That seems to have lots its effectiveness.

The world is changing.

Posted by Alan at 22:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005 22:44 PST home

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Paying Attention: The News is a Target-Rich Environment

And what is a target-rich environment? In March of 2004, that former head anti-terrorism adviser to Clinton then Bush, "counterterrorism expert" Richard Clarke, was all over the place promoting his new book, Against All Enemies - the one that laid out the case that President Bush had ignored warnings about al-Qaeda and after the 9/11 attacks ordered Clarke (and others) to find a link between the attacks and Iraq. There seemed to be none, and Clarke was told to find one.

The most interesting bit of reasoning presented to Clarke came from the Secretary of Defense, as noted here -
As early as Sept. 12, 2001, Clarke says, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged bombing Iraq despite repeated assurances from intelligence officials that the threat emanated from Afghanistan.

"Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq," Clarke said on Sunday's 60 Minutes. "I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'"
Yes, Clarke lost his job. He wasn't playing along. But the Rumsfeld argument is odd - you wage a war where you find a target-rich environment, not where you find the enemy. It looks more effective?

Well, the "intelligence officials" were right, but the "shock and awe" short war was impressive - even awesome, as promised. Unfortunately, Clarke was right and we have a bit of a mess on our hands.

Ah well. There were a whole lot of targets.

The mid-week news, Wednesday, November 16, was a similarly target-rich environment. So many things merit a comment, but what really needs some thought?

There's this: Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force. The Washington Post breaks the story that when Bush took office the energy policy, devised by the vice president, was written by the head guys in the oil industry, who, funny thing, got all sorts of enormous tax breaks and relief from regulation. So? Cheney refused to say who met with him, and the only news here is that these oily oil guys said they never met with anyone at the White House, ever. They even testified to congress that they never met with anyone at the White House. Now there's proof they did. The only amusing twist is that in their testimony this week to congress the Democrats tried to make these oil executives testify under oath, and the Republican chair of the committee slapped that down, saying it wasn't necessary.

This seems to be a big deal in the news, but is it a big deal? We have Cheney and the oil executives colluding to screw the public and make themselves richer. So? That's the way things work, not to be cynical. They got caught lying. And Cheney, being silent, is letting them twist in the wind. But this is how the world works.

There's no news here. And surprise is quite inappropriate.

And there's this: Torture Alleged at Ministry Site Outside Baghdad - the Shiite government we're getting organized, specifically the Ministry of the Interior, is caught holding a hundred and fifty Sunni guys in a little room, starving them and torturing a good number of them. It's what you do with your enemies. And our troops uncovered this, and our commanders are saying, "The alleged mistreatment of detainees and the inhumane conditions at an Iraqi Ministry of Interior detention facility is very serious, and totally unacceptable." After Abu Ghraib there are multiple layers of irony here. The Sunnis are asking the UN to investigate all this.

There's no news here. And surprise is quite inappropriate. They're learning from us.

That's matched by the lion story:
Army officials said Tuesday that they were looking into claims by two former Iraqi detainees that they had been put into cages holding lions to terrify them during interrogations in 2003. Thahe Mohammed Sabar said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union that soldiers had pushed him and Sherzad Khalid, a friend, into the cage, then pulled them out when a lion moved toward him. Mr. Khalid said soldiers had forced him into the cages after repeatedly asking where to find Saddam Hussein and unconventional weapons.
Secretary of Defense had Rumsfeld called this allegation "far-fetched" (see the AFP wire item here).

Maybe it is. But he sat on the evidence of Abu Ghraib for months.

Surprise would be inappropriate. And there have been a good number of comments about our empire and the Roman Empire and throwing folks to the lions. No one should be surprised by the comparison. Empires do such things. It's just not the Christians this time who get thrown to the lions. It all depends on who's on top.

Match that with this from Associated Press (Katherine Shrader) U.S. Has Detained 83,000 in War on Terror.

That's a big number. And here Andrew Sullivan takes a stab at explaining why the number is so high. -
It is important to recognize that this administration reserves the right to detain anyone, include American citizens, anywhere, for any amount of time, without charge, sometimes without even documentation, and reserves the right to torture them as well. There are now close to 4,000 held without charge for a year. It is past time for the legislature and the courts to fight back and restrain - or at least bring some kind of order and legality - to this astonishing record. If the administration will not grant these prisoners POW status, it must agree to new rules that allow the innocent to be distinguished from the guilty, and to bar torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for ever.
It must? What planet is he on? Who will fight that battle?

Not to be too cynical here, but this number will startle a few people, some of whom will be angry we've done so much "detaining" to so little effect and violated all the principles of law we say are important, while most will shrug - there are a lot of bad people and sometimes you make mistakes and, heck, we're safe, and no one has locked up any of us or our friends, after all.

The large number is news, but little else. Many will, of course, see this big number as proof we're "winning" whatever it is we're winning. A few of us wonder what we're winning. For some of us this is a sort of loss, and we see what we're losing.

As for what else we're doing, see these three stories, a follow-up to what was mentioned last weekend in these pages (here), that Italian documentary about our alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Iraq.

CBC - US official admits phosphorus used as 'weapon' in Iraq - "A spokesman for the US military has admitted that soldiers used white phosphorus as an 'incendiary weapon" while trying to flush out insurgents in the northern Iraqi city of Fallujah last year. 'White phosphorus is a conventional munition. ...'"

That is, we used it, but not on civilians. Most nations say it is not a conventional weapon, but falls in a category with napalm and other stuff that should be forbidden. We refused to sign that part of the Geneva rules.

The BBC reports the Iraqi folks want to know if we used it on civilians, women and children and such, and not just on insurgents or whatever we're calling the bad guys these days - Iraq probes US phosphorus weapons.

They're investigating us? Give them a country and they get all uppity, don't they?

The Washington Post points out our military's use of white phosphorus during operations in Fallujah last year is making its way around the world media, and we're looking bad - 'White Death' Is A Losing Strategy. We win but we lose.

The Post's William Arkin -
I for one am reluctant to pronounce whether the use of white phosphorous for "shake and bake" missions in Fallujah and the evident blundering use of white phosphorous in areas known to be occupied by civilians is illegal. Neither am I buying the State Department's line that the use of white phosphorous in this way - that is, to possibly inflict unnecessary suffering - is not "illegal" use. What I'm sure of is that the use of white phosphorous is not just some insensitive act. It is not just bad PR. It is the ill thought out and panicked use of a weapon in an illegitimate way. It is a representation of a losing strategy.

U.S. military forces have the most stringent legal rules, the most aggressive internal lawyer class, the most constraining rules of engagement with regard to the laws of war and civilian casualties - even under the shoot-em-first-ask-questions-later Bush administration. Those rules are scrupulously followed, as long as everything is going well and the chain of command is strong and in control.

When the chain of command breaks down and military formations turn into a mob, Abu Ghraib's result. When forces are frustrated by sandstorms or suicide bombers and pressured by the boss to move quicker, the incentive to unload with firebombs or cluster bombs or to be a little lighter on the trigger results, even if these might not otherwise be the preferred munitions or the preferred methods, because, as we all know, we are not just trying to win in a conventional military way in Iraq, we are also trying to win the peace.

When soldiers and commanders are discouraged and following a losing strategy, "taking" Fallujah, let's say, not for the first or second or even third time; when they are trying to use "psychology," that is, demoralize the enemy, then it is not enough to just defeat them. That is where shake and bake comes in, the desire to do something in a different way, to "shock and awe" the opposition, to sow chaos.

In a deliberate war, in choreographed fighting, in a well-managed and well-conceived affair, precision rules. Precision is more effective and the more precise it is, the less collateral damage and angst that is produced. The enemy is not inadvertently emboldened by an ill-conceived attempt at demoralization; people are not confused about what the United States stands for. I've never read an article that says that a 2,000 lb. laser-guided bomb - or a bullet for that matter - is "illegal."

But to the critics of white phosphorous and the U.S. military, I say: When have you ever been happy when the United States has only employed precision, when it has been scrupulously "legal" in the conduct of its military operations? To suggest that white phosphorus is illegal or illegitimate suggests that you are willing to accept that some use of military force and some weapons are perfectly legal. It is to say that there are laws of war, that fighting and the military enterprise can be honorable and just. I never hear this from certain quarters, and the inability to give credit where credit is due undermines any efforts to encourage the U.S. military - and the rest of the world - to systematize and strengthen constraints on weapons and methods of warfare that no longer accord with the public's conscience.

In Fallujah, the Army employed a terribly ill conceived method for using white phosphorous, evidently interested only in the immediate tactical gain and its felicitous shake and bake fun. Higher-level commanders were either absent or oblivious to the larger issues. They did not impose order and encourage precision. They should be held accountable. They won't.
That's pretty good. And it seems also an indictment of the whole effort - doing what is immediately "effective" and emotionally gratifying, ignoring the overall aim.

The whole war is a series of stunning tactical victories and one big, miserable strategic defeat.

Last month in Afghanistan we burned and desecrated the bodies of some bad guys, to make the locals mad and do something stupid to our immediate on-the-ground advantage (discussed here). Same thing. In the moment that tactic, or any tactic, has its advantage. In the long run? What do we gain?

Win the battle - lose the war.

We win, and create three of four generations of very angry people, the kind who might find their way over here years from now and do just what we say we are fighting to end.

So just what are we doing? It's hard to believe Cheney and the neoconservatives want a new century of terror. But they are setting that up.

Well, they're in charge. This is what we will deal with.

There is, of course, other news.

There's this - Broadcast Chief Violated Laws, Inquiry Says - the hyper-Republican who had been recently appointed to run the Corporation for Public Broadcasting resigned under pressure, and it seems he broke a whole lot of federal laws in his effort to purge public television of its leftist, pro-science, anti-Bush slant. He may have not liked Big Bird and snarky British humor shows. He may have wanted more evangelical geology shows. Whatever. He got rid of Bill Moyers and brought in the Wall Street Journal editorial board. But he was taking orders from the White House and hiring Rove's folks outside the system and skimming funds and who knows what.

Again, there's no news here. And surprise is quite inappropriate. He just got caught. Everyone knew what was going on. Of course that he wasn't sly enough to cover his tracks is a news story. You'd expect he'd be competent at that. The point is no to leave no trail. He did.

Of course the big mid-week story in the political world was this - Woodward Was Told Of Plame More Than Two Years Ago - in the in the investigation of who leaked the name of the undercover CIA agent in anger at her husband's revealing the whole Saddam-is-buying-nuclear-bomb-stuff in Africa was a farce, it seems Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, super-reporter, was being roped into the smear effort way before the name was revealed. He kind of forgot to mention it and testified to the grand jury just days ago. And the whole story shifts now, somehow.

We'll all see how this pans out. His source, it seems, was Steven Hadley, now National Security Advisor. Or this may bring down the vice president. Who knows?

Wait for all the facts. This may be a big deal, or not. A good comment is here, one of many at the Hullabaloo site. Much of what is out there is about how the press works. Of course this guy argues the CIA woman was taken down because she was hot on the trial of a plot, in the White House, to steal nuclear stuff around the world and plant it in Iraq to "prove" Saddam has a nuclear bomb program (scroll down to the 11 November entry). It didn't have to do with the husband at all - these guys were working on planting evidence. Whatever. We shall see.

There is, of course, other news - money stuff. The government is running short. We have this war. We cut taxes. There were those hurricanes.

So, N.Y. to Lose $125 Million in 9/11 Aid - firefighters and police and emergency workers ill from breathing ash and burnt human flesh way back when are out of luck. We're out of money. On the other hand there's this - 'Bridge to nowhere' stripped from US funding bill - the mandatory funding for two controversial bridge projects in Alaska - including that widely ridiculed "bridge to nowhere" (for fifty people) has been cut. Senator Stevens of Alaska said he would resign if these awful people took away his bridge, or he'd hold his breath until he turned blue - one of those. We'll see what he does, but that 875 million will go elsewhere.

Other items of note?

There's this -

We Still Don't Have a Plan
What has everybody been doing for three years?
Fred Kaplan - Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005, at 4:51 PM ET - SLATE.COM
It is becoming increasingly clear that President George W. Bush and his top advisers lack not only a strategy for fighting the war in Iraq but - more disturbing -any idea of how to devise one.

The latest, most jaw-dropping evidence ...
And he goes into what the Wall Street Journal reports. It's not nice. And he reports on the latest book all the generals are reading, Lewis Sorley's A Better War - the new strategy is "clear and hold," abandoning the "search and destroy" strategy we used up to now. And he explains why that won't work.

And that leads us to "the ultimate source of the problem": -
Rumsfeld and most of the others who planned the war thought the battlefield phase would be the only phase; contrary to advice from the CIA and the State Department's regional specialists (whom the White House and Pentagon brusquely ignored), they truly believed that the aftermath wouldn't be a problem. Saddam would be ousted, freedom would be rung, flowers and candies would be flung, Ahmad Chalabi and his militia would ascend to power, and our troops would be home by Christmas, if not by the Fourth of July.

The civilian hawks and neocons weren't alone in this shortsightedness. Military leaders were culpable as well. In 2002, the Army and Air Force conducted war games that simulated an invasion of a country resembling Iraq. In both cases, victory was declared with the toppling of the enemy's leader - not with the accomplishment of the larger strategic goals. As the real war began in the spring of 2003, there was no Army field manual on what used to be called "war termination" - i.e., how to end a war and what to do afterward.

By summer, it was clear to many that capturing Baghdad wasn't synonymous with victory. But the mantra within Bush's inner circle, on all matters of high policy, was firm: Never admit mistakes, never alter course. All hell broke loose in Iraq, and our leaders let it. By the time their attitude changed, and they realized the need for concessions to reality, it was in many ways too late. They never forged a coherent new policy, so even their adjustments were fitful and ad hoc.
And so it goes. Win the battle - lose the war. We win, and create three of four generations of very angry people, the kind who might find their way over here years from now and do just what we say we are fighting to end.

But there's good news out there.

Reuters, from Canberra - Harriet the tortoise turns 175 - "One of the world's oldest living animals, Harriet the tortoise, celebrated her 175th birthday on Tuesday - with a pink hibiscus flower cake at her retirement home in northern Australia."

And don't read this.

Posted by Alan at 20:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005 20:58 PST home

Topic: Breaking News

Just in From Paris: All's Quiet, But…
Today's news from France, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - an account of the situation on the ground there today, received in Hollywood just after four in the afternoon, well after midnight in Paris. Things are better, and there's a good bit of detail here not on the wires stateside, including news of that pipe-smoking radical environmental activist.

All's Quiet, But…

PARIS - Wednesday, 16 November -

The Assembly National and the Senat voted to continue the 'state of emergency' today, extending its period for three months. The government's party, the UMP, largely supported the measure, with an assist from the more moderate UDF group.

In the Assembly there were 146 votes against the extension and in the Senat 125 voted against it. The Socialists, Communists, Verts and leftist radicals were more than handily outnumbered by right-wing deputies and senators.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy introduced the text for the government in the Senat - at a time when the suburbs have become a lot less turbulent. Although somewhat perplexed, the UDF supported the project.

During the discussion, all speakers praised the conduct of police and firemen during the riots, excepting the Communists.

The vote came after the 20th night of disturbances. Overnight damage has seriously decreased in volume with police reporting 163 vehicles burned and 50 arrests, and no 'major' confrontations against the 11,600 police and gendarmes mobilized.

Deportation proceedings have begun against ten foreigners who have been convicted of taking part in the riots. The leader of the bar in Seine-Saint-Denis has created a group of volunteer defense lawyers to provide legal aid to the foreigners.

Three highly placed members of the government raised the issue of polygamy in France. Gérard Larcher, deputy minister for employment, suggested that multiple marriages by immigrants is a contributing factor of racial discrimination. Extreme right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, in a press release, echoed the notion.

The anti-racist organizations, the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme and the MRAP, immediately reacted with disgust and anger at the 'hysterical politics.'

The UMP deputy-mayor of Drancy, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, said that it was 'absurd,' adding that problems of parental authority were more often related to mono-parents that to polygamist ones. "More often it is single mothers who find themselves overwhelmed," he said.

Counter-Spies See No Jihad

The French counter-espionage unit is the DST, which, as its title of Direction de la surveillance du territoire suggests, is watching over the territory - but it seldom tells the public what's going on even though we pay the salaries.

In an interview to be published Friday in the magazine 'Valeurs Actuelles' and reported today by AP in Paris, the DST's chief, Pierre de Bousquet, says that it hasn't seen any indication that religious integrists are involved with the riots.

He was quoted as saying that the troubles are not related to any religious influence. He said some of the foreign press was making a big mistake by connecting trouble in France with bombs in London or Madrid.

In contrast he characterized the terrorist menace in France as 'high' and that it was preoccupying. He estimated that there were only a few individuals in France who might be susceptible to participate in terrorism. However he estimated sympathizers to number several hundreds.


Four Months for Bové

Tuesday, 15 November -

The appeals court in Toulouse sentenced José Bové to a four months' prison term today for his part in the destruction of a genetically-modified corn field at Menville in the Haut-Garonne department in July of 2004. Seven others received suspended sentences of three months and two months. They were also ordered to pay a total of 97,300 euros in damages to the three companies operating the cornfield.

The court exonerated one defendant because he wasn't physically able to destroy any of the corn. In the original trial, the state declined to charge two hundred others who had taken part in ripping out the plants.

For the moment the judge has not ordered Mr. Bové to be placed in prison, expecting, because of the severe penalty, that he will appeal the sentence.

During the appeal process the state prosecutor did not consider the defendants to be 'delinquents,' and he did not request prison terms, suspended sentences or fines. Instead he asked for one-year suspensions of their 'civic rights' - rights to vote, to be candidates for office.

TV-news suggested that Mr. Bové, by side-stepping this suspension, will likely be a candidate in the presidential election in 2007.

One of the convicted, Toulouse municipal councilman, François Simon, said the sentences were a 'bludgeon stroke' designed to break the movement of the 'voluntary mowers,' as those who oppose the open fields of experimental trans-genetic crops call themselves.

The Green party denounced the sentences, calling on the government to stage a public debate about the wisdom of growing experimental plants in the open air. The Communist Party criticized the sentences and characterized them as 'politically motivated' and intended to criminalize 'syndical action.' The lawyer for the plaintiffs praised the 'courage' of the court.


Photo: The light at the end of...

Photo and Text, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Editor's Note:

From left-leaning Pacific News Service As Flames Die Down, Young People in France Exhale and Organize - Russell Morse, New America Media, November 16, 2005 -
Tahar Illikoud is a Spanish Algerian who has lived in the suburbs of Paris for 30 years. He, too, is a security guard and has spent the past two weeks away from his family, driving around the neighborhood on his own time, extinguishing fires and talking to the young people in the streets. "The police can't do this. We have to talk to each other, take care of each other."

He shares an insightful observation on Zinedine Zidane, France's most popular soccer star and one of the biggest names in the sport worldwide. "Zidane's parents, his mother, his father come from Algeria but he is treated as French. When he plays, he plays for France and when he wins, France wins. But us, we don't know what we are. I live for France, I work for France and everything I do is for France, not for my home country. The only difference is that I have an Arab face. And at the end we don't know if we are French or if we are strangers."

While the issues of identity and cultural acceptance have been forced to the front, a cohesive response has not. This outburst was a release of frustration, and now people are eager to return to their lives. They want jobs. What is significant is that people have recognized the extent of the frustration in each other. They saw themselves and their own exasperation and anger in the streets, whether they were out there or not.
The whole item is worth a read.

Posted by Alan at 16:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005 16:52 PST home

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Choose Your Poison: The Array from Tuesday, November 15

Choice One: Empty Gestures

As the day opened Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator John Warner were pushing a proposal that would call on the president to lay out a plan for ending the war in Iraq, but not really. They basically took the proposal from the Democrats - set a timetable for getting out, to force the Iraqis to develop the ability to keep their own country stable - and edited it. Their special version doesn't have anything to do with setting dates for the gradual withdrawal of troops. It demands paperwork.

And they passed that. The Democrats' version just wasn't going to fly.

As the New York Times explains here -
The Senate signaled its growing unease with the war in Iraq today, voting overwhelmingly to demand regular reports from the White House on the course of the conflict and on the progress that Iraqi forces are making in securing their own country.

The vote, 79 to 19, came on an amendment to a spending bill that ultimately passed without opposition. The bipartisan support for the amendment sponsored by Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee, reflected anxiety among Republicans as well as Democrats.

Mr. Warner said afterward that he was "very grateful" for the wide backing of his amendment, which he called "forward looking" and distinctly different from a Democratic alternative that many Republicans said would signal that the United States was ready to "cut and run" from the battlefield.

The message that Iraqis should take from the Senate action, Mr. Warner said, is that "we have stood with you, we have done our part," and now it is time for them to do theirs. He said 2006 would be a pivotal year for the campaign in Iraq.

Minutes before endorsing Mr. Warner's amendment, the Senate voted, 58 to 40, against a measure offered by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, to demand that President Bush set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
Well, it's something. Is it progress? The demand is non-binding, as they say. They may get the reports, and they may not.

So while the president was in Japan, the first stop on the Asia tour that ends in Mongolia, his own party, out of "anxiety" or something, suddenly demands they be let in on what's going on. Scan the general reaction on the right - these backstabbers in his own party are saying they don't trust the guy, who really shouldn't have to explain anything to anybody. Faithless cowards! Scan the reaction on the left - even the man's own supporters know enough is enough and we all deserve to know what's going on.

And the most obvious thing everyone knows, and many say - with sixty percent of the public now saying this war hasn't been worth the cost, and with a clear majority now saying the president obviously misled us into this war, these guys were trapped. They, unlike the president, will be up for reelection. They had do something that looked like the were players in this game, something that gave the appearance they had some control, that they were doing the "oversight" part of their actual job.

So they said they'd like a status report now and then. Are we making progress? Are any more Iraqi battalions anywhere near ready to do anything at all this quarter? What's up?

You can imagine each "regular report," should they get one now and then, will be a highly structured set of variations on the familiar theme: "Things are fine; trust me on that."

That will do for the president's party. And so it goes. It's cover. They're losing control of the situation and now playing defense. Very odd for the majority here.

But there's a bit more.

As you recall, last week there was this: Senate Approves Limiting Rights of U.S. Detainees - "The Senate voted Thursday to strip captured 'enemy combatants' at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, of the principal legal tool given to them last year by the Supreme Court when it allowed them to challenge their detentions in United States courts."

This was covered in these pages in some detail here last weekend.

There was no end to the controversy this created - see this for links to Monday's editorials suggesting habeas corpus is a good thing, and giving one man the power to lock up anyone he decided was bad, without proof, and with specific charges, without communication, forever, with no way to appeal what was happening to him or to explain to anyone - no trial at all - was maybe something we ought not to grant this president, or anyone. here three hundred fifty of the top law professors in America say this is madness, but carefully. My high-powered Wall Street attorney friend forwarded me the letter from Michael Greco, the president of the American Bar Association, saying much the same:
The U.S. Senate last week adopted with no hearings and with little debate Senator Lindsey Graham's proposal to eliminate habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees, denying them access to federal courts. The American Bar Association urges the senators to reconsider and defeat that enormous change to our fundamental legal system.

Throughout our nation's history, starting with the defense by lawyer, later president, John Adams of Massachusetts, of the British soldiers who fired on patriots in the Boston Massacre, it has been our commitment to basic principles of justice, even for the most unpopular among us, that has allowed us to maintain the high moral ground in the world, the most strategically important territory for us to occupy as we struggle with the enemies of freedom.

Our influence in the world is directly affected by our actions with respect to those we detain. The prisoners in Guantánamo have been held there, largely incommunicado, for four years. That fact alone offends our heritage of due process and fairness. The writ of habeas corpus was developed precisely to prevent the prolonged detention of individuals without charge, by allowing those held to petition the federal courts. To eliminate the right of habeas corpus would be shocking to our nation.

As Senator Graham himself has stated repeatedly, in the battle against terrorism we cannot allow ourselves to become like the enemy. Adoption of his amendment would undermine the very principles that distinguish us from our enemies.
Such comments seem endless, and on the other side you hear stuff like this, defending unlimited detention and even torture:
The enemy being fought is undeserving of humane treatment, and the Arabs and Muslims must be made to understand this. Indeed, it is an affront to morality and decency to so treat people with humanity. All war is nasty, and this war is particularly nasty and cannot be made pretty. It is the reluctance of the Americans and the British to use the appropriate level of force that is a cogent reason why Iraq should never have been fought.
That's the core counterargument - "it is an affront to morality and decency" to treat such people with "humanity."

Choose your side of the argument. A web search will give you thousands folks agreeing with you, with supporting documentary stuff, whichever way you choose.

The senate had to vote on this, and came up with a compromise, seriously detailed here and here. Basically Senator Graham proposed an amendment to his own amendment, co-sponsored by Carl Levin and John Kyl (text here) - this still denies habeas corpus to these folks but allows a bit more judicial review than the version that Graham attached the appropriations bill last week. Senator Bingaman proposed a different amendment (text here) - and that allowed habeas, but it cut off lawsuits challenging the conditions of confinement. The Bingaman version got voted sown 44-54, and the Graham-Levin thing passed 84-14, so in short, this would, like the original, eliminate habeas for Guantánamo detainees, overturn the previous ruling these guys had rights (Rasul), and more than likely prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the merits of the Hamdan case now under review.

So? Half a loaf is better than none? The bottom line is you get to have your say if you're in for ten years or set to be executed. Otherwise you're shit out of luck.

As in this in the Washington Post, some comments from an attorney representing a curious detainee at Guantánamo. As noted here, "When senators complain that 'terrorists' shouldn't be entitled to habeas corpus review of their detentions, they're missing the point. It isn't enough for the administration to claim someone is a terrorist."

This "terrorist" named Adel, and his attorney notes this -
Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.
No problem? Not exactly. -
The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.
Oh well. To treat such people with "humanity" is "an affront to morality and decency," after all.

Yes, the military admits many of those held at Guantánamo are guilty of nothing, and have little or no useful "intelligence' for us, to match their admission that perhaps ninety percent of those held at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad were just caught up in sweeps and were just unlucky. But it's war. You just can let people go. It looks bad.

Everyone is posturing. The unlucky disappear or die.

Oh yeah, the McCain amendment, saying we will follow our own rules and not torture folks, is still alive, attached to the bill in question.

Will Bush veto the bill, as he says he will, to block the McCain "restrictions" on his rights as president? To get this restriction on detainee appeals that the administration wants, he may have to sign the anti-torture provision Vice President Cheney opposes and has been trying to stop, or modify to allow the CIA to torture at will. Sending a silly report every few months is not a problem. This McCain stuff is.

We'll see what happens after Mongolia.

Choice Two: Bad Polls

Late Monday the 14th -' from a CNN and US Today and Gallup poll here - Americans say they trust George W. Bush less than they trusted Bill Clinton, by a pretty big margin. About fifty percent of people polled said they disliked Bush, and six percent claimed to hate him. Overall approval - thirty-seven percent. Do folks trust Bush more than they did Clinton? Forty-eight percent said they trusted Bush less, while only thirty-six percent said they trusted him more. Yipes! Fifteen percent called it a tie - a pox on both their houses.

Also of note, approval rating exactly four years ago of eighty-seven percent, and now thirty-seven, percent, with now majority disapproval how things are handled on all issues - the economy, immigration, federal spending, Iraq, terrorism in general. Doesn't matter. Take your pick. For the first time in these Gallup polls, a majority of Americans - 52 to 46 percent - say the guy is neither honest nor trustworthy.

And that Clinton thing just has to hurt.

So now what?

If you watch Fox News and such you hear, endlessly, the story of how Reagan recovered from low numbers after Iran-Contra and all that, and "ended the cold war" (single-handedly, we're told), so Bush will do the same. He'll do something spectacular that will make him a universally loved and respected leader like Reagan (yes, yes, some disagree on that).

But what rabbit will he pull out of his hat? He cannot go to Berlin and say, "Pull Down this wall!" No wall now. No one to say it to - no Soviet Union or anything like it.

Trapped by a lack of a good opportunity!

And he may not have the personality for such gestures.

The Washington Times notes this -
President Bush feels betrayed by several of his most senior aides and advisors and has severely restricted access to the Oval Office, administration sources say. The president's reclusiveness in the face of relentless public scrutiny of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and White House leaks regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame has become so extreme that Mr. Bush has also reduced contact with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, administration sources said on the condition of anonymity.
Matt Drudge reports this -
The sources said Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. The sources also say that Mr. Bush has stopped talking with his father, except on family occasions.
Comment here -
This man is running our country. And he won't speak to anyone - ANYONE - other than Condi Rice, his mom, and Karen Hughes? That leaves out the entire Department of Defense - kind of important during wartime - the CIA, every other agency and the entire White House staff.

It honestly sounds like he's losing control.

And he's in charge of our country.

Not just worst president ever. But quickly becoming scariest president ever.
They shouldn't have asked that poll question about Clinton.

Choice Three: Uppity Foreigners

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has been sending email on this.

Spain announced it will "probe allegations" that our CIA used one of their airports, somewhere near Mallorca, to transfer our "ghost detainees" we send to our overseas "interrogation facilities" where there are no rules. Reuters here:
The Spanish government had no knowledge of the alleged flights but a judge was investigating them, [Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio] Alonso told Spanish television channel Telecinco.

"If it were confirmed that this is true, we would be looking at very serious, intolerable deeds because they break the basic rules of treating people in a democratic legal and political system," he said.
Ric in Paris -
First heard of this Tuesday, 15 November, on radio France-Info. No mention found on French Google or Yahoo news, nor AP on the NYT.

Radio France-Info said airports in the Canaries might have been used too.

The German guy, Khaled el-Masri, has had his story batted around a bit. If I remember correctly, he was tortured in Egypt, Syria, and stuck in a hole in the ground someplace. Then he was let go, and now he's thinking of suing the United States.
Oh my. This is not good.

But later, Tuesday, November 15, by 7:30 in the evening out here in Hollywood, Google News showed 175 stories - the New York Times here, ABC News here, and Associated Press here. Of course the story hit Europe first.

Oh heck, a number of probes are underway in Europe over covert CIA operations there. The Italian and German governments are both investigating allegations that the CIA has kidnapped individuals within their borders. Italy is now working on the extradition of twenty-two CIA agents for their involvement in one of these kidnappings.

This is all over the European press, but doesn't get much coverage here.

Are these "intolerable deeds because they break the basic rules of treating people in a democratic legal and political system?"

Maybe, but we don't care. See "Choice One" above.

Rules are for the other guys.

Choice Four: Why Bother?

Monday the Washington Post reported something curious over at the Department of Justice, in the Civil Rights Division - career attorneys are leaving at a rate nearly double that of prior administrations. Why? It seems the agenda has changed a bit. The Post reports this -
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which has enforced the nation's anti-discrimination laws for nearly half a century, is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current career employees.

Nearly 20 percent of the division's lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration's conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.

... At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.

The division has also come under criticism from the courts and some Democrats for its decision in August to approve a Georgia program requiring voters to present government-issued identification cards at the polls. The program was halted by an appellate court panel and a district court judge, who likened it to a poll tax from the Jim Crow era.
What to make of this?

One attorney here - "I'd be embarrassed to work there, too. A Civil Rights Division working against civil rights follows the Administration's plan. If War=Peace and Clean Air Initiative=No Clean Air, then Civil Rights=Less Civil Rights. It must keep minorities from voting because they likely will vote Democratic. It all follows."

Maybe so.

Choice Five: The Big Debate

The New York Times publishes a startling editorial, Tuesday, November 15, that opens with this -
To avoid having to account for his administration's misleading statements before the war with Iraq, President Bush has tried denial, saying he did not skew the intelligence. He's tried to share the blame, claiming that Congress had the same intelligence he had, as well as President Bill Clinton. He's tried to pass the buck and blame the CIA. Lately, he's gone on the attack, accusing Democrats in Congress of aiding the terrorists.

Yesterday in Alaska, Mr. Bush trotted out the same tedious deflection on Iraq that he usually attempts when his back is against the wall: he claims that questioning his actions three years ago is a betrayal of the troops in battle today.

It all amounts to one energetic effort at avoidance. But like the WMD reports that started the whole thing, the only problem is that none of it has been true.
There a big section in the middle with proof of what was bit true, and they end with this -
The president and his top advisers may very well have sincerely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But they did not allow the American people, or even Congress, to have the information necessary to make reasoned judgments of their own. It's obvious that the Bush administration misled Americans about Mr. Hussein's weapons and his terrorist connections. We need to know how that happened and why.

Mr. Bush said last Friday that he welcomed debate, even in a time of war, but that "it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began." We agree, but it is Mr. Bush and his team who are rewriting history.
Well, some of it happened because the Times printed story after story from Judy Miller, planting there what the administration wanted her to plant, and the Times was unwilling to question her or her sources. But she's gone now. This is the new Times, it seems.

And by the way, the president is not only saying that asking questions is irresponsible, he is saying asking questions undermines our troops and gives aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war. You know those words. They're from the statute that defines treason. That's punishable by death.

These guys need to be careful.

Anyway, the White House has issued a point-by-point response here. They didn't used to do such things. They were believed. Times have changed. Like the Nixon, "I am not a crook" business, the new line is, "We did not mislead." (And there's a corollary many point out - the full argument they're making is "We did not mislead, you misfollowed.")

But here's something cool, Matthew Yglesias saying the whole argument is on the wrong topic, with this (emphases added) -
As the country debates the genuine intelligence failures along with the various deceptions that led us into the Iraq War, it's worth recalling that this has first and foremost been a failure of strategy. Specifically, the Bush administration concluded that the thing to do in the world was wage preventive war in order to secure "a balance of power that favors freedom." Preventive war is rightly condemned by international law and the counsels of prudence alike, the administration, in its typical matter, decided to dress this up as something else, namely "preemption" of a terrorist surprise attack. That dressing-up led the administration into a thicket of deceptions regarding the possibility of Iraqi co-operation with al-Qaeda.

That notwithstanding, in order to appease Colin Powell and/or Tony Blair, the administration eventually found itself at the UN, sponsoring resolutions and offering ultimata. Thus, the ready-made preemption/prevention morass got dragged into yet another idea - coercive diplomacy, where threats of war are intended to produce not war, but compliance with demands. Unfortunately for Bush, Saddam unexpectedly wound up substantially complying with his demands and inspectors entered the country. It was here that we got the very most egregious dissembling about weapons of mass destruction. Inspectors were on the ground, not finding weapons, debunking certain specific administration claims, and asking the US for the rest of the evidence to substantiate all the big talk.

The hawks chose to portray this situation as proof that inspections "weren't working" because the (obviously incompetent) inspectors were failing to find the WMD facilities that "everyone knew" were there.

There's a lesson or two in here about honesty, but first and foremost it should be a lesson about strategy. The war has not, shall we say, gone swimmingly, which is always a risk when you go to war. Nor did the intelligence - even the parts of it the administration wasn't spinning, twisting, or otherwise sexing up - hold up to scrutiny, which is also always a risk in the intel game. The result has been something of a fiasco across the entire spectrum of American power.
Ah yes, true, but the bigger is sort of... what were they thinking?

Posted by Alan at 20:55 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005 05:31 PST home

Monday, 14 November 2005

Topic: Bush

Parting Shot: Did so! Did Not! Did So! Did Not!

The speech the president gave on Veterans Day should be old news, except its not. It was covered in these pages here, and that should have been that.

But no, the speech contained the core of the argument that is supposed turn everything around and make those poll numbers go up again. Forget the Veterans - they're not important, or they're dead or whatever. Veterans Day was the day to give a speech attacking the opponents of the administration who said all those awful things about the administration conning everyone in to pointless war that's making thing worse, and to say to the nearly sixty-percent of the population that judges the president as dishonest that well, they're just wrong. Nixon was forced to say, "I am not a crook." Same sort of thing - "So they call me a liar? I'm not."

But if he's seen as a liar then that statement could be a lie, right? The assertion defeats itself. The polls won't change.

From the shooting script of the Blake Edwards movie Charade (1963), this dialog -(Reggie is Audrey Hepburn and Dyle is Cary Grant, in their hotel in Paris) -
REGGIE: Alex - how can you tell if someone is lying or not?

DYLE: You can't.

REGGIE: There must be some way.

DYLE: There's an old riddle about two tribes of Indians - the Whitefeet always tell the truth and the Blackfeet always lie. So one day you meet an Indian, you ask him if he's a truthful Whitefoot or a lying Blackfoot? He tells you he's a truthful Whitefoot, but which one is he?

REGGIE: Why couldn't you just look at his feet?

DYLE: Because he's wearing moccasins.

REGGIE: Oh. Well, then he's a truthful Whitefoot, of course.

DYLE: Why not a lying Blackfoot?

REGGIE (confused): Which one are you?

DYLE (entering, smiling): Whitefoot, of course.

REGGIE: Come here.

He goes to the bed.
And so on and so forth.

In this case, what's the president to do? He's not taking off his "executive privilege" moccasins, after all. What really was decided and how it was decided isn't for the public.

What to do? Keep repeating the assertion, as on Monday, November 14, while leaving town, as in Terence Hunt reports for the Associated Press -
President Bush, heading to Asia with hopes of improving his image on the world stage, hurled a parting shot at Iraq war critics on Monday, accusing some Democrats of "sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."

"That is irresponsible," Bush said in prepared remarks he planned to deliver to U.S. forces during a refueling stop in Alaska. Excerpts from the remarks were released by the White House as Bush flew to Elemendorf Air Force Base on the initial leg of an eight-day journey to Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia.

"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," Bush said in his prepared remarks.

"Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world - and that person was Saddam Hussein," Bush added.

The president sought to defend himself against Democrats' criticism that he manipulated intelligence and misled the American people about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction as he sought grounds to go to war against Saddam Hussein in 2003.

... In his prepared Alaska remarks, Bush noted that some elected Democrats in Congress "have opposed this war all along.

"I disagree with them, but I respect their willingness to take a consistent stand," he said. "Yet some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They are playing politics with this issue and sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."
There he goes again. This was repeating the charge in the Veterans Day speech (text here. That was summarized by the New York Times this way - "President Bush lashed out today at critics of his Iraq policy, accusing them of trying to rewrite history about the decision to go to war, and saying their criticism is undercutting American forces in battle." The Washington Post summary - "President Bush lashed out today at critics of his Iraq war policy, strongly denying any manipulation of prewar intelligence and accusing his detractors of sending "the wrong signal" to U.S. troops and America's enemies."

So he denied he had manipulated intelligence in order to take the country to war against Iraq - and said that the Democrats in congress had seen the same evidence he had seen, and all those commissions had all said nothing like that happened, and that even the Clinton administration had also seen Iraq as a threat.

Yeah, well, Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank on the front page of Saturday's Post, the day after the speech, suggested he was full of crap, although they said it nicely:
President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence.

Neither assertion is wholly accurate.
And that "neither assertion is wholly accurate" is to say, what?

These two remind us that the only committee investigating the matter of this pre-war intelligence in Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not yet done its inquiry into whether officials "mischaracterized intelligence" by omitting caveats and dissenting opinions. They haven't even started. That's Phase II - and the Democrats had to shut down the senate November 1st and make everyone meet behind closed doors just to get Pat Roberts, who chairs the committee, to get going. It's been two years or more. (Discussed in these pages here.) Yep, the committee did NOT say the administration manipulated anyone or anything. True enough. They haven't found the time or energy to look into it yet. They haven't said anything about it.

The Post guys also note that Judge Laurence H. Silberman - chairman of Bush's own commission on weapons of mass destruction - said in releasing his report on March 31, 2005, none of this was his business - "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry."

So, yes, technically no one has concluded anyone in the administration was playing fast and loose way back when with junk data about how we just had to go to war at that moment. That no investigation has yet covered the issue proves that manipulation never happened?

No wonder this man comes off so badly on "trustworthiness" in the polls. They should poll people who have taken courses in symbolic logic. That poll would be devastating.

And this business about everyone working from the same data - that everyone looked at the same intelligence? The Post points out no president shares the most sensitive intelligence, things like the President's Daily Brief (PDB), with any lawmakers. And too, the National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community's views about the threat from Iraq was given to Congress "just days before the vote to authorize the use of force in that country." No one had time to read it, which was probably the idea. And all the doubts and "maybe this isn't so" stuff wasn't in there anyway. Ah well.

Democrats in Congress seem to be saying that most of what they knew about Iraq before the war came from briefings from the administration and the Pentagon, and now feel they were lied to - consistently and systematically.

Poor babies. Of course you could argue that since the world is made of only fools and knaves, as Swift famously formulated it, the worse things is not to have a good bullshit detector. Everyone lies. That's life. The greater blame goes to the fool who doesn't see the lie - and the greatest blame to the perceptive man who sees the lie and won't say anything for fear of being called unpatriotic or some such thing. Heck, liars are a dime a dozen. You expect that in government.

Of course some tell the truth. The Post drags out a news conference in February 2001 in Egypt with Colin Powell - Secretary of State at the time - saying of the economic sanctions against Iraq were just fine and there was no threat: "Frankly, they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction."

Just who is rewriting history? No one noticed at the time?

And the "smoking gun" October 2002 joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq never did mention the removal of Saddam Hussein from power and occupying the country. It was in support for "diplomatic efforts" to enforce "all relevant Security Council resolutions," and for using the armed forces to enforce the resolutions and defend "against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

These guys didn't even vote for the war and occupation. One might mention that, but of course Kerry did and got smashed in the media as a flip-flopper.

Ah, he should have known - they should have known. Had they never dealt with a Texan before?

But then there's more.

What you also hear in the new offensive from the White House is much more of the charge that everyone thought there was a real big threat - all foreign governments and even the previous administration said so. This is the "Don't blame us - we were all wrong!" argument, the one where "we" excludes Scott Ritter and Hans Blix of course.

That argument relies on everyone having an amazingly bad memory or short attention span, or whatever. Juan Cole in his collection of such things notes, from the BBC in mid-February 2003, this -
France, Germany and Russia have released an unprecedented joint declaration on the Iraq crisis, demanding more weapons inspectors and more technical assistance for them.

... "Nothing today justifies a war," Mr Chirac told a joint news conference with Mr Putin. "This region really does not need another war." He said France did not have "undisputed proof" that Iraq still held weapons of mass destruction.
And Cole notes reports like this - the Russians were even more skeptical.

Just who is rewriting history? (By the way, Juan Cole's site Informed Comment is blocked in Iraq and Afghanistan - our guys cannot get to it.)

But then there's more - evidence that if there ever is an official inquiry in "manipulating" things there's a bit to explain.

There's just leaving things out - like how the Osama dude had flatly prohibited any al Qaeda operatives from cooperating with that heretical secular Arab nationalist, Saddam Hussein. We had that from informants. We had on record. That never got into any intelligence report, but the 9/11 Commission found it. Oops.

And as mentioned in these pages last week - here, section two, and in the Juan Cole roundup - there's the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The man who was the source of all the lies about Iraq training al-Qaeda operatives, even though the Defense Intelligence Agency and other high-level intelligence operatives had already dismissed this information as unreliable. Well, as Newsweek reported, this was a test case to see what we could get from torture - the fellow spent some time in Cairo. Didn't work out.

Add this. No supporting evidence. Cole: "It should be noted that no money traces showed al-Qaeda funds coming from Iraq. No captured al-Qaeda fighters had been trained in Iraq. There was no intelligence that in any way corroborated al-Libi's story. And, it was directly contradicted by two of his superiors."

But Powell took it to the UN, after all the times the administration hyped it. Cole has all the citations.

Kevin Drum more here in a nifty table - "a list of five key dissents about administration claims, all of which were circulated before the war but kept under wraps until after the war." He lists this liar, and the famous "Curveball," and the aluminum tubes that turned out to be something else, the hypothetical yellowcake from Niger, and those drone planes that we coming. It's all there, as a preliminary list.

And he adds this:
... the issue here is not who was right and who was wrong, or even whether the overall weight of the evidence was sufficient to justify the war. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the White House to present all the evidence pro and con and then use that evidence to make the strongest possible case for war. But that's not what they did. Instead, they suppressed any evidence that might have thrown doubt on their arguments, making it impossible for the public to evaluate what they were saying. In fact, by abusing the classification process to keep these dissents secret, they even made it impossible for senators who knew the truth to say anything about it in public.

This is not the way to market a war. It's certainly not the way to market a war that requires long-term support from citizens in a democracy. But that's how they marketed it anyway.
Yeah, and they're still at it.

As mentioned last weekend, it was Glenn Reynolds, one of the most influential voices on the right, who said this -
"The White House needs to go on the offensive here in a big way - and Bush needs to be very plain that this is all about Democratic politicians pandering to the antiwar base, that it's deeply dishonest, and that it hurts our troops abroad.

And yes, he should question their patriotism. Because they're acting unpatriotically.
Yeah, but who's lying?

James Walcott notes the idea, that all this wanting the truth stuff is unpatriotic, is spreading, and not working -
Bill Kristol said something similar today on Fox News Sunday, explaining Bush's falling poll numbers regarding Iraq (especially on the "trust issue") as being the product of certain Democrats and their allies in the liberal media. No one better embodies the creamy elitism of the neocons than does Kristol, who believes that the American people are a lumpy mass easily manipulated and are incapable of arriving at judgments of their own. But they can, they do, and they have. They have turned against this war and slowly come to the conclusion that they were deliberately misled. Questioning the patriotism of the war's critics isn't going to work because a majority of Americans now share that criticism and don't think of themselves as unpatriotic. Bush's counteroffensives are no longer effective because he's lost the confidence of the American people: they've had it with this guy.
Could that be so?

Does Josh Marshall speak for America here? -
What a sorry, sorry, unfortunate president - caught in his lies, his half-truths, his reckless disregard ... caught with, well ... caught with time. Time has finally caught up to him. And now he doesn't have the popularity to beat back all the people trying to call him to account. He could; but now he can't. So he's caught. And his best play is to accuse his critics of rewriting history, of playing fast and loose with the truth - a sad, pathetic man.

... In the president's new angle that his critics are trying to 'rewrite history', those critics might want to point out that his charge would be more timely after he stopped putting so much effort into obstructing any independent inquiry that could allow an accurate first draft of the history to be written. In any case, he must sense now that he's blowing into a fierce wind. The judgment of history hangs over this guy like a sharp, heavy knife. His desperation betrays him. He knows it too.
Oh my, that's a bit overwrought, but then, Nixon only had to say "I am not a crook" and feel desperate. The smart-ass kid from Texas has to say, over and over, "I did NOT con you into a war using bullshit, and hiding things from you, and now your kids are dead, but you bought the crap so it's your fault." Nixon had it easy. They're now calling the frat-boy bully a liar to his face, and bringing up just why they're saying that.

One suspect he resents that, and resents that saying the clear facts really mean nothing is getting nowhere. Were they that hard on him a Yale when he turned in an embarrassingly dumb-ass paper, as he did quite often as many have mentioned? There he could laugh it off - he was the son of a famous Yale father and Yale grandfather so what were they going to do?


Well, he has his base of screw-them-all wannabe bullies, but that has its limitations, as Ron Brownstein explains here -
After Tuesday's election results, the threat is most visible for Republicans. From the federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case to the unsuccessful attempt to add private investment accounts to Social Security, President Bush aimed his 2005 agenda mostly at the preferences of his Republican base. That followed the pattern of his first term. Bush's top political goal has always been to mobilize a massive turnout of Republicans by pursuing an unapologetically polarizing agenda, even at the price of straining his relations with moderate voters.

That strategy helped power the GOP victories in 2002 and 2004, but its limits have grown increasingly apparent in the last year, and never more so than in the last week. The great political risk in this approach always was that it left Bush without much of a margin for error. Because his sharp-edged agenda and uncompromising style antagonized so many centrist voters, he lacked a deep pool of goodwill to draw from when times got tough.

And tough times have arrived in waves this year. Battered by miscalculations (Schiavo, Social Security), bad news (high gas prices), missteps (the faltering federal response to Hurricane Katrina), ethical controversies and the grinding war in Iraq, Bush has seen his approval rating among independent voters fall to an almost unimaginable 29%.

Last week's elections demonstrated those numbers have consequences. Jerry W. Kilgore and Douglas R. Forrester, the defeated Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, were routed in socially moderate, upscale suburbs. Their deficiencies as candidates obviously contributed to those results. But few Republicans denied that swing voters' disillusionment with Bush compounded the problem.

... Bush can't ignore his base. But if he stays this weak in the center, turnout alone probably can't protect the GOP next year.
And that will tick off his base.

The man cannot be very happy. And now it's even harder to start another war to fix it all.


Note: Digby at Hullabaloo on how to discuss this all with your conservative friends, an excerpt from a longer item -
Again, establishing a fact is not the same as persuading others to accept that fact. The fact - the president is a liar - has long been established. Now, how do you get others to accept it? Say it: The president is a liar. Say it again: The president is a liar. And when someone demands proof, you repeat: The president is a liar.

Now, suppose they say, "But you've shown me no proof. That's just your opinion. Prove it." Now what? You say, "The president is liar."

Now to us liberals, this may appear at first to be a bit, how shall I say it, irrational and unfair. It is not. First of all, the person you are trying to convince is perfectly capable and in fact probably has read many of the same articles you have read, in which the lies of Bush are so painfully apparent. Their ability to reason is skewed, not their ability to read. Attempts to "set their reason straight" by advancing reasoned arguments merely reinforces the delusion.

The important thing to remember is that a deeply held delusion is invested with deep emotional attachment. One's self-esteem, one's positive opinion of oneself, has become deliberately intertwined with maintaining that delusion at all costs. Dangerously so. It is that emotional attachment you must confront. When that has been dealt with, the ability to reason is freed to arrive at the obvious conclusion: The president is a liar.

Now in dealing with someone on the emotional level, there's no reason to be cruel, but you need to be firm. You need to weaken, in the face of enormous resistance, the emotional glue that binds the deluded to his/her delusion. You don't humiliate as in, "Schmuck! Any moron can see the president is lying through his teeth. WTF is wrong with you?" That further binds the delusion to the person's sense of self, which now feels attacked and therefore becomes defensive. Instead, you simply repeat, "The president is a liar."

Eventually, the repetition will permit the idea to seep enough into their consciousness to make the deluded start to wonder whether it is worthwhile investing their sense of self so deeply in someone who just may be, in fact, a liar. Your clue that this is happening is a change in the way the way the discourse is conducted. Instead of, "Oh yeah? Prove he's a liar!" you'll start to hear things like, "I guess he did cherrypick the intelligence a bit and in a sense, that's a lie. But you don't think Bush made stuff up out of whole cloth, do you?"

At which point, you respond, "The president is a liar" but, as Sean-Paul says, don't go into the details. Remember, they've already heard them but they can't reason about them properly yet and the problem they are having is emotional, not intellectual. They've started to wake up, but they are still entangling their own sense of integrity with Bush's.

It's only when they respond, "Okay, he's a liar. He lied and manipulated intelligence to get us into the war. But we have to support Bush now if we are not going to embolden the enemy" that you ease up slightly. You say, "The president is a liar. He lied to your face. Over and over. He lied to the soldiers who are now fighting for their lives over there. The president is a liar. You owe him nothing. He owes you the truth."

Got it.

Posted by Alan at 18:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005 18:46 PST home

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