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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Defiance: The Press Conference From Another Planet
Topic: Bush

Defiance: The Press Conference From Another Planet

Out here on west coast events occur at odd times. We hold the Oscar thing down the street at five in the afternoon so it can be broadcast live in primetime back east, eight in the evening. Here it's something on the television while you make dinner - Oscar parties are afternoon affairs. And then Tuesday, March 21st, the White House surprised everyone with a mid-morning press conference at ten back east, just after sunrise here. Fresh coffee, feed the cat, skim the local paper, check the email, and you miss what turned out to a big deal. This one was unusual. Well, it was four in the afternoon for Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, whose emails and submissions and photos arrive at odd times, here at least. Perhaps he caught it there in CNN-International or BBC World Service, or not. Things in France are heating up, what with the students taking to the streets. But here seems like end of the world, out of the flow of major events.

But this presidential press conference was not to be missed - filled with the president saying the oddest things. With his poll numbers in the basement this was a basic "Yeah, so?" - we're staying in Iraq for the next three years, and the next president can figure out what to do then. Not his problem. And everyone else is wrong - the public, the press, those in congress even in his own party who don't like what he's up to, and the courts of course.

That was the gist of it, with special emphasis on the press - it's obvious we're winning the war, big time, save for a few minor setbacks, and the press insists on reporting about all the fighting and car bombs and sectarian reprisal killings of women and children and all that. He didn't think that was fair.

At two in the afternoon out here - five in the evening back east, in the real world - you could see a discussion of all that on MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews' shouting show. He suggested that since reporters were covering a war, maybe they should report on the fighting and such. It's kind of what they're supposed to do. On his panel he had David Gergen from Harvard, the man four presidents, Democrat and Republican, brought in to handle tough times, and Pat Buchanan, the old-school conservative big on keeping America pure in this way or that, and the former mayor of San Francisco, the amusing Willie Brown. What did they talk about? Vietnam. Really.

Buchanan said we won that war, or had until the American public turned on the administration and went all anti-war - we controlled everything and had won, damn it, and the press screwed everything up by reporting only the bad stuff, so we lost, because of the press, and only because of the press. Gergen, who had been in uniform in that war, said that was an odd view - we won and then the press made us lose? Not how he remembered it. They argued for a bit. Willie Brown was shaking his head, just amazed. Vietnam. But that was the discussion. Bush had pretty much used the Buchanan argument, fairly common on the right - if the press would only report the right things we'd win, no matter what happens on the battlefield. Yes, the logic is elusive, but that's the idea. Someone should have told Napoleon at Waterloo.

There was other news beside the big press conference, as here we see a hundred or more of the bad guys stormed a police station in Iraq and freed thirty prisoners. Lots of people died, including eighteen or more Iraqi police officers. Should that be reported? Over in the UK Prime Minister Blair gave his big speech on why we all have to stay the course, as it were, and see this Iraq business through, and anything like it, because, if you will, this really is not a "clash of civilizations," but a "clash about civilization." Oh. He'll have to explain that to his bigger, stronger, thousand times more powerful big brother George. The language is tricky. George needs help with the subtleties. Oh, and here we see both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are considering moving their reserves out of dollars and into Euros. Might crash the world economy, realigning everything. That's an old story. See The Real Reasons Bush Went To War from John Chapman in The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 28, 2004. That's come up here before, and elsewhere. It's big deal. But there was that press conference.

The White House transcript of the press conference is here, but for a full flavor of the thing you might want to check out the video clips available here at Crooks and Lairs, the site that archives media clips of all sorts. It will give you an idea of the new tone of things - the president taking questions of actual substance and being strangely combative. The clips are of an odd thing. He calls on the woman who has been part of the White House press corps since the days of Kennedy, Helen Thomas, who has said he is the worst president in American history. He hasn't called on her in four years. She's trouble. But he asks what her question is. What's up with that?

She refers to all the people who reported he wanted a war with Iraq from the day he became president, long before the World Trade Center got slammed and all that, and to the fact there were now WMD and he did say Iraq was not part of that whole business, and asks, given that, what was his real reason for launching the war. He had said it wasn't about oil. So what was the real reason?

He said her sources were just wrong. No president wants war. And he cut her off a lot as she tried to follow up - your basic bullying of an eighty-year-old woman. It must play well with the base.

Curiously, in the text below the video links you'll find an additional link to this - Mickey Herskowitz who had struck a deal to ghost write Bush's autobiography said that "He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999."

What? "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency...."


Who to believe?

Well he also said this -
I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences ... and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.
What? He did? As Josh Marshall says here -
Of course, that's not what happened. We were there. We remember. It wasn't a century ago. We got the resolution passed. Saddam called our bluff and allowed the inspectors in. President Bush pressed ahead with the invasion.

His lies are so blatant that I must constantly check myself so as not to assume that he is simply delusional or has blocked out whole chains of events from the past.
It's the former - delusional. No blocking out of stuff he once knew. As noted three years ago here, he never believed Saddam Hussein allowed inspectors in. Didn't happen. He said the same thing standing next to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in a photo opportunity, that according to a White House Press Release from July 14, 2003. He lives in another world. We all saw the inspectors making their reports to the UN, on television. Someone is mistaken. It must be us? No.

So he has the basic facts wrong on this one thing, what he sees as the major reason we went to war. Oh well, no one in the press corps corrected him. He's the boss.

You might read Brad DeLong, the Berkeley economics professor, here on the questions about the money stuff - "Mr. President, in the upcoming elections I think many Republicans would tell you one of the big things they're worried about is the national debt, which was $5.7 trillion when you took office, and is now nearly $8.2 trillion, and Congress has just voted to raise it to $8.9 trillion. That would be a 58-percent increase. You've yet to veto a single bill, sir - I assume that means you're satisfied with this."

DeLong looks at the answer. Aside from not knowing how the Federal Reserve works or much about how interest rated are set, we get this - "I like the size of the pie, sometimes I didn't particularly like the slices within the pie." Whatever.

DeLong seems to be in despair. It's only the economy.

The wiretapping of citizen without warrants, with no Fourth Amendment protections for anyone now? AP has the summary -
But the president defiantly defended his warrantless eavesdropping program, and baited Democrats who suggest that he broke the law.

Calling a censure resolution "needless partisanship," Bush challenged Democrats to go into the November midterm elections in opposition to eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. "They ought to stand up and say, 'The tools we're using to protect the American people should not be used,'" Bush said.
Well, that's not what they're saying. They're saying do it, but get a warrant - don't toss out the constitution. Follow the law. But then the concept is tricky. George needs help with the subtleties. Well, many do, even if it doesn't seem that hard to figure out -doing the right thing the right way. You see how the fall elections will be framed.

And there was a bit about the Hurricane Katrina business. That got a new spin when he brought up all those trailers sitting useless and rotting on a airport runway, in Hope Arkansas of all places - housing needed badly, but gone to waste. What about that? "The taxpayers aren't interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them. And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know - it sends wrong signals to taxpayers."

Ah, the problem is big government. It's useless. It can't so anything right. It's almost saying "see, we screwed up" and you cannot expect government to do anything useful, really. It's a tricky ploy. If that is so why should they, or anyone, be elected to anything? George needs help with the subtleties. This is dangerous territory.

So just what was going on here? Why did those of us who are west coasters have this press conference bubbling away on the television while we got dressed to face the day?

John Dickerson has an explanation here -
For months, White House officials reacted to bad news in Iraq by scheduling another Bush speech and blaming the media for relentless negativity. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney appear still to prefer this approach. But starting last fall, White House aides realized that the country would not follow a president they thought was clueless. As big and bad a wolf as the media may be, if the president didn't acknowledge some of what regular Americans saw on their television screens or read in their newspapers, he'd never be able to rebuild support for his administration and the Iraq war. People wouldn't bother to listen to his plans for fixing the problem, administration aides admitted to themselves, if they thought he didn't know what it was.

This realization did not unleash any bold acts of confession. Bush has not participated in freewheeling town halls or regular press conferences or a heart-to-heart with Barbara or Oprah. His doses of candor have come in thimblefuls, first in a series of December speeches and more recently in question-and-answer sessions. What Bush says is aimed at believers, Republicans and independents who don't need to see a firing of Donald Rumsfeld or troop redeployment but who believe the U.S. cannot leave and want to give Bush the benefit of the doubt. If they think the president is giving them the straight story, they'll regain their faith in his ability to find a solution. All this worked briefly last year. Polls showed an increase in support. But the candor didn't keep pace with the carnage.

Today the president tried again. He held a press conference in which he tried to show that his perseverance is not blind and that he is not "optimistic for the sake of optimism."
So as Nixon was forced to say "I am not a crook" Bush has been forced in saying he's really not totally clueless, honest. He knows what's going on.

He said he knows things are tough in Iraq - "I hear it from our troops. I read the reports every night." He knows seventy percent of Americans believe Iraq is in a civil war, and so does Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister. He just doesn't agree. He knows people are calling for staff changes, and for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to resign. He gets it. But it's not going happen. He hears it all, but, "They've got some ideas that I like and some I don't like." His choice. He's the boss. The people have spoken.

In sum, defiance.

Other points? He asked Americans to "imagine an enemy that says: 'We will kill innocent people because we're trying to encourage people to be free.'"

Okay. Fine. Abu Ghraib. Guantánamo. That fellow, the Army dog handler, who was just convicted for the contests with his buddies to see whose big dog could cause horrified prisoners to soil themselves first. The president himself says he'd heard thirty thousand Iraqis died, before the current troubles.

Tim Grieve here sees a problem with the concept, and add further pointers -
As Knight Ridder reported Sunday, Iraqi police say that U.S. soldiers last week executed 11 people, including a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, after raiding a house where an al-Qaida suspect was captured. Knight Ridder says that such accusations are "commonplace" in Iraq, and that most "are judged later to be unfounded or exaggerated." This one is different, Knight Ridder says, "because it originated with Iraqi police, and because Iraqi police were willing to attach their names to it." The report, a copy of which Knight Ridder has obtained, says: "The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals." The military said today that it is investigating the allegations.

Meanwhile, Time reports that the military is investigating charges that Marines seeking revenge for a deadly roadside bombing went on a rampage in the western Iraqi village of Haditha in November, murdering 15 civilians in the process. A Marine communiqu? initially claimed that the civilians were killed in the roadside bomb blast itself. But a subsequent investigation -- apparently begun when Time confronted military officials in Baghdad with the eyewitness accounts of local Iraqis -- acknowledged that the 15 civilians were, in fact, killed by the Marines.

The Marine Corps has turned over the case to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. A spokeswoman for the military says that the referral doesn't necessarily mean that anyone thinks that a crime was committed, and that insurgents are ultimately to blame anyway because nothing would have happened if they hadn't set off an IED. But of course, the insurgents wouldn't have had a U.S. Humvee to bomb if the United States hadn't sent its troops into a war of choice in the first place. "What happened in Haditha," Time says, "is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war - and what war can do to the people who fight it."
Imagine that. Things are a bit more ambiguous. They are us. We are them.

But as Grieve notes elsewhere, it was more of the same. The president thinks Donald Rumsfeld is doing a "fine job" and shouldn't resign. He thinks the economy is strong and getting stronger. He thinks that Iraqis have looked into the abyss of civil war and chosen another future for their country.

Some differ on all this. The president is elsewhere, and defiant about it.

Here's the start of a long comment, and the final paragraph. You might want to glance at the middle of this -
I am ashamed. I am ashamed of this President. Aren't you? After watching his press conference today, a sense of shame overtook me. I'm ashamed that he took to the podium today as if he emptied out a container of laughing gas. I'm ashamed of a President who has the temerity to laugh when asked a question about war. I'm ashamed of the whores of the fourth estate who care more about having the honor of being the butt of one of the President's jokes than about exposing the truth to the American people. I'm ashamed that millions of my fellow Americans are so scared and so desperate for leadership that they believe the President's bullshit.

... This is not America. I refuse to accept it. America doesn't torture. America doesn't jail people incommunicado for years. America doesn't sit idly by as an entire people are exterminated in Darfur. America doesn't stifle science. America doesn't conduct massive, secret spying on innocent citizens. America doesn't believe the individual is an annoyance, an impediment to supreme government power. This isn't the greatest democracy on earth. This isn't the nation that pioneered human rights. This isn't the America that leads the world, that leads humanity towards a greater good. No, I refuse to accept this America of shame. This is not my America. It is an America perverted by Republican stewardship. A nation that under GOP rule has abandoned its founding ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. True Americans - coast to coast, young and old - now bow their heads silently in collective shame for a nation that has lost its way.
Such things happen when you lose elections. The people have spoken - Vox populi, vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God).

So we get a do-over? We'll see. Ezra Klein here explains what Al Gore is up to these days. Settling down. Thinking clearly about the issues. Not waffling or are trying to please anyone. Working on his media projects. Some think he could be rather good this time.

What does he say? This - "I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I'm not planning to be a candidate again. I haven't reached a stage in my life where I'm willing to say I will never consider something like this. But I'm not saying that to be coy; I'm just saying that to be honest - that I haven't reached that point."

One comment here (Digby at Hullabaloo) -
I will always have a great fondness for Al Gore. In 2000 I watched him get trashed by a ruthless Right Wing Noise Machine and a sophomoric press corps who were determined to punish him for Clinton's sins (which only they and the very right wing of the Republican party felt required punishment in the first place.) It was one of the most god-awful displays of character assassination we've ever seen - and the way it ended, with the Republicans pulling every lever of brute institutional power they had to seize the office, had to have been a terrible, dispiriting event. I know how bad I felt. I can only imagine the searing disappointment he must have endured.

But what seems to have happened to him in the aftermath is quite inspiring. Rising from the ashes of his defeat, he has come back to be an authentic, inspiring voice for progressive thought. I suspect that when you have been publicly cheated out of something so huge, you figure nothing in your public life could ever hurt you again.

It turns out that Gore took exactly the right lessons from his defeat and has focused his attentions not only on the vapid bloodlessness that has become the Democratic approach to politics - but he has also focused on the primary instrument of his demise: the establishment media.
Gore returns? That would be interesting. At least the press conferences would take place with the president on Planet Earth.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006 07:13 PST home

Monday, 20 March 2006
The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...

When you seem to have lost the game you play on, doing your best. It's the right thing to do. And it is possible things may, by some miracle, shift - the other team goes suddenly cold, you get a good call or two from the officials, you get a series of improbable, unlikely, impossible scores. Who knows how such things happen? You can always hope. You play on. That's kind of what the White House seems to doing these days. Everything seems to go wrong, but you put on your game face, you suck it up - choose your own sports cliché - but you plow ahead. It's the manly thing to do.


So what's this about the "manliness" of our leaders - the three strong daddy guys, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who say not to worry, not to ask questions and just know they will protect us all us children who fret over things we don't understand?

Well, Monday, March 20th, everyone was pointing to Kurt Kleiner in the Toronto Star where he reported on some amusing research from Berkeley, California -
In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings - the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.
And there you have it. The whiney, insecure kids just never grew up. They still need a strong, stern daddy who will explain things, or refuse to explain things, and who will make it all better, or say he will in a way that reduces anxiety. The kids who hang loose and explore things just grew up. Someone plays "strong daddy" and demands this behavior or that? They just shrug. Of course the males in this "confident" group do, later, turn introspective. They get all thoughtful and that sort of thing. They want to figure things out, and ask questions, and consider details. That's not very manly, of course. You might call it "adult" or something.

Somehow this explains a lot about American politics.

One side doesn't understand why everyone doesn't want a strong daddy. The world is scary and no ordinary guy or gal has any power to do anything about it. A strong daddy is what you need.

The other side is puzzled as why you want one at all. The world is interesting, or challenging or whatever, and you figure out how to deal with it. What's the problem?

There is no way to bridge the gap. The whole matter looks to be a function of fairly fixed personality traits. No one is going to switch sides.

The State of Play

Sunday the 19th was three years to the day since the start of the invasion of Iraq (other comments on that here), and oddly enough, three public figures called for one of the three strong daddies to go away.

This is unusual. But you could look it up, as here smiling Senator Joe Biden of Delaware says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld really ought to resign. And here Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha says, yep, he should go. But you'd expect that from these two. Murtha is a blunt, no-nonsense ex-military guy who's just fed up with what's happening to our Army and reserves, and convinced we're creating more problems for ourselves by occupying a Muslim and mostly Arab nation smack in the middle of the Middle East. Biden is an opportunist. He'd like to be president one day.

The odd call for resignation came from General Paul D. Eaton in the New York Times here. This is the man who, for two years, was in charge of training Iraqi forces to bring them up to snuff. So he's not the grump from Pennsylvania, nor the master politician from Delaware. He's been on the inside.

He says this -
[D]efense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not competent to lead our armed forces.

First, his failure to build coalitions with our allies from what he dismissively called "old Europe" has imposed far greater demands and risks on our soldiers in Iraq than necessary. Second, he alienated his allies in our own military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down.

In the five years Mr. Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon, I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership. [...]

Mr. Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his cold warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower. [...]

Donald Rumsfeld demands more than loyalty. He wants fealty. And he has hired men who give it. [...]
Eaton was in the other group in nursery school, it seems. Daddy says "trust me I know what I'm doing" and he doesn't take his word for it. He looks at what's been done, and what is being done, and draws his own conclusions. Not an obedient kid, it seems. As a military man his has no issues with authority per se, but he makes the assumption he's allowed to think things through, assuming too that senior officers should think and add to the discussion of what's the best way to proceed. That's not the model at work in this administration. The place is run by the "other" kids.

Of course, the same day the Washington Post gave Rumsfeld his column inches to explain why we're doing what we're doing, and why we have to do it his way. His killer line was this "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

Huh? Well, THAT will shut up the critics. Who likes Hitler? That will scare the uppity kids.

The University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole has a few things to say about that here, and CNN gathered other reaction here - Henry Kissinger: "In Germany, the opposition was completely crushed; there was no significant resistance movement." Zbigniew Brzezinski: "That is really absolutely crazy to anyone who knows history. There was no alternative to our presence. The Germans were totally crushed. For Secretary Rumsfeld to be talking this way suggests either he doesn't know history or he's simply demagoguing."

You think? Well, it keeps the kids in line.

And, going back to the sport analogy, when you're down four touchdown with thirty second to play, well, you try a trick play. What could it hurt?

Others see things differently, kind of like when the end of the game will never come because they're replaying a loop of the last controversial penalty, breaking for commercials, then going back to the instant reply.

Matthew Yglesias captures that here -
Today we enter the fourth year of the misguided war in Iraq and it's worth noting that this time around basically nothing has changed in the past twelve months. It continues to be the case, as advocates of continuing the war maintain, that the day after American troops leave, conditions will almost certainly deteriorate. More importantly, it also continues to be the case that every day American troops stay, conditions deteriorate slowly. Moreover, it continues to be the case that American troops simply can't stay forever - it's logistically impossible and keeping such a large number of them in Iraq creates immense problems for our policies around the world.

It continues to be the case that Iraq's problems are overwhelmingly political in nature. There is no consensus among the country's major ethnic and sectarian blocs (or, for that matter, its smaller ones) as to what the outlines of a legitimate Iraqi political order should look like. This is not an insoluble problem (other pluralitist polities exist peacefully around the world) but it's not an easily solved one (these situations are complicated and conflict-ridden everywhere they arise, even in placid Canada) and it's not one that either American soldiers or better-trained Iraqi soldiers are capable of solving. This isn't a deficiency on the part of the military; it reflects the fact that the problems at hand aren't military problems.

The sooner the country's political leaders and elite opinion-makers wake up to this, the better. I'd just as soon not write a "year five" post.
But one suspects Yglesias an post this on May 20, 2007, and May 20, 2008, and May 20, 2009, and so on.

There was similar ennui from the NYU journalism professor and noted author Eric Alterman with this -
I don't have anything profound to add to the commentary on the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, except that it may be the single most misguided, dishonest and counter-productive expenditure of our nation's blood and treasure in its history. And almost all of this was evident from the start to anyone who cared to look. (The ideological spectrum of Sunday's Washington Post op-ed page on the topic stretched all the way from Donald Rumsfeld to George F. Will.) I do think that any political commentator who supported it owes his or her readers an explanation as to why they would expect such judgment to be trusted again in the future.

This is, after all, the purpose of punditry; to help people make sense of the fusillade of news that comes to them, as Walter Lippmann explained, "helter-skelter." What's fascinating is that everyday people seem to have an easier time admitting how foolish they were to trust this dishonest, incompetent, ideologically-obsessed president.
Ah, but the "everyday people" he is citing, the sixty percent who disapprove of the war (and by similar numbers disapprove of many other policies of the administration), are the "hang loose" personalities from the Berkeley study. There's that thirty-three percent in the latest polling who still trust daddy, or all three daddies in this case.

But things are taking an odd turn. It's March madness. Some of us old folks remember March 16, 1968. That's the date of the My Lai massacre (those younger might go here). Vietnam. Our guys wiping out a village of woman and children, for no good reason. Turned everything around. Upset a lot of people. All our fine talk about the rightness of what we were doing became a whole lot harder to advertise. The "moral high ground" was lost, as they say, particularly when only one Lieutenant took the rap on got some jail time. We said that closed the case. That was a hard sell.

In any event, in the big game you don't want one of your linemen making the bonehead play that ruins everything.

And if Abu Ghraib and some events at Guantánamo weren't enough now we have Haditha.

Well, it doesn't really count as March madness, as the event happened on 19 November last year. Marines this time. The Pentagon and Naval Criminal Investigative Service have opened an investigation (the Marines are traditionally part of the Navy). Time magazine covers it here - a raid where we captured a bad guy, but fifteen civilians, including six women and children, died. Was it civilians unfortunately in the way? The building just collapsed and that was that?

We say so. The local police say no. It may be that our guys lost one of there own and got angry and things spun out of control. A cameraman working for Reuters in Haditha at the time said bodies were left lying in the street for hours after the attack. One source here has the women and children handcuffed and shot in the head, execution-style. ABC News covers it here with video of the aftermath shot by an Iraqi journalism student, but who did what? That there is now a formal investigation is not a good sign. We've been forced to look into this. Abandoning the usual "sorry, fog of war" line is not a good sign. Ah, maybe it's nothing - things happened just as the guys said.

But that "moral high ground" is damned slippery.

Of course, the other side finds it slippery too, as in this item from Afghanistan, where the government is seeking to execute a fellow because, sixteen years ago, he converted to Christianity. That's a capital offense there (and my be in the new Iraq we created). But they may let him live. Their moral high ground? He has the right to convert back to Islam. As the judge there said - "We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him." Why does that remind one of Pat Robertson and the Jews who he says are damned forever, but could, if they choose, convert to Christianity and not be?

Just how did the one group of kids from the Berkeley study come to rule the world?

But back to sports. Monday, March 20th the "daddy in chief" spoke in Cleveland. He assumed the role of coach, rallying the team - and sports dads are a pain.

It was the usual - we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here, the oceans don't protect us anymore, we have an enemy that hides in cave and 9/11 changed everything, and his job is to make decisions and protect us.

How did it go? As the Washington Post reports here it may have been a mistake to make this an open forum after the speech. The audience was not pre-selected and coached, just selected to be generally friendly. The president said "glad to answer some questions." Bad move. They ran trough lunch. He got grumpy - "Anybody work here in this town?" And they missed the obvious punch line as "Think Progress" notes here - "Not as many as used to, sir." The unemployment rate there has increased twenty-nine percent in the last five years. But they were polite.

There was that embarrassing question - "Do you believe terrorism and the war in Iraq are signs of Armageddon?" He said he hadn't thought of it that way, the rambled on for ten minutes or more, dancing around the question. He never answered it. It was a tight spot. Say yes for the base and the moderates go ballistic. Say no and lose the base. It's hard work being president, as he said over and over in his debates with Kerry. Amusing. Who knows what he believes? Motivating a team is hard work too.

As for who is standing with him, the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted this -
Prominent Ohio Republicans including Sen. Mike DeWine, Sen. George Voinovich and Rep. Steve LaTourette say they're skipping Bush's speech because of prior commitments. DeWine is visiting his convalescing father in Florida and accompanying him to spring training baseball games. LaTourette previously scheduled a staff retreat in Washington. Voinovich has meetings in Washington that he couldn't reschedule. Gov. Bob Taft, whose popularity is even lower than Bush's, isn't expected to attend, either. Taft noted that he attended Bush's speech last month outside Columbus, as did Voinovich. Today's event isn't on the schedules of either Jim Petro or Ken Blackwell, the GOP candidates to replace Taft, their spokesmen said.
His local team didn't even show up? Hard work indeed.

Maybe they know how things seem. Most believe there is a mess of our own making over in Iraq, and, as James Walcott here demonstrates with anecdote and evidence, that's just what it is.

And there is that censure thing the senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, is pushing. Digby at Hullabaloo has a long post on that here. The concept of censuring the president for breaking the law, admitting it, and then saying he will continue to do so, spooked a lot of folks in his own party, and made the Republicans grin. The Democrats had blow it again. Then the polling showed almost half the country agreed it should be done, including a fifth of the Republicans surveyed. Oops. Maybe Feingold isn't a grandstanding madman.

As Digby puts it -
... politics is not just about running on issues people already agree with, it is trying to change public opinion. Somebody had to jump start the debate about the president's theory of presidential infallibility and abuse of power. It's a huge issue to millions of Americans and it's vital that politicians of both parties recognize this.

... People want to know what Democratic base really stands for? The same thing that the majority of the country stands for. We believe in the rule of law, civil liberties, civil rights and supporting the troops - all of those things are embodied in the Alito filibuster motion, the Feingold NSA wiretapping resolution and the Murtha plan. None of them were done out of an expectation that they would win passage in the congress or force the president to change course. These actions, regardless of motive, have laid down the stakes in the next election, which is why Brit Hume had an aneurysm about the proposition that the NSA wiretapping issue might actually play to the benefit of Democrats.

If that's so, then it's true that Republicans are going to be in for a tough time under a Democratic congress. People need to prepare for the fact that accountability is going to be on the menu. Nobody is going to be impeached over silly blow-jobs but there are some very serious matters that the Republican congress has refused to deal with. If that stirs up the GOP base, then fine. It stirs up the Democratic base too.
But, but, but... Daddy said it was just fine and legal as the day is long. It seems of the two nursery school groups the "hang loose" kids who grew up to think a bit are coming out of the shadows.

If you're a coach trying to rally the team, this is not good. They don't like last-minute rule changes. We have the rule book, if you want to think about the constitution that way. It means something else now? No fair. How can you play a game to win when the rules keep changing? If our daddy is coaching our team it gets hard to trust him when he does stuff like that.

And the team is demoralized, as Ron Beasley notes here, pointing to a columnist for The Independent (UK), Johann Hari, saying he trusted the daddy-coach-protector, but he grew up.

Hari says this (British spelling retained) -
So when people ask if I think I was wrong, I think about the Iraqi friend - hiding, terrified, in his own house - who said to me this week, "Every day you delete another name from your mobile, because they've been killed. By the Americans or the jihadists or the militias - usually you never find out which." I think of the people trapped in the siege of a civilian city, Fallujah, where amidst homes and schools the Americans indiscriminately used a banned chemical weapon - white phosphorous - that burns through skin and bone. (The Americans say they told civilians to leave the city, so anybody left behind was a suspected jihadi - an evacuation procedure so successful they later used it in New Orleans.). I think of the raw numbers: on the largest estimate - from the Human Rights Centre in Khadimiya - Saddam was killing 70,000 people a year. The occupation and the jihadists have topped that, and the violence is getting worse. And I think - yes, I was wrong. Terribly wrong.
But it couldn't a fine idea bungled? He gave up on that -
The lamest defence I could offer - one used by many supporters of the war as they slam into reverse gear - is that I still support the principle of invasion, it's just the Bush administration screwed it up. But as one anti-war friend snapped at me when I mooted this argument, "Yeah, who would ever have thought that supporting George Bush in the illegal invasion of an Arab country would go wrong?" She's right: the truth is that there was no pure Platonic ideal of The Perfect Invasion to support, no abstract idea we lent our names to. There was only Bush, with his cluster bombs, depleted uranium, IMF-ed up economic model, bogus rationale and unmistakable stench of petrol, offering his war, his way. (Expecting Tony Blair to use his influence was, it is now clear, a delusion, as he refuses to even frontally condemn the American torture camp at Guantanomo Bay).

The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster. Let's look at the major mistakes-cum-crimes. Who would have thought they would unleash widespread torture, with over 10,000 people disappearing without trial into Iraq's secret prisons? Anybody who followed the record of the very same people - from Rumsfeld to Negroponte - in Central America in the 1980s. Who would have thought they would use chemical weapons? Anybody who looked up Bush's stance on chemical weapons treaties (he uses them for toilet paper) or checked Rumsfeld's record of flogging them to tyrants. Who would have thought they would impose shock therapy mass privatisation on the Iraqi economy, sending unemployment soaring to 60 percent - a guarantee of ethnic strife? Anybody who followed the record of the US towards Russia, Argentina, and East Asia. Who could have known that they would cancel all reconstruction funds, when electricity and water supplies are still below even Saddam's standards? Anybody who looked at their domestic policies.
And he decided not to look a motivation, until he did -
The Bush administration was primarily motivated by a desire to secure strategic access to one of the world's major sources of oil. The 9/11 massacres by Saudi hijackers had reminded them that their favourite client-state - the one run by the torturing House of Saud - was vulnerable to an internal Islamist revolution that would snatch the oil-wells from Halliburton hands. They needed an alternative source of Middle East oil, fast. I obviously found this rationale disgusting, but I deluded myself into thinking it was possible to ride this beast to a better Iraq. Reeling from a visit to Saddam's Iraq, I knew that Iraqis didn't care why their dictator was deposed, they just wanted it done, now. As I thought of the ethnically cleansed Marsh Arabs I had met, reduced to living in a mud hut in the desert, I thought that whatever happens, however it occurs, it will be better. In that immediate rush, I - like most Iraqis - failed to see that the Bush administration's warped motives would lead to a warped occupation. A war for oil would mean that as Baghdad was looted, troops would be sent to guard the oil ministry, not the hospitals - a bleak harbinger of things to come.
Welcome to the other side of the nursery school playground. It's where you should have been in the first place.

Of course, the game is still in progress. We're told we must win. We need to define that, even if the daddy-coach-protector says it's not out business.



Pop up these items for additional thoughts.

That question to the president at the press conference in Cleveland - "Do you believe terrorism and the war in Iraq are signs of Armageddon?" - can be seen in a larger context. Read Alan Brinkley's review of the new hot book "American Theocracy," by Kevin Phillips. The review in the New York Times Review of Books is here -
Although Phillips is scathingly critical of what he considers the dangerous policies of the Bush administration, he does not spend much time examining the ideas and behavior of the president and his advisers. Instead, he identifies three broad and related trends - none of them new to the Bush years but all of them, he believes, exacerbated by this administration's policies - that together threaten the future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt - current and prospective - that both the government and the American people have been heedlessly accumulating. If there is a single, if implicit, theme running through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.
And Kevin Phillips is the guy who wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority" and went to work for Nixon to make it so.

In the same issue there is a review of "Manliness," by Harvey C. Mansfield. That book, and the man, were discussed in these pages the same day here, but Walter Kirn opens with this -
REMEMBER those great old "Saturday Night Live" bits about the moronic Germanic bodybuilders who kept offering to "pump you up" while flexing the delts of their bulbous foam rubber muscle suits? Remember how unwittingly fey they seemed, partly because of their wagging little pinheads but mostly because of the way they loved the words "girly" and "manly" - a pair of usages that was poignantly out of date by then among even minimally hip Americans? Remember that?

Apparently, Harvey C. Mansfield doesn't. In fact, this Harvard professor of government and the author of "Manliness" (yep), a new polemic about the nature and value of masculinity, shows little awareness of much that's happened recently - televisually and otherwise - in the allegedly feminized culture that he aims to shake up. Like Austin Powers (who, come to think of it, made even more fun of "manly" than Hans and Franz), Mansfield seems stuck in a semantic time warp in which it is still possible to write sentences like "Though it's clear that women can be manly, it's just as clear that they are not as manly or as often manly as men."
Hey, he doesn't like the book. But Mansfield was in DC last week speaking to the right-wing think-tank. The whole matter looks to be a function of fairly fixed personality traits. No one is going to switch sides.

Posted by Alan at 22:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006 22:31 PST home

Paris: Sunday
Topic: World View

Paris: Sunday
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, had no Our Man in Paris column in Sunday's Just Above Sunset. He's been busy with the redesign of his site, with the kids, and with his upcoming trio to New York. But there were big doings in Paris this weekend, and more. He explains, below, with photos.

Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006 - Busy with Metropole's facelift, busy getting ready for New York, and busy with my kids here this weekend. They are good kids and we went across the street to visit Serge's grave, admire the metro ticket collection and the five fairly fresh cabbages.

On Saturday we 'helped' with the third march to protest the government plan for a new employment 'contract' for first-times hires under 25. This was easy because it started from here - Denfert-Rochereau, just down the street. As promised by union leaders, the occasion drew twice as many as the second demo which had twice as many as the first.

Perhaps 350,000 in Paris, for a total of one million-plus throughout France. I hope this explains why the French did not join in the anti-war stuff Saturday. They were busy giving their government the finger.

We had a nice spot outside the Santé. Prisoners were chanting and marchers gave solidarity salutes back. Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long - still leaving Denfert as it was breaking up at Nation. Coverage on the TV-news was extensive but we did not see ourselves.

Last night union leaders were to meet to discuss the next step. If the government will not renounce its plan to introduce the contested law, union bonzen have said the government may face a general strike. Just so they won't be able to say they didn't know.

Sunday's reactions not registered yet. Our politicos talk on Sundays too.



As of Monday morning this - "The French Prime Minister, Mr Dominique De Villepin refused to back down from his contested youth jobs plan, despite a growing movement of student opposition and the looming threat of a general strike."

Trouble brewing - this is a big deal.

And Serge's grave? That would Serge Gainsbourg (1928 - 1991), the poet, singer-songwriter, actor and director, buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. "His home at the well-known address 5bis rue de Verneuil is still covered by graffiti and poems."

There's much more information at the link, including this -
One of the most frequent interpreters of Gainsbourg's songs was British singer Petula Clark, whose success in France was propelled by her recordings of his tunes. In 2003, she wrote and recorded "La Chanson de Gainsbourg" as a tribute to the composer of some of her biggest hits.

Since his death, Gainsbourg's music has reached an iconic stature in France. His lyrical brilliance in French has left an extraordinary legacy. His music, always progressive, covered many styles: Jazz, ballads, mambo, lounge, reggae, pop (including adult contemporary pop, kitsch pop, yé-yé pop, 80s pop, pop-art pop, prog pop, space-age pop, psychedelic pop, and erotic pop), disco, calypso, Africana, bossa nova and rock and roll. He has gained a following in the English-speaking world with many non-mainstream artists finding his imaginative and eclectic arrangements highly influential.

He is also considered to be one of the first music pop artists of the late 1960s. While artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein explored modern iconographic consumer culture through painting, Gainsbourg explored similar territory in music with songs such as "Comic Strip," "Ford Mustang," "Qui est In Qui est Out," and "Teenie Weenie Boppie."
You were probably wondering.


... we went across the street to visit Serge's grave, admire the metro ticket collection and the five fairly fresh cabbages.

The grave of Serge Gainsbourg - Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

... outside the Santé. Prisoners were chanting and marchers gave solidarity salutes back

Demonstrators at the Santé prison in Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006

Demonstrators at the Santé prison in Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006

Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long...

Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long - demonstrations, Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006

... still leaving Denfert as it was breaking up at Nation.

Students led the monster parade, which was said to be five kilometers long - demonstrations, Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006

Things wind down...

Street demonstration in Paris, Sunday, March 19, 2006

Photos and Text, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 10:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006 10:34 PST home

Sunday, 19 March 2006
Hot Off The Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot Off The Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is the parent to this daily web log, is now on line. This is Volume 4, Number 12 for the week of March 19, 2006.

This week's issue opens with five extended commentaries - on the third anniversary of the war we're waging, on the rhetoric and posturing of the past week, on the issue of what we seem to expect in leaders, manliness and competence and how we define those, on religion and politics (and on that fellow who sold his soul on eBay), and finally, on a simmering background issue, healthcare in America, but here offering the extended observations of a reader from Canada on how things work there, and here. The first drafts of these appeared earlier here.

The International Desk is dark. Our Man in Paris will return next month, or perhaps sooner.

This week there's a wide array of photography, again from the edge of Los Angeles - The Most Picturesque Basketball Court In The World, something for those who like incredible stonework, startling botanicals, a stab at nature photography with a more than a few birds, and a look at the coast here - the part you seldom see.

And there's a new feature, links to pages at Just Above Sunset Photography, where one or two special shots are posted each day that don't fit into any theme for the weekly.

Bob Patterson is back too, with an item on nonsense and a Book Wrangler item on books by or about starving artists.

The quotes? Matters related to the war turning four.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Perspective and Fear: Starting the week with alarms and chaos...
Manliness and Competence
Religion: Tales of the eBay Atheist
Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris is busy. Sorry. He explains here.

Southern California Photography ______________________

March Madness: The Most Picturesque Basketball Court In The World
Botanicals: Detailed Pairings
The Coast

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Don't Step In The Buncombe!
Book Wrangler: Vicarious Looks At The Life Of A Starving Artist

Quotes for the week of March 19, 2006 - As the War Turns Four

New photos at Just Above Sunset Photography ______________________

Hollywood Places
Hollywood Wall
Racing with the moon...
Roots (light and shadow)
The Flag

Posted by Alan at 08:37 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006 08:40 PST home

Saturday, 18 March 2006
Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Topic: Dissent

Milestones: Three, Going on Four

On Saint Patrick's Day three years ago we saw this on television - the president, standing behind a podium, stiff and grim, saying that if Saddam Hussein didn't step down, if he didn't give up and leave Iraq, we'd invade and remove him and his government. He had forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours later we attacked. It was over before long. He was gone. We were there.

We're still there. The war turns four.

On May 1st in 2003 the president declared "Mission Accomplished" (the White House photos from the aircraft carrier off San Diego are here - the shots of the "Mission Accomplished" banner looming large in the background now gone - it's just barely visible in one shot).

No one seems to have any victory celebrations planned for May 1st - but, since that is the day set aside by the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate "labor" and celebrated around the world, there is a conflict. That day is already "taken." And people seem to be using the weekend of March 18-19 to have their say about the ongoing war.

Saturday was the big day.

Around the world here (AP) - "Thousands of people held anti-war demonstrations Saturday in global protests that marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by demanding that coalition troops pull out." But everyone is just tired - in London, police said about fifteen thousand marched from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square, but the authorities had been told there'd be a hundred thousand. In Stockholm, about a thousand marched to our Embassy, and it seems someone held up a United States flag with the white stars replaced by dollar signs. Two thousand marched in Copenhagen, and more around Denmark - the five hundred thirty Danish troops stationed in southern Iraq need to come home. AP notes big demonstrations in Turkey, but then "previously close relations with Washington were severely strained after parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory." And there was that movie -
A movie depicting Americans as the bad guys in Iraq has become a super hit in Turkey, a secular Muslim country and a NATO ally of the United States.

More than 2.5 million Turks thronged to see the movie "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq" in the first 10 days and pirate copies reportedly are doing a roaring business.

"The film is absolutely magnificent," Bulent Arinc, the parliament speaker and one of several politicians to attend the gala in Ankara, told The London Times. "It is completely true to life."
And elsewhere? "In Italy, Romano Prodi, the center-left leader who is challenging conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi in next month's election, said he and his supporters wouldn't join Rome's march because of a risk of violence." And there were small demonstrations in Greece, Berlin, Vienna, and Spain of course, and three thousand marched in Seoul, South Korea.

The French were busy - "Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of French cities to protest against a youth labor law proposed by the prime minister." All three cable networks carried live images, long segments of scuffles in Paris, not any of the ant-war marches around the world. And the administration thought French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was their enemy, given what happened at the UN when he was the French ambassador there and elegantly dismissed Colin Powell's "smoking gun" presentation on why the UN had to get behind our proposed overthrow of the government in Iraq. Now he's keeping the anti-war images off our television screens by arranging photogenic street battles on the boulevards of Paris that are far more compelling than scruffy marchers at the same time seeking some air time. Very convenient. But, of course, not his plan.

Here in Hollywood, there was this - "Paul Haggis, the Canadian director of 'Crash,' this year's Oscar winner for best picture, will lead a protest in Hollywood this weekend against the war in Iraq, now three years old, organizers said."

Yep, he's Canadian, and the movie is about how people just cannot connect in this awful, dangerous, crime-ridden place - so Canadians know something we don't? Noon. Hollywood and Vine. But the Paris scenes are on television. We'll, Haggis is a director, not a marketing guy. Martin Sheen and Harry Belafonte seemed like a good idea. So was Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, the author of the book "Born on the Fourth of July" - later a film where Tom Cruise played Kovic (Oliver Stone won the 1990 Oscar for Best Direction, Cruise was nominated for Best Actor). But then, Tom Cruise wasn't there. He was also busy - he had just forced Comedy Central to cancel a "South Park" episode about Scientology, threatening to boycott publicity events for his new movie and pull ads and all that. The extraterrestrial Thetans inside his brain told him protecting the faith was from satiric cartoons more important, just like in the world of radical Islam.

But the marches are pointless.

Yes, three years ago Rumsfeld was talking about a war that would last weeks rather than months. Cheney was saying out troops being greeted as liberators. We had a spare Iraqi government in reserve - Ahmed Chalabi (with his PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago) and his band of Iraqi-Americans who after three or four decades exile wanted to get back home. Pop them in power. Accept thanks. Go home.

Yes, that didn't work out. We have 133,000 troops still serving in Iraq, some on third and fourth tours of duty. And there was this on the 16th from the US commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid - "The general trend, given a legitimate government emerging, will be, Iraqis do more, we do less and eventually more reductions come about." Abizaid says troop levels are trending downward, generally, but this is "a period of sensitivity" when "sectarian tensions are high." He thinks national unity government must be formed in the "relative near term."

The new Iraqi parliament did meet, finally, for the first time, on the 16th - for thirty minutes. They couldn't agree on a speaker. They adjourned indefinitely. They'll meet again later, sometime. The "relative near term" seems unlikely.

This isn't looking good, and here Reuters surveys the thinking of experts on what to expect in the next three years of this - something between, on the upside, "gloomy," and on the downside, "apocalyptic" -
"The reconstruction is destined to fail," said Pierre-Jean Luizard, an Iraq expert at France's CNRS state research council. "Iraq is condemned to an endless civil war."

... Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the U.S. National Defense College, saw no great change soon: "I see the current situation - the insurgency and violence - persisting for the next foreseeable period. I don't know what the period is."

Henner Fuertig at the German Institute for Middle East Studies envisages four scenarios, more or less equally likely. They range from a best case where the U.S. plan actually works to a worst, in which civil war combines with a proxy "war of civilizations" between Muslims and Americans fought in Iraq.

... Another could be a new, probably Shi'ite, "dictatorship". That possibility was also raised by Charles Tripp, a British historian of Iraq, who questioned how much party "oligarchs" in Baghdad can control supporters and leaders in the provinces. "Much will hinge on the relationship between the two," he said. Political parties are weak, he added. Bargaining in the capital would depend on whether local followers respect their leaders' promises on security, oil supplies or other issues. If not, anarchy and local warlordism could prevail.

... The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month: "A civil war ... could trigger the country's dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites step up the swapping of populations ... It would come at terrifying human cost."

One personal story, among many, is illuminating. A Shi'ite relative of an Iraqi journalist was shot at home in the Sunni city of Fallujah by sectarian gunmen this week. It took days to bury him because of obstructive local officials and medical staff who made no secret of their anti-Shi'ite views. "When a couple of thugs start killing people for their religion, it's bad," the journalist said. "But when a whole community joins in with them, I'm not sure there's any hope."
Just reporting. That's what they said. It could all work out. You never know.

But marching down Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon demanding that the war end will help? It's hard to see how. The administration will suddenly see no one trusts them and most thing this is going badly and will end badly?

They know that. A week of awful polling ended with this from Newsweek -
President Bush's approval rating has dropped to new lows on domestic issues and public anger is rising over his handling of Iraq and homeland security, according to NEWSWEEK's latest poll. ... His image as an effective leader in the war on terror is tarnished, with less than half the public (44 percent) approving of the way he's handling terrorism and homeland security. Despite a series of presidential speeches meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq, as well as the announcement of a major military offensive when the poll was getting under way, only 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove.
They know.

The counterargument came from the president in his weekly radio address, as the AP explains here - you see, all that sectarian violence in Iraq, with mosques blowing up left and right and reprisal executions of the families of those who have insulted the other, is really a good thing. Why, you ask? Because it "has motivated warring political factions to move quickly to set up a representative government."

Yep, it's a great motivational tool. Except they're not doing that.

AP - "Bush's broadcast came in advance of a speech he plans to deliver in Cleveland on Monday, the second in a series of talks marking Sunday's three-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In the speech, Bush will discuss how the United States is working with various sectors of Iraqi society to defeat terrorists, restore calm and help rebuild homes and communities."

He'd better screen his audiences more carefully than ever before.

And as for that major military offensive launched when the Newsweek poll was getting underway (news item here), well, luckily the polling was completed before items like this -
According to a colleague of mine from Time who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The "number of weapons caches" equals six, which isn't unusual when you travel around Iraq. They're literally everywhere.

... About 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they're scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

"Operation Swarmer" is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army - although there was no enemy for them to fight.
Then Time reported On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled -
... Contrary to what many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war... In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation... was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces... But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers.
And elsewhere a Vietnam veteran says this - "Hey, folks, this is a small operation. It sounds like a battalion of infantry (maybe two battalions) from the 101st Airborne Division and some Iraqi police troops. In Vietnam this operation would have been too small to have been given a name. It would have just been, 'what you were doing tomorrow.'"

Was someone impressed? (Note: for a full discussion of the effects of air assaults and aerial bombardment on "insurgency" or "guerrilla" forces see this - the effect is always to increase the anger and will of the resistance, and to assure more people join them.)

But there will be the speech Monday in Cleveland. We'll be told we're doing fine, or doing the right thing and things will, at some point, be just fine.

Jennifer Loven explains what to expect in Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches -
"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

... A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said.
Well, it sure beats dealing with real people. Of course the question is whether this is a cynical rhetorical trick to manipulate the gullible, or whether the speaker actually believes those who oppose him are arguing nonsense that the didn't actually say but really meant to say. Is the speaker deeply cynical, or merely delusional, living in a world of imaginary people who oppose him for no good reason and spout nonsense.

Take this for what it's worth -
Abrahams, who has a vast knowledge of improbable scientific literature, compares Gier's work to that of two Cornell scientists who showed that one attribute of extreme incompetence is "that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent." The study, titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It," demonstrated that people who scored, on average, at the 12th percentile in tests of humor, grammar and logic assessed themselves to be, on average, at the 62nd percentile. Incompetence at the extreme is a double-whammy, the authors declare: "Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."
So three year on, that's where we are. March in the streets if you'd like. It won't do much good.


Note: Saturday, March 18, 2006, brings us this in the New York Times, one more exposé - everything you wanted to know about Task Force 6-26, our military's free-lance torture unit and the "Black Room" at Camp Nama, a converted Baghdad military installation located at the Baghdad airport -
There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.
And their slogan? "No Blood, No Foul" -
"If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.
The Times - "The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Maybe so. But who knows? As in - "Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost."

As Andrew Sullivan notes here -
Induced drowning, hypothermia, repeated beatings, the torture of relatives of intelligence targets: we have seen all these already multiple times. They are always the same techniques, almost as if someone had figured them out and trained people in them. But that couldn't have happened, could it? We don't know. We do know that the Pentagon's Steven Cambone tried to stop it, which implies the second explanation, which is that there were elite military units beyond the control of the Pentagon and the law, let alone the Geneva Conventions, who felt they had been allowed to enter the twilight zone.

Cambone's efforts seem to have come up empty, by the way. We have the far-right Christianist, general William Boykin, telling Cambone on March 17, 2004, that he had "found no pattern of misconduct with the task force." (Boykin was the man who declared the Iraq war one between his God and the God of Islam. He suffered no discipline for that comment.) So the alternative explanation is simply a complete breakdown in the chain of command. Other agencies - even CIA officials some of whom had been trained to abuse inmates at Gitmo - tip-toed around this black hole. They acted as if they knew someone had sanctioned it; or that no one dared stop it; or that these troops were empowered to do whatever they wanted.
Nothing new, but for the new unit. Readers here know Boykin, as in, from Monday, 8 December 2003, Who would Jesus assassinate? (subhead - "We ask our consultants. Lieutenant General William 'Jerry' Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis") For Stephen Cambone and the torture business, from May 23, 2004 see Notes on the War Scandals. It just takes time for things to develop.

But we are where we are. March if you will. Those in power will shrug. One thinks of what our governor out here in California, Arnold Shwarzenegger, said in a 1990 interview with US News and World Report - "My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave."

Back to sleep.

Posted by Alan at 16:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006 16:04 PST home

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