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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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Friday, 23 June 2006
Spin: Make Folks Worry, and Hope They Jump to Conclusions
Topic: Perspective

Spin: Make Folks Worry, and Hope They Jump to Conclusions

That defense attorney who runs the site Talk Left - where all sorts of attorneys arguing in court for their clients against the administration on this issue or that, or springing innocent people from death row, or defending detainees at Guantánamo, have their say - is Jeralyn Merritt. Friday, June 23, she shifted from her site to MSNBC to cover for their NYU journalism professor and political expert Eric Alterman. He's in Europe working on anther book, as if When Presidents Lie wasn't enough. So we're talking the opposition here. These are people unhappy with how things are going these days. They used to be in the minority. Things change.

In any event, it was her job to offer comment on the big events at the end of the week, and that called for making a decision - what big and what's not? And her contention? This - "While for some, the big story today is the indictment of wannabe warriors in Florida, I think the government's attempt to prevent the media from publishing articles about the Administration's use of an international financial cooperative's database to obtain banking records without judicial authorization is more compelling."

Of course she doesn't note the two are connected. But if it's going to come out - no matter how you plead with or threaten the press - that you are, in an entirely new area, doing massive snooping with no warrants or any oversight of any kind, and you've been doing it for five years without the courts or congress knowing a thing, then that's a good time to remind the wary that you really can catch the bad guys, so you need all your tools, even if you're breaking the law and lying. It softens the blow. It's for a greater good, keeping everyone alive.

The guys in Florida weren't caught by data-mining billions of personal financial records gathered and filed over the last five years and deciding who might seem a bit suspicious, but the implication is there - it could have helped, or might help in the future. The hapless Florida Seven are paraded for us, in handcuffs and the orange jail jumpsuits, as a reminder that things you really shouldn't do sometimes just need to be done. Not that there's any direct connection in this case, but massive financial snooping must be good for us all, you see. It could help, hypothetically. And of course these guys are the masters of carefully saying there may be "no explicit connection" but there could be - Saddam and 9/11, al Qaeda and Saddam, WMD and all the rest. You just don't say it flat out. You let people decide. So the Florida arrests were a sort of PR thing - these angry and useless men may be hopeless jerks with no real connection to the bad guys - but think about it. There are bad guys out there, even if these weren't, and do you want to tie the hands of those trying to protect you by making them play by the rules, when the bad guys don't?

It's all in the timing. The financial records story was going to hit the Friday morning papers. Announce you arrested the nefarious plotters Thursday night. It's just too bad these plotters weren't very nefarious.

The Washington Post account of the Florida arrests is here, the Associated Press account of the administration's attempts to get the press to not print a word of it here, and the New York Times discussion of how the administration got the records without any judicial authorization here. It's pretty bizarre.

Who knew there was this Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT, of course), a cooperative in Brussels linking almost eight thousand banks and brokerage houses all over the world, maintaining records of billions of international financial transactions each year? That was just too tempting, and here the Post reports we've wanted access to their records since the 1990s, but it was only after September 11, 2001, that President Bush insisted he had the authority to compel them. It's that Article II thing - the president doesn't have to answer to anyone, as he can break the rules for the greater good - it's his job to do so. Yep, we're told some government and industry authorities said releasing all these detailed private records to the president's Department of the Treasury would "shake confidence in the banking system." People expect privacy. But that's too bad, and President Bush overrode all the objections and invoked his powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to "investigate, regulate or prohibit" any foreign financial transaction linked to "an unusual and extraordinary threat." September 11 changed everything, as you know.

And no one was supposed to know - Treasury officials specifically asked the New York Times and Los Angeles Times not to report on this. You just don't let the bad guys know you have all the transition records of most everything around the world and you're looking for anything you can find - you just don't reveal such things to the enemy. You don't tip them off.

But one has to assume the bad guys knew they were being watched. The real reason to keep a lid on this may have been to prevent a banking crisis - much of business relies on your competitors not knowing what money is moving where, and if the folks in Brussels are handing absolutely everything over to the US Treasury folks, no questions asked, you have to worry what information could be leaked, or what might be purchased from a low-level investigator with an adjustable rate mortgage about to skyrocket. That doesn't make you happy.

But the newspapers refused to hold back the story.

The New York Times (Bill Keller) - "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."

The Los Angeles Times (Dean Baquet) - "We weighed the government's arguments carefully, but in the end we determined that it was in the public interest to publish information about the extraordinary reach of this program. It is part of the continuing national debate over the aggressive measures employed by the government."

And the Los Angeles Times reported on privacy advocates having a problem with the technology here - "link analysis." That can drag in almost anyone, like harmless folks who have routine financial dealings with "terrorist suspects." You invested in the mortgage reinsurance market and six step removed someone bought a house next door to some sneaky middle-eastern fellow who know some in Pakistan who knew someone in Kabul, and so on. It gets tricky, no outside governmental oversight body - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or some grand jury- ever monitors the subpoenas served on SWIFT.

Jeralyn Merritt does note that the New York Times published its report, the Treasury Department issued an official statement - the program is perfectly legal and these media reports will compromise it. And the Post Post reports that Stuart Levey, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the program "is on rock solid ground." The White House? That was predictable - "We are disappointed that once again the New York Times has chosen to expose a classified program that is working to protect Americans."

Then there are the contradictions. Stuart Levey, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, says the program wasn't data mining at all - a specific name had to be typed into the database request. But the Post reports this -
That was not the case when the program began in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, when Bush signed Executive Order 13224 going after al-Qaeda's finances. Officials said far more information was collected early on, often on people who had nothing to do with al-Qaeda but whose Muslim names or businesses were similar to those used by suspected members of al-Qaeda. That method flooded the intelligence community with reams of material that was laborious to go through and repeatedly misled investigators.
Maybe the Post is lying, or their sources on the inside want to make the administration look bad, and are lying. Or maybe it's true.

Someone is worried, like Congressman Markey from Massachusetts here -
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. and co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, said today that there were disturbing similarities between the bank-monitoring program and the secret surveillance program for telephone calls that was revealed last year. "Like the domestic surveillance program exposed last December, the Bush administration's efforts to tap into the financial records of thousands of Americans appear to rely on justifications concocted without regard to current law," Markey said in a statement.

"If the administration wants to fight terrorism legally, then it should ask for the authority it needs and then follow the law that Congress passes," Markey said. "Don't claim 'temporary emergency' and then operate in secret for five years."
But why not? This congress won't make waves. And who said anything about fighting terrorism legally?

Anyway, all this information was obtained from national security letters, those administrative subpoenas. No judge approved them.

We do a lot of that these days, as the Post noted here -
The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people - are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans. Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.
Welcome to the funhouse.

Jeralyn Merritt 's cry in the dark - "The newspapers were right to publish reports on the program. We have an Administration that operates in incredible secrecy and a President who believes he can trump the will of Congress and bypass the Courts. Given the NSA warrantless electronic surveillance program and the huge surge in the use of national security letters to obtain our phone records and more, we cannot just take them at their word."

You just have to trust they'd never let information leak, or use what they've learned for political purposes or financial gain. Have they ever misled anyone, after all?

And what about those plotters in Florida? How close were we to losing the Sears Tower in Chicago and the ten thousand souls who work there every day?

There's this -
The seven men arrested in an alleged terrorist plot believed they were conspiring with al Qaeda ''to levy war against the United States'' in attacks that would ''be just as good or greater than 9/11,'' according to a federal indictment unsealed this morning.

The campaign, which never advanced beyond the discussion stage, would begin with the bombing of the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago, according to the indictment.

... They apparently never had any contact with authentic representatives of al Qaeda. They were not able to obtain explosives, federal officials said.

"It was more aspirational than operational," John Pistole, the FBI's deputy director, said during the Washington news conference.

But the group asked the supposed al Qaeda representative to provide machine guns, boots, uniforms and vehicles, the indictment said.
So let's see here - they had no money, no weapons, and had no contact with actual terrorists. And they were really unhappy didn't have uniforms, which is odd, as terrorists don't wear uniforms. That defeats the whole idea. They were unclear on the concept here, but still the Attorney General said - "These homegrown terrorists might prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda." He's careful with the word "might." You're supposed to extrapolate.

As for that "might" Greg Saunders says this -
At this point, those of us who lived in Oklahoma in the mid-90's let out a collective "No shit, dumbass." It's nice for the head of the Justice Department to state this reality, but they're the same ones who have been spent the last half-decade refusing the use the word "terrorist" to describe any American criminals who aren't SUV-hating hippies. But even compared to the "eco-terrorists" (who have actually firebombed SUV dealerships), these guys were smaller than small-time. These arrests weren't even the result of a law enforcement operation; they just got turned in by the neighborhood watch -

Pistole, the FBI official, said the case was broken through a tip from the public. ''They came to our attention through pepple who were alert in the community,'' he said.

Other authorities emphasized that the public was not in danger and all activities - including today's parade in honor of the Miami Heat's NBA championship - should proceed without undue alarm.

I wish these "other authorities" were on CNN. Instead we're stuck with anchors and "experts" talking about how these dorks considered themselves "soldiers." Which might be scary if these guys weren't so pathetic that they couldn't even buy their own damn shoes -

Batiste gave the supposed al Qaeda representative a shopping list of materials he needed - boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles.

Six days later, Batiste outlined his mission to wage war against the U.S. government from within using an army of his ''soldiers'' to help destroy the Sears Tower. He also gave the informant a list of shoe sizes for his soldiers.

I knew a guy a few years ago who would dress up like a ninja and sneak around his college campus. He also would show up at poetry readings wearing a Cobra Commander mask and shout threats at the audience along the lines of "You will all face destruction! COBRAAAA!!!". He wasn't a terrorist, he was just crazy. Same goes with these seven morons in Miami.
Saunders' conclusion - "You know the Bush Administration has lost its mojo when they can't even fake a terror alert well."

Yeah, well, they had to do something, as fancifully imagined by Taylor Marsh here -
Hey, Alberto Gonzales here.

So, I'm sitting around in my air conditioned office in Washington the other day thinking, I need to make an arrest. It's just been way too quiet lately and the boss is taking incoming from generals, veterans and military families on Iraq. I need to do something. I need to prove we're fighting them "over here" to make... well, anyway, we need to keep America safe.

Anyway, an FBI agent walks in and starts talking about a tip we just got from someone down in Miami. With Jeb down there it's friendly territory anyway, so I thought, what the hell, right? Next, I allocate some funds and sign off on an operational request. We called it Operation Ninja, and then my personal FBI agent buddy - not a regular FBI agent, but one of our Republican moles - gets on the phone to Florida.

So, now I'm a Ninja fighter. You may ask, why am I calling the bad ass terrorists in Florida Ninjas? Because they dressed up in "ninja clothing" to disguise their purpose and to shape shift between good and evil doers. It was on cable. It's true.

But after my FBI agent calls the head Ninja, a problem arises. Sure, they want to blow up stuff and raise hell in America. After all, that's what homegrown terrorists do. But the Florida Ninjas don't have a camera to take pictures of the buildings they want to blow up.

They don't have boots.

They don't have guns, equipment or any weapons of any kind. They don't even have explosives. There was "no threat from this cell."

They don't even have a van to case the building they hope to target.

That means more money and set up costs for me, so that the Florida Ninjas can set up shop so I can go in and arrest them for plotting terrorism. Well, this is a presidential pain.

And I have to do all this while also planning a big fancy blow out press conference for when I arrest the Florida Ninjas. Sheesh. An attorney general's job is never done.

Then I find out that there's been "absolutely no plotting" from these "mutant jihadists." The mainstream press is also calling them "incompetent wannabes." Yeah, but they're MY incompetent wannabes. I made these guys. These evil doers are mine.
Marsh - "Color me cynical, but wake up and smell the election year fear campaign. Hear Karl Rove hiss. I'm all for catching terrorists, but when you catch a bunch of wannabe jihadists in ninja clothing just arrest them. Do you need to call a glory hound press conference?"

Yes, you do. It was the banking thing.

But then there's the logic problem. It's hard to maintain the war rationale now in play - "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here."

You just don't say, "They're here, folks." People do notice.

Spin is hard work.

Posted by Alan at 23:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 23 June 2006 23:19 PDT home

Thursday, 22 June 2006
About This War
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

About This War

Sometimes, when things are on your mind and you can't quite find the words to pin down what it is that's bothering you it helps to do some reading. It's that old thing about language and epistemology - the medium of thought is language, not just the words, but the words put together in such a way that, when they fall just right, you finally realize what the issue is. Otherwise you just have a vague, uncomfortable mix of unsettling feelings. But then you find someone providing the words to "express" that unease and, often to your surprise, you have the thing in hand - you can think about it, not just mope around and feel ill at ease. Good poetry is like that, finding the exactly words for what disconcerts, and making it something that can be considered. It was hard to explain that to the students in the English class back in the seventies, as it's one of those odd ideas, that the poem they don't want to discuss anyway really doesn't "mean" anything at all - as Archibald MacLeish puts it Ars Poetica, "A poem does not mean, but be" (text here). It's expression, not description, and certainly not an essay out to make a point. It's bringing what was outside language, and not accessible (not "thinkable"), and making it actually available to the mind. And that's pretty neat, and too, often a great relief - you finally get the words that make it possible deal with the big stuff in life, or the small and funny stuff. No one wants to go through life feeling vaguely uneasy, or even vaguely happy, and not be able to explain or express either, or much of anything, even to themselves. We all want to make sense of things. And that takes words. It takes language.

But it's not just poetry that does that. Many are uneasy about what's happening in the world, and in this country, and read everything they can, or listen to the talking heads on the radio or television, hoping someone will say the "Ah Ha!" words that ease the uneasiness, as it were - the words that pull all the uneasy feelings into the words that make it all accessible. We all want to make sense of things. And that takes words. It takes language. Yes, some find such "relief" reading or listening to Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh. Some prefer Al Franken or Bill Clinton. The impulse is the same - making sense of things. The primary sources are all spinning you this way or that - John Murtha one way and George Bush the other, for example. You try to sort it all out. You turn to the words of those who say they have done just that. You get a match with the words that ease your inarticulate discomfort - or you don't and keep trying.

This is all complicated by the net. There are a million voices out there, and many million words. How do you find a match - the "Ah Ha!" words that ease the uneasiness?

Here's a shortcut. Try Arthur Silber at "The Power of Narrative" here - and yes, the name of his site indicates he knows just what he's doing, building the narratives you might find useful, finding the words that make it possible to think about things that made you really uneasy but you just couldn't nail down.

And this particular link he's trying out some ideas, some language, that offers a way to think about the big issue of the day, our war in Iraq. He pulls in some stuff from Jacob Hornberger and tries out some formulations that might help.

A few days earlier he had written this regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq, something he says almost all politicians and our media ignore entirely -
This is the foundational point, one that is almost never acknowledged in our public debates. Iraq constituted no threat to us, and our leaders knew it. Therefore, our invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are naked acts of aggression. To fall back on the defense of "good intentions" is to confess that your actions have caused nothing but disaster and death - but that you "meant well." None of the Iraqis who have suffered so grievously or who are now dead, and none of the Americans and others who have been horribly wounded or killed, gives a damn about anyone's intentions, good or otherwise. Neither should any decent and compassionate human being.
That's blunt, and of course no one discusses it, but with the majority of us now thinking the war in Iraq was a stunningly stupid idea, and having any number of reasons to think so, this cuts deeper. It's not really one of those "what was oft' thought but ne'er so well expressed" things, because no one was probably "thinking" this, they just sensed it was so, but didn't have the words. No WMD, no ties to al Qaeda, so we're told the real reason for the Iraq move was to bring democracy to these people, because that's a good thing to do. People were uneasy with that, and still are. This nails it - it's been a deadly mess but we really, really meant well, just doesn't cut it. We know better.

Then there was this interesting question in the Detroit News - "Some war critics are suggesting Iraq terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi should have been arrested and prosecuted rather than bombed into oblivion. Why expose American troops to the danger of an arrest, when bombs work so well?"

That sets off Jacob Hornberger here, suggesting one answer is so a five-year-old Iraqi girl isn't killed -
Of course, I don't know whether the Detroit News editorial board, if pressed, would say that the death of that little Iraqi girl was "worth it." Maybe the board wasn't even aware that that little girl had been killed by the bombs that killed Zarqawi when it published its editorial. But I do know one thing: killing Iraqi children and other such "collateral damage" has long been acceptable and even "worth it" to U.S. officials as part of their long-time foreign policy toward Iraq.

This U.S. government mindset was expressed perfectly by former U.S. official Madeleine Albright when she stated that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the U.S. and UN sanctions against Iraq had, in fact, been "worth it." By "it" she was referring to the U.S. attempt to oust Saddam Hussein from power through the use of the sanctions. Even though that attempt did not succeed, U.S. officials still felt that the deaths of the Iraqi children had been worth trying to get rid of Saddam.
Yeah, yeah. As Silber says, some would argue that such "collateral damage" is just an unfortunate byproduct of war - "War is brutal. People get killed in war. Compared with the two world wars, not that many people have been killed in Iraq, proponents of the Iraq war and occupation would claim."

Hornberger -
Such claims, however, miss an important point: U.S. military forces have no right, legal or moral, even to be in Iraq killing anyone. Why? Because neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States. The Iraqi people had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. Thus, this was an optional war against Iraq, one that President Bush and his military forces did not have to wage.

The attack on Iraq was akin to, say, attacking Bolivia or Uruguay or Mongolia, after 9/11. Those countries also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and so it would have been illegal and immoral for President Bush to have ordered an invasion and occupation of those countries as well. To belabor the obvious, the fact that some people attacked the United States on 9/11 didn't give the United States the right to attack countries that didn't have anything to do with the 9/11 attacks.

That made the United States the aggressor nation and Iraq the defending nation in this conflict. That incontrovertible fact holds deep moral implications, as well as legal ones, for U.S. soldiers who kill people in Iraq, including people who are simply trying to oust the occupiers from Iraq. Don't forget that aggressive war was punished as a war crime at Nuremberg.

... Moreover, what people often forget is that the United States is no longer at war in Iraq. This is an occupation, not a war. The war ended when Saddam Hussein's government fell. At that point, U.S. forces could have exited the country. (Or they could have exited the country when it became obvious that Saddam's infamous WMDs were nonexistent.) Instead, the president opted to have the troops remain in Iraq to "rebuild" the country and to establish "democracy," and the troops opted to obey his orders to do so. Occupying Iraq, like invading Iraq, was an optional course of action.
But then, now we are an occupation force serving a sovereign regime, however dysfunctional and new, and that makes us pretty much the domestic police force there. What they have isn't up and running yet.

But the folks we have there now aren't thinking that way. That's not what they were trained to do, and Hornberger sees a problem -
It's not difficult to see that the military holds the Bill of Rights in contempt, which is precisely why the Pentagon established its torture and sex abuse camps in Cuba and former Soviet-bloc countries - so as to avoid the constraints of the U.S. Constitution and any interference by our country's federal judiciary.

It is not a coincidence that in the Pentagon's three-year effort to "rebuild" Iraq it has done nothing to construct a judicial system that would have independent judges issuing search and arrest warrants or that would protect due process, habeas corpus, jury trials, and the right to counsel. To the military, all that is anathema, not only because it would presumably enable lots of guilty people to go free but also because it might inhibit the ability of the military to take out people without having to go through all those legal and technical niceties.

... More important, all too many Americans have yet to confront the moral implications of invading and occupying Iraq. U.S. officials continue to exhort the American people to judge the war and occupation on whether it proves to be "successful" in establishing "stability" and "democracy" in Iraq. If so, the idea will be that the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, including countless Iraqi children, will have been worth it. It would be difficult to find a more morally repugnant position than that.
No kidding. That may be bothering people, and now they have the words that make it possible to think about that, seriously.

Silber piles on -
For obvious reasons, neither our political leaders nor our media will confront this fact in a straightforward manner. As Hornberger says, to do so would be to acknowledge that our government and our military have acted in the most profoundly immoral manner imaginable. And ... an attack on Iran would multiply the scope of the immorality involved by many factors.

Our widespread determination to avoid these fundamental issues leads to ludicrous results, including much of the reaction to the death of Zarqawi. Here I am not concerned with the fact that Zarqawi's death will not make the slightest bit of difference to Iraq's future - although it certainly will not, the unceasing propaganda of our government to the contrary notwithstanding. Zarqawi was a comparatively minor figure, and we have unleashed much larger forces. At the moment, it would appear that no one and nothing can control or diminish those larger forces to the required degree.

In the wake of Zarqawi's death, many supporters of Bush and our foreign policy strongly condemned those of us who failed to adopt the celebratory tone they demanded.

... "Look how consumed you are by hatred for America and for Bush!" the hawks bleated. "You can't even be happy that this monstrous son of a bitch has been killed!" Zarqawi was certainly a monstrous son of a bitch, and I shed no tears for him personally. But am I happy that he was killed? No, I most certainly am not - because our very presence in Iraq represents an act of unforgivable immorality. We should never have been there to kill him in the first place. But that is precisely the point that the hawks want all of us to forget, and to never acknowledge under any circumstances.

This is what happens what you forget basic moral principles, and when you seek to obliterate the chain of events that brought us to where we are today. Each event is judged in isolation, completely disconnected from every relevant fact. But judgments made in this fashion are completely meaningless and devoid of content: events occur in a complex, specific context, and it is that context that reveals their meaning and their moral import. Discard the context, and judgments are utterly arbitrary. Yet this is essentially the manner in which all our national debates now take place.
That really is what happens when you can't find the words to express that something is wrong here. These two guys do. And yeah, this all is what many of us were sort of thinking. But we didn't have the words. Now we do.

But then, given events of Thursday, June 22, the war will go on -
The GOP-controlled Senate gave an election-year endorsement to President Bush's Iraq policy on Thursday, soundly rejecting Democratic demands to withdraw troops from the three-year-old war that has grown increasingly unpopular.

Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the Democrats' position, saying on CNN, "Absolutely the worst possible thing we could do at this point would be to validate and encourage the terrorists by doing exactly what they want us to do, which is to leave."

... In back-to-back votes, the Senate agreed with the president and turned back two Democratic proposals to begin withdrawing most of the 127,000 American forces in the war zone.

The first, offered by Sen. John Kerry and supported by 11 other Democrats and one independent but no Republicans, would have required the administration to start pulling troops out by year's end. It also would have set a deadline of July 2007 for all combat forces to leave.

... Most senators didn't agree, and the proposal fell on a 86-13 vote.

Minutes later, the Senate defeated by 60-39 a resolution to urge the administration to begin "a phased redeployment of U.S. forces" sometime this year. The resolution would not have set a deadline for the end of the
U.S. presence in Iraq.

That vote was largely along party lines.

... On Capitol Hill, the two parties' competing assessments previewed likely lines of attack little more than four months before Election Day.

... Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have staged debates on Iraq for two weeks, with both sides maneuvering for the political upper hand in a midterm election year. Both the House and Senate soundly defeated withdrawal timetables last week. Thursday's Senate votes showed up in campaign literature shortly after they were cast.
The lines are drawn, and what the Republican have left - with the war so unpopular and the chaos in the streets of Baghdad, Afghanistan going badly and its prime minister turning on us, and the world turning on us even more, and the ongoing scandals from Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff to the crew of thieves in Ohio, with the head of all government procurement just convicted on four felonies counts, the Marine investigations of a possible massacre here and premeditated murder there - is name calling. Is seems proposing options and plans makes you a coward who wants to cut and run.

How odd. And Josh Marshall puts it nicely here -
I'm a bit confused. I'm hearing a lot of reports about Republicans chanting about staying in Iraq forever, the danger of ever withdrawing our troops. There's Cheney. There's Frist. I can't say I've done a systematic scan of all media. I'm just saying what I've happened across during a day of work. And I'm not seeing any Dems. Not hearing any clear message.

What Republicans want is More of the Same.

That's the motto. More of the Same.

The president says he wants to stay in Iraq for at least three more years. Virtually every Republican agrees. Three more years. They approve the course the president has set.

They're for More of the Same. They don't have a plan. They just want to stay indefinitely.

They're just for More of the Same.

I must say it drives me to distraction that Democrats aren't saying this more clearly. Get on TV. Get on the radio. Why cede all the ground to the likes of Dick Cheney?
Why? Because you'll be called out as a coward if you do. That's the real "power of narrative."

Yes, it makes no sense. Alternatives are not treason. But in an election year they are, even sensible ones - not saying that these were. It's really not the substance of any alternative, of course. It's proposing one at all. Doing that makes you a quitter who wants to cede the world to the bad guys. That's the narrative. We'll see if that flies, come November.

And the president has famously said that when the troops come home is up to the next president. That's three more years.

But there are alternatives.

James Wimberley discuss them here -
The operative part of House Resolution 861 - the one that just passed on a strict party split - was the refusal to set a withdrawal date from Iraq. I found the half-baked rhetoric of the preamble at least as interesting, for it shows the depths of confusion into which US policy has fallen; and, by the same token, the extent of Osama bin Laden's strategic victory.

He started from a very difficult position. Most jihadi Muslims, including the Taliban, Chechen autonomists, Hamas, and al-Zarqawi follow the fairly realistic "near enemy" strategy aimed at "liberating" Muslim majority populations into the delights of fundamentalist rule. He leads a small minority group of jihadis espousing an apparently insane "far enemy" strategy directed at the United States as the ultimate guarantor of the vile regimes all jihadis want to overthrow: secular, corrupt rulers of Muslim countries and of course Israel.
That is discussed in detail, and a good read, but what Wimberley works to is a hypothetical American policy aimed at actually winning in a reasonable time frame, in perhaps then years.

What would that be?

This -
1. Counterattack as narrowly as possible. Isolate bin Laden and his followers from other Muslims, even other jihadis; cut the links of sympathy from the mass of Muslims.

2. Return to the best values of American tradition: integrity, steadfastness, due process, magnanimity, and "a decent regard to the opinions of mankind". This is essential to the first objective.

Consequently the third becomes:

3. When his movement is weakened and isolated, destroy it.

The style of the conflict should be inspired by the half-century of containment of Soviet communism. Global jihadism as an ideology is worthless fantasy and cannot survive more than a few decades. US policy should be principled; Fabian; patient; calculating; multilateral and multi-level; and political ahead of military. A few ingredients:

• Recognise and name your enemy. It is Al-Qaeda, a small jihadi faction, and its emulators. It isn't even all jihadis. Near-enemy jihadis have a lot of different enemies, Russia, Israel, Mubarak's Egypt, Musharraf's Pakistan, etc. America's first problem is the few jihadis that kill Americans as such.

• Refuse bin Laden's vainglorious gambit of defining the conflict as a war. Insist you fight criminals: outlaws, pirates, enemies of humanity. When they are captured, try them as such. Take the direction of the conflict away from the Pentagon.

• "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Avoid the hysterical and alienating rhetoric that HR 861 exemplifies, advertising fear and weakness. This is a great power against a couple of hundred fanatics; a threat, but not an existential one.

• Divide and conquer. Don't fall into bin Laden's trap of defining the conflict as one. Set jihadis against each other; split jihadis from peaceful Muslim fundamentalists, fundamentalists from modernizers.

• Cooperate with allies but don't let them set your priorities. Hamas is Israel's enemy, not America's. The alliance with Israel may lead America to boycott Hamas; or an interest in splitting jihadism may point to a dialogue. Don't pretend there is no tradeoff or that interests are identical.

• Show a determination to moralize the conflict with trials of American war criminals and compensation to their victims. Close GITMO and other extralegal camps. Bring all detainees into the ordinary criminal justice system, or release them.

• Accept civilian casualties stoically. This is the only area where the metaphor of war is useful. There's no reason to think that al-Qaeda is capable of inflicting 9/11 casualties on a regular basis, but make it clear that the USA could stand them indefinitely without changing its core foreign policies.

• Accept failure in Iraq and get out.
Now there an odd concept here - stop calling this a war and giving them status of some great military power. Call them thugs and go after them, all out, as stupid thugs, an treat them with the appropriate contempt. Belittle them.

It is an alternative. For some of us this is a match - the "Ah Ha!" words that ease the uneasiness, at it were.

It'll never happen. The administration is too invested in the narrative they've got humming along now. But it's a thought.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006 22:35 PDT home

Wednesday, 21 June 2006
A Day Off
Topic: Announcements

A Day Off

No commentary today - an old friend needed to get some beach time. For some shots of the day at Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, click here. Additional photos will be posted in this Sunday's Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site. This beach is forty miles south of Los Angeles, and the trip took all day. What happened in the world in those hours had to wait. Commentary will resume here soon.

Posted by Alan at 21:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006 21:59 PDT home

Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Summer Reading - A Warning
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Summer Reading - A Warning

Tuesday, June 20, 2006, the day before summer began, seemed a good time to take a break from political commentary. And in his "here's summer" item, Garrison Keillor pretty much sums up why -
White custardy clouds in the blueberry sky and here I am, sprawled on a chaise on the porch, ambition leaking out of me like water through cupped hands. Ambition has left the building. Hello, summer.

The country is in danger but someone else can rally to defend it, not me. Flag-burning gay married men are taxing dead people, and godless liberals, using 9/11 widows for cover, are in cahoots with jihadists, radioing coordinates of secret nuclear sites, lighting bonfires in meadows to guide enemy bombers to their targets, but the Hardy boys will have to track them down. I'm done. I have no wish to accomplish anything other than fetch more of this iced mint tea and crank the chaise back for maximum relaxability. Whatever my goals were last week - to make a difference in the world, to light a candle and follow a different drummer, perhaps teach a man to fish - my new goal is to get out of stuff. I am no longer available for work. So don't ask.
So that about sums it up. Relax in the shade with a good book.

The problem is the book everyone seems to be talking about on the first day of summer is The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind -
In this troubling portrait of the war on terror, America's intelligence agencies confront not just al-Qaeda but the Bush administration's politicized incompetence. Journalist Suskind (The Price of Loyalty) follows the triumphs and failures of the "invisibles"- the counterterrorism experts at the NSA, the FBI and especially the CIA - as they painstakingly track terrorists' communications and financial transactions, interrogate prisoners and cultivate elusive al-Qaeda informants. Unfortunately, he contends, their meticulous intelligence-sifting went unappreciated by administration policymakers, especially Dick Cheney, who formulated an overriding "one percent" doctrine: threats with even a 1% likelihood must be treated as certainties. The result was "the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response," most glaringly in the trumped-up alarm over Iraqi WMDs. In dramatizing the tensions between CIA professionals and White House ideologues, Suskind makes his sympathies clear: CIA chief George Tenet, pressured to align intelligence with administration policy, emerges as a tragic fall guy, while President Bush comes off as a dunce and a bully, likened by some observers to a ventriloquist's dummy on Cheney's knee. Suskind's novelistic scene-setting - "Condi looked up, impatiently" - sometimes meanders. But he assembles perhaps the most detailed, revealing account yet of American counterterrorism efforts and a hard-hitting critique of their direction.
Or so says Publishers Weekly.

Suskind is at it again.

In January 2004 it was The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill - that would be O'Neill the former Treasury Secretary, and it was about how Bush was more than a bit disengaged - "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people" - and was being manipulated by his senior staff ("a Praetorian guard") and made the case that the White House was intent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein long before Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - "It was all about finding a way to do it." No one was buying that at the time, but more and more do now.

And in these pages and most everywhere else people notice what he reported in October 2004 in the New York Times here, starting that whole "reality-based" thing - he said in 2002 a White House "senior adviser" said this: "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.'" That's famous now. These guys don't think much of reality.

And too there was that item in Esquire in January 2003 (here) when he managed to get the former head of the president's office of faith-based initiatives, John DiIulio, to say some awful this -- "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," and "What you've got is everything - and I mean everything - being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." Ouch. He's good at getting people to talk, and say what they probably shouldn't say.

And now there's this, full of interesting tidbits, like the CIA nickname for Vice President Cheney is Edgar - for Edgar Bergen, as in Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

Actually, that may be a major point. Cheney is running the show. Bush is the ventriloquist's dummy.

Many noticed that, and that was covered in these pages, April 4, 2004, in Edgar Bergen and his wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy, At the time, the 9/11 Commission wanted to talk with Bush and Cheney - how did this all happen? - and each had agreed only to individual "visits" with the two co-chairs of the ten member panel, not the full ten-member panel, and only for one hour each, and not under oath, and with no written record of the what was said - no note-taking or any of that stuff. But then the administration's attorney sent a note with this -
I would also like to take this occasion to offer an accommodation on another issue on which we have not yet reached an agreement - commission access to the president and vice president. I am authorized to advise you that the president and vice president have agreed to one joint private session with all 10 commissioners.
This did lead some to conclude the Bush was afraid to face these ten questioners without Dick Cheney by his side to tell him what he was thinking back then, and to tell him what he did back then, and to remind him of why he did whatever it was that he did back then - so Bush could then coherently answer the questions posed to him. The problem' here was that this just made Bush look as if he could not think for himself or explain himself in a tight spot.

CNN's Aaron Brown - long gone now, replaced by the emotive Anderson Cooper - said this at the time -
There are problems you can't avoid and then there are problems that you create and we submit that the White House's problems with the 9/11 commission fall into that latter group. There never should have been any, at least not big ones, and there still has been hardly anything but big problems for the White House.

The White House opposed the creation of the commission, preferring it be left to Congress. The families objected. Polls showed the country did as well. The president gave in.

The White House resisted documents the commission said it needed and, after a nasty public spat, the White House relented again. When the commission said it needed more time, 60 more days to do its work, the White House again said no and, again under political pressure relented.

And now today, after weeks of saying no to public testimony by his national security adviser and absorbing all the political heats that position entailed, the president gave in again.
But he didn't appear alone. And now we get some background.

The New York Times explains in their review of the new Suskind book, that this is indeed so - the president is both incurious and uninformed, and time and time again is not fully briefed, as he just wouldn't get it. One example is here -
During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis' views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president's office and never reached the president.

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush - much of it shrouded, as well, by classification - meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."

"Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial," Mr. Suskind continues. "It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much."
So keep him in the dark, as anyway he likes it better that way? So it would seem. The less he knows the better. All the tin-foil hat conspiracy whacko theorists, hyperventilating that Cheney was and is running things and Bush was and is a boy-child kept in the dark and trotted out to say things for the rubes who like his Texas swagger, get their documentation. And they get a lot of it.

The Washington Post review hones in on another matter here, a small matter of the president flat-out lying to us all, then torturing a mentally ill man for information he didn't have -
One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" - a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics - travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.
But wait! There's more! -
"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety - against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each ? target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
This is a comedy of tragic errors, or a tragedy of comic errors, or as Andrew Sullivan says here - "This shallow, monstrous, weak, and petty man is still the president. God help us."

Then one of Sullivan's readers says this -
? A weak man bred to believe he is strong and a leader of men. Propelled to success by family and powerful friends, he is granted the world's foremost authority, but his victory is marred by controversy. At first he is insecure about his legitimacy, so he makes no bold moves and vacations at home where he is comfortable. Then, tragedy strikes, a historical moment that sears itself so immediately into the hearts of men that the date is marked forever: September the 11th. The leader asks God's guidance and feels a revelation: this is fate. He has been chosen to lead America and the world in this decisive historical moment. Imbued with a sense of purpose and divine right, not to mention a political landscape in which his word is the nation's command, he prepares to act. But he is still a weak, insecure man at heart, and he puts his faith not just in God, but in his right-hand men - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove. After all, he tells himself, they are also chosen to be in these positions at this time. He trusts them and he trusts their decisions to be the right ones, but in truth it is because he does not trust himself to question their judgments.

So our leader assumes the role of every bad manager - calling endlessly for unity, for strength and for faith, offering platitudes and placebos with no confidence in his own grasp on the policies that will solve the problem. And the people, rocked to their core by five jetliner-missiles, trust him, need to trust in their leaders. But as time passes, as the hubristic and imperial, aggressive policies of our leader's right-hand men become clear, as it becomes obvious that these men are above governing and providing for the people, We the People begin to see that we have misplaced our trust, twice. Perhaps these leaders are merely incompetent. Perhaps they have a grand agenda they believe is too important to the globe to be bothered with international humility. Whatever the case, our fearful leader can only fumble and obfuscate when a frustrated press and citizenry begin to ask, "What policies are you uniting us behind, exactly?"

And now here we are, having abdicated our Constitutional authority to an executive whose values do not include leveling with the American people, or treating other nations as equally sovereign. Congress festers with corruption and abdicates its oversight duties in the face of the executive's aggression. Judges are accused of 'activism' when they exercise their authority as a co-equal branch of government. The party in power is corrupt and beholden to the fundamentalists who secured its voting coalition. The opposition party scrambles for an appropriate vision but cannot seem to cohere or inspire. And We the People do not protest, they do not march, they do not riot to oppose torture in their name, or espionage conducted on them.

The stories that endure are those that speak to the rhythms of history - ambition breeds success breeds hubris breeds decadence breeds a downfall breeds introspection breeds spiritual rebirth breeds confidence breeds ambition and so on. This story has been told many times, in Rome, in France, in Britain, in Germany, in Russia, and now perhaps in America.
The right ignores all this of course, as here - "I think many are going to conclude it doesn't hold up and is basically just another attempt to hurt the Bush administration by sources within the CIA."

But see also Dan Froomkin in the Post here -
The part of Ron Suskind's new book that's getting all the attention this morning is his chilling disclosure that al-Qaeda apparently planned, then called off, a hydrogen cyanide gas attack in New York's subway in 2003.

But the longer-term significance of Suskind's new book - his second major expose of the Bush White House in three years - will likely be how it documents Vice President Cheney's singularly dominant role in the foreign policy and national security decisions typically attributed to President Bush.

Where other journalists smarmily imply that Cheney is in charge, or credulously relate White House assurances that he's not, Suskind appears to have gotten people with first-hand experience to actually describe how Cheney operates - and what he has wrought.
It all happened? Maybe so.

And Time is running excerpts and says this -
Two months had passed since 9/11, and at the highest levels of government, officials were worrying about a second wave of attacks. CIA Director George Tenet was briefing Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House Situation Room on the agency's latest concern: intelligence reports suggesting that Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had met with a radical Pakistani nuclear scientist around a campfire in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat - what he called a "low-probability, high-impact event' - and the U.S. had to do it 'in a way we haven't yet defined," writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.

And then Cheney defined it: "If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response." Suskind writes, "So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come."
So we know who's running things.

And there's Suskind being interviewed by Matt Lauer on the NBC Today Show here saying this "one percent" business "embraces suspicions as a threshold for action" -
Matt Lauer: "You think there are grave dangers in this type of policy. Why?"

Suskind: "The fact is for us as the most powerful nation in the world, what it does is it sends us into a kind of tactical ferocity where we're following everything, where we can't even have a one percent chance not be handled with the full force of the U.S. The difficulty is there is backlash when you act that way?"

Lauer: "Are you suggesting that Dick Cheney drives the policy of the administration?"

Suskind: "The evidence is that Cheney is the global thinker. Bush is an action-based man, but he operates within a framework that Cheney largely designed."
And the Time item notes when CIA Director Tenet and some of his briefers initially headed over to the White House to tell Bush about any new threat, Tenet has to go in first, he had to "prebrief Bush for four or five minutes" - it seems to have been a "common practice" so that "Bush could be authoritative and updated when others arrived." If Dick wasn't there he wouldn't know what to say? He's looked like he didn't have a clue?

This is depressing stuff, but it's summer. And as for beach reading, try a nice mystery or a romance. This book, arriving with the solstice, won't help you relax. You've been warned.

Posted by Alan at 23:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006 06:37 PDT home

Monday, 19 June 2006
It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even is a cruel one...
Topic: Couldn't be so...

It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even is a cruel one...

It's just getting too absurd. But it should be documented. The week of Monday, June 19, 2006, started out with more of the spiral downward, and a sense that those in charge are just somehow disconnected, in some existentially absurd way.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked tough, warning North Korea not to even think about testing that long-range missile that could reach California carrying a nuclear warhead (details here), and the whole world is worried, particularly Japan and South Korea. But when Bush took office our policy changed. We stopped direct all talks with them - no talks unless they stopped all their nuclear and missile programs first - then we named them part of the Axis of Evil, then we said we'd talk, but only as part of a group of six other nations, certainly not one-on-one, ever. That would just reward them by making it seem like they were a legitimate government. So they did what they did - went on with the bomb thing and the missile development. Why wouldn't they? We pinned our hopes on "regime change." Right. So now what?

Of course the way out of this is simple. Many have suggested it. This administration poured billions into an anti-ballistic missile program that even though it failed all its testes, we deployed anyway. Time to prove it's not a boondoggle, not just some way to make the friends and contributors to the Republicans richer than they already are. You say it works. You say it's not just a waste of money wecould have spent to deal with terrorists sneaking in small nukes through Long Beach or Baltimore? Fine. When the North Koreans launch the new missile to test it, shoot down the damned thing. It would be perfectly legal, over international waters, and the world would sigh in relief, and the supporters of the administration would cheer, and everyone, left and right would feel a whole lot safer. You say it works fine. So use it. Then again, it would be the first time it ever worked. This could be tricky. Better to bluster, and not be embarrassed.

Then there was this - "President Bush told Iran on Monday that nations worldwide won't back down from their demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment."

They should chat with Korea. We have steely resolve. They keep working on the uranium technology. And why wouldn't they?

Of course this is all a charade. As the second buttress of the Axis of Evil, we don't see Iran as it is as a legitimate government either. We want the youth there to rise up and unleash the hidden American in each of their souls, and throw out the clerics, and so on. That is our stated aim. We set many millions aside for the effort - to fund the rebels, to bring on the democratic revolution. Dick Cheney's daughter - the other one, not the lesbian one with the new book - is in charge of that effort. You could look it up.

So we won't back down on our demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment. Of course not. And we know they won't back down. That's as plain as day. Why would they choose to be humiliated? That's the only "out" we've left them. We already, three years ago rejected serious talks with them on any of these issues (see this). We don't want to work things out.

So it's a set-up. Back them into a corner where we can say, see, they need to go away. The diplomacy is not at all to get them to stop what they're doing. Whatever diplomacy involved is to set up things so people agree they're just not a government that should be allowed to exist any longer. That may or may not work. We may go it alone again, or pretty much alone. Fiji will stand with us, or someone.

We wanted Saddam Hussein to provide definitive, documented proof he had no weapons of mass destruction, and to destroy what he didn't have. Cool. And we are demanding Hugo Chavez down in Venezuela provide definitive, documented proof he has no ties to al Qaeda or any terrorists. Show us the documents that show there are no documents. Right.

This is very odd. Demanding the other prove the negative - prove to me that you aren't thinking about an orange - is just absurd.

But these guys do absurd in a major way.

And they do absurd in a minor way too, as in this - "A Pentagon document classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after mental health experts abandoned that position. The document outlines retirement or other discharge policies for service members with physical disabilities, and in a section on defects lists homosexuality alongside mental retardation and personality disorders."

What's to say? In some parts of the administration it's always 1953, in Tulsa. The armies of other nations just deal with it - good soldiers may, sometime, be gay. So what? Here that's right up there with being retarded, just like Gore Vidal is, and T. E. Lawrence. Oh well.

The military has other things to worry about of course, like the two soldiers who seem to have been captured near Baghdad by some locals tied to al Qaeda (see the AP account here and the New York Times here). This is serious stuff. Let's hope they don't get tortured or anything. That would be awkward after Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and all. But what really happened is still unclear. This is just a "claim" after all. We're still looking, shutting down whole villages and much more.

As Tim Grieve notes here, one year and about eight hundred forty American soldiers ago, Vice President Cheney said that we were seeing the "last throes" of the insurgency in Iraq. It'd all be over soon. He knew.

Monday, June 19, 2006. he was asked about that again (see this) - does he still think that true. He does. You see there were the Iraqi elections in 2005 and then the formation of a government this year. And that was the beginning of the end of the war. It's obvious - "I think that will have been, from a historical turning point, the period that we'll be able to look at and say, 'That's when we turned the corner, that's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.'"

And all gays are retarded. It's all how you look at things.

So how do you look at this - the same day, in Baghdad, our U.S. military announced that a noncommissioned officer and two soldiers have been charged with murder, obstruction of justice and a few other crimes. This seems to have something to do with the death of three Iraqis in military custody last month. The spin in the Arab street, if there is such a thing as that street, will be awful. After all the rest, this. Or you can spin it the other way, as we don't stand for such things and these guys will be tried, and what other nation does that sort of thing, so it shows we take care of our own problems and do the right thing. When they get six-week suspended sentences that spin will need some adjustment.

But for absurd spin the same Monday there was a lot of talk about what Karl Rove said the week before, accusing Jack Murtha and John Kerry of being "cut-and-run" politicians who "may be with you for the first few bullets" but won't "be there for the last tough battles." Again, Rove was eighteen in 1968 but managed to avoid serving alongside men like Murtha and Kerry in Vietnam, and Grieve nicely puts it. The talk was all about what former Marine a pro-military man Murtha had to say about that on "Meet the Press" that Sunday, and he wasn't kind - "He's in New Hampshire. He's making a political speech. He's sitting in his air-conditioned office with his big, fat backside, saying, 'Stay the course.' That's not a plan. I mean, this guy - I don't know what his military experience is, but that's a political statement."

Still those on the right call Murtha a coward and traitor for suggesting redeploying and rearranging our forces, and call Rove the real hero, the tough guy. Go figure. Who knows more about such matters? Don't ask.

And by the way, there's also this, a new report on Cheney's old company Halliburton. It's the "single fastest-growing federal contractor between 2000 and 2005," or so the report says. In 2000, Halliburton received $763 million in federal government contracts. In 2005, it received nearly $6 billion worth of work, taking it from No. 20 to No. 6 on the list of the government's biggest contractors. War is good. Reading the Tim Grieve daily surveys of current will drive you nuts.

So will reading stuff buried deep in the Washington Post, like this. It seems the Post got their hands on a "sensitive" memo from the public affairs office of the US. Embassy in Baghdad and it offers "snapshots" of what life is like for its Iraqi employees who live outside the Green Zone. The Post has it here in PDF format, and everyone seems to be discussing it.

One summary is here -
Women's rights: Female employees report increasing "harassment" over what they wear and how they act; they say they have been told to stop wearing Western clothes, to cover their heads and faces in public, and to stop using cellphones.

Electricity and gasoline: With temperatures in Baghdad reaching 115 degrees, many embassy employees report that their homes have electricity for only four to eight hours each day. One central Baghdad neighborhood has had no government-supplied electricity for a month, and embassy employees report waiting in line for as long as 12 hours to fill their cars with gasoline.

Threats against embassy employees: Some embassy employees fear that sectarian militia members now control the entrances to the Green Zone. Of nine Iraqis who worked in the public affairs office in March, five kept their employment secret from their own families out of fear for their safety. For the same reason, the embassy often cannot contact its employees at home during off-duty hours and cannot use them to help translate events when cameras might be present.

Risks from informants: Embassy employees report that they "daily assess how to move safely in public." Sometimes that requires adopting the clothes and "lingo" of a particular neighborhood in order to avoid attention from "alasas," or informants. "The Alasa mentality is becoming entrenched as Iraqi security forces fail to gain public confidence," the memo's authors write.

In sum, the memo's authors say that the conditions outside the Green Zone continue to make their work inside it extremely difficult: "Although our staff retain a professional demeanor, strains are apparent," they say.

"We see that their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic challenges, despite talk of reconciliation by officials. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own worldview. Objectivity, civility, and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressures outside the Green Zone don't abate."
But other than that things are fine, except men who wear shorts or jeans have come under attack from "what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists." And different neighborhoods are controlled by different militias, and staff members have to be careful to dress and speak differently in each one - "People no longer trust most neighbors." And a newspaper editor reports that ethnic cleansing is taking place in almost every Iraqi province.

Great. The document is dated around the time the president dropped by. He probably didn't see it. The name on the bottom is Khalilzad, our ambassador there.

An assessment here -
In a very straightforward descriptive style, Khalilzad writes that Iraqis must hide the fact that they work for the US or face ostracism or worse. Women are being treated only slightly better than if they were living under the Taliban in 1999 -- and they are being asked to wear clothing that Khalilzad admits was not even required by the most repressive Iranian Ayatollahs. They are losing their driving privileges and are considered suspicious if they use a cell phone - they might be calling a lover, you see. (This is your fundamentalist religion working to "free" women from the burden of being full citizens.)

People are being gouged for electricity, to which they barely have access anyway (in 115 degree heat!) They face kidnappings and violence every day of their lives. Sectarian divisions are showing up in all their social interactions, even among families. They must adopt separate customs, dress and manner of speaking to travel freely through various neighborhoods in Baghdad or risk violence. They cannot trust the security forces, who seem to be getting more hostile to the population, especially those who work for the US. Their anxiety is palpable as they feel their lives are hurling out of control.

Did I mention that the people he is talking about in this cable are all employees of the US embassy in Baghdad? That's right. These are the highly privileged, educated elite who work inside the Green Zone. Imagine what it's like out in the hinterlands.

... The country has obviously already spiraled into a state of civil war. It's not surprising that it's taken on this character of secret informants, ethnic cleansing, paranoia and neighborhood militias because the whole society was shaped by an authoritarian police state. But civil war it is, and from the sound of this cable, it's happening on a far more fundamental level than we knew. The whole society is breaking down from inside out.

... He [Khalilzad] pretty much says that he doesn't know if he can trust his own employees much longer because they are being driven a little bit crazy by fear and paranoia. Heckuva job, there, Uncle Sammy.
Ah well. At least the president is on top of things. Monday, June 19, he delivered the commencement address at the US Merchant Marine Academy, and tossed in this - "This morning, I flew here on Air Force One with my friend, Andy Card. You might remember Andy - he was my former chief of staff, and he attended this Academy in the 1960s. It just so happens when he was a plebe, he was stuffed in a duffel bag and run up the flagpole."

What? That sounds like a line from some absurdist's play - didn't Stoppard have Rosencrantz say that to Guildenstern?

It's hard to make sense of it all. It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even is a cruel one.

And then there's the torture business and Guantánamo.

As reported late in the day Monday, June 19, here, after the three prisoner suicides, and after we tossed out all the reporters there, so no one will now know anything, the military tribunals, for the ten of the four hundred ninety we think we can prove might actually be bad guys, have been put off. The idea is that maybe it might be a good idea for the Supreme Court to rule on whether we can do that at all, in the way we planned. Things have gotten a bit out of hand.

And too, the previous Friday the Pentagon actually declassified a November 2004 report about detainee abuse by our Speical Operations guys in Iraq (here in PDF format). That's the one where Brigadier General Richard Formica (great name). That's the one where he told reporters that it was "regrettable" that the troops he investigated had inadequate guidance about detention policy, but really, no one was ultimately responsible. Just a bit of a mix up.

But then folks finally got around to reading the details, and the New York Times noted this -
General Formica found that in the third case at a Special Operations outpost, near Tikrit, in April and May 2004, three detainees were held in cells 4 feet high, 4 feet long and 20 inches wide, except to use the bathroom, to be washed or to be interrogated. He concluded that two days in such confinement "would be reasonable; five to seven days would not." Two of the detainees were held for seven days; one for two days, General Formica concluded.
See Spencer Ackerman here -
Here are two such questions you can puzzle over from your home or office. Take all the shelving out of a typical filing cabinet. (My own office cabinet happens to be slightly smaller than the cell described here.) Now lock yourself in it for two days. You may notice you can neither stand up straight nor lie down, and crouching gets really uncomfortable extremely fast. Remember that as an Iraqi detainee, the Geneva Conventions apply to you. Now ask yourself: Why would Formica consider such treatment "reasonable" for two days? And if someone put an American soldier in such conditions for two days - or authorized doing so - what should happen to that person?
Two of our guys are missing. Think about it.

Yeah, but what about Guantánamo?

Andrew Sullivan here points to a list of interrogation techniques reliably documented at our detention centers in Guantánamo or Afghanistan, compiled by medical ethicist, Stephen Miles, in a book coming out soon, Oath Betrayed. Miles has examined 35,000 pages of government documents and "credible witness" testimony and this is what we seem to have done -
Beating; punching with fists; use of truncheons; kicking; slamming against walls; stretching or suspension (to tear ligaments or muscles to cause asphyxia); external electric shocks; forcing prisoners to abase and to urinate on themselves; forced masturbation; forced renunciation of religion; false confessions or accusations; applying urine and feces to prisoners; making verbal threats to a prisoner and his family; denigration of a prisoner's religion; force-feeding; induced hypothermia and exposure to extreme heat; dietary manipulation; use of sedatives; extreme sleep deprivation; mock executions; water immersion; "water-boarding"; obstruction of the prisoner's airway; chest compression; thermal burning; rape; dog bites; sexual abuse; forcing a prisoner to watch the abuse or torture of a loved one.
Did all that work wonders? Over one hundred prisoners died. But then, no more planes were flown into Manhattan skyscrapers. The connection is tenuous, if there at all.

The Post says this -
This political and administrative mess stems directly from Mr. Bush's decision in the weeks after Sept. 11 to take extraordinary measures against terrorism through the assertion of presidential power, rather than through legislation, court action or diplomacy. His intent was to exclude Congress, the courts and other governments from influencing or even monitoring how foreign detainees were treated. Senior officials, led by Vice President Cheney, argued that this policy would give the administration the flexibility it needed to fight the war effectively. Instead it has done the opposite: Mr. Bush's policies have deeply tarnished U.S. prestige abroad, inhibited cooperation with allies and prevented justice for al-Qaeda.
Sullivan -
The trouble is: the architects of this policy - Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales - are still in power, and unable or unwilling to reverse course and face a real accounting. And so we stagger on, with secrecy lending credibility to the worst possibilities, with abuse documented in every field of conflict, and with the international moral standing of the United States at its lowest ebb since Vietnam. There are two wars right now, it seems to me: one is against Islamist terror; and the other is to protect the constitution and the Geneva Conventions from those who would bypass them to protect us. Both wars are vital; and in some ways, as defenses of our civilization, are the same.
And one of his readers, puzzled over the evangelical Christians in charge - good is good and evil is evil, so you fight pure evil anyway you can - says this -
As good non-relativists, Christians ought to believe in universal standards, moral codes that apply to everyone. In some fashion that's what the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements are meant to provide. But an unshakable article of conservative faith is that the United Nations and most other international compacts are inherently evil. So we come to a point where all that matters is American laws, American goals - and American power.

This really cannot stand. We will reach a point where we have infinite power, but zero influence. The nations we desperately need to change and win over will come to think that we get our authority solely from the barrel of a gun - or the damp gauze of a waterboarder. We will claim that we believe in universal, unalienable rights, but will refuse to hold ourselves to any meaningful universal standards. No one will take anything we say seriously, except our threats of war.
And what of our two soldiers who seem to have been captured by the bad guys? What if they are tortured?

There are some questions here -
What will our government do? What could it do? Could it condemn the actions as not abiding by the Geneva Conventions? Could it call the actions "torture"? Could it demand accountability? Could it demand that the soldiers be treated as POWs? Could it simply say, "Well, we don't do that shit ... anymore"?
Who knows what our government would do or say in such a case? They kind of got boxed in here. That's what the absurd is all about. Too bad it's likely.

Enough. This calls for scotch.

Posted by Alan at 23:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006 07:37 PDT home

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