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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 13 April 2006
Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?

Elsewhere, in The New Master Narrative, there is a discussion of all these retired generals, the big guns, publicly calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or for the president to fire him. Four of them. Obviously this is extraordinary, and it's hard to recall anything like this. Of course Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur in April of 1951 - but that was because MacArthur was insubordinate, not just making strategic decisions on his own, but showboating as he did. MacArthur wasn't terribly subtle - he seemed to enjoy implying the president was an unqualified fool in way over his head. What did MacArthur expect to happen? So late in the month, that same April, MacArthur gave his famous retirement speech to congress (audio here) about "just fading away." And that he did.

This April, fifty-five years later, none of these generals show any sides of fading away at all. But unlike MacArthur, they don't seem to have political ambitions (MacArthur ran for president in 1952). They seem to be angry at how badly things in Iraq are going.

Do they want things to go better, or do they hope when all this is analyzed and assessed - how we took over Iraq and didn't quite manage to force the stunned Iraqis to form a secular, western-style democracy with a free-market, deregulated economy, and that was friendly to us - they won't get blamed? Or are they just angry at the waste and the death of the men they led there in good faith? Maybe it's a mix of all that.

But the note, on the four generals calling for Rumsfeld to just go away so someone who actually knew what he was doing could take over, was a note on the state of play mid-week, late Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 13th the four became six - "Two more retired generals called for Rumsfeld's resignation on Thursday. Retired Army Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld fostered an 'atmosphere of arrogance.' Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack told CNN that Rumsfeld micromanaged the war. 'We need a new secretary of defense,' he said."

Something is up. Many of course are pointing back to one of Rumsfeld's Rules, those "How to Succeed in Washington" insights that got a lot of play in early 2000 when he took his post. The one people now point to is this - "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."

That's not going to happen, as we see here -
The White House came to the aid of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday, rebuffing calls from several retired generals for his resignation and crediting him with leading the Pentagon through two wars and a transformation of the military.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing. He went on to read long quotations from the nation's top military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, praising Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism.
But what will Peter Pace say when her retires? He knows better than to say anything about his civilian boss right now. You don't trash your boss, at least publicly.

Of course no one is questioning Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism in the slightest. The problem seems to be his judgment, and his way of managing a giant organization. Perhaps Pace is being subtle, and one day will be the seventh general to say the man is useless when he's not dangerous. Or not.

There are a lot of odd dynamics here. Some might worry that having generals, even if they are retired, having some say in who the civilian boss should be, is dangerous, although this seems to be a call for just a set of minimum criteria for the job. But it's troubling. We don't want the military to run the country, do we? That's not how we do things. And, on the other hand, since the secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the president, and does what the president wants (or what he's been told he wants), who are these generals, the workers really, to question even the details of the implementation of national policy that is set by those far above their pay grade? That's not their job. Thirdly, since the military implements the strategic decisions of the civilian leadership, for some who see the military as, obviously, the armed portion of the Republican Party, at least the neoconservative wing of the party, this is maddening. Next there will be people in the armed services, here and there, who actually vote for Democrats. As unlikely as that seemed before, there's something in the air.

What's in the air? People aren't doing what that should. In the run up to the Iraq war the administration could feed a few tidbits to their plant at the New York Times, Judy Miller, and there'd be that story about Saddam's chemical weapons, or his efforts to build a nuclear weapon or three (Miller was big mainly on the chemical thing). Cheney and Rice and Powell could then go on the Sunday talk shows and say we really, really, really had to go to war immediately - even the liberal Times was reporting on the obvious danger to us all, after all. Cool. Very clever. And the rest of the news media fell in line - the Times is the nation's most authoritative paper after all. And too, you had to report such things, or re-report them, as those who questioned some of what was said were "on the side of the terrorists" or "hated America" and all that. Investigative reporting, the examination of all the facts, was left to the foreign press, and the Knight-Ridder papers. The curious and inquisitive, who wanted to know all of what was going on, and the skeptical, and the left, ended up on the net reading The Guardian (UK) and the Philadelphia Inquirer, but you never mentioned that to your friends at work - too dangerous. And God help you if you logged onto Al Jazeera to see what they were saying about things.

But times have changed.

Now the press isn't playing along, and the planted stories are just not getting traction any longer.

Well, the evidence is meager, but there is evidence for that.

The administration seems to be beating the drum for the next war, the one where we take out Iran's nuclear sites with tactical nuclear weapons. Of course they may just be sending a "don't toy with us" massage and would never launch an unprovoked nuclear strike on a nation without nuclear weapons and still in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty they did sign, even if they do bluster a lot. But it sure feels like a repeat of the first time around, even down to the "we don't want war" and "we want a diplomatic solution" stuff. Been there, done that - got the t-shirt. Here we go again.

And the methods are the same.

Early Thursday, April 13th, if you went to Matt Drudge's site, Drudge Report, the giant headline was "Could Iran Produce A Nuclear Bomb In Just 16 Days?" Alarming, but this was the guy who broke the Monica Lewinsky story that got Clinton impeached, so he does get a scoop now and then.

Drudge's source was this, carried in Bloomberg News - Stephen Rademaker, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation (John Bolton's old job before Bolton became our UN ambassador), tells reporters in Moscow that Iran could "produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in sixteen days." All they need is 50,000 centrifuges.

Sixteen days? It must be time to use the nukes for the first time since Nagasaki. We don't want to see Tel Aviv a radioactive pile of rubble before the month is out.

So did that item get screamed across the pages of the American press?

Not exactly. Peter Baker at the Washington Post decided to look at the numbers here - Iran's big claim is that they now have a network of one hundred sixty-four centrifuges working together now, perfectly, enriching uranium to 3.5 percent. That needs to be ninety percent to be useful, and they're a tad short of equipment. Of course they do say within a year they hope to have three thousand centrifuges all humming along in harmony, and one day they may have 54,000, but in the Post Parker notes getting all 54,000 working together, perfectly synchronized, is "no small feat." So start your sixteen days when they get all that worked out.

And over at the New York Times, William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi and Joel Brinkley work on exorcizing the ghost of Judy Miller with this, saying Iran just does have the materials to build the centrifuges themselves - "It took Tehran 21 years of planning and seven years of sporadic experiments, mostly in secret, to reach its current ability to link 164 spinning centrifuges in what nuclear experts call a cascade. Now, Tehran has to achieve not only consistent results around the clock for many months and years but even higher degrees of precision and mass production. It is as if Iran, having mastered a difficult musical instrument, now faces the challenge of making thousands of them and creating a very large orchestra that always plays in tune and in unison."

You have to love the musical comparison, even if Judy Miller is probably seething.

So the press is not falling in line, at least on this one. It's details and facts this time around? Seems so.

But when you cannot use the "news" sections of the papers, you still can use the op-ed pages - there you need not deal with pesky facts. The Post editorial the same day has this - "Some in Washington cite a U.S. intelligence estimate that an Iranian bomb is 10 years away. In fact the low end of that same estimate is five years, and some independent experts say three."

No facts there. Just "be afraid, be very afraid."

The editors don't seem to read their own paper, or they know it's still not safe to seem "soft" on the bad guys by citing facts - they're worried about their circulation figures if they question this wildly popular president, or worried the White House will say bad things about them and stop giving them inside scoops? Or they still think it's 2002 or something.

They should drop by the newsroom more often and glance at the copy, and read the polling on this wildly popular president, and consider what those leaks, that great insider access, did for the reputation of their great rival, the New York Times.

But we seem to be on the path to war again, no matter what the news media do this time around. And this time we probably will use nukes, at least that was the import of the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here).

Some people are upset we'd launch a nuclear war "on speculation" and others wonder what it is with the president - all that messianic stuff and his saying he wants "to bomb Iran to secure his legacy" a legacy as the only president with the guts to stop the fundamentalist madmen for developing nuclear weapons they could use to... start a war for no good reason when they we're attacked? It seems the man is a bit dangerous. And what people say, and what the press reports with all its facts, just doesn't matter.

Here's an odd view. Matthew Yglesias thinks it's not Bush -
Rather, there's a widespread view on the American right that it's always a mistake to reach diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes. There's also a widespread view on the American right that, contra the examples of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, nuclear deterrence won't work against "crazy" leaders. At the intersection of those two opinions is the conclusion that we ought to be very, very, very, very willing to use unilateral preventative military force against countries that have nuclear weapons programs or that we merely vaguely suspect of having nuclear weapons programs. Both of those ideas are foolish and dangerously wrong, but they're also widespread - not private oddball notions of Bush's. If liberals want to push this country's foreign policy in a better direction over the next five-to-ten years, we need to attack the whole network of ideas (including a non-trivial number of ideas whose origins are inside the Democratic coalition) that gave us the Iraq War and that threaten to give us the Iran War.

Bush's poor leadership skills have made and continue to make things worse than they might otherwise be, but the basic problems here are much bigger than the man himself.
Yep, it's the whole ideology, and the Democrats too afraid to question it, for fear of losing the votes of the "we need no facts" patriots.

Digby at Hullabaloo has this -
There has been a substantial amount of brainwashing done on the American public that needs to be immediately countered. These ideas have been floated in the media as American policy for years now. It doesn't sound in the least bit jarring or inappropriate to many of the public.

... Iran is a member of the axis 'o evil. It is, therefore, already presumed to be batshit crazy and the new president has certainly helped with his holocaust denial and loony rhetoric. It will not be that difficult for Bush and his minions to transfer their earlier madman images to Iran.

The idealistic portion of the neocon fantasy has probably been discredited: creating democracy from the ground up through unilateral invasion and occupation is now seen as a non-starter by everyone but George W. Bush. But the dark side of the PNAC wet dream is alive and well. They are still convinced that there is only one way for America to maintain its hegemony (and by God it must be maintained) and that is for it to militarily dominate the world. Furthermore, they believe that they must constantly demonstrate American military might to sustain the world's belief in its overwhelming power. After out little boo-boo in Iraq, it may now be important to these people that we demonstrate our awesome, unmatched air power. Eventually a little nuke action might be necessary too. The only way to protect America from the boogeyman is to prove over and over again that we are willing and eager to use force.

We may very well have a president named John McCain after 2008, or some other Republican with a chip on his shoulder. They don't have to be card carrying neocons to buy into this notion. The Bush administration is still busily dismantling the post WWII system and Pax Americana, so far, is the only thing ready to take its place.

Democrats have a lot of good ideas, but until they develop a cogent narrative to counter the dominant neocon story, we are going to be in danger of this "madman" rhetoric rearing its ugly head every time the Republicans need a little boost in the polls or feel it's time to show some muscle and remind everyone who's in charge.
And there's Greg Saunders here -
If you're a Democrat, you might want to figure out how you're going to vote in the Iranian War Resolution of 2006. "What war resolution?" you might ask, but don't be so naive. We all know that from a marketing standpoint you don't introduce a new product in August... I mean, April. Right now we're in the viral part of the marketing campaign. Just like you can't sell floor cleaner to someone who doesn't think they have a dirty floor, you're not going to convince people to nuke Iran without making an argument that they've got it coming.

Seriously, how would Democrats respond to a use of force resolution against Iran? The obvious answer would be to oppose it on the grounds that the Bush Administration has already shown itself to be dishonest and incompetent with Iraq, but do the Democrats in D.C. have the guts to vote against a war resolution, especially when it concerns a country that, in contrast to Saddam Hussein's caginess, is openly flaunting its nuclear technology? Considering that it was a Democratic Senate that gave Bush the authorization to invade Iraq in 2002, I have my doubts about whether the current slate would be willing to risk looking weak on national security in order to do the right thing.

Things look peachy for the Democrats right now, seven months out from the midterm elections, but let's not confuse disgust with the GOP with an infatuation for Dems. Even now with all of the troubles the GOP has had, I'd be willing to bet they're a scare tactic away from regaining their strength in the polls. If the Democrats want to win in November, they need to start connecting the dots for the American people before they get put on the spot. It's not enough to wring your hands in public and hope for the best, you've got to make the case again and again that Republicans are wrong for the country and that they can't be trusted with another war. If you must, make jokes like "The Bush Administration wants to bring their Hurricane Katrina style of leadership to Iran," but do something. Please.
Why not? The press is waking up. And the polling shows this next war will be a hard sell. The public isn't buying the scare tactics this time - this will have to be really, really scary this time around.

It might be time to slow this all down.

You might check out "William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security" in the Post with his latest -
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been conducting theater campaign analysis for a full scale war with Iran since at least May 2003, responding to Pentagon directions to prepare for potential operations in the "near term."

The campaign analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," posits an Iraq-like maneuver war between U.S. and Iranian ground forces and incorporates lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the TIRANNT effort and the Marine Corps Karona invasion scenario I discussed yesterday, the military has also completed an analysis of Iran's missile force (the "BMD-I" study), the Defense Intelligence Agency has updated "threat data" for Iranian forces, and Air Force planners have modeled attacks against "real world" Iranian air defenses and targets to establish new metrics. What is more, the United States and Britain have been conducting war games and contingency planning under a Caspian Sea scenario that could also pave the way for northern operations against Iran.

... The President of the United States insists that all options are on the table while the Secretary of Defense insists it "isn't useful" to discuss American options.

... I think this sends the wrong message to Tehran. ...The United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking. It is not in our interests to have Tehran not understand this.
And there's this - on the orders of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and bypassing the State Department (pissing them off no end), the terrorist group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is being used for special ops in Iran to pave the way for a military strike.
According to all three intelligence sources, military and intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world - including US civilian and military casualties - Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran strike.

"They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all," one intelligence source said.
There's much more here, but the game is afoot. And the press may be changing sides, and the generals too, and maybe even one or two Democrats.

It's the realists versus the idealists. This time it may be a fair fight.

Posted by Alan at 22:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006 22:57 PDT home

Wednesday, 12 April 2006
The New Master Narrative: The Hits Keep Coming
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The New Master Narrative: The Hits Keep Coming

As anyone who follows sports knows, there's something self-reinforcing in a losing streak, or in the baseball subset, a batting slump. First one thing goes wrong, then another, and you try changing things, or you try to get back to what was going right before, but you don't exactly know what it was. Things once just felt right, but now everything you do is over-compensation. Everything just feels wrong. Some say it's like being caught in quicksand (as it's popularly depicted) - the harder you struggle to get free the deeper you sink, and you die. And in sports it seems your luck runs out. You get bad calls from the referee, umpire or line judge. Before you shrugged them off. Now they really hurt, and make things even worse.

This happens in politics too. The Democrats have been on a losing streak since the Supreme Court stopped the recount of the Florida votes in January 2000 and decided the best thing for the country, really, was to rule that George Bush should be the new president, not Al Gore. Since then the Democrats can't win for losing, as they say. Push back on policies or specific decisions and people think you're somewhere between stupidly obstructionist and out of touch, or more malevolently, you hate America and want us to "lose" the big struggle of the moment. Decide to agree with anything and you're seen as lacking in principle, or at least original thought - thus the Republican Party endless saying they are the "party of ideas," even if the ideas are recycled simple-minded catch phrases from the Reagan years or economic supply-side theory from decades ago that just does work, like the famous Laffer Curve (cut taxes and government revenue will grow). And the other side reinforces it all, building a sort of "loser" narrative that is, in itself, self-reinforcing. All mistakes, even the small ones, are magnified. Internal disagreement is lack of principle. Enthusiasm is pathological behavior, as with Howard Dean's famous "scream" that proved he was so bat-shit crazy he should never hold any office, not even dogcatcher. What you get right is an accident. You said the war was a really, really bad idea? Lucky guess. And so on and so forth.

But narratives change, and batting slumps end. And suddenly Reggie Jackson can't hit the curve, or gets struck out on three screaming fastballs, right over the plate, from an impossibly young rookie pitcher in a key game (some of us saw that happen out here on Los Angeles many years ago). But what changes?

For the Bush administration, with its dismal polling and the word "incompetent" floating around, the narrative changed in September of 2005, with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. That didn't go well. Michael Brown was shamed out of his post running FEMA, then all the talk about "no one thought the levees would fail" was exposed as not quite so, and Brown turned out to actually have done his best. There was a lot of talk about a wondrous rebuilding program for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but there's nothing much happening. And then the "incompetent" narrative started to snowball. It was self-reinforcing. Just what was that business about privatizing Social Security? And if the economy is doing so fine, why are wages flat or falling? What was that business about that Harriet woman nominated to the Supreme Court, that odd little woman, massively unqualified but a personal friend? And you think the folks from the United Arab Emirates would be fine running operations at our major ports?

And then, to support the new narrative, in the same manner the media and commentators had "investigated" the "loser" Democrats, they turned to "proving" the new narrative is a pretty nifty way to explain things - "It's true, it's true, it's really true!" Of course the news and opinion media, commercial enterprises, sustain themselves, and prosper if they can, by providing documentation of what people believe is so. The idea is to sense what the narrative is and give people what they want. That's the business model.

So what no one wanted to know about before became what people wanted to see, and they got it, with looks back on the war that seems to have actually been a major bone-headed idea. So now it's safe to look back - no one will be miffed at things like the Downing Street memos being discussed, or examining the CIA leak story, including the delicious detail of the president and vice president secretly declassifying carefully selected data and having one of their guys provide it on the sly to their plant at the New York Times. Now over sixty percent of Americans think that was either illegal or unethical. The narrative changed. And that certainly makes all this talk of nuking Iran so they don't spend the next eight or ten years building "the bomb" harder to make sound reasonable. Before the narrative changed people would have said, well, that would be bad thing, but the "grownups" in the White House knows what's best.

Those days are gone. And gone are the days when the American public stoically accepted this war in Iraq would cost a lot of lives and that ten thousand would return badly maimed, because it was worth it. The WMD thing was a bummer, and the administration (all but Cheney) admitted Iraq had nothing much to do with 9/11, and it would have been nice to have killed or at least captured that Osama fellow, and we do seem to be creating a hundred new terrorists for every one we kill over there, but, because the previous narrative was strong, the core of supporters hung on. We were doing some good. The "if we make them create a democracy in that particular place at this particular time the world will be better and safer" was sort of working. But those elected in Iraq cannot seem to form a government and they seem to have a civil war going on now. Not good, and when the narrative changes, words like "we're making progress" and "they will build a secular unity government, just wait" just don't work. The push-back from the administration and those who don't sense the new narrative - that the media is purposefully only reporting the bad news and all that - is met with anger from the press and scorn from most of the public.

Now you can think of that as people "finally waking up" and the truth prevailing, but it's more like a shift in the prevailing and accepted narrative. Not so long ago "the truth" was something quite different. On the other hand, the previous narrative required a lot of self-deception - one had to ignore a lot of unpleasant information and cling to "larger truths" and some pretty odd ideas, like democracies are inherently peaceful, and "they hate us for our freedoms" not our policies, not to mention minor odd ideas, like we'll be greeted as liberators, the war and reconstruction will pay for itself, we'll be out of there in six months and our buddy, Ahmed Chalabi, will run the joint just fine. Narratives aligned with reality work better. Idealism is fine, of course, but has only vague connections to the real world. That's how it got its name.

So we're in the new narrative, the one that centers on "incompetence" and deception - sometime lies and sometimes just blindness.

The addition to the new narrative, on Wednesday, April 12th, the talk of the day, was this item on the front page of the Washington Post - Joby Warrick reporting that a team of private-sector scientists hired by the Pentagon in 2003 to inspect Iraqi trailers suspected of being mobile weapons labs came up empty. They weren't any such things. The Pentagon guys said they were pretty much "sand toilets." They sent their report in. Two days later the president said we'd found the weapons of mass destruction. It was these trailers. The administration kept saying that for months.

They didn't read the report? They read the report and decided it was something inconvenient they shouldn't mention, as that would make them look incompetent? They decided to lie to the American people? Or in good faith they decided the report could be wrong and later evidence would surely show these really were what they said they were (optimism and idealism mixed)? They ignored the report they commissioned because they believed this just couldn't be so (self-delusion)?

Who knows? But the story fits the new narrative, so it was page one.

Those stuck in the old narrative said things like this - "The Pentagon didn't send one team of experts to review the trailers; they sent three, presumably to get a diverse analysis of the evidence, especially since the pre-war intel on WMD had come up remarkably short. That sounds like a prudent strategy to me, having competing teams research the same equipment and evidence to develop independent analyses to present to the Pentagon. They did so, and two of the three teams provided conclusions that fit the pre-war intel, while one did not."

The reply was this - "Nice try, but cutesy advertising jingles to the contrary, this episode fits the usual MO of the Bush administration perfectly: a flat statement of fact about intelligence matters that's made with great fanfare even though they know there's significant dissent within the intelligence community. ... So: Intent to deceive? Check. Unreasonable decision? Check. Deliberate lie? Check."

That's the new narrative. It's hard to see how it will change back.

There's more here.

The Slow-Motion Trap
His presidency was built on secrecy and, we now know, on lies. The more Bush struggles to free himself, the more his past deceptions bind him.
Sidney Blumenthal, SALON.COM, Thursday, April 16, 2006

This is long and detailed, and about the whole CIA leak scandal, but it comes down to this -
Bush is entangled in his own past. His explanations compound his troubles and point to the original falsehoods. Through his first term, Bush was able to escape by blaming the Democrats, casting aspersions on the motives of his critics and changing the subject. But his methods have become self-defeating. When he utters the word "truth" now most of the public is mistrustful. His accumulated history overshadows what he might say.

The collapse of trust was cemented into his presidency from the start. A compulsion for secrecy undergirds the Bush White House. Power, as Bush and Cheney see it, thrives by excluding diverse points of view. Bush's presidency operates on the notion that the fewer the questions, the better the decision. The State Department has been treated like a foreign country; the closest associates of the elder President Bush, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, have been excluded; the career professional staff have been bullied and quashed; the Republican-dominated Congress has abdicated oversight; and influential elements of the press have been complicit.

Inside the administration, the breakdown of the national security process has produced a vacuum filled by dogmatic fixations that become more rigid as reality increasingly fails to cooperate. But the conceit that executive fiat can substitute for fact has not sustained the illusion of omnipotence.

The precipitating event of the investigation of the Bush White House - Wilson's disclosure about his Niger mission - was an effort by a lifelong Foreign Service officer to set the record straight and force a debate on the reasons for going to war. Wilson stood for the public discussion that had been suppressed. The Bush White House's "concerted action" against him therefore involved an attempt to poison the wellsprings of democracy.
That's putting the new narrative pretty bluntly, and it adds the element of "reality increasingly failing to cooperate" with the story line.

So who is having the losing streak now?

But wait! There's more!

Fred Kaplan offers this -
It's an odd thought, but a military coup in this country right now would probably have a moderating influence. Not that an actual coup is pending; still less is one desirable. But we are witnessing the rumblings of an officers' revolt, and things could get ugly if it were to take hold and roar.

The revolt is a reluctant one, aimed specifically at the personage of Donald Rumsfeld and the way he is conducting the war in Iraq.

It is startling to hear, in private conversations, how widely and deeply the U.S. officer corps despises this secretary of defense. The joke in some Pentagon circles is that if Rumsfeld were meeting with the service chiefs and commanders and a group of terrorists barged into the room and kidnapped him, not a single general would lift a finger to help him.

Some of the most respected retired generals are publicly criticizing Rumsfeld and his policies in a manner that's nearly unprecedented in the United States, where civilian control of the military is accepted as a hallowed principle.
Well, there are three big guns so far.

The first is General Anthony Zinni who last month called for Rumsfeld to resign, and he's been on all the talks shows chatting up his new book, The Battle for Peace. You can catch him on video here, on Meet the Press saying this -
I saw the - what this town is known for, spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses or shading the context. We know the mushroom clouds and the other things that were all described that the media has covered well. I saw on the ground a sort of walking away from 10 years' worth of planning. You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there's been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place - 10 years' worth of planning were thrown away. Troop levels dismissed out of hand. Gen. Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving an honest opinion.

The lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath, the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task. A belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge, would tell you were not credible on the ground. And on and on and on, decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. There's a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the Secretary of State say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policies made back here. Don't blame the troops. They've been magnificent. If anything saves us, it will be them.
So who's he? He's the Marine general whose last job was heading up Central Command, running military operations in the Persian Gulf and South Asia.

A second was Army Major General Paul Eaton, letting fly in the New York Times with this, calling Rumsfeld "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically," and a man who "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." Eaton ran the program to train the Iraqi military.

Then there is Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the former operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Time Magazine here.

Kaplan summarizes Newbold saying he -
... not only slams the secretary and what he calls "the unnecessary war" but also urges active-duty officers who share his views to speak up. Newbold resigned his position in late 2002 - quite a gesture, since he was widely regarded as a candidate for the next Marine Corps commandant. His fellow officers knew he resigned over the coming war in Iraq. The public and the president did not. He writes in Time: I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat - al Qaeda. ... [T]he Pentagon's military leaders ... with few exceptions, acted timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction. ... It is time for senior military leaders to discard caution in expressing their views and ensure that the President hears them clearly. And that we won't be fooled again.

Newbold isn't urging active-duty senior officers to go public, just to speak out directly to the president (whose handlers famously filter the bad news from official reports before they hit the Oval Office). Still, in a climate where the secretary of defense hammers three-star generals for daring to suggest that our troops in Iraq are fighting "insurgents" and not just "terrorists," Newbold's invocation reads like a revolutionary manifesto. Generals of the Pentagon, unite! You have nothing to lose but your stars!

If Rumsfeld is in less danger than these calls for his head might suggest, it's in part because not many generals want to lose those stars - and quite a lot of colonels would like to earn some. (Remember: Zinni, Eaton, and Newbold are retired generals; they have no more promotions to risk.)
Maybe so, but they're moving the new narrative along.

And Kaplan was writing before the fourth retired general weighed in, and the Post carried that on page one, Thursday, April 13, with this -
The retired commander of key forces in Iraq called yesterday for Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down, joining several other former top military commanders who have harshly criticized the defense secretary's authoritarian style for making the military's job more difficult.

"I think we need a fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, said in an interview. "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork."

Batiste noted that many of his peers feel the same way. "It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense," he said earlier yesterday on CNN.

Batiste's comments resonate especially within the Army: It is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld. Also, before going to Iraq, he worked at the highest level of the Pentagon, serving as the senior military assistant to Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense.

Batiste said he believes that the administration's handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles, such as unity of command and unity of effort. In other interviews, Batiste has said he thinks the violation of another military principle - ensuring there are enough forces - helped create the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal by putting too much responsibility on incompetent officers and undertrained troops.

... Other retired generals said they think it is unlikely that the denunciations of Rumsfeld and his aides will cease.

"A lot of them are hugely frustrated," in part because Rumsfeld gave the impression that "military advice was neither required nor desired" in the planning for the Iraq war, said retired Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who until last year commanded Marine forces in the Pacific Theater. He said he is sensing much anger among Americans over the administration's handling of the war and thinks the continuing criticism from military professionals will fuel that anger as the November elections approach. He declined to discuss his own views.

Another retired officer, Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, said he believes that his peer group is "a pretty closemouthed bunch" but that, even so, his sense is "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out."

He emphatically agrees, Riggs said, explaining that he believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have "made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict."
The narrative sure has changed, and freed up a lot of people. They're saying off things, and with Batiste there goes Big Red - "No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great - Duty First."

This is a losing streak with no possible recovery. If Bush fired Rumsfeld? That would just make things worse, confirming a key person you lauded was, well, incompetent. So you keep him and let him prove it further?

It's the trap of the self-reinforcing losing streak. What to do? Cut taxes again? Nuke Iran? Say everyone is wrong about everything?

What was that about quicksand?

Posted by Alan at 23:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006 06:22 PDT home

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
Topic: Dissent

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, isn't in Paris. If you visit his site you'll discover he's visiting New York at the moment, getting a feel for the five boroughs, not the usual twenty or so arrondissement et communes de banlieue. And what should he run into Monday, 10 April? The day's massive rally in lower Manhattan of all the immigrants, legal and not, and their supporters, saying it sure would be nice to be real Americans. There are two photos below.
Three weeks spent in New York not doing any of the expected tours.

Instead of seeking the top lookout on the Empire State Building the toothpick sculptures in the lobby were closely examined and found to be lacking in fundamental craziness. On this trip Radio Ric managed to visit all five boroughs, with a blitz trip to Staten Island on the free ferry, and a mini tour of the Bronx, to see its Little Italy, closed alas, on account of Palm Sunday. Junior's in Brooklyn discovered - it wasn't lost - and Junior's in Grand Central tested and found to be a midtown best - if eating in a vaulted, stone train station is your thing.

But the high point of the excursion was the mass protest manif in lower Manhattan on Monday, when the washers and dish dryers, landscape artists and cleaning ladies variados turned out en masse to acclaim their belief in the American Way of Life, by waving flags of the United States, Mexico, Columbia, Peru and other well-known countries that supply America with the essential manpower, to keep the Upper East and West sides in gravy. For Americans who took part, it was a true tear-jerker. Somebody believes in America!

News reports fell far short of telling the story and fell shorter on the turnout count. Folks were pouring out of the subway exits all over lower Manhattan, filling all the spaces allowed by the police - later said to fill fifteen downtown blocks. But there were more than that. All in all, somewhat thrilling. Where there's so much hope it wouldn't hurt if the Anglos joined.

Immigrant Rights Rally, lower Manhattan, Monday 10 April, 2006

Immigrant Rights Rally, lower Manhattan, Monday 10 April, 2006

Text and Photos Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 19:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006 19:04 PDT home

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

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