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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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Saturday, 12 August 2006
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin
It's been some days since all those British fellows were arrested for their plot to blow ten US-bound airplanes out of the sky. As mentioned elsewhere, the spin from the administration is that this shows that we ought to be at war and occupying Muslim countries, to force them to have some sort of democracy. If we prevail we'll all be safe, as such young men will then participate in the political process and feel no need to commit mass murder. They can run for office instead, or work for the politician of their choice. And they'll be angry no more. Or so goes the theory, for which there is little proof. How could there be? The projects in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't exactly going swimmingly. Proof of the theory will come much later, if ever. It's an if-then conditional argument, and getting the "if" set up - the free, open and secular democracies where there are gentlemanly debates and compromises worked out in some sort of congress or parliament by elected and sensible officials - is a real bitch of a job. But it should all work out that way.

And that's the line from the White House and "Zell" Lieberman. Anyone who doesn't support the global war on terror - remaking the Middle East by regime change and occupation - is missing the point. These guys with the liquid explosives and black hearts would not exist in the new world they envision. They'd be pussycats, or at least political operatives who want power and influence, and really don't feel any need to kill anyone.

So the logic goes this way - if you think these preemptive wars we're waging are doing more harm than good, then you're really supporting the angry young British Muslim men with the bombs. You're encouraging mass murder. You must hate America, and hate democracy.

Yes, it's a stretch, but that the spin. It requires that you trust the general theory is sound, without evidence, which cannot be provided at the moment.

Some buy it, but it may be that more and more people are finding it somewhere between, on one end, a little too abstract, and on the other, rather loony. To deal with those folks the theory will be repeated again and again, and reported in the media endlessly. Just keep saying it and people will become exhausted and indifferent and decide it's true. Why fight it? Yeah, whatever, George.

But there's a cool subset of this - the contention that the British arrests prove that we need programs like the illegal wiretapping and further prove that the press has been irresponsible by reporting about such illegal secret programs. That too is being repeated endlessly on the right - see Glenn Greenwald here for all the citations. If we and the Brits hadn't broken the silly laws thousands would be dead again. So there>!

The problem is it's just not true. As reported here in the Washington Post (and elsewhere), all the wire taps and looking into banking transactions were done here using FISA warrants and, in the UK, using warrants signed off by the Home Secretary. They followed the law and still got the job done.

Even Bill O'Reilly on Fox News admitted that - he just added that the warrants used in this case really didn't prove anything. We still need to cede the president the right to violate any laws he chooses. That's the only way to keep America safe, and we all love America, don't we? So this was just a bad example, or something. It still proved the point, sort of. You just never know - bypassing the warrants might have been good too, even better.

So the British and the Americans followed the laws of their respective countries that require warrants - and the terrorist plot using telephones and bank transfers was foiled. And also note this was long after it was "revealed" in the traitorous press that our government was tracking communications and financial transactions. The second part of the argument - that the press undermined our war on the bad guys by reporting there were such programs - is similarly odd. The facts show otherwise. Not that this matters very much. That argument lives on too.

All this is very odd. The facts undermine the arguments here, but if you think about it, the facts don't matter. The larger theory must be true.

One wonders how long this sort of reasoning can go - on using legal means supports the president's absolute need to use illegal methods to stop terrorist attacks - but then the American people seem to want to live in an authoritarian state. Or many of them do. Oh well.

In any event, this was big victory for the Bush administration, or so the spin goes.

But there's this from "tristero" (actually a composer whose works are performed by orchestras worldwide, Richard Einhorn) -
… as I see it, without a doubt the most bizarre aspect of the 9/11 attacks were not that they were imagined and plotted but that they actually happened. Even assuming an incompetent CIA and FBI, there were many, many signs that summer and fall that something was up (start with the 9/11 commission report and work your way through Pretext to War, The One Percent Doctrine, and a slew of other books). But for some strange reason all those signs were missed ignored, failed to rise to the higher echelons. Of course, I would be the last person to suggest that George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were unspeakably, unforgivably, negligent by ignoring the clear warnings of the Clinton administration on Al Qaeda - complaining about all the attention being focused on "just one man;" snickering, "Okay, you've covered your ass" when folks from CIA came to brief them.

Actually, I confess it. I just lied to you. I was one of the first to suggest that the Bush administration, through its utter incompetence, bears a heavy responsibility for the carnage of 9/11. I was saying so a few hours after the attacks to my friends from Finland who called to make sure that we were okay.

If nothing else, the exposure of the latest potential atrocity simply highlights how incompetent the Bushites were. No, they didn't "let it happen" and it certainly wasn't a black op to boost Bush in the polls. It's just that, well, Richard Clarke had been pushed aside, John O'Neill had quit in disgust to manage WTC security, Robert Mueller was the new kid on the block, and John Ashcroft was proofreading an arrangement of "When the Eagle Soars" for seven kazoos and musical saw. Meanwhile, many others were simply ignored and let the obsessive, paranoid and quite essential monitoring of bin Laden's activities drop.

That failure to pay attention to reality is a hallmark of the Bush administration.
That is not the official spin. It's just looking at the facts. But this is not repeated endlessly.

Something else repeated endlessly regarding the war and Joe Lieberman in particular, here from David Broder, is this this -
The people backing Lamont are nothing if not sincere. But their breed of Democrats - many of them wealthy, educated, extremely liberal - often pick candidates who are rejected by the broader public. Many of the older Lamont supporters went straight from Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern in the 1960s and '70s to Howard Dean in 2004. They helped Joe Duffey challenge Senator Tom Dodd in Connecticut for the 1970 Democratic nomination on the Vietnam War issue, only to lose to Republican Lowell Weicker in November.
Jonathan Schwarz here comments -
Apparently there's some kind of batsignal for the US punditocracy that tells them all what to write each week. This week their orders are to inform us that the Democrats had better watch out for those far-left elitists like Ned Lamont, who will with their extreme anti-war positions lead them to defeat just like George McGovern did.

… This might make you wonder certain things - like, was opposition to Vietnam the "wealthy, educated" position? I know it's fun to listen to stories from Uncle Dave B, and extremely boring to look at reality. But let's give reality a shot just this once.
So he displays all the polling from 1971 - and the man has his facts wrong. The wealthy, educated, extremely liberal were not there. The grade school-educated were always the most dovish, the college-educated the most hawkish. But then, conventional wisdom is conventional wisdom. The facts be damned.

As for the polls Schwarz lays out on this generation's issues, he sees this - "Weirdly, as you see, more education doesn't necessarily push you either way on Iraq. It seems to make you more ambivalent - while those with less education are both the most dovish and the most hawkish, with little ambivalence."

So that spin from Broder and the rest is fine, it's just not based on the facts. And it is believed by all.

What to make of all this? There's no fighting the spin. Give in. You'll be more comfortable.

Posted by Alan at 18:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 11 August 2006
Topic: Breaking News
It's over? That's what the Associated Press reported late Friday evening, August 11 - the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that calls for an end to the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolution authorizes fifteen thousand UN peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon, and oddly, as Israel withdraws. They don't get to stay. But it has, after all, been four weeks or more since this all started, and something had to be done. More than eight hundred are dead, mostly civilians, and Lebanon's infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, and all this displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and "inflamed tensions" (the AP folks doing understatement) across the Middle East. The resolution was drafted by France and the United States. It was adopted unanimously. Enough is enough.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the resolution late Friday, after a day of what seemed like brinksmanship - a threat to expand the ground war and a public request for the United States to ship over some of those massive antipersonnel cluster bombs. Lebanon's cabinet was to consider the draft on Saturday, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Lebanese government assured her that it supported the text. And she said so on CNN, not Fox News, to show, one must presume, that she's being as fair as possible. Wolf Blitzer scoops Bill O'Reilly. Who'd have guessed that would happen?

There still is the matter of when to implement this all. Israel said its go-get-'em operations would continue until Sunday - that's when its cabinet will meet to endorse the resolution. And it seems they will. Early Saturday the tanks, troops and armored personnel carriers were still pouring over the border, that "blue line" that seemed to disappear for a month. Kofi Annan said he planned to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials "as soon as possible" to determine the exact date of a cease-fire. Is it over? It's sort of over, maybe.

Rice was saying the "hard work of diplomacy" was "only beginning" - it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence, and said that we'd be increasing our assistance to Lebanon by fifty million dollars, and demanded other nations just stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs. Yep, if Iran and Syria keeps sending in replacement rockets and such we might get really mad.

Kofi Annan admitted the whole world has been frustrated, and he had been - "I would be remiss if I did not tell you how profoundly disappointed I am that the council did not reach this point much, much earlier." But better late than never - even if the American neoconservatives don't agree.

Some demands just weren't met. Forget the Lebanese objections - Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations. Arab diplomats suspect the Israeli military will interpret "defensive operations" very loosely. And there's the mater of Chebaa Farms along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border - that's for later. And Israel won't get its wish - an entirely new multinational force separate from the UN peacekeepers that have there since 1978, with no authority to stomp on Hezbollah when the drop rockets into northern Israel. And Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, is not a happy camper - they'll buy into this but allowing Israel to continue operations in any way is crap - "A cease-fire that by its terms cannot be implemented is no cease-fire. A cease-fire that retains the right for one side the right not to cease firing is not a cease-fire."

Picky, picky, picky… And there's no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or any sort of demand for the "immediate" withdrawal of Israeli troops. The thing only says there's a "need" for the "unconditional release" of the two Israeli soldiers captured July 12, the thing that's stared this all. It's not one of the step here. It just would help, but it's not required.

Like all compromises, no one gets everything they want. Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said to look at it this way - "The question is, has everybody got enough for this to stick and for it to be enforceable?"

We'll see. This has been going on far too long. Israel and the Palestinians at it - Hezbollah formed after the 1967 war to fight back. Qatar's Foreign Minister - Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani - said the Arab states would be submitting formal requests for a Security Council meeting in September to work out a new regional peace plan. Enough of this foolishness - it's not good for anyone.

Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and the fellow who wrote the best-seller How Would A Patriot Act?, calls this "a bizarre end to a bizarre war" and discusses the political-policy implications of what happened here -
Hezbollah would not be disbanded nor disarmed, and its re-supply route from Syria would neither be destroyed nor impeded. Given the grand pronouncements with which this war began - that Hezbollah would be destroyed, that it was the start of the epic war of civilizations - any honest person (and even many who are not honest) would acknowledge that this is a defeat for Israel and for neoconservative dreams of a wider war. As a result, many in Israel are predicting, and vigorously calling for, the resignation of Israel's Prime Minister.

The disappointment and anger of neoconservatives over this ignominious end must be severe, and it is almost certain to be a source of very intense conflict between them and the Bush administration.
And he provides links to various sources - Israelis calling for Olmert to resign and over at the influential National Review, John Podhoretz saying he should go, adding this - "I'm tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate. But let's wait until the facts are in."

Get rid of George Bush? These guys aren't happy. Rich Lowry here quotes an Israeli source as saying that this is the "worst defeat for Israel since 1948," and adds this - "When it comes to UN resolutions in the Middle East is that they either simply reflect the facts on the ground, or make the victor give away a little bit of his victory; they never let someone pull victory out of a hat from defeat. So Israel will ultimately get from this resolution what they won on the ground, which is to say not much."

John Podhoretz earlier had said the resolution will mean that "Israel and the United States will be handing Hezbollah a victory. And Israel will have lost a war for the first time - and probably not the last." Olmert agrees to the cease-fire. He's a coward.

Greenwald -
When this all started, neoconservatives were in full bloodthirsty glory, salivating over the complete obliteration of Hezbollah and much of Southern Lebanon, as the start of the "great opportunity" - "our war" - in which we would do the same to Syria and Iran. Instead, they got a joint U.S.-French UN resolution engineering a cease-fire dependent upon French troops protecting Israel from the Hezbollah militia, and even Israeli hawks lamenting the humiliation suffered at the hands of Hezbollah (assuming Hezbollah, which clearly has the strongest hand here, agrees to all of this).

Watching Fox News right now discussing this is like being at a wake. … The neoconservative dream for broader war, at least for the moment, has collapsed on its shattered foundations. Nobody should consider a Hezbollah victory to be anything remotely a cause for celebration; that should go without saying. But the plan the neoconservatives harbor - and thought they were finally able to execute - is as dangerous a threat as anything else in the world, and anything which puts a stop to it, and which drives a wedge between them and their enablers in the Bush administration, is something which, independent of all else, is a constructive development.

… I view this war and the end of it as "bizarre" because the war's ambitions were so grand and sweeping from the start - the amount of brutality and slaughter required to accomplish them were far in excess of what could be tolerated - that it was almost designed to fail from the start. One could say exactly that of the general neoconservative view on all matters…
No Cheney neoconservative will really want Rice's head on a platter - and she gave the interview to CNN, not Fox News. Oh my, or as Donald Rumsfeld would say, "Good Gracious!"

Bill Montgomery adds this about Israel's position now, and ours -
They've blown it, right down the line, from the opening bid for an aerial knockout, through the defeats and retreats, the incredible shrinking war aims, the daily humiliation of seeing a third of Israel bombarded with rockets. And now this - a ceasefire that appears to give Hezbollah all or nearly all of what it demanded (although not the Laker tickets), all of it to be supervised by a "reinforced" version of UNIFIL (most of the reinforcements will probably never arrive) working under a limited one-year mandate, and with no more legal authority to use force than the current bunch of blue helmets.

And for this, Lebanon was ravaged, thousands were killled, millions on both sides spent weeks cooped up in air raid shelters and the credibility and any lingering shreds of respectability of the US government in the Islamic world were flushed down the you-know-what. For this.

After all, why did we embark on the war, if not to ensure that French soldiers will protect Israel from the Hezbollah rocket battery.

The long knives are already out - for Olmert, for Peretz, the ward boss turned defense minister, for Halutz and the commander of the Northern Front (who was effectively sacked in the middle of the war) and probably half of entire IDF general staff, if they don't sink them in each other's backs first. Losing is never pretty, and the post-war settling of accounts is going to be even less so.

It seems as if every minor league neocon in Washington is taking the opportunity to remind Israel that if there's one thing America detests it's a loser. So much for all the tearful singing of the Ha'tikvah. If Washington's Middle Eastern Rottweiler wants to keep getting its kennel ration, it will put a little more teeth into the business next time.

… All the bellicose rhetoric in the world - like Schiff's threat to respond with "cruel craziness" if and when other red lines are crossed in the future - can't conceal the failures: of a military aristocracy's arrogant faith in technology, of an Army that's grown accustomed to waging war against Palestinian teenagers, of a political establishment that believes with zombie-like intensity that the cure for incompetence is ever greater applications of military force.

There will be hell to pay for this fiasco - coming as it does on top of Uncle Sam's own murder suicide pact in Iraq. When and where that payment will be demanded isn't clear yet, but if the past is any guide it will be paid in the blood of the innocent and not the guilty.
Yeah, well, wait until we pull out of Iraq. This is just a foretaste of what's to come.

And as for Rice weeks ago saying the fighting might have continue as, although it seemed bad, it was really a good thing, and opportunity when you looked at it the right way, just the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East - "Condi better swap her forceps for a shovel, because it looks like there's going to be a lot of graves to dig in the 'new' Middle East."

It was a strange day indeed. The old way of working things out prevailed - disagreement, negotiation, compromise, uneasy peace and distrust, but some sort of peace nonetheless. For those who see compromise as a sign of weakness and moral failure, this was a very bad day. For those who will now live and not die in a pill of rubble or be blasted apart by a rocket falling from the sky, not so bad.

Posted by Alan at 21:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006 06:35 PDT home

Thursday, 10 August 2006
Framing: What Proves What, Exactly?
Topic: Perspective
Framing: What Proves What, Exactly?
To frame things here's an interesting exchange, based on something Winston Churchill once said - "The opposition is not responsible for proposing integrated and complicated measures of policy. Sometimes they do, but it is not their obligation."

A reader writes to the columnist Andrew Sullivan at Time Magazine, who had opined that liberals are fond of complaining about the mess we're in - we've inflamed the world against us and are less safe and all that -but then they just don't offer alternatives, and seemingly just don't take the real dangers in this world seriously -
I'd say a perfectly responsible liberal take on the war is this: The best weapon we have against the Islamic extremists in the long haul is the soft power of modern culture - its comforts, its freedoms and, well, it's enlightenment. Modernization is appealing, and will win, if given half chance. But if by our clumsy, aggressive behavior we cause moderate, ordinary Muslims to confuse modernization with American aggression, with torture, with greed for oil, and with uncritical support for Greater Israel, then by that behavior we deprive ourselves of our greatest strategic advantage.

The right policy after 9/11 was to pursue the actual terrorists to the ends of the earth, but at the same time to have the nerve and maturity to do our best to avoid actions that would alienate the moderates and young people who would otherwise find modernity appealing. Bush of course did exactly the opposite.

To believe all this is not to believe the conflict is unimportant, as you charge, it is to believe that Bush's frat-boy bravado and general incompetence is everyday worsening our long-term prospects. And that winning control of at least one house of Congress in November is the necessary first step on the long road back to an adult foreign policy.
Sullivan's reply is this -
My only substantive quarrel with this is as follows: the proclaimed Bush policy was not mere deployment of brute force, torture, bombs and swagger as a response to the civil war within Islam. It was ostensibly to create a beach-head for modernity and democracy in Iraq. That, at least, was the rationale I signed onto. Now, maybe in retrospect, the idea of a beach-head for democracy was always just a cover for Rumsfeld and Cheney to try to terrify a bunch of "barbarians" with brute force. And in so far as the war was designed this way, the Bush administration's general incompetence and brutality has, of course, done the precise opposite. It's actually emboldened the enemy, made the West look weak, and lost us potential support in the vital center of Muslim opinion. Send too few troops into Iraq and of course the Islamists think we're unserious. That's why I couldn't support Bush again last time around; and why I hope the Democrats take back at least one chamber this fall - if only to put a break on the Queegs and Strangeloves in the Pentagon and the Veep's office. [Note: You have to know you classic Hollywood movies, of course. - AMP]

But, for all Cheney's and Rumsfeld's flaws, they are at least proposing something serious, however ineptly carried out. I have yet to hear anti-war voices on the left propose a positive strategy for defeating Islamist terror at its roots, or call for democratization of the Arab Muslim world. Indeed, I heard little but scorn or silence when Bush announced this vision in London. Do the Democrats stand for democracy in Iraq? Or in Iran? Do they favor … containment of Islamism? Nuclear deterrence against Tehran? Certainly, the Kossites [cf. Daily Kos] seem utterly uninterested in any of these subjects. That's their prerogative; and it's equally my prerogative not to take them seriously until they do.

The same goes for the Dems as a whole. Until the opposition party presents a progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East - as Blair has done in Britain, for example - there's no reason to take them seriously on national security. Maybe their presidential candidate will articulate such a vision. So far, however: so not so much.
Okay then - who is serious now? This is set up as a choice between those who have the right idea - take care of the bad guys and win the world over to our way of doing things, and do it so badly the opposite happens - and those who have no real ideas at all, big or small.

This may be a false choice, but that's how the sides here are lining up, in the minds of many. How will you vote in November - for absolute incompetence that could very well plunge us into a real world war and total global economic chaos - or for emptiness and avoidance, with a touch of surliness? That's some choice. But that's the "narrative" we have.

And the events of Thursday, August 10, just made things worse, as one UK paper summarized -
British suicide bombers were within days of blowing up 12 passenger jets above five US cities in an unprecedented terrorist attack designed to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale", counterterrorism sources claimed last night.

Anti-terrorist agents said they had uncovered the plot from surveillance of a group of young British Muslims, which began nearly a year ago and was on a scale never before undertaken.

US and British counterterrorism officials claimed the men, the majority British Muslims of Pakistani descent, were going to disguise liquid explosive as bottles of soft drink and carry them in their hand luggage on to US-bound planes leaving British airports.

… A British government source said an intercepted message from Pakistan telling the bombers to "go now" had triggered the arrests. Security sources said they had been planning to break up the cells in the next few days, but were forced to move earlier to prevent huge loss of life; they believed the attacks were to take place in the next two days.
The rest of what happened needs no review.

In terms of the narrative, there was euphoria in Washington -
"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won't "look as appealing" under the circumstances.

This came at just the right time, after the one pro-war Bush-is-wonderful Democrat lost his primary election - the democrats would rather not have him represent them in the senate any longer (discussed here). Who's going to keep you safe after all? What better demonstration could you have?

And Senator Lieberman lost no time is saying that the guy who beat him was a fool - that this guy may have won but his Iraq policies would be a victory for terrorists. To be more precise, he told the Stamford Connecticut Advocate here that Ned Lamont's policy for an Iraq pullout would be a "tremendous victory" for and would "strengthen" the people who wanted to blow up the planes in the scheme foiled in England - "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Do you see the connection? We're tamping down a civil war in Iraq and hoping for the best, because if we don't do that some Brits of Middle Eastern descent will blow up airplanes. He says the two are directly connected. It seems we have to wage war badly and continue our occupation of Iraq to keep folks from getting murderously angry with us. That may be odd reasoning, but the Associated Press dutifully picked up the quote here.

It's the controlling narrative - the White House was saying pretty much the same thing - that all you fools thought you were safe and were ragging on us but, see, there are awful people in the world so let us do our job and just shut up. Actually the president said this airplane plot served as a "stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists." The message was the same - shut up and support us (and don't vote for any Democrat).

The attorney and best-selling author Glenn Greenwald here says the president is insinuating - or explicitly claiming - that this incident proves that Bush was right about the whole array of our country's foreign policy disputes, from Iraq to the current Israel-Lebanon war -

This naked exploitation of terrorist threats for political gain occurs every time a new terrorist plot is revealed, no matter how serious or frivolous, no matter how advanced or preliminary, the plot might be. Each time a new plot is disclosed, administration officials and their followers immediately begin squeezing the emotions and fears generated by such events for every last drop of political gain they can manufacture.

But this effort is as incoherent as it is manipulative. Nobody doubts that there are Muslim extremists who would like to commit acts of violence against the US and the West. No political disputes are premised on a conflict over whether terrorism exists or whether it ought to be taken seriously. As a result, events such as this that reveal what everyone already knows - that there is such a thing as Islamic extremists who want to commit terrorist acts against the US - do nothing to inform or resolve political debates over the Bush administration's militaristic foreign policy or its radical lawlessness at home. Opposition to the war in Iraq, for instance, is not based upon the premise that there is no terrorist threat. It is based on the premise that that invasion undermines, rather than strengthens, our campaign to fight terrorism.

Invading and bombing Muslim countries do not prevent terrorism or diminish the likelihood that British-born Muslims will blow up American airplanes. If anything, warmongering in the Middle East exacerbates that risk by radicalizing more and more Muslims and increasing anti-US resentment. And the more military and intelligence resources we are forced to pour into waging wars against countries that have not attacked us, the less able we are to track and combat al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups that actually seek to harm us. There are few things that have more enabled terrorism than turning Iraq into a chaotic caldron of anarchy and violence - exactly the environment in which al Qaeda thrives.

But it is hard to overcome the narrative in play.

Matthew Yglesias here gives it a go -

Bush says today's plots serve as a "stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists." If anything, it's a stark reminder of the reverse. A stark reminder that this isn't a "war" at all - you don't foil a plot like this with armored personnel carriers and JDAMs. We're also not going to capture the capital city of "Islamic fascism" - not Kabul, not Baghdad, not even Teheran and Damascus - and force our adversaries to surrender.

It's not at all difficult to kill or capture terrorists. Instead, what makes them dangerous is that they're hard to identify. What makes them doubly dangerous is that because they're hard to identify, the temptation is to target them very broadly. And as we saw in the administration's desperately failed strategies in the "Sunni triangle" when you tar huge numbers of not-yet-opponents in your effort to find the bad guys, you wind up generating a much larger number of adversaries. The great challenge is to identify strategies for targeting terrorists narrowly enough so that the number of terrorists actually declines as a result of your counterterrorism operations.

Bush keeps on doing the reverse - defining the enemy in very broad, very lazy ways; conflating issues that have little to do with each other; charging off half-cocked and pissing people off. Meanwhile, he hasn't managed to kill or capture Osama or Zawahiri and insists on reacting to everything that happens in the most-alarmist, most-partisan terms he can imagine. Worst of all, the continued failure of his policies to ameliorate the problem is then trotted out as a justification for continuing - or even intensifying - the same failed approach.

Yglesias thinks the man is "addicted to failure" but, really, he just deeply believes his own narrative.

Yes, he could have reassured America that the government will leave do everything possible to maintain the safety of American citizens, but he's pissed that no one thinks he's done or is doing the right things to get there from here. 

So it was attack day.

And there was what Vice President Cheney said when Lieberman, who supports the administration fully, lost his election -

Echoing a frequent Republican theme, US Vice President Dick Cheney said Democrats were purging Lieberman from the party over his outspoken advocacy for the war and displaying their "pre-9/11 mindset" and inability to protect Americans.

He said Lieberman's defeat showed "the direction the party appears to be heading when they in fact purge a man like Joe Lieberman, who just six years ago was their nominee for vice president," over his support for the war on terrorism.

"What is particularly disturbing about it is from the standpoint of our adversaries ... They clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task," Cheney said in a conference call with reporters while on vacation in Wyoming.
What do you put at the end of a mathematical proof? QED. It is demonstrated.

Wesley Clark, the general who might have been, given some variations in the way things went, the Democrat who ran for president, not John Kerry, has his own, minority narrative -
You see, despite what Joe Lieberman believes, invading Iraq and diverting our attention away from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not being strong on national security. Blind allegiance to George W. Bush and his failed "stay the course" strategy is not being strong on national security. And no, Senator Lieberman, no matter how you demonize your opponents, there is no "anti-security wing" of the Democratic Party.
But no one believes that. It doesn't fit.

What does fit is the whole Joe Lieberman thing is really part of a bigger narrative - his defeat means the end of all hope for the Democrats. You see that everywhere - the idea is this Ned Lamont is kind of like George McGovern, a total anti-war wimp and fool. It's 1972 all over again - the hippies in the party have rallied behind a coward. Yes, McGovern was a decorated war hero, but you know how that goes - same with John Kerry and Max Cleland. They're all cowards and George Bush is the warrior. Whatever. When you control the narrative you can make actual careers be anything you'd like.

The definitive argument that the hippies are back - long-haired, flag-burning, free-love radical whose girlfriends don't wear bras, damn it - and they've taken over the recently sensible Democratic Party is here, from Jacob Weisberg. He was four-years-old in 1968 but his mommy must have told him awful things about the hippies. He and most of the right have never gotten over the hippies. They've never gotten over the sixties at all. They hated the sixties.

There's a long discussion of that here at Hullabaloo, with a lot of political history, and it ends with this -
One of the hallmarks of liberalism is its belief in empiricism. When things aren't working we try to figure out why and solve the problem. Despite our unfounded reputation for starry-eyed naive belief in human perfectibility, we are the practical thinkers who are looking to the future and trying to figure out a way to make things better. It is a grave misreading of the current sentiment to assume that we don't care about national security. The reason we are trying so hard to change things is because we do care about it. I don't think I'm the only who feels much less secure than I once did knowing that we have alienated half the world out of some misplaced faith in machismo as a diplomatic strategy. The world stage isn't high school and I'd like to see something a little more sophisticated than locker room psychology brought to bear to solve these problems. In case nobody's noticed, the Middle East isn't looking so good right now and the Republicans are shrieking like banshees in ever more hysterical terms. Far be it for me to object, what with the need to live down the summer of love and all, but that just doesn't seem like a good situation to me.

Perhaps it's fashionable to adopt Weisberg's disdainful pose, but it's completely worthless on both a political and policy level. It's as if they are living in an endless feed-back loop and haven't thought a new thought in decades. I doubt that even winning a majority will convince these timorous chatterers that objecting to Republican national security policy isn't a death wish, but it won't matter. The only thing that matters is that the Democratic Party stops listening to them.
Yep, it is time to move on. It is puzzling when you've angered a conservative friend with your views, and they can think of nothing to say but to call you a damned hippie. There aren't any of those left. The older conservatives sputter and call you a communist, but they're stuck in 1953 or so. There aren't any of those around either. It's very curious.

As for who's really a radical, you could look at it this way -
Right now the extremist radical position is to stay the course in Iraq and just keep blindly flailing at terrorism with no real idea of how to tackle it on a long term basis. Consider this: George W. Bush turned the office of State Department undersecretary for public diplomacy into a patronage job and appointed one of his second rate office wives at a time when this country's greatest challenge is to win a war of ideas. He's kept Don Rumsfeld in charge of the war effort even as we have been watching him slowly unravel before our very eyes. Americans are hated by a majority of the world's inhabitants now. There is no Democrat in the country who would have done that.

Phantom hippies are the least of our problems. Is it too much to ask that the media not fall for Karl Rove's manufactured spin for just one minute and recognize that this nation's foreign policy is being run by incompetent political hacks and neocon fanatics at a time of maximum danger? It's fun to take these little trips down memory lane and all, but really, we have serious issues to deal with and the current government is doing a terrible job of it. Perhaps we could take our eyes off the rear view mirror for a minute or two and deal with the fleet of Mack trucks that are coming right at us.
But it's just hard to abandon the narrative that so convenient. It may have nothing to do with reality, but it sure is handy when challenged.

And as for these airplane bombing that were stopped before they could happen, see Bill Montgomery here -
One can choose one's degree of paranoia here, since the only information sources about the plot are the police and intelligence agencies involved, plus the political spinmeisters.

Many of us have grown accustomed enough to the pointless politicization of color-coded alerts to be instantly skeptical. But the idea that Al Qaeda had a "big one" in the works -- and would have loved to have pulled the trigger in the middle of Israel's war on Lebanon - certainly isn't inherently implausible. I've mentioned the possibility myself.

On the other hand, none of the previous known plots hatched by the British wing of the movement have come anywhere close to the alleged scope and sophistication of this one. To expect a bunch of idiots who literally couldn't figure out how to set their own shoes on fire to pull off the simultaneous destruction of up to 20 planes using liquid explosives is a bit of a stretch.

I'm also dubious about the claim that the plotters were following - almost to the letter - an 11-year old plan developed by Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to blow up a dozen or so US airliners over the Pacific. Following the script for a previously exposed and foiled operation doesn't exactly seem like a global terrorism best practice. Are we dealing with professionals or amateurs here? Or is it a little bit of both, plus a healthy dose of hype from a couple of guys (Bush and Blair) who right now can use all the hype - and raw, adrenalized fear - they can get?

Like I said, it's a BYOP (bring your own paranoia) party. The truth behind the latest episode of the "Osama bin Laden Hour" is one of those unknown unknowns Rumsfeld talks about. Would the security apparatuses of two leading capitalist powers (including the commercial heavyweight champion of the world) really turn the global transportation system on its ear just for the sake of a temporary political advantage? And if that's really what's really going on, why isn't it October right now?

Maybe what matters most isn't the credibility of the plot - using whichever meaning of the word you think most appropriate - but the fact that five years after 9/11 British society apparently contains a large (and growing?) number of young Muslim men who would like to kill as many Americans as they can whenever and wherever they can.

It's a pretty ironic coda to the wingnut flypaper theory - under which we were supposed to "take the fight" to the terrorists in Iraq (and Afghanistan and Lebanon and, in time, Iran) so that we wouldn't have to fight them in the streets of New York and London.

… Either there are more than enough flies to go around or the flypaper has moved - or both.

… What can I say? We're stuck to our own flypaper. Which means that phony or not, today's hysteria probably is an authentic glimpse at the shape of things to come. We're going to have to get used to the idea of standing in two-hour lines at airport security and toting our carry-on items in a clear plastic bags. But these inconveniences are absurdly insignificant compared to other risks we face if we remain on the road we're on - the one that leads to that clash of civilizations the uberhawks are clamoring for.
They do want a war with Iran and Syria - to clear things up once and for all, which those two additional wars would not do. There'd be even more guys working on mass murder.

And as or the stopping of this plot proving the administration was right about everything, see Fred Kaplan here -
According to the Times of London, Pakistan's intelligence service worked "closely with MI5 and Scotland Yard" and, at the request of British authorities, supplied information that proved "crucial in thwarting the attacks" and in arresting the alleged conspirators, most of them apparently of Pakistani descent.

If police hadn't nabbed them in their homes during a sweeping raid, the plotters would likely have sailed through airport security. Metal detectors are blind to liquid explosives. Short of an amazing stroke of luck (along the lines of the flight attendant who sniffed out Richard Reid's attempt to ignite his shoe bomb on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001), not even the most astute guard would have looked twice at a soft-drink container or at the flash camera that was reportedly to trigger the blast.

By the same token, drones and radar-warning planes can't spot every potential terrorist scrambling across the border. X-ray machines cannot cope with the vast boatloads of cargo unloaded every day at America's ports (the standard estimate is that just 2 percent of containers are inspected). Nor can the radiation detectors deployed along New York City's bridges and tunnels pick up every gamma ray emitted by every truck that zooms by.

Border patrols and detection devices are necessary tools. Like locks on the front door, they make it harder for terrorists to make plans and wreak havoc. But there's always a back door or window that can be pried open. Preventing that from happening requires good intelligence, and good intelligence requires contacts with the sort of people who hang around the dark alleys of the world.

There's a broader lesson here, and it speaks to the Bush administration's present jam throughout the Middle East and in other danger zones. If the British had adopted the same policy toward dealing with Pakistan that Bush has adopted toward dealing with, say, Syria or Iran (namely, it's an evil regime, and we don't speak with evil regimes), then a lot of passenger planes would have shattered and spilled into the ocean, hundreds or thousands of people would have died, and the world would have suddenly been plunged into very scary territory.
What follows that is detailed discussion of how we have stopped all contact with those governments. Syria used to help us with all sorts of inside information on al Qaeda. They'll like to do that again, for various self-serving reasons. They might be willing to rein in Hezbollah.

But we don't talk with the bad guys - that would acknowledge then, and give them some sort of legitimacy they don't deserve. The Brits do.

And that leads to the obvious question -
It is time to ask: Which is the more "moral" course - to shun odious regimes as a matter of principle or to take unpleasant steps that might prevent mass terror?
Well, duh?

We get caught up in our own narrative of how things should be. And the Brits saved our bacon on this one. It's just that it isn't being framed that way. It's a bit mad. But what can you do?

Posted by Alan at 22:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006 06:52 PDT home

Wednesday, 9 August 2006
Joe's Bad Day
Topic: Election Notes
Joe's Bad Day
Joe's bad day would be Wednesday, August 9, when the sun rose and three-term Senator Joseph Lieberman faced a new world - the night before he had lost the Connecticut party primary to a virtual unknown. The state's Democrats had said they'd rather not have him represent them. He lost by ten thousand votes, or four percentage points. The party that six years earlier had chosen him to be their vice presidential candidate showed him the door, or the Connecticut branch of the party did. Thanks, it's been a fun eighteen years - now go home.

He was not happy. He will run in the November election as an independent, or as he puts it, in a term he made up, a "petitioning Democrat," although no one quite knows what that means. The Democrats have moved on. He cannot run as one. The fellow who won, Ned Lamont, is now endorsed by the party, and all the big guns are standing behind him. The Connecticut folks made their choice, and the party recognizes that - Lamont gets the endorsements, the support, and the party money to run in the November election.

Lieberman was stunned - and defiant and pouting and whiny. It's a bit sad. One thinks of Willie Loman in the Arthur Miller play.

Well, he might win in November and return for another six years as Connecticut's senior senator. He just won't return as a Democrat, even if he calls himself one. He'll be something else - the Democrat the party didn't want. If so, that will be very curious.

The news was filled with what it all means - everyone had an opinion. And it overwhelmed stories like this -
The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to US officials and a copy of the amendments.

… "People have gotten worried, thinking that it's quite likely they might be under a microscope," said a US official. Foreigners are using accusations of unlawful US behavior as a way to rein in American power, the official said, and the amendments are partly meant to fend this off.
Can you say Milosevic?

Of course the president takes an oath to defend and uphold the constitution, and to "faithfully execute" the laws. When the Republican shoved this war crimes law through in 1996 they must have been kidding, saying since we ratified all the Geneva Conventions there would be no problem with federal prosecution of anyone violating them, as any ratified treaty has the force of federal law and this would show we're the good guys. The idea seemed to be that our courts could handle this, not some judge in court in the Hague who doesn't even speak English and probably has it out for America. We'd take care of it here. And now we won't.

This all flows from the recent Hamdan ruling (here) - "Once Common Article 3 applies to the conflict with al Qaeda, the legal framework within which we analyze the various interrogation and torture allegations changes dramatically, as does the ... potential liability of various US officials under the War Crimes Act."

Oops. It's time to change the act, and do it before November, when the opposition party could hold one or both houses of congress. There is an urgent need to redefine the meaning of "war crimes."

It's not, admittedly, a big news story. It's not about sad Joe. This seems a bit over the top - "Is there a pit of slime so filthy these moral cretins won't drag us through it? A cup of national humiliation so bitter they won't make us drain it to the dregs? Apparently not."

Well, there are things we now do we never did before, or never made policy. The law needs to catch up with how we treat people now.

On Joe's bad day the war in Lebanon of course had to grab some headlines. The Israeli cabinet approved a massive invasion of southern Lebanon and the cease-fire resolution that we and the French were pushing at the UN fell apart, over the issue when and if the Israelis ever leave Lebanon. Is it the first thing that must be done, or as we insist, the very last thing? The French will float their own resolution. They've had it, and they're the ones who will lead the peacekeeping force if one is ever sent in. We stand with Israel - not one Israeli soldier leaves until Hezbollah is no more and things are peaceful. The president, flanked by the secretary of state, did call for "no escalation, please" - and told everyone that see, we can criticize Israel, but most read that as a sop to the rising anger in the Arab world, and the puzzlement worldwide that we seem to think more fighting - for weeks, for a month, for many months - is a fine idea.

And more and more you see things like this posted at Conservative Values for America -
Any and all who are enemies of the great nation of Israel should be destroyed by whatever means necessary.

I am sure that you have been following the turmoil in the Middle East, and I am sure that you have been rooting for Israel, as God would have you to do. Remember, the Jews were the prototype Christians, and as such they deserve our support. Israel is the nation of God, and He views it in his Holy Wisdom as "Little America". The situation with Israel and Lebanon is very similar to our situation with the brown-skinned peoples of the word.

Israel has the right to defend herself, even if that means incinerating children with phosphorus bombs.

Israel is the only nation on Earth, besides the United States, that has the God given authority to kill anyone that it sees fit. Do not stand in the way of Israel. The Chosen People of God will have no qualms about sending someone to your happy little home to kill you. Israel must defend itself, using any means necessary. There are no innocent people, and no people who are not expendable, when the safety of Israel's northern border outposts is at stake.
You hear a milder version of this sort of thing from Falwell and Pat Robertson - who have the president's ear. Pat Robertson was in Israel on Joe's bad day, cheering the Israelis on.

But it was Joe's day, and he was all over saying he was mad and running as an independent. In his concession speech (video here) and the morning-after Today show chat (video here), he was saying - "I am committed to this campaign, to a different kind of politics, to bringing the Democratic Party back from Ned Lamont, Maxine Waters to the mainstream, and for doing something for the people of Connecticut. That's what this is all about: which one of us, Lamont or me, can do more for the future of our people here in Connecticut. And on that basis, I'm going forward with confidence, purpose and some real optimism."

The idea, of course, is that only a few lefty cranks oppose the war or think we should get out somehow or other. It's going great and Bush was and is right about most everything. He doesn't read the polls, or doesn't believe they are accurate. He has some secret knowledge of "the mainstream" the pollsters missed. It's a bit delusional.

The most recent New York Times/CBS shows this -

- 62 percent disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war, while only 32 percent approve
- 63 percent think the war with Iraq was not "worth the loss of American life and other costs" while only 30 percent think it was
- 57 percent think things are going very or somewhat badly for U.S. "efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq" while only 41 percent think things are going very or somewhat well
- 53 percent think "Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy" while only 4 percent think it will occur in the "next year or two"
- 56 percent think the U.S. should "set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," compared to 40 percent who oppose such a timetable
- 72 percent think the Iraq war has made the United States' image in the world worse, 69 percent think it has hampered U.S. diplomatic efforts, and 41 percent think continued U.S. presence in Iraq makes the region less stable; only 25 percent think it makes the region more stable

That's not the mainstream? Right.

So what are people specifically saying about Joe?

The attorney and best-selling author Glenn Greenwald says this -
Most of the ramifications of Joe Lieberman's extraordinary defeat will require some time to discern, but one thing is already painfully clear. With his behavior Tuesday night, Lieberman has turned himself into the most vivid symbol of the insular, arrogant, corrupt and power-desperate Washington establishment, the sheer cravenness and corruption of which are what catalyzed the campaign against him in the first place.

Those who compose that entrenched Beltway power establishment - the endlessly reelected political officials, the hordes of consultants and lobbyists who feed off and control them, and the pampered, self-loving "journalists" who enable it all - are characterized by a single-minded quest to perpetuate their own power, flavored by a thinly masked contempt for the masses on whose behalf this system ostensibly plods along. Lieberman's conduct last night was a perfect textbook for all of those afflictions.

Like the establishment mavens who rushed to defend him, Lieberman exposed himself as a man driven by a single, overarching motivation - a desperate desire to cling to his source of power, his Senate seat, not because of any political ideals he wants to pursue but solely because of the personal satisfaction, attention and benefits it provides him. Embodying one of the defining attributes of the permanent Beltway class, Lieberman plainly craves - has become addicted to - the petty trappings of his role in the grand Beltway court. The only cause that seems to stir Joe Lieberman to anger, aggression and confrontation is the glorious struggle for Joe Lieberman to cling to his Senate seat.

The man whose (largely Republican) media supporters glorified him as one of the few "men of principle" left in Washington has revealed himself to be bereft of all principles save one - the "principle" that Joe Lieberman's Senate seat belongs to him personally and that no mere voters, those silly, unenlightened masses, have the right to take that away from him. In the face of this rare testament to true democracy - the decisive rejection of Lieberman by Connecticut voters in defiance of virtually the entire national political establishment - Lieberman had nothing but scorn, contempt and defiance for their decision.

He thus intoned: "I am disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand." This man of principle "will not let that result stand" - "that result" being the considered decision of the voters whom he has claimed to represent for the last 18 years.

A more selfish and craven act is difficult to imagine. Lieberman single-handedly will impose endless grief and conflict on his Democratic colleagues who loyally rallied to support him. He will drain attention and resources away from his party's already difficult struggle to restore balance and oversight to our federal government, and to end one-party rule in November. He will sow still more intense divisions and raging hostilities among those who oppose the Bush administration. And he will subject his state to three more months of electoral warfare while he forces it to have what is sure to be an increasingly bitter and nasty election - an election that it just had.

And this "man of principle," this elevated gentleman who is too pure and righteous for Washington, will do all of that for one reason and one reason only - because he is too weak and selfish to give up his Senate seat and accept the decision of Connecticut voters that they want a different senator representing their interests in Washington. The fallout from the well-deserved and desperately needed blow dealt to the national political establishment will be unclear for some time to come, but one thing that is not unclear is Joe Lieberman's character. He has revealed it for all it to see.
So suck it up and be a man? Stop whining. You lost. That seems to be the idea.

Sidney Blumenthal is even less kind, and provides historical context -
Joe Lieberman's fall from grace appears straightforward. In Connecticut, where George W. Bush and his war are intensely disliked, Lieberman stationed himself as the president's defender. But Lieberman's precipitous descent from nomination as vice president to rejection by his home state partisans is also something of a mystery.

Lieberman was once the most attractive and promising Democrat in his state, his grasp of political realities subtle and sinuous. But he became scornful of disagreement, parading himself as a moral paragon to whom voters should be privileged to pay deference. The elevation of his sanctimony was accompanied by the loss of his political sense.
And you have to love the history (emphases added) -
When Lieberman ran his first primary campaign, for the state Senate, in 1970, against an entrenched Democratic machine politician, he was an insurgent reformer, relying on an army of young idealistic volunteers. (One of them was Yale law student Bill Clinton.) Lieberman was a star liberal on the Yale campus, editor of the Yale Daily News, a civil rights worker in the South, an activist against the Vietnam War, and yet adept at getting out the vote. His senior honors thesis was a study of the Democratic state boss, John Bailey, who forged competing ethnic groups into a winning coalition. The young Lieberman's victory seemed to herald a new day in Connecticut.

For decades, indeed for two centuries, Connecticut has been a caldron of peculiarly American culture wars. In the election of 1800, the president of Yale, speaking for the reigning puritan establishment, denounced the Democratic presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, as "immoral." Starting in the 1870s, Connecticut was straitjacketed by laws forbidding birth control. In 1926, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, the wife of a liberal Hartford doctor, formed the Connecticut Birth Control League to challenge the restriction. (Their daughter, actor Katharine Hepburn, continued their activism as the league grew into Planned Parenthood.)

In 1950, the state treasurer of Planned Parenthood, a liberal-minded Republican banker tainted by his association, was narrowly defeated in a race for the US Senate. His name was Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. and grandfather of George W., and he won election two years later.

It was not until 1965 that the US Supreme Court ruled that Connecticut's birth control law was unconstitutional, violating the right to privacy, a decision that laid the groundwork for the legalization of abortion in 1973 and ignited new culture wars.

In 1988, conservatives in the state, led by right-wing writer William F. Buckley Jr., in their loathing for liberal Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr., rallied behind his Democratic opponent, Joe Lieberman, who won a bare margin on the basis of their votes. Lieberman was liberal on abortion, but that didn't matter to the right, which was determined to purge the Republican Party.
So he's a creation of William F. Buckley? He was always the willing tool of the conservatives? Fascinating.

And then there's the sanctimonious bullshit -
Over time, Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, became more observant and culturally conservative. His speech denouncing President Clinton as "immoral" during the impeachment spectacle was as unsurprising as it was unctuous. His links to neoconservatives and the religious right proliferated. He became close to Dick and Lynne Cheney and helped found a group with Lynne to criticize liberal professors. Last year, at the 50th anniversary dinner of Buckley's National Review, the leading conservative magazine, Lieberman sat at the head table.
Ah, he is an odd duck. Just where does he fit?

There's much more detail, but this conclusion -
Believing that he had turned into a sacrosanct institution beyond reproach, the acolyte of Democratic leader Bailey neglected political organization. Disdainful of New England Democrats for daring to criticize the Southern conservative president, Lieberman was stunned by the emergence of an intra-party opponent, Ned Lamont, a liberal patrician banker.

Lieberman finished his campaign on a desperate note, proclaiming his purity of heart as a Democrat and assailing Bush on Iraq blunders, even as he announced in losing that he would not abide by his party's verdict and instead run as an independent. The man of faith is now running on bad faith. Self-righteousness fostered self-delusion, leading to self-destruction. Lieberman's fall is a cautionary tale not limited to Connecticut.
So he came to think his shit don't stink. That seems to be an occupational hazard with politicians.

Over at "Same Facts" UCLA professor (Public Policy) Mark Kleiman is just blunt -
I despise Lieberman, and have despised him ever since he sold out Al Gore in the 2000 VP debate. He sat there making himself look like a good guy and thereby missed the opportunity to portray Dick Cheney for the extreme right-winger he has always been. Add to that that Lieberman is the sort of pompous, self-righteous moralizer who give all the other pompous, self-righteous moralizers a bad name, and that he has pretty much played on Team Bush for the last four years. (Remember Lieberman's stalwart defense of John Kerry against the Swiftboaters? That's funny. Neither do I.)

On the other hand, he would vote as a Democrat to organize the Senate, and that's the key vote. Spending money and energy on an intra-party squabble when the major problem is how to count to 51 seemed to me like a tactical mistake.

But now that he's lost the primary, he has a choice between making his critics look stupid and his friends look smart by backing out gracefully and doing the reverse by staying in. Right now, it looks as if he's going to embarrass his friends and delight his critics. I'm still hoping that all the national Democrats - including, in an astonishing act of generosity, Bill Clinton - who campaigned for Lieberman during the primary will now call in their chits and tell Lieberman that if he runs as an independent he's someone they used to know.
This man is not exactly well liked, is he?

See also Josh Marshall in Time Magazine here -
The Lieberman camp says Joe stuck to his guns on Iraq notwithstanding the political perils or the unpopularity of the position in his party. But that doesn't quite cut it. True, he had to know he wasn't winning any points with the broad mass of Democrats around the country. And his embitterment against his party for his ignominious defeat in the 2004 presidential primaries probably made him more willing to court that displeasure. But I don't think Lieberman really understood the peril he was courting back home. Because if he had, he would have been more prepared for it. And he wasn't.

Most politicians keep close tabs on what's happening back home and work assiduously to keep lines of communications open with the political players in their states or districts. They may get into trouble for any number of reasons. But if they're good at what they do, they don't get caught off guard. And no one was more caught unawares by what happened in the last two months than Joe Lieberman.

Many pundits claim that Lieberman's defeat is a replay of the way Democrats tore themselves apart over Vietnam. It's an appealing thought for Republicans. And it has got nice drama. But those pundits are either being disingenuous or are caught in a time warp. Democrats are actually fairly united on the Iraq War in their opposition to it - which is actually where most Americans are right now. And though many senators are not as full-throated in their opposition as the base of the party, you don't see any successful challenges being made against other senators who aren't ready to bring the troops home.

With Lieberman, there's something different. It's not just that he wouldn't wash his hands of the Iraq War. Lots of Democrats won't. It's more than that. He's seemed almost militantly indifferent to the disaster Iraq has become. And his passion about the war seemed reserved exclusively for those who questioned it rather than those who had so clearly botched the enterprise. His continual embrace of President Bush - both literal and figurative - was an insult to Democrats, the great majority of whom believe Bush has governed as one of the most destructive Presidents in modern American history. It's almost as though Lieberman has gone out of his way to provoke and offend Democrats on every point possible, often, seemingly, purely for the reason of provoking. Is it any wonder the guy got whacked in a party primary?
Yep, when someone goes around saying to his friends "I'm right and you're all wrong, and stupid too" it does get on their nerves. When he says "let me continue to represent you" it's quite natural to say no thanks. Of course he doesn't "get it" - how could these people continue to be so stupid? And he was "connected" after all.

Being connected may have been the problem -
Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-List D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics - as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular, three-term senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington D.C. is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either.
Who is ready?

This wasn't the biggest or most important story of the day, but it had its moments. There's something in the air. All politicians are on notice.

Posted by Alan at 21:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006 06:50 PDT home

Tuesday, 8 August 2006
War Thoughts: Someone Needs to Tell the Story
Topic: Perspective
War Thoughts: Someone Needs to Tell the Story
So we have wars now in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon - and the ongoing attacks and counterattacks in Gaza, which probably count as one too. They are all covered for us in real-time detail, as are the statements of the leaders of this side or that, explaining why this or that is being done. There are press conferences, audio and video releases to the press or put out on the net, speeches at the UN - the leaders explain themselves and rally their followers, and hope to dismay their enemies.

The problem may be we have no Ernest Hemingway clarifying things, as in this -
As a young reporter, Hemingway met Mussolini. He recognized him as an act from quite early on, when he and a crowd of fellow reporters were summoned into Il Duce's black-shirted presence at the Lausanne Conference.

"Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering Dictator ... I tiptoed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary - held upside down." - Toronto Daily Star, 27 January 1923
Who would he interview today? Our incurious president? Anyone can see the parallel, although George Bush is not one to fake book-learning and intelligence - he considers that stuff just not relevant to leadership, where following your instincts and resolve, not details, matter. He's just not a fraud, like the little Italian fellow. What you see is what you get.

And any collection of quotes from Hemingway has statements like these - "You can wipe out your opponents. But if you do it unjustly you become eligible for being wiped out yourself." Hemingway would be banned from Fox News.

And there's this - "They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."

That's Michael Moore territory, although it refers to a line from an ode of Horace - "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori" - and to Wilfred Owen describing death from mustard gas in the trenches in Word War One here. Michael Moore doesn't cite the Roman poets.

Who knows what Hemingway would report on Tuesday, August 8, as the Associated Press tells us here that south Lebanon is "closed" - basically Israel shut down south Lebanon with a threat "to blast any moving vehicles?" The ground fighting at the Israeli border intensified, even more, and airstrikes killed at least nineteen civilians. The moderate Arab governments we counted on to reject the Hezbollah "terrorists" all called for a full Israeli withdrawal as a condition of any cease-fire, and we still maintain there really should be a cease-fire, as long as Israel stays there and can continue to go get the bad guys, and as soon as the bad guys agree to disband and find something else to do with their time. That's a hard sell.

The Toronto Star is still around, but Hemingway is long gone, so there's no one to capture the nasty absurdity of all this.

The evening was the US, French and Arab negotiators meeting into the night at the United Nations, and Israel "voicing cautious interest" in a Lebanese proposal to deploy 15,000 of its troops to control the ground in south Lebanon, where Hezbollah has been firing a whole lot of rockets into Israel. But this was going nowhere - the issue of who will patrol southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah militants are doing their thing, is the real sticking point in these UN cease-fire negotiations. Lebanon and other Arab nations were insisting the Israeli forces must leave when a cease-fire agreement is reached, and we said we want an international force to replace the Israeli soldiers, to do just what they're doing, even if it takes weeks to make the switch-out. The talk was maybe something could be worked out by late Thursday, but no one sees how. The Security Council put off for at least a day any voting the US (and French) cease-fire proposal. Why? To allow three leading Arab officials to present arguments that the resolution was "heavily tilted" in favor of Israel and did not "take Lebanon's interest and stability into account." We say there might be room for "limited compromise" - but we promise nothing.

And there was this -
Both Israel and the United States issued positive, if lukewarm, assessments Tuesday of the Lebanese government's plan to dispatch 15,000 soldiers into south Lebanon after a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. "It looks interesting and we will examine it closely," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

The White House said it was willing to consider the proposal but is convinced that Lebanon is not equipped to handle the job on its own. "The administration understands that the Lebanese armed forces are going to need some help, and we're working with allies to try to figure out the proper way to do it," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters gathered near the president's vacation home.
Need some help? On various news shows you could see the fellow from Janes Defense Weekly saying this was hardly an army at all - just no capability, no armor, and all the money that should have been spent on equipment and training went into salaries and pensions, to ensure loyalty. And others point out a third of this Lebanese army is Shiite - not inclined to go fight Shiite Hezbollah.

It's bit of a joke, and note this -
A day after his Cabinet conditionally approved dispatching the troops to the south, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora praised Hezbollah's resistance, but said it was time for Lebanon to "impose its full control, authority and presence" nationwide - as directed in previous UN resolutions that also called for the government to disarm Hezbollah. "There will be no authority, no one in command, no weapons other than those of the Lebanese state," he said on Al-Arabiya television.
Saniora is walking a fine line.

And it just gets worse (or better, if you're a Cheney-Kristol neoconservative) -
After four weeks of fighting, nearly 800 people have died on both sides. Rescuers in Lebanon pulled 28 additional corpses from the wreckage of Monday's attacks, raising that day's toll to 77 Lebanese - the deadliest single day of the war. Early Wednesday, Lebanese and Palestinian officials said Israeli gunboats shelled a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, causing a number of casualties.

In Tyre, part of the south Lebanon region where Israel declared the no-drive zone, only pedestrians ventured into the streets. Country roads and highways were deserted throughout the region because of the Israeli threat. Although Israel said it would not attack humanitarian convoys, the UN was not taking any chances. "There are two words that sum up where the humanitarian situation is, and these are 'not enough,'" said Wivina Belmonte of the UN Children's Fund. "Fuel supplies are not enough, hospitals are on life support, supplies of humanitarian goods trying to get into the country are not enough."

At least 160 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel, most of them in and around the towns of Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona, Maalot, Safed. No Israeli civilians were killed.

Some of the fiercest ground fighting raged around the village of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold that Israeli has tried to capture for weeks. Three Israel soldiers were killed there Tuesday, the military said, claiming 35 Hezbollah guerrillas died in the fighting. Hezbollah would not confirm any deaths.

Travel in Lebanon's south has been severely limited since early in the conflict because roads were cut by Israeli airstrikes, many civilians were killed trying to flee the fighting, and rescue and aid workers also were in danger.
Yep, it's that pesky eighteen-mile no-drive zone Israel establish - we warned you civilians to get out, but you figure out how to do it. And good luck with that. The United Nations suspended attempts to send relief to southern Lebanon because of the heavy shelling. They're not crazy.

The tally as of August 9 - at least 689 people have died on the Lebanese side, and on the Israeli side we have 100 killed - 36 civilians and 65 soldiers. It's just a place mark - record of a spot in time.

And no one reporting now has Hemingway's eye for telling detail and gift for narrative compression, so what's being said is a bit pedestrian, although this from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly gets to the logic underlying the madness of Israel waging major war against folks who don't play by those rules, who are just playing a different game (hide-and seek versus NFL football perhaps) -
Readers more hawkish than me sometimes wonder what it would take to convince me that conventional war is an effective tool even against a guerrilla force in the Middle East. Well, suppose this proposal pans out and we end up with a sequence of events something like this:

1. Israel launches massive assault on Lebanon.
2. Lebanese government eventually sues for peace and offers to send its army to the border.
3. Over a period of months the Israeli army hands off control of southern Lebanon to the Lebanese army and withdraws.
4. Hezbollah isn't destroyed, but the Lebanese army manages to keep control of the border and maintain relative peace. Over time their control increases and Hezbollah's influence decreases.

I don't expect this to happen, but if it did it would mean that in this case I was wrong and the hawks were right - and I would have to reexamine my broader worldview about when and where the use of force is effective.

But how about the reverse? I wonder what sequence of events would cause the hawks to reassess their assumptions?
You get the point, but it's a thought-experiment, and a cold one at that. Of course it captures how Israel and the Bush administration say things will inevitably and certainly work out, just as they have in Iraq for us, or something.

Daniel Goldhagen is a bit more dour in the August 8 Los Angeles Times with this review of the options Israel really has in dealing with Hezbollah -

- Deterrence. Won't work because Hezbollah doesn't care if Lebanon gets bombed.
- Genuine peace. Impossible because Hezbollah will never agree.
- Conventional war. Not effective against a guerrilla army.
- Put up with the status quo. Intolerable because Hezbollah's attacks will only escalate.
- War with Syria and Iran.

So that's the only option, of you want to rid yourself of this "mortal enemy."

That summary also comes from Kevin Drum, who adds that when you put it like that, a massive regional war almost sounds reasonable. But he adds this -
Sure, Israel should retaliate against Hezbollah's rocket attacks and destroy what infrastructure they can, but beyond that wouldn't it be wiser for the US and Israel to retain the support of surrounding Arab countries by helping to steadily strengthen Lebanese civil society and the Lebanese government until it gets to the point where it can control Hezbollah?

Yes, this might easily take another decade. And yes, it might not work. But while it may be comforting to think that a massive military assault would work better, recent history suggests this is naive. Sometimes the only answer is the slow and agonizingly frustrating one.
But our administration doesn't like "slow" - and "agonizing frustration" doesn't come easily to the former frat boy and former alcoholic at the helm.

That is captured by Daniel Froomkin in his summary column in the Post, Tuesday, August 8, here -
A vacationing President Bush briefly suited up and faced the media hordes yesterday morning to outline his administration's vision for an eventual cessation of hostilities in Lebanon. Then he high-tailed it back to his sprawling country home, leaving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to do the heavy lifting.

Bush was generous with the familiar talking points but didn't exactly give the impression of someone who feels any sense of personal urgency to stop the killing.
Hemingway would have made much of that, but he's gone. Ah, but we still have Norman Mailer capturing the essence of the whole thing in a speech to The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco a few days before we rolled into Baghdad with this -
Because democracy is noble, it is always endangered. Nobility, indeed, is always in danger. Democracy is perishable. I think the natural government for most people, given the uglier depths of human nature, is fascism. Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace attained only by those countries that have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it.

The need for powerful theory can fall into many an abyss of error. One could, for example, be wrong about the unspoken motives of the administration. Perhaps they are not interested in Empire so much as trying in good faith to save the world. We can be certain at least that Bush and his Bushites believe this. By the time they are in church each Sunday, they believe it so powerfully, tears come to their eyes. Of course, it is the actions of men and not their sentiments that make history. Our sentiments can be flooded with love within, but our actions can produce the opposite. Perversity is always looking to consort with the best motives in human nature.

David Frum, who was a speechwriter for Bush (he coined the phrase "axis of evil"), recounts in The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush what happened at a meeting in the Oval Office last September [2002]. The President, when talking to a group of reverends from the major denominations, told them, "You know, I had a drinking problem. Right now, I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar: I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer."

That is a dangerous remark. As Kierkegaard was the first to suggest, we can never know where our prayers are likely to go nor from whom the answers will come. When we think we are nearest to God, we could be assisting the Devil.

"Our war with terror," says Bush, "begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end ... until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."

But … what if America ends up alienating the whole world in the process?

… "At some point, we may be the only ones left," Bush told his closest advisers, according to an administration member who leaked the story to Bob Woodward. "That's okay with me. We are American."
So why worry? You decide.

And what about what Ulysses S. Grant - a tanner's son who knew his business - called the Butcher's Bill, as Bill Montgomery discusses here? That's a detailed discussion of the "kill ratio" - Hezbollah guerillas to Israeli regulars to date. Israel expected 10:1 in their favor and it looks like 2:1 at the moment.

The problem -
At a kill ratio of 2:1, that would equal 656 (rounded down) Israeli KIA - about a quarter of Israel's combat deaths in the Yom Kippur War, when it was fighting the armies of two Arab states. At a 4:1 kill ratio, it would be 328 KIA - about half of total Israeli deaths in the first Lebanon War.

Of course, if Israel goes to the Litani it would then find itself waist deep in a prolonged guerrilla war of attrition, which no doubt would result in even more Israeli casualties. But we'll leave those off the back of the envelope for now.

Israel has a total population of just over 6 million - about 2% of the US population. So proportionally, 656 Israeli KIA would equal roughly 33,000 American combat deaths, or about two-thirds of US losses for the entire Vietnam War. And like I said, that would probably just be for starters.

Does the Olmert government have the stomach for that kind of fighting? Is the Israeli public willing to pay so much blood to conquer a piece of ground that almost certainly will have to be given back later? And what if the big push doesn't stop the rocket attacks but only reduces them temporarily? Would it still be worth such a price?

These are the questions the Israeli prime minister and his cabinet will have to answer if a ceasefire cannot be arranged. I don't envy them.
But they've made their choice, and they're rolling in, having replaced their top general in the north. Hemingway interviewing Olmert would be cool.

On the other hand, some things are just naturally good and absurd narrative, as in this -
"The position that we're taking in the UN is just nuts," a former White House official close to the US decision-making process said during the negotiations. "The US wants to put international forces on the ground in the middle of the conflict, before there's a ceasefire. The reasoning at the White House is that the international force could weigh on the side of the Israelis - could enforce Hezbollah's disarmament"

… A former US Central Intelligence Agency officer confirmed this view: "I am under the impression that George Bush and Condoleezza Rice were surprised when the Europeans disagreed with the US position - they were running around saying, 'But how can you disagree, don't you understand? Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.'"
Indeed it is, but the whole idea is loopy, even if the rest of the world is being polite and not laughing in our faces.

And who needs the severe Hemingway when you have the flamboyant Montgomery with this -
This is supposed to encourage the French to plunk their people down in the middle of a hot LZ?

Ever since 9/11, there's been this attitude among the Bushies that the most important thing is to convince the world that America's enemies (who are now identical with Israel's enemies) represent the ultimate in evil - the Wal-Mart of evil, the Pittsburgh Steelers of evil, the Dr. Evil of evil. Once that goal has been accomplished, why then of course the "free world" will line up and enlist in Uncle Sam's army. Or so the thinking seems to be.

In other words, the PR strategy is also the diplomatic strategy - and, as we've seen in Iraq, the military strategy as well.

… To paraphrase a slogan, Manichaeism is not a plan. Other than Tony Blair, even our closest allies no longer buy the shining-city-on-the hill act - if they ever did (and Blair may just be a good actor with an eye for the main chance.) The French, like the rest of the non-Islamic world, look at the United States and see a great big muscle-bound bundle of great power ambitions, resource hungers, security paranoias and ideological arrogance - in addition to the good things America represents (or once represented, back in the day.) They look at Hezbollah and see a complex mixture of religious fanaticism, grassroots loyalty and political pragmatism - as well as Iran's proxy in Lebanon. A problem to be handled, but handled with care.

The distinction between these two viewpoints has been overanalyzed to death in recent years. America is from Mars, Europe is from Venus, etc. But at this point it looks pretty fairly straightforward: Americans believe their own PR spin and the Europeans don't. But the French are the ones being asked to put boots on the ground in southern Lebanon, not the Americans. The French aren't very happy about doing this because it's not really in their interests - although papering over their differences with the Cheney administration is in their interests. But they certainly won't go in unless they're satisfied Hezbollah is ready to stop shooting. So if Shrub wants a French-led peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, he has no choice but to accept French terms, which at this point means accepting Hezbollah's terms, which means getting the Israelis out of Lebanon.

… What matters is whether a ceasefire, on terms acceptable to Hezbollah, would be more evil or less evil than allowing the continuation of a war that no longer has much point to it (not unless the Israelis really are prepared to fight their way far enough north to put Hezbollah's rocketeers out of business.)

That's the choice, and all the harrumphing in the world about the "evildoers" isn't going to change the basic power equation. If Bush doesn't like the choices on the diplomatic menu, then he needs to be ready to send in the 82nd Airborne - and accept the consequences. It doesn't look like he is.
But the problem is the neoconservatives, of course -
The neocons are absolutely hooked on unilateralism: It's hardwired into their brains and it doesn't look like any number of fiascos will be enough to rearrange the circuits. The unilateral exercise of American power, particularly military power, is the fundamental, defining, unifying idea of neoconism. It can't be abandoned or the whole pretentious edifice collapses.

A unilateralism that reflects an accurate reading of underlying power relationships is one thing - it may be ugly, but it can certainly "work," from a realpolitik point of view. Just ask Otto von Bismarck. But a unilateralism based on nothing more than a conviction of one's own inherent superiority is a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen (and now it's happening.)

… As a practical matter, it makes no difference whether such delusions are based on imperial tradition, fantasies of racial supremacy, or a deeply held belief in one's own superior morality. Napoleon once said that the moral is to the physical in war as three is to one. Which may be true, but you still need to have that one. And in this particular situation - like so many situations these days - Shrub doesn't have it.

What this means is a need to choose: between a conviction of moral superiority that lives within its means, so to speak, or a much more aggressive mobilization of America and its resources to fight the "long war." But that kind of mobilization doesn't seem to be on anyone's to-do list, except for a few Fox News gasbags.
Well, Montgomery is not Hemingway, but the man can write. He'll do just fine. Someone needs to tell the story.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006 07:09 PDT home

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