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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, 11 April 2006
Thought Experiment -
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Thought Experiment - 'When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be...'

The story hit the wires over the weekend and was the buzz on Monday the 10th - Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reporting that his many sources developed over many decades of reporting in Washington told him the administration was planning a nuclear first strike on Iran to significantly slow down their progress at developing nuclear weapons (no one believes we can eliminate forever their ability to develop them). The Hersh item is here, saying these are not contingency plans, but operational plans. The Washington Post on its front page Sunday had this, offering independent confirmation. This was discussed in these pages here over the weekend, and again on Monday here.

The details are fascinating, if beyond depressing - top brass at the Pentagon threatening to resign if the administration doesn't take the "nuclear first strike" off the table, the idea the president wants to make taking out Iran's nukes his legacy, as the Iraq thing didn't go so well, the idea his poll numbers are so low he has nothing really to lose, and he's got this "messianic" thing going, and there's the current neoconservative theory that the nuclear blasts and the wide-spread deadly fallout will create a popular uprising in Iran and everyone there will throw out their current leaders for creating the conditions where the United States had no choice but to nuke their country. (The New York Times says this - "An American bombing campaign would surely rally the Iranian people behind the radical Islamic government and the nuclear program, with those effects multiplied exponentially if the Pentagon itself resorted to nuclear weapons in the name of trying to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs" - but what do they know?)

There's a ton of analysis and speculation bubbling around all over, all centered on whether we'll really do this. No one knows, but the British foreign minister says the idea of using nuclear weapons is just crazy. The president himself called it all "wild speculation." And it could be the idea was just to get the story out there to scare the Iranians into stopping their development programs, because if they don't stop they'd be dead, or glowing with a nice green sheen, or both.

Think of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in the move where he says, fondling his Magnum in a phallic sort of way, "Do you feel lucky, punk?" It's that sort of thing, maybe. (The full quote - I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?)

Well, instead of Iran cowering like the bad guy in the movie, Tuesday, April 11, we get this - "Iran announced a technological breakthrough yesterday that could lead to the development of a nuclear bomb, in a move that appeared to catch the west off guard."

And this - "Iran's hard-line president said Tuesday that the country 'has joined the club of nuclear countries' by successfully enriching uranium for the first time - a key process in what Iran maintains is a peaceful energy program."

It seems Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, isn't familiar with the Eastwood films. He doesn't understand his role, a fairly conventional one in our collective pop mythology - the cowardly bad guy who gives it up when the alpha-male gets all squinty-eyed and deadly calm. He seems to think he's not the bad guy, or if he is, he's just not doing the "blustering bully now trembling in fear" thing. So there does seem to be a problem with using Hollywood movies as a template for how we manage difficult international relations. Not everyone has seen the movie, and they sure don't know the script.

But would we do this?

Our reaction to the news from Iran was muted and diplomatic - Iran is "going down the wrong road." And there was this - Talk of US military strikes on Iran are 'fantasyland': Rumsfeld.

We say we'll talk, but there was our position on North Korea, no one-on-one talks with them because that would be rewarding bad behavior. So the talks had to be multilateral, with lots of other countries at the table - otherwise we'd be giving "evil" equal footing with us. So we're also delaying any talks at all with Iran, even on lesser matters, and the North Korean discussions are dead, as in this - "Chances of a breakthrough in stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms program faded on Wednesday after diplomatic efforts failed to narrow gaps between the two main protagonists, Washington and Pyongyang."

We say we'll talk this time. But we're not talking, and the idea that the administration has to do something dramatic, and perhaps nuclear, in reaction to bad news, is not so far-fetched.

Bad news? Maybe this, as Tuesday the 11th we lose five more of our guys, and this AP item notes that makes thirty-one this month so far - and that was the total for all of March so we will have a new record in April. And there's this - three Marine officers relieved of command, one a brigade commander - the three officers were relieved of their command "due to lack of confidence in their leadership abilities stemming from their performance during a recent deployment to Iraq." This seems to have something to do with marines from the 3rd Battalion perhaps deliberately killing fifteen Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November after a Marine was killed in a roadside bombing (discussed in these pages a few weeks ago here and mentioned again here).

It's time for a diversion. A change of subject. A nuclear attack to stop Iran from doing what they might do might be just the thing.

But then, as a thought experiment, forget all this stuff about whether we really will launch an unprovoked nuclear attack against Iran. The question of "if we will" will work itself out.

The more interesting question whether anyone in the United States will really care. As Digby at Hullabaloo notes here, nuking Iran "might serve everybody's interests quite ably." And he adds this - "Damn if it won't be a heckuva show, the kind we really love with handsome flyboys taking off from aircraft carriers and big beautiful explosions that make us all feel good about how our high tech 'surgical' weaponry only kills the bad guys."

The whole question is worked out by Bill Montgomery in Mutually Assured Dementia, a "thought experiment" that opens with this -
Maybe it's just me, but I've been at least a little bit surprised by the relatively muted reaction to the news that the Cheney Administration and its Pentagon underlings are racing to put the finishing touches on plans for attacking Iran - plans which may include the first wartime use of nuclear weapons since Nagasaki.

I mean, what exactly does it take to get a rise out of the media industrial complex these days? A nuclear first strike against a major Middle Eastern oil producer doesn't ring the bell? Must every story have a missing white woman in it before the cable news guys will start taking it seriously?
And it is not being taken as more than another news story -
Even by the corrupt and debased standards of our times, this is a remarkable thing. The U.S. government is planning aggressive nuclear war (the neocons can give it whatever doublespeak name they like, but it is what it is); those plans have been described in some detail in a major magazine and on the front page of the Washington Post; the most the President of the United States is willing to say about it is that the reports are "speculative" (which is not a synonym for "untrue") ...
But we get more missing white women story, so -
It appears our long national journey towards complete idiocy is over. We've arrived.

Idiots, of course, don't need a reason to be idiots. But to the extent there is a rational excuse for treating a nuclear strike on Iran as the journalistic equivalent of a seasonal story about people washing their cars, it must be the cynical conviction that the Cheneyites aren't serious - they're just doing their little Gen. Jack Ripper impression to let the Iranians know they really mean business.

This may seem plausible - that is, if you were in a catatonic stupor throughout 2002 and the early months of 2003 (which is just another way of saying: if you were a member in good standing of the corporate media elite.) But the rest of us have learned that when Dick Cheney starts muttering about precious bodily fluids, you'd better pay attention. He really does mean business, and when Dick Cheney means business, bombs are likely to start falling sooner rather than later.
But the main point is this -
Maybe the idea of the United States would launch a nuclear first strike - albeit a "surgical" one - is too hard for most Americans, including most American journalists, to process. ... It's even harder to square with our national self-image than the invasion of Iraq. We're the global sheriff, after all - Gary Cooper in a big white hat. And while Gary Cooper might shoot an outlaw down in a fair fight at High Noon, he wouldn't sneak into their camp in the middle of the night and incinerate them with nuclear weapons. That's not how the Code of the West is supposed to work.

Even my own hyperactive imagination is having a hard time wrapping itself around the idea. I'm familiar enough with Cold War history to know the United States has at least considered the first use of nuclear weapons before - in Korea and even in Vietnam - and I know it was long-standing U.S. strategic doctrine never to rule out a nuclear response to a Soviet conventional attack on Western Europe. But the current nuclear war gaming strikes me as much more likely to end in the real thing - partly because the neocons appear to have convinced themselves a "tactical" strike doesn't really count, partly because of what Hersh politely refers to as Bush's "messianic vision" (Cheney may have his finger on the bureaucracy, but Shrub is still the one with his finger on the button) but mostly because I think these guys really think they can get away with it. And they might be right.

I've been trying to picture what the world might look like the day after a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran, but I'm essentially drawing a blank. There simply isn't a precedent for the world's dominant superpower turning into a rogue state - much less a rogue state willing to wage nuclear war against potential, even hypothetical, security threats. At that point, we'd truly be through the looking glass.

One can assume (or at least hope) that first use of nuclear weapons would turn America into an international pariah, at least in the eyes of global public opinion. It would certainly mark the definitive end of the system of collective security - and the laws and institutions supporting that system - established in the wake of World War II. The UN Security Council would be rendered as pointless as the old League of Nations. The Nuremberg Principles would be as moot as the Geneva Conventions. (To the neocons, of course, these are all pluses.)

Nuclear first use would also shatter (or at least, radically transform) the political alliances that defined America's leadership role in the old postwar order. To the extent any of these relationships survived, they'd be placed on roughly the same basis as the current U.S. protectorate over Saudi Arabia - or, even worse, brought down to the level of the old Warsaw Pact. They would be coalitions of the weak, the vulnerable and the easily intimidated.

In other words, the current hegemony of American influence and ideas (backed by overwhelming military force) would be replaced by an overt dictatorship based - more or less explicitly - on fear of nuclear annihilation. U.S. foreign policy would become nothing more than a variation on the ancient Roman warning: For every one of our dead; 100 of yours. Never again would American rulers (or their foreign counterparts) be able to hide behind the comfortable fiction that the United States is just primus inter pares - first among equals. A country that nukes other countries merely on the suspicion that they may pose a future security threat isn't the equal of anybody. America would stand completely alone: hated by many, feared by all, admired only by the world's other tyrants. To call that a watershed event seems a ridiculous understatement.
But the idea is being bandied about. And the would be more immediate consequences, the price of oil through the roof and perhaps financial turmoil. Or not.

But as for most Americas, consider this -
... the initial impact of war with Iran could play out in the same theatre of the absurd as the first Gulf War and the opening phases of the Iraq invasion - that is to say, on their living room TVs. And if there's one place where a nuclear first strike could be made to appear almost normal, or even a good thing, it's on the boob tube.

After all, the corporate media complex has already shown a remarkable willingness to ignore or rationalize conduct that once would have been considered grossly illegal, if not outright war crimes. And the right-wing propaganda machine is happy to paint any atrocity as another glorious success in the battle for democracy (that is, when it's not trying to deny it ever happened.) Why should we expect something as transitory as a nuclear strike to change the pattern?

Let's be honest about it: For both the corporate and the conservative media, as well as for their audiences, an air campaign against Iran would make for great TV - a welcome return to the good old days of Desert Storm and Shock and Awe. All those jets soaring off into the desert twilight; the overexposed glare of cruise missiles streaking from their launch ships; the video game shots of exploding aircraft hangers and government buildings, the anti-aircraft tracers arcing into the night sky over Tehran - it would be war just the way we like it, far removed from the dull brown dust, raw sewage and multiple amputees of the Iraqi quagmire.

And to keep things interesting, we'd have the added frisson of nuclear weapons - a plot twist that would allow blow-dried correspondents to pose in borrowed radiation suits, give Pentagon flacks the opportunity to try out new euphemisms for killing people, and encourage retired generals to spice up their on-air military patter with knowing references to blast effects, kilotons, roentgens and fallout patterns.

What I'm suggesting here is that it is probably naive to expect the American public to react with horror, remorse or even shock to a U.S. nuclear sneak attack on Iran, even though it would be one of the most heinous war crimes imaginable, short of mass genocide. Iran has been demonized too successfully - thanks in no small part to the messianic delusions of its own end-times president - for most Americans to see it as a victim of aggression, even if they were inclined to admit that the United States could ever be an aggressor. And we know a not-so-small and extremely vocal minority of Americans would be cheering all the way, and lusting for more.
Sure, we can rationalize most anything, because we have to be the good guys. That's the way it is. And we can trivialize and dispose of most things -
We've already seen a lengthy list of war crimes and dictatorial power grabs sink into that electronic compost heap: the WMD disinformation campaign, Abu Ghraib, the torture memos, the de facto repeal of the 4th amendment. Again, why should a nuclear strike be any different? I can easily imagine the same rabid talk show hosts spouting the same jingoistic hate speech, the same bow-tied conservative pundits offering the same recycled talking points, and the same timid Beltway liberals complaining that while nuking Iran was the right thing to do, the White House went about it the wrong way. And I can already hear the same media critics chiding those of us in left Blogostan for blowing the whole thing out of proportion. It's just a little bunker buster, after all.

Why should anyone or anything change? When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be, I don't think it's absurd to suppose that even an enormous war crime - the worst imaginable, short of outright genocide - could get lost in the endless babble of the talking heads. When everything is just a matter of opinion, anything - literally anything - can be justified. It's only a matter of framing things so people can believe what they want to believe.
And he's probably right - historically clueless and morally desensitized is about it. A few generals, who know their history and still believe that stuff about duty honor and country, may be resigning? Like that matters?

Note this, after Montgomery admits he could be wrong about the long and short term effects of launching a "preventative" nuclear war against a nation that doesn't yet have nukes -
But my thought exercise - What if we started a nuclear war and nobody noticed? - is still useful, if only as a reminder of how easy it can be to lead gullible people down a path that ends in a place no sane human being would ever want to go. A nation that can live with the idea of launching a nuclear first strike isn't likely to have much trouble with the rest of the program - particularly when its people, like their leader, are convinced they've been chosen to save the world.

What's truly scary, though, is the possibility that even though the other members of what we jokingly refer to as the international community don't share Bush's delusions, they may be willing to humor them as long as it is in their own narrow self-interest to do so (in other words, as long as they're not the ones being nuked.) Maybe power really is all the justification that power needs. In which case the downhill path for America - the most powerful country that ever was - is likely to be very steep indeed.
And that's just a few excerpts. You might want to read the whole thing. It seems the real cost of doing such a thing is, in many nasty ways, quite low.

Expect the announcement it's underway one of these days now.

Posted by Alan at 22:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006 22:13 PDT home

Monday, 10 April 2006
Stormy Monday: Too Much News
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Stormy Monday: Too Much News

Monday, April 10, 2006 - following the news and all the dialog about the news, thinking about what to say about it all, trying to sense some patterns, but doing other things. Why? Because what isn't confusing is disheartening. That probably explains the postings on the daily photography site, three nature shots, and, when you really need to be elsewhere, previously unpublished shots of Paris, Rouen and Arles. The day was a good day to avoid the turmoil of the political.

But there were significant events left and right.

As in this - "Hundreds of thousands of people demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants took to the streets in dozens of cities from New York to San Diego on Monday in some of the most widespread demonstrations since the mass protests began around the country last month."

The issues surrounding the proposed legislation to change the immigration law have been discussed in these pages (as here) but with the congress in a two-week recess there will be no resolution. The House bill - making anyone here without papers a felon, and those who help them in any way felons too, sending them all home, building a giant wall at the Mexican border - is quite incompatible with the Senate thinking - a staged way to let those here, under specific conditions, become citizens if they jump though this hoop or that - and quite different from the president's thinking (set up a guest worker program and ship them home when they complete their work). The labor of these people is vital to the economy, but they use services paid for by others, and all this cheap labor may drive down wages. Yeah, and it drives down prices - and no one want to pay three hundred dollars for a head of lettuce. There's principle - "They broke the law and they have to go!" And we need them. "Don't give lawbreakers Amnesty!" But let's have cheap labor to do the grunt work in the cities and the mindless labor on the farms, so the price of everything doesn't skyrocket. And the border should be secure, as who knows who comes in, maybe even terrorists, although none seem to have come in, just people who want to make some money for their families back home.

No marches will resolve the obvious conflicts here. We should be humane, but not foolish, and not reward lawbreakers, and not screw the economy. Here an idea - grant them all full amnesty and give them full citizenship now, and at the same time, close the border tight. The eleven million here can then get social security numbers, pay taxes, get drivers licenses and be gouged by the insurance companies with high premiums, and be as financially assaulted as most full citizens now are. And with the border suddenly locked tight, keep all others out for a time, or as long as you'd like. We get the labor, at a slightly higher cost as minimum wage law now apply to jobs not regulated before, but nothing terribly disruptive. Do it once. Or come up with your own idea - one radio host suggests everyone get a rifle and go to the border and just shoot anyone you see coming across the border (he later said he was just kidding).

But marching? Impressive. But is doesn't untangle the knot of conflicting demand and needs. And the government won't even get back to it for two weeks.

Other significant events? Maybe Chirac Will Rescind Labor Law That Caused Wide French Riots - the "pressure from students, unions, business executives and even some of his own party leaders" was too much.

On the right there was much glee - lots of items on the French "surrendering" from those who have been using the French as a whipping boy ever since de Villepin outclassed Colin Powell at the UN a few years ago, when the French, told we had to go to war NOW, gave the Gallic shrug and decided panic was not cool, and reason and thoughtfulness were more appropriate. Cowards, not buying into our fervor.

And too, there was a flurry of items on how out of touch the French were, giving up on the "fire anyone at anytime" Anglo-Saxon employment model when the world has really changed - no worker is guaranteed anything in this world, as corporations and those who own them are having a tough time. What's wrong with these people? Those who employ others to make money owe their shareholders, not the workers. And so on.

For Americans all this in France has little significance, except to remind them there are economies where the idea is that everyone is in this together and we owe each other consideration. That doesn't work so well in France, although it seems to be working just fine in the Scandinavian countries. Here? Everyone is fine with our form of "economic Darwinism" - no one owes anyone anything, and if wages for most Americans are flat or declining, just as your boss can fire you "at will" you can walk out for a better job this afternoon. It's dog-eat-dog and your real job, for your lifetime, is, daily, selling yourself - we're all slick salesmen. We love it. Spin and hype, the essence of salesmanship. We swim in it.

Of course it's not very "French." They seem to think it's unseemly. So the news is just, once again, we're different.

In Italy? The government is a mess (but so is their economy and they drive crazy in cars that break down far too often). Bush's friend, Silvio Berlusconi, seems to either have lost the election there, or won only part of the battle, as his center-left opponent late Monday was claiming victory - but this may takes a week or two to settle out.

Why would we over here follow this story? Silvio Berlusconi is a lovable buffoon with ties to the Fascists from the old days up Turin way, always saying very odd things (sometimes that he's Christ and sometime Napoleon), in and out of various legal problems that could get him thrown in jail - but he owns most of the press, radio and television in Italy. Think of him as a sort of Rupert Murdoch with an even funnier accent, and running a whole country, not just Fox News. His fall from power, if it works out that way, is a cautionary fable - once in a while all the spin you can get out there in the media, so carefully managed an crafted, just doesn't work. Sometime people actually do see through the spin, even Italians, or maybe particularly Italians.

Could that happen here? Probably not. We trust our press, and Fox News is "Fair and Balanced." And the network that started with Murrow, then Cronkite, will now have as its "anchor," and editor of what stories get covered and in what order, the perky and impish Katie Couric. She wears killer shoes and will lighten things up, and convince America we take things far too seriously.

Event in Italy then, as a parable about the media or whatever, may not apply here. But you never know.

Of course there was the scandal of the day, the new one - Phone-Jamming Records Point to White House - "WASHINGTON - Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show."

Key players in the White House, one of the president key men, involved in something like voter fraud? Yeah, like anyone is surprised. You play to win.

But then, you don't get caught, and you don't implicate the White House. Sloppy work here.

And they don't need the heat, as earlier in the day the New York Times reported this regarding the whole business about who was leaking what to the press back when there was an effort to "get" the pesky critic of the administration and his CIA wife - the president really did order certain parts of the classified National Intelligence Estimate be released.

The Times got the word from a real insider - "But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters."

What? Throw Cheney under the bus?

The new line is don't blame the president - Cheney was clearly out of control here, doing this thing where his guy takes one key reporter out to lunch, shows her the formerly secret stuff, urges her to use it, maybe says a few other things, but makes sure she doesn't say where she got the good stuff, the real scoop. But the president just never imaged Cheney and his would do such a thing.

Well, it is a defense of the president, of a sort. He should just say no if Cheney invites him for a little quail hunting.

This is a mess, and Eric Alterman, the NYU journalism professor and author, puts it bluntly -
It's this simple. They are even worse than we've allowed ourselves to imagine. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney use classified information about vital national security matters for naked political purposes - often character assassination - and when they do so, they feel free to lie about it.
Well, yes. That's politics. But after linking to the news items regarding the new filings of Special Counsel Fitzgerald, saying "Mr. Libby, on behalf of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, provided an exaggerated account of the intelligence conclusions," and there was a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" - using classified information - to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq, Alterman points to former Federal Prosecutor Elizabeth De la Vega suggesting the typical media questions of the moment - "Is what the President did legal?" or "Does the President have authority to declassify information at will?" aren't the right ones to ask.

Elizabeth De la Vega says the real question is this -
Is a President, on the eve of his reelection campaign, legally entitled to ward off political embarrassment and conceal past failures in the exercise of his office by unilaterally and informally declassifying selected - as well as false and misleading - portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate that he has previously refused to declassify, in order to cause such information to be secretly disclosed under false pretenses in the name of a "former Hill staffer" to a single reporter, intending that reporter to publish such false and misleading information in a prominent national newspaper?
That's an interesting bit of framing. And the hard to answer in the affirmative.

And here the matter is covered in far more detail. The prosecutor's files clearly show Libby says he was under specific instructions to say some minor items were key findings when they we're, not to mention the parts that said half the government decided the claims about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium and the "aluminum tubes of death" were bogus, but just say that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium.

So his defense is he was told to distort and lie by the man above him. The president's defense is he just declassified some stuff and trusted his subordinate, Vice President Cheney, to do the right thing and handle the details. Think of it as musical chairs, with two chairs left. Libby and Bush just sat down. Cheney is screwed. Not nice.

This happens when things go bad, like the polls on the 10th, as this, the lowest approval rating for the presidency ever.

Yep, they are low, but much like the others in the last weeks. But Andrew Sullivan notes a difference with this with this set of disapproval numbers, and with the implications -
What's stunning is that almost half the sample - 47 percent - strongly disapproves. I came to the conclusion that Bush was an incompetent abetting something much more dangerous before the last election, hence my reluctant endorsement of the pathetic Kerry. But the broad middle of American opinion has taken longer to see what this administration is and what Republicanism has become. These are pretty stunning numbers given the relatively strong economy - strong in part because it's been propped up by an unsustainable Keynesian stimulus.

Historians will figure this out, but my own view is that Katrina did it. Katrina was the equivalent of Toto pulling back the curtain. Once Bush's passivity, indolence and arrogance were put on full display, once it was apparent that the government was not working, and that Bush was the reason, people figured out why the war in Iraq was such a shambles. And so the mystique required to sustain patriarchal authority was shattered. I think this is largely irreparable because it's about a basic assessment of a single man. What worries me is that we have almost three more years. If we face a confrontation or a crisis, this president will not be able to carry Americans with him. Our enemies will take comfort from this. Which is why re-electing him was such a terrible risk.
Sullivan is one disenchanted conservative Republican. He's of the old school.

What about the "new conservatives" - the neoconservatives at the National Review? Well, there's George Conway there at their website on the 10th saying this -
I voted for President Bush twice, and contributed to his campaign twice, but held my nose when I did it the second time. I don't consider myself a Republican any longer. Thanks to this Administration and the Republicans in Congress, the Republican Party today is the party of pork-barrel spending, Congressional corruption and, I know folks on this web site don't want to hear it, but deep down they know it's true - foreign and military policy incompetence. Frankly, speaking of incompetence, I think this Administration is the most politically and substantively inept that the nation has had in over a quarter of a century. The good news about it, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's almost over.
That's Bush supporter? Geez, he sounds like Eric Alterman riffing on the leak business -
... these dishonest and dishonorable liars take these nefarious actions of policies that, inevitably, prove disastrous, owing to their incompetence. And when, on those rare occasions, reporters are willing and able to address the truth of their actions, they can find their loyalty and patriotism under attack and have even been faced with criminal investigations over the reporting of exactly the same sort of leaks Bush, Cheney and company feel free to employ - except that these sometimes turn out to be true. And yet, somehow, the men and women who run our media establishment, think none of this is as bad as Bill Clinton fooling around with an intern. Even worse, they continue to report the things they say stenographically, rather than employing the skepticism they have so richly earned, over and over, and over. Even more terrifying, these very same dishonest incompetents are planning another war even as the world continues to pay the price for their dangerous and irresponsible failure in the current one.
Oh, other than that they're fine. But planning another war?

Yeah, it's the item that hit the newsstands Monday, Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reporting our plans to nuke the underground facilities in Iran so they won't be able to build nukes of their own. That was discussed here in Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do.

In reaction to that, on reader, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, has this to say -
I'm surprised there's no mention in any of this of what was my own "Oh Shit" moment (and I imagined a similar moment for folks in the administration when they first heard about it) when I saw last week, in back pages of the New York Times, that Iran was bragging about having successfully tested a super-fast "torpedo" missile that could cut any warship in half and kill any submarine, no matter how deep. Later, they claimed to have successfully tested another. [The item is here.]

This could lead some in Washington to believe we have to nip the emerging Iran threat in the bud, no matter what the political consequences.

And yes, although I was sure the apparent-to-all failure in Iraq would have surely taken any other war plans off the table, I've been assuming this from my "cause-and-effect" world-view, while the folks who launch the wars are operating in a world of "steadfast resolve." Scary.

So is it possible that a war-weary Republican congress will look for ways to distance itself from Bush just in time for upcoming elections by calling itself into special session to try to rein in the administration?

Either way, we seem to be living in dangerous times.
We do, and as for the lessons of the first war, well, it wasn't the first one.

Eric Alterman quotes Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the New York Review, Volume 53, Number 7 April 27, 2006: "Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity - the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture. Thirty years ago we suffered military defeat - fighting an unwinnable war against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests at stake. Vietnam was bad enough, but to repeat the same experiment thirty years later in Iraq is a strong argument for a case of national stupidity."

The hits just keep on coming.

But should we worry? The military has contingency plans for everything, probably even for invading Portugal and taking over the sardine industry. This all may be a planned leak, a bluff.

But there's a problem with that, as James Fallows writing in The Atlantic notes here - "By giving public warnings, the United States and Israel create 'excess demand' for military action,' as our war-game leader Sam Gardiner recently put it, and constrain their own negotiating choices."

Kevin Drum explains that here -
In other words, if the PR campaign is too successful, then Bush will have boxed himself in. Eventually he'll feel obligated to bomb Iran solely because he's now under pressure to make good on his threats and doesn't want to look like he's backing down. World Wars have started over less.

Who knows? A subtle and well orchestrated game of chicken might be appropriate here. But please raise your hands if you trust this crew to play a subtle and well orchestrated game of anything.
But the president Monday the 10th did come out and say these reports of White House plans to attack Iran "wild speculation."

Tricky fellow.

Two comments from Josh Marshall.

This -
... let's just put down for the record that when President Bush calls recent reports of White House plans to attack Iran "wild speculation" that means absolutely nothing.

It's not just that the president has now earned a well-deserved reputation for lying. It is because he and his chief aides lied to the country about a more or less parallel situation - the build up to war on Iraq - only four years ago. We now know that the fix was in on the Iraq War as early as September/October 2001. And the president and his crew kept up the charade that no decisions had been made long after those claims became laughable.

Yes, I know, President Bush gets called a liar on center-left and left-wing blogs all the time.

But I think those more genial sorts in the press and policy community in DC need to be honest enough with themselves to recognize that on this issue of all issues President Bush is unquestionably a liar.

It is also not too early to point out that the evidence is there for the confluence of two destructive and disastrous forces - hawks in the administration's Cheney faction whose instinctive bellicosity is only matched by their actual incompetence (a fatal mixture if there ever was one), and the president's chief political aides who see the build up to an Iran confrontation as the most promising way to contest the mid-term elections. Both those groups are strongly motivated for war. And who is naive enough to imagine a contrary force within the administration strong enough to put on the brakes?
And this to a reader (AB) who says this wouldn't really be a new "war" - just a bit of selective bombing -
I don't see the logic of reserving the noun 'war' for full-scale invasion and regime change. A bombing campaign to seriously degrade or eliminate the Iranian nuclear facilities would mean bunker-busting bombs to destroy buried and heavily reinforced facilities. It would hit a lot of places. Something of that caliber amounts to war. And not just by some rhetorical definition. It's something that wouldn't end after a few days or after the last US bombers and fighters return to their bases and ships.

Second, AB suggests that what's going on here is not actually preparations for war, but saber-rattling to keep the Iranians off balance and give them an added incentive to reach a diplomatic compromise.

With any other administration, I'd agree with that. Hinting at a potential military option would actually make sense as a backdrop to serious diplomatic discussions. It would make sense for an administration that wanted a diplomatic solution.

But this isn't any administration. This is an administration that demonstrated in a fairly analogous situation a preference for war over diplomatic solutions. So the 'threats as a way to spur diplomatic flexibility' argument makes perfect sense in the abstract. But there's no reason to assume it applies to this situation.

For myself, I still find it really, really hard to believe that the administration is seriously considering military action against Iran. At one level, I don't believe it. But I've thought the same thing with these guys too many times and been wrong. It's a situation where I set logical analysis aside and rely on experience and the administration's track record.

We know these guys. Why get fooled again?
They'd fool us? No.

But it happened again, as in this: "The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

In short, the baddest of the bad guys, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is relatively unimportant, but according to internal military documents and "officers familiar with the program" it was really useful to hype him. He was al Qaeda, and he was there. It makes the case, or some case, that the Iraq war had to do with the 9/11 attacks, until the PR program (or is that psy-ops?) unravels. They fooled us. The joke is on us. In war you fool the enemy, even if it's the American public, or the guys fighting for us all. It worked.

Or did it? A minor story in the New York Times 0n the 10th was this - "Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation."

Enough is enough. And this was only the Monday news items.

This is enough to make one a bit jumpy. The pattern to it all?

Things falling apart. When that happens those who thought they had thing under control can do dangerous things.

Heads up.

Posted by Alan at 23:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006 23:46 PDT home

Sunday, 9 April 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 15 for the week of April 9, 2006.

This week it's six and six, and two more, and two extras. That is, six extended commentaries on current events, six pages filled with high-resolution photography, along with the weekly news of the weird and odd quotes, and something extra - links to two external pages of additional photographs.

The current events items cover the death penalty for the man who will die for what he didn't say that would have maybe caused things that didn't happen, the fall of that odd master politician from Texas that was the surprise early in the week, a mediation on the relationship of a form of drama known as farce to political events (the leak business and the immigration mess in the Senate), a discussion, a wide-ranging review of public nastiness and deceit, a column on the news items that didn't make it to the front pages, but may have been more important than what did, and this weekend breaking stories about our plans to nuke that bad guys, maybe.

The photography is Hollywood and more - images of the core of Hollywood where two major studios meet, and of a place called Hollywood Forever where the famous rest forever, a bit of illustrated history regarding the days when the labor wars meant blowing up buildings, a visual notes on the heart of Rock and Rock, Laurel Canyon, in the rain, and then the extra stuff - a Buddha and botanicals. It's been a busy week.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Fantasy and Avoidance
Instant Oblivion, Texas Style
Hypocrites, Thugs and the Ineffectual
Decisions: All the News That Fits, and Doesn't
Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do

Southern California Photography ______________________

Fan Stuff: The Movie Industry in One Block - Melrose at Bronson
Morbid Hollywood
History: The Labor Movement in Images
Laurel Canyon: Rock's Answer to Jazz Age Paris, in the Rain
Far East


Quotes for the week of April 9, 2006 - Illusions

Extra - At the daily Just Above Sunset Photography - ______________________

Getting Along (Life in Los Angeles)
Movie References: Superman in Southern California

Posted by Alan at 08:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 8 April 2006
Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do
Topic: Local Issues

Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." - Alexis de Tocqueville

"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks." - General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott) in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)


Saturday, April 8th, after the week's news cycle closed and the cable news networks went into "features" mode - Whatever will we do about our children and the perverts prowling MySpace?) - and as congress had gone home for two weeks of rest after doing not much of anything - no immigration reform bill in the Senate and no budget approved in the House - and as political junkies and policy wonks had settled down to watch a little baseball, or the Masters golf thing, or just decided to wash the car - a few things were being posted on the net by major publications, prior to their distribution on actual paper early Monday, for those who get their information the quaint way, by reading it on the printed page. The next week's news cycle begins sometime after midnight Monday, as everyone gets to play.

But times change and sometimes what will appear in print later raises some eyebrows as it hits the web.

There was a little item on the AFP wire that was one of those things that had some, those not following baseball or golf or washing the car, think something was up -
The administration of President George W. Bush is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key Iranian suspected nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker magazine has reported in its April 17 issue.

The article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential Adolf Hitler.

"That's the name they're using," the report quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying.

A senior unnamed Pentagon adviser is quoted in the article as saying that "this White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

... The former intelligence officials depict planning as "enormous," "hectic" and "operational," Hersh writes.

... In recent weeks, the president has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of the House of Representatives, including at least one Democrat, the report said.
Say what? You had to be paying attention. Wayne White, the former deputy director at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, had, a few days earlier, mentioned something - "In recent months I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran's nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramifications of such action."

But he didn't mention nukes. And there was, as noted elsewhere in the pages, Joseph Cirincione in Foreign Policy saying a whole bunch senior administration officials had made up their minds - we were going to war again, at least if you call bombing without the massive invasion part going to war.

But he didn't mention nukes either. That's what Seymour Hersh does here in the as yet to be distributed new issue of the New Yorker - we will bomb Iran, and we will use nukes. Maybe. It could be a disinformation plan - get a whole bunch of top guys to tell Hersh, off the record, that we're going to do this, and Iran will back down. Hersh does dig up the dirt and get things right. It'll scare them. They'll back down. So maybe Hersh is being used.

Or maybe not.

But there is an operational theory behind just doing it. It seems the military planning "was premised" on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government."

As theories go, that one is might seem to some to be a tad optimistic - humiliate their leaders with big explosions and nuclear fallout and the grateful masses will take over the joint and thank us. That might be a possible outcome. You never know. The people of Iraq don't seem particularly grateful at the moment, but then this could be different.

As for the details of the scheme, AFP reports this -
One of the options under consideration involves the possible use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, to insure the destruction of Iran's main centrifuge plant at Natanz, Hersh writes.

But the former senior intelligence official said the attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the military, and some officers have talked about resigning after an attempt to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans in Iran failed, according to the report.

"There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the magazine quotes the Pentagon adviser as saying.

The adviser warned that bombing Iran could provoke "a chain reaction" of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world and might also reignite Hezbollah.

"If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle," the adviser is quoted as telling The New Yorker.
Let's see, top military dudes argue that if we bomb we don't use nukes, they are told they're wrong, the decision has been made, and some are ready to resign as this seems beyond stupid. Someone says there could be a "a chain reaction" of terrorist attacks worldwide against anything American, and the south of Iraq will be a flooded with the Iranian Army and more newly enraged Shiites out to kills our guys. But that's shot down. That's negative thinking?

Digby at Hullabaloo here comments that this was pretty much inevitable -
It's hard to believe they think that they have the political latitude to do this. But then it was hard to believe they thought they had the political latitude to govern as if they had won landslide elections or that they could survive the 2004 election if no WMD were found in Iraq. But they did. In fact, they've had their biggest successes by pushing the envelope beyond the point anyone would have imagined. I do not put it past them to believe that they can do this and somehow revive their flagging popularity.
That's a little cynical. Maybe this has nothing to do with popularity and the upcoming mid-term elections where prospects for the Republicans look more dismal by the moment. Maybe it's just removing a threat.

How serious are they about making sure Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

Very, or not, as you see here, something from February 13, 2006 -
The unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad, RAW STORY has learned.

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.
Iran? Oops. But her husband had been a bother.

John Cole, the disgruntled conservative, formerly a Bush supporter goes to the long Seymour Hersh article itself and offers this, a bit of commentary on the Hersh text -
Cole: People who already worry about the president's growing messiah complex won't get much encouragement:

Hersh: A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

Cole: We've heard this song before, too many times to count. Bush supporters love to use terms like 'steadfast' and 'resolve' when they talk about their favorite president but they would fall over dead before admitting that those characteristics might have a downside. Gosh, ya think? A guy who famously doesn't study issues very deeply will inevitably make some boneheaded and even dangerous decisions. If 'resolve' keeps him from ever revisiting his boneheaded decisions then you end up with a net loss for everybody.

You might have wondered what happened to the neocons:

Hersh "This is much more than a nuclear issue," one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. "That's just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years."

A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. "This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

Cole: Yep, still around. I don't give a shit what connotational baggage the term neocon has picked up over the years, this is their signature: spin stories about an imminent threat (paging Laurie Mylroie) to sell a war whose real goal is to strengthen America's global standing. Call it oil or geopolitical influence-building or whatever you want, these guys played the same song once already.

No-shit moments come up frequently:

Hersh: In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat [named Lieberman - ed. Just a guess.].

...The House member said that no one in the meetings "is really objecting" to the talk of war. "The people they're briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq.

Cole: They consulted the same Congressmen who led the charge on Iraq, and nobody objected. No shit?

Hersh: Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."

Cole: If you're not worried about a nuclear-armed president with a messiah complex, a medieval concept of metaphysics and an insatiable war itch then you have to be kind of slow.

Speaking of nuclear:

Hersh: One of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.

... The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. "Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap.

... Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran?without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.'"

... The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped."

Cole: Anybody who toys with using offensive nuclear weapons, unprovoked, has simply taken leave of his senses. If we can 'preempt' an attack with nuclear weapons, then by what logic can we criticize North Korea for doing the same to us? Because in some metaphysical sense America is 'good' and North Korea is 'evil?' Baloney. Any leadership willing to inflict collateral nuclear damages on a population that hasn't attacked them first has an extremely weak claim on metaphysical goodness. The only 'good' that a leader like that can claim harkens back to medieval nations of the living saint, the incorruptible figure whose beatitude makes any action good just by virtue of them doing it. When you think about it, for a president who paints the world in medieval tones of 'good' and 'evil' and allegedly takes commands from God the concept may not be that much of a stretch.

We have a bipartisan bunch here, so let's hear what people think about two basic questions. First, do you buy these revelations? Bear in mind that the people who pushed back against Hersh's Abu Ghraib reporting were forced to retreat from one trench (nothing bad happened) to the next (if anything bad happened it was only a few bad apples) to the next (Rumsfeld didn't personally order prisoner) until they had to contort themselves into ridiculous positions in order to avoid giving up entirely (e.g., it isn't really torture until an organ fails). Seymour Hersh has credibility that his closest parallels on the pro-war side, e.g. Judith Miller or Bob Woodward, don't.

Second, assume for now that the reporting is accurate and answer whether you're comfortable to have your major policymakers set themselves on a "crusade" for violent regime change in Iran, most likely employing tactical nuclear weapons. It might sound like a ridiculous question to most, but I expect at least a few to answer in the affirmative.
Ah well, this all could be a really highly coordinated press plant. Make the Iranians worry. Use Hersh. If so, it's masterful. And unlikely.

Will there be denials? Or a useful "no comment" to keep the Iranians worried?

But the idea? "Any leadership willing to inflict collateral nuclear damages on a population that hasn't attacked them first has an extremely weak claim on metaphysical goodness."

Howard Zinn, here, writing long before this story broke -
What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison - more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.
Not likely. When Fox News picks up the Hersh item and tells us he's an alarmist but, then, we do have the right to defend ourselves and this is a pretty good idea, and CNN waffles and says it may or may not be true so let's not get all excited, but all the rest of the news and opinion media, in fear of appearing unpatriotic, agrees with Fox, and the Christian right welcomes the end days, it's off we go.

Ah, we'd never do such at thing.

Posted by Alan at 18:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006 07:52 PDT home

Friday, 7 April 2006
Decisions: All the News That Fits, and Doesn't
Topic: The Media

Decisions: All the News That Fits, and Doesn't

At the end of the week, Friday, April 7th, the news was buzzing with the "big stories" that, in effect, sucked all the air out of the room, or distracted people from all else. For those who follow national affairs there were two big issues that were more than enough to consider. And it's too bad that these two items crowded out some other things that perhaps deserve attention. But there's only so much space available in the media, and you just cannot pay attention to everything. So the two big items were "it."

So first those two, and then some other matters.

The first, obviously, was the news that broke the day before. Had the president actually been involved in some political scheme to trash the reputation of a critic, a scheme that involved his approving selective release of carefully chosen classified information to one influential reporter on the condition she tell no one where she got the scoop? Was he authorizing a secret press operation to counter someone who exposed that the administration had been, at best, a bit misleading about the reason we needed to go to war immediately, to preempt what was clearly going to happen if we didn't? Did he know this "what might happen" was unlikely, that the information he was getting about Iraq working on a nuclear weapon or two was somewhere between ambiguous and just bogus? It more and more looks like this was the case.

The detail of his legal authority to instantly and impulsively have one of his people show a reporter key paragraphs from a classified document probably isn't the issue. He can almost certainly do that. He has the authority.

And no one is saying he authorized his minion to reveal that the pesky critic's wife was a covert CIA agent and set up the whole junket that uncovered the weakness in his evidence for war. That's not being considered, although it's possible. But that would require that you believe the president, to impugn the character of a critic, would expose a secret agent, blow her operation to trace traffic in nuclear material on the black market, and put her informants at risk for their lives. That did happen, and really, no one is suggesting the president would stoop to that to trash someone who noted what the president was saying wasn't exactly so. Some believe the vice president would, as he's the man who told the senator from Maine, on the floor of the senate, to go fuck himself, and who shot his elderly hunting partner in the face. You get a reputation for being a bit blunt and a tad careless and people assume the worst.

No, the issue is whether the president was jerking the nation around, authorizing "special information" be slipped to their plant, the ace reporter at the New York Times. The press is all over this. They don't like to be jerked around. And they assume the American people don't much like it either, save for those who see the president as a clever rascal who knows how to get what he wants and admire him for fooling all the people who think they're so damned smart. Friday's polling shows that group, those who think the president is handling everything just fine, thank you, is now smaller than its ever been. And the polling was done before it came out that the president had authorized this press gambit with their ally at the Times.

In short, the sixty-four percent who now don't exactly think the president can be trusted, the seventy percent who think the country is going in the wrong direction on most everything, see this "show a few secret paragraphs to Judy" plan to "get" Joe Wilson as pretty crappy.

And Friday there was the inevitable press briefing. The president's spokesman, Scott McClelland, took the heat - "The White House tried today to quell the furor over the leaking of sensitive prewar intelligence on Iraq, as President Bush's spokesman insisted that the president had the authority to declassify and release information."

No denial that the president and vice president did tell their man to show a few key paragraphs of a classified document to Judy Miller of the Times. They did. But they were allowed to. And it was for the good of the country. They wanted the truth made public. And of course the questions were why they decided to do it this way instead of just declassifying stuff, as they did ten days later. Why go after this one critic in such a secret way? The response? Can't discuss it. Ongoing investigation. Wouldn't be prudent. But it was legal.

Of course that wasn't the question, but everyone knows the drill, how to handle a difficult question if you're a politician or represent one. You acknowledge the question - "That's a good question, Fred" - and then you answer the question Fred should have asked. That usually works. But this time it was losing its charm.

Trouble. As Andrew Sullivan puts it here - "The bottom line is that the president clearly used his prerogative to classify and declassify intelligence data to leak selectively to the press to give a misleading notion of what his own government believed about Saddam's WMDs before the war. He was personally involved; and he tasked his veep to coordinate it. The most plausible explanation is that the president believes grave national security prerogatives can be used for political purposes and/or that he had something embarrassing to hide. Bottom bottom line: we can't trust him to be fully honest with us on one of the bases on which he led us to war. That matters, doesn't it?"

Maybe. Many don't seem to care. What does it matter now?

But more folks in the middle of the road are sensing they've been jerked around, and we're in a war that cost the lives of a lot of our guys, and maimed ten times as many, and has the world against us, and has cost nearly a half a trillion now, and is going badly, and the deficits are a mile wide and ten deep. Even if they think we must slog on and make the best we can out of it, this sort of dicking around with classified information to "get" a guy who pointed out some problems just seems to stink. It's the kind of thing junior high school girls do, spread rumors the cute new girl is "loose." Those of us who have family who have served in Iraq expect better. It rankles to have spiteful children in charge of things. One expects that those in charge are, at times, straightforward, thoughtful and serious. Oh, and competent too. This sort of things doesn't help.

The second big story was this - "A carefully constructed compromise on immigration reform apparently fell apart in the Senate today after Democrats fended off conservative Republican efforts to amend the agreement and an effort to cut off debate failed by a lopsided vote."

As discussed elsewhere, this was dead in the water Wednesday night, Thursday morning there was a miraculous bipartisan compromise and lots of backslapping, and then it fell apart. The compromise was pretty strange - immediately departing those who had been here less than two year, those who been here more than two years and less than five have to play fines, learn English and pay back taxes, and those who have been here longer get to apply for citizenship, and pay back taxes if any. And there's no way to tell who's who. But the compromise didn't fail because it was wacky. The senators with angry constituents held that it wasn't punitive enough, and really amounted to amnesty, and these folks had to be punished and sent away, all of them. If they want to come back in, follow the damned rules. The argument that we need these folks for the economy to work - no one wants lettuce to cost three hundred dollars a head - didn't survive the righteous.

This is going nowhere, and it was other big story at the end of the week, probably for two reasons. The first is that congress Friday stared their two week Easter recess, and this confirms that congress is useless. The second is there will be more demonstrations now, with everyone angry. Nothing was resolved. Thus this story is a classic "big trouble because nothing happened" story. What didn't happen is the story, not what did.

What items were pushed for the main pages by all this sneaky stuff and discord?

Well, there was this -
A U.S. Marine was shot and killed allegedly by an Iraqi soldier at a base near the Syrian border, the U.S. said Friday. The Iraqi soldier was then wounded by another American Marine.

... "An Iraqi army soldier allegedly shot and killed the U.S. Marine on a coalition base" near Qaim, the statement said. "The Iraqi soldier was shot by another U.S. Marine."

The incident is under investigation and no further details were released, the statement said.

"Just as we as American military men and women trust one another with our lives, we also trust our Iraqi counterparts, and that trust has not wavered," the statement added. "We will not let this isolated incident deter us in our mission to train and mentor the Iraqi security forces as they progress toward independent operations to ensure the security of their nation."

The U.S. command also reported three other deaths among American troops.
That puts us at 2,349 members of our military dead, and this one is not a good sign, particularly since the president the day before said this, again -
On the security side, our goal, our mission is to let the Iraqis take the fight. And as I - I've always been saying, they stand up, we stand down. That means, we train the Iraqis to take the fight to those who want to disrupt their country.
It seems in this case one of them did. Perhaps it was just one crazy guy. Let's hope it's not a trend.

But this didn't get much play, save here on the web.

Nor did this on the State Department falling apart. "The US is sending diplomats into Iraq, but refusing to give them military protection. No wonder Foreign Service morale is collapsing." This is an investigative piece that's pretty amazing. We'll win hearts and mind if we pull troops out of really hot spots and send in low-level guys from State - the experts and career folks just won't do it - unarmed and unprotected. They'll make nice and everything will be cool. One more theory. And those who don't quit at the State Department may burn Condoleezza Rice in effigy. But it's not in the news. Makes you kind of miss Colin Powell, as much as he messed up. But the crew in charge is full of theories about how things should work and what will happen if you just try. They're optimists.

Theoretical idealism, assuming the best, is fine. It's fine for bull sessions in the college dorm. In the real world, if you're young and new to the State Department, it's a bit scary.

What about the older, more experienced diplomats?

Well, Friday there was this in a minor Associated Press story -
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned in an interview broadcast Friday that Iraq faces the possibility of sectarian civil war if efforts to build a national unity government do not succeed. He said such a conflict could affect the entire Middle East.

Khalilzad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that political contacts among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders were improving, but that within the general population, "polarization along sectarian lines" was intensifying - in part due to the role of armed militias.

Khalilzad warned that "a sectarian war in Iraq" could draw in neighboring countries, "affecting the entire region."
Will Condoleezza Rice call him on the carpet and rip him a new one for being so negative?

Why would he be so negative?

Maybe it's things like this - "Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a coordinated attack against worshippers at an influential Shiite mosque in the Iraqi capital Friday, killing at least 78 people and injuring 154."

This is the most deadly of such bombings so far, and the worst day in Iraq in a year. But then, there was the leak story. And the immigration issues. An incipient regional war in the Middle East, involving all the major nations in the area? That could be a bit of a problem. But then if you assume the "best case" really will happen, this ambassador is just undercutting the administration. Why does he still have his job? (Look hard at the daily commentary on the right and you see that question, his loyalty, has come up.)

And of course, with all this news there's no room for thinking about Iran.

As mentioned before in these pages, there was that thing in Foreign Policy, Joseph Cirincione, the nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment, saying this -
For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran.
And Friday in the Financial Times of London we see this -
Iran has prepared a high-level delegation to hold wide-ranging talks with the US, but the Bush administration is resisting the agenda suggested by Tehran despite pressure from European allies to engage the Islamic republic, Iranian politicians have told the Financial Times.

A senior Iranian official, Mohammad Nahavandian, has flown to Washington to "lobby" over the issue, according to a top Iranian adviser outside the US. However, the Iranian mission to the United Nations insisted he was in Washington on private business.

Iran's willingness to engage the US on Iraq, regional security and the nuclear issue, is believed to have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It represents the most serious attempt by the Islamic republic to reach out to the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the White House insisted on Thursday that its own offer of talks with Iran, extended several months ago by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Baghdad, was limited to the subject of Iraq.

... The Bush administration is resisting pressure from its European allies to engage Iran directly over its alleged nuclear weapons programme rather than leave negotiations to the EU3 of France, Germany and the UK. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, raised this issue with Mr Hadley this week, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is understood to have spoken about it with President George W. Bush.
We don't talk. We threaten. As in this -
... Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state, yesterday accused Iran of being "expansionist", "a central banker of terrorism" and directing attacks on US citizens.

Last week, the UN Security Council issued a mildly worded presidential statement calling on Iran to resume its suspension of fuel cycle development. Russia blocked tougher language. John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, told reporters yesterday the next diplomatic step was to pass a legally binding "chapter seven" resolution requiring Iran to suspend its nuclear programme.
This is not looking good, but not exactly in the news, or at least not getting top billing. We've just talking nuclear war here.

Fred Kaplan here in Slate, in a detail analysis, calls it "A Global Game of Chicken."

The central idea -
The growling and brandishing have grown intense lately, in part because of the U.N. Security Council statement, passed by consensus on March 29, giving Iran 30 days to suspend its enrichment of uranium. Or else what? It's unclear. Sanctions would ordinarily be the sequel to such a declaration; but Russia and China have said, for now, that they won't support sanctions.

So, the Bush administration is sending signals - to the Iranians but also to the Russians, Chinese, and Europeans - that it might enforce the deadline in its own, more forceful manner if the Security Council goes wobbly. And the Iranians are sending signals back that they have their own array of options and therefore won't succumb to pressure.

That's the game of chicken. Two cars speed toward each other, head-on, late at night. There are three possible outcomes. One driver gets nervous and veers away at the last second; he loses. Both drivers veer away; the game's a draw. They both keep zooming straight ahead; everybody dies. Back in the early '60s, the flamboyant nuclear strategist Herman Kahn wrote that one way to win at chicken was to detach the steering wheel and wave it out of the window; the other driver, seeing you can't pull off the road, will be forced to do so himself. The dreadful thing about the current showdown between America and Iran is that both drivers seem to be unscrewing their steering wheels; they're girding themselves so firmly in their positions - the Americans saying Iran's enrichment is an intolerable threat to security, the Iranians saying it's an absolute ingredient of national integrity - that backing down is a course neither is willing to take.

There's another dangerous thing about chicken. One or both drivers might intend to veer off, but they know they don't have to until the last second. They might accelerate, to step up the pressure, as the cars approach each other; miscalculations - of time, distance, and intentions - could ensue; a collision could happen by accident.
That's about it.

Is there a way out of this?

Maybe -
Christopher Hitchens has suggested in these pages that Bush go to Tehran, with a full package of inducements to join the world, in the same spirit that Nixon went to China. In the long run, this may have a better chance than military strikes of turning the country in the right direction.

It's unpleasant, but is there any choice? It's worth emphasizing that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon now, nor is it likely to for at least three years. A U.S. military attack would unleash a wider war - which might be acceptable if it snuffed out Iran's nuclear program, but by most estimates it would merely set the program back a few years. Meanwhile, it would only stiffen popular support for Iran's fundamentalist leadership and alienate the vast majority of Iran's population, which for now holds a favorable view of America.

Would a diplomatic initiative be productive? Maybe not. But a military strike might be completely counterproductive: It would probably impede, but not halt, Iran's nuclear program; it would enflame anti-American terrorism; and it would strengthen Iran's regime.
A surprise "come join the world" Bush trip to Iran? Fat chance. He doesn't think that way. And it seems we don't want him to. That's why we reelected him.

So what else got short shrift in the news?

Well, as Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly reminds us, President Bush believes he has the right to eavesdrop on calls between the United States and foreign countries at his sole discretion - without a warrant, without probable cause, and regardless of the requirements of federal law.

Can he do the same for domestics calls? Drum reminds us the head of the NSA, General Michael Hayden, said yes they could, any calls at all, but they decided, themselves, "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty." Nothing could stop them from listening to every call from everyone to anyone, no law, not the useless fourth amendment or any of that stuff, but being the good guys they are, the felt that would be wrong. (The discussion is here.)

But they seem to be rethinking that -
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales left open the possibility yesterday that President Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the United States - a move that would dramatically expand the reach of a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.

... "I'm not going to rule it out," Gonzales said.

... Gonzales previously testified in the Senate that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the NSA spying program, but he said the idea was rejected in part because of fears of a public outcry.
Now they feel things have changed? There'd be no outcry now if they admitted they have been listening to everyone's calls and reading their email and all the rest? Maybe so. There so much other news that the idea that they're be "no outcry" could be spot on. This became a minor story this week.

It's amazing what slips by when there's only so much room for the news, and only so many things one can deal with simultaneously. And there's a political advantage in that.


A Footnote on Editorial Decisions

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, wondered why this item was never mentioned in these pages, what he calls the story of "Miss American Horseface's reportedly being accused of voter fraud in Florida."

Yes, the acerbic banshee of the right, Ann Coulter, who calls liberals traitors, calls for the assassination of certain Supreme Court Justices, for the New York Times building in Manhattan to be blown up (her way of kidding around) allegedly faked her address and voted in the wrong precinct for some reason, and is in big trouble.

Rick asks - "Is this a case of me missing the item, or of you not knowing about it, or of you just taking the high road?"

The reply -
Is it taking the high road when you have been following the story since it first surfaced last week and just don't find it that interesting or important? March 27th she was out here and spoke in a two-way thing, sort of a debate, with Al Franken, up on Mulholland at that big Jewish University just east of the 405, and from everything I've read on that (didn't pop for the fifty bucks to drive up and watch) she was her usual appalling self, and no one much cared. She just doesn't matter anymore. The Time Magazine cover last year was when she peaked, and since then no one much cares about what she thinks, and she's slid from anyone's consideration. She's dropped to a third-string sub on the right side of things. Time Magazine helped her jump the shark? Something like that.

Discussing this would be like writing something on Pete Rose's current thoughts on off-track betting. So she screwed up - and is still a self-righteous voice for outrageous but silly crap. Yeah, yeah. Who cares? She's on Fox News less and less, actually almost never now. The right has moved on. And Al Franken now knows she's not a draw and cannot be used as a foil for pulling in a ticket-buying audience.

Fame is short in America. She had her run. This story is now a mere curiosity.

Harriet-the-Cat and I had an editorial meeting or two. This item got spiked. No room for it. Low priority.
Rick -
This is indeed good news! I've been so overwhelmed recently, I hadn't even noticed her fall, even as I was never quite sure what was propping her up in the first place. In fact, I only heard about her election problems early this week, I think on Franken's show when he held a lackluster contest that invited suggestions on what her community service should be.

In conclusion, I must commend you both on your sound editorial judgment - assuming, that is, that Harriet wasn't urging that the decision go the other way.
Nope. Harriet agreed. There's only room for so much news.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 8 April 2006 06:42 PDT home

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