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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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Sunday, 22 October 2006
Notes on Leadership as Pathology
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Notes on Leadership as Pathology
As things fall apart for those in power, the president and his party, people do muse on the issue of leadership. Just what is it?

Iraq is a train wreck, our elective war there perhaps the most counterproductive decision the nation has ever made. No one wants us to lose and withdraw from Iraq in shame, but no good alternatives seem available. And the nation might have hung on and agreed with the president's "stay the course" approach - even if now he says he just never said those words at all - but for what we all saw in the administration's absurd response to Hurricane Katrina more that a year ago.

That seems to have been a turning point. Other things then appeared in relief - the attempt to get his less than prepossessing personal attorney a seat on the Supreme Court that had even his own party in revolt, a look back at the Terri Schiavo business where he cut short a vacation to sign legislation to keep the body of one brain-dead woman functioning against the wishes of her husband and what appeared to be her own wishes, and was shot down in every court where the matter was considered. There was stumping the country for changes in the Social Security program, for changing it from an insurance program with defined benefits to a federal program offering investment advice. No one wanted that, yet he persisted. And he claims this is leadership. He didn't care if more than half the country despised him for his actions and positions - leaders are visionaries, or something.

Over in the UK Tony Blair has the same problem -

Over the course of little more than a week, we have learned that civilian casualties so far in the Iraq war may be more than 600,000; that Britain's Chief of the General Staff believes the conflict could break the army apart; that a federal solution to the growing chaos involving the effective dismemberment of the country is being openly discussed in America; that the US Iraq Study Group, headed by Republican grandee James Baker, is recommending that the US military withdraws to bases outside Iraq and seeks Iranian and Syrian help; and that Britain is now the number one al-Qaeda target, partly, it seems clear, as a consequence of events in Iraq.

There should be at least one universal response to this in Britain. Why is Tony Blair still Prime Minister after leading his country into such a disastrous war? Any large company would by now have got rid of a managing director guilty of a mistake on that scale. Any institution you care to name would have done the same. Why is Blair immune from the normal requirements of high office?

Why, instead of being allowed by the cabinet to establish six new policy committees designed to entrench his legacy, has he not been impeached and thrown out of office? Even if his Iraq policy was formed in good faith, the scale of the error surely requires us to ask him and all those concerned with this disaster to leave.
It seems someone - Henry Porter in the case - is most unhappy, but there they have a mechanism for taking care of such things. A vote of no confidence would force new elections - but that won't happen. Barely enough people are mesmerized by Blair's sincerity and consistency (or resolve, if you will), and his stunning articulateness, that, even if he was wrong, is wrong, and will be wrong the future on so many critical issues, at least he is a leader.

So it is with President Bush - save for the stunning articulateness. We only get the stunning gaffs. But two out of three isn't bad. We think Bush, as disastrous as his decisions have been, is still a leader.

Frank Rich of the New York Times, of all people, seems to hold this view, in spite of how much he hates what has happened here. On Sunday, October 22, he writes this -
Call him arrogant or misguided or foolish, this president has been a leader. He had a controversial agenda - enacting big tax cuts, privatizing Social Security, waging "pre-emptive" war, packing the courts with judges who support his elisions of constitutional rights - and he didn't fudge it. He didn't care if half the country despised him along the way.
No, he didn't. But is that leadership

Richard Einhorn doesn't think so -
Say whatever you want about George W. Bush, but he is a leader only in the same way that the 9/11 hijackers were brave.

When the term is used in modern American political discourse, "leader" does not have the standard generalized meaning of "a person in authority" regardless of whether they are good or bad. When Americans use the term "leader" in reference to their own politics, they are not talking about Kim Jong Il or Vladimir Lenin. Americans are invoking the imagery of great American political and cultural leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Coltrane.

First and foremost, a leader persuades others, by proposing sensible ideas in an honest and convincing rhetorical voice.

A leader is NOT someone who doesn't care "if half the country despised him along the way." A leader is NOT someone who hides a tyrannical agenda under the skirts of priests and behind cheesy bromides like "compassionate conservatism." A leader is NOT someone who does exactly as s/he pleases.

Bush does not persuade, he does what he wants, and if anybody stands in the way, he ignores or blackmails them. His ideas are not sensible, but nuts. He is thoroughly dishonest and his inability to articulate even the simplest ideas is a national embarrassment.

In addition, a leader recognizes when a given course of action, especially one that he himself endorsed, is failing. A leader takes responsibility for failures as well as successes. Bush, of course, is notorious both for following his delusions until they lead into total fiasco and for simply refusing to recognize that he ever made a single mistake.

In American public discourse, rightly or wrongly, words like "leader" and "brave" are typically descriptive of people with positive virtues. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader. Idi Amin was not. The students in Tiananmen Square were brave, the man who assassinated Rabin was not.

By drawing a direct comparison between Bush and the 9/11 hijackers, am I saying that Bush is a religious fanatic in the grip of dangerous narcissistic delusions of grandeur and who has no regard for the death of innocents?

You bet I am. And that is not what Americans mean by a leader, Mr. Rich.
Note - you can click on the link and find out how the late John Coltrane got on the leader list, remembering of course that Einhorn is also a noted composer. But this all is curious.

What to make of it? What do we expect our leaders to be?

The widely read Duncan Black ("Atrios") here argues that eagerness to support military adventure is often confused with gravitas. If you don't want to go to war, you're just not a serious leader. One "Winston Smith" here denounces Duncan Black as a weak fool, and a bad writer, and a few other things - sometimes war is necessary and the only alternative we have. No one really wants war, but what are you going to do?

Professor Mark Kleiman of UCLA tries to sort it all out -
Atrios is complaining that eagerness to support military adventure is often confused with gravitas. That complaint has considerable merit. Conservatives have convinced many voters that aversion to warfare as a means of policy displays cowardice: real men, they say, are hawks. Atrios is right to say that a preference for violence reflects a character disorder, though he's mostly wrong to call it sociopathy; it has much more to do with sadism and narcissism.

Winston is right to say that no sane person actually prefers warfare to other means of achieving the same ends, if those ends are in fact achievable without warfare. But he's wrong, I think, to say that the relevant kind of insanity is rare enough to ignore. And the political process tends to select for that kind of insanity.
Now there's a thought - the political process tends to self-select pretty awful people. Those that survive and rise are quite mad. Cool.

Kleiman turns to Machiavelli -
Good people, he [Machiavelli] points out, don't like to hurt others; they prefer generosity to stinginess and mercy to cruelty. But stinginess and cruelty are necessary elements of statecraft, because a public policy of immoderate generosity and mercy boomerangs: generosity winds up by taking money from many to give it to few, and mercy winds up cruelly exposing victims to the violence of undeterred domestic predators and foreign aggressors.

So for good people - generous, merciful, compassionate people - to rule successfully from the viewpoint of those they rule, they need to learn to be able not to be good: to restrain their impulses toward generosity and mercy when it is necessary to be stingy and cruel. When it's necessary to bomb Serbia, killing lots of innocent Serbs, to stop the Serbian government from committing genocide, good rulers go ahead and order the bombing, without enthusiasm but not without resolution. They try to minimize the amount of blood they shed (as Sheldon Wolin says, they economize on the use of violence) but they don't shrink from inflicting some violence to avoid more violence. They aim at the Aristotelian mean.
They do, but it can destroy them -
It's easier for people with a cruel streak to use cruelty than it is for compassionate people to use cruelty, even in a good cause. (As Miss Hardcastle, the head of the secret police, says in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the people who volunteer to do that sort of job are mostly the ones who get a kick out of it.)

So good, compassionate people - liberals - naturally tend to use too little violence. Everyone more or less knows that; the fact that John Wayne is a standing joke among liberals is not lost on our fellow-citizens. So there's a reasonable and natural tendency to want your rulers not to be too good. And that's how a tendency that everyone will admit is pathological gets to be valued in office-seekers, while a tendency that everyone will agree is sane gets to be viewed with distrust. Currently, that's the basic political tactic of the American right: convince the public that liberals are too nice to be entrusted with the national security (and too generous to trust with the public purse). They did it to Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry.
So we want pathological leaders, not sane ones, as we know they get the job done. That explains a great deal. Maybe Frank Rich was right.

But let's assume you think that having a pathological nut case running the most powerful nation on earth isn't a fine idea, given the state of things now. What would you want?

Here's want Kleiman would have -
I'd try to find liberal leaders (e.g., Wesley Clark) who have fully absorbed both halves of the Machiavellian lesson, and who are willing but not eager to suppress their goodness when its suppression is a public necessity.

And I'd have those leaders appeal to the true andreia of the John Wayne character against the defective andreia of the Clint Eastwood character. Defending yourself and others against real threats is manly. Picking fights just for the hell of it is juvenile. Bullies are cowards. Only perverts like hurting people. Torture is for girly-men. Real Americans are above all that.
Andreia, by the way, is the ancient Greek word for manliness and represented the virtue of the warrior - bravery or courage. You can tell Kleiman, using this word, teaches at a major university - UCLA - and one that is just a few miles west of Hollywood, thus references to the celluloid warriors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

So, of Bush's leadership, are we dealing with a pervert, coward and "girly-man?" That's possible.

Steve Gilliard suggests a different pathology -
George Bush has never explained Iraq in terms which a logical person could understand. Iraq has been an emotional appeal from the first day going after Saddam was raised. It was never about any actual threat, but an emotional desire to prove we could dominate anyone who opposed us.

For Bush, who has failed at every task ever put before him, from work, to the military to school, this was going to be his vindication. He so desperately wanted to be a hero and Iraq was going to solve all of his issues. He would defeat an enemy, prove himself worthy and gain the respect from his family he so desperately wanted.

Which is why he chose men his father kept at arms length. Bush never wanted advice, he wanted confirmation of his beliefs. His narrow world view, shaped by the dust dry plains of Midland as much as any movie, this idea that a man didn't need or want questions, he just did.

Which is how he approached the American people, not with facts, but an emotional appeal. He's out there, he's guilty, let's get him first. That was the goal, get them first, show them who is boss, Those who don't get that are weak, even if they are in uniform. We will show the world they better not fuck with us again. Iraq will be first, and the rest will bend to our will. We will show them what a superpower does.

This was never a logical argument, it was never a reasoned one, it was pure emotion, which the anti-war movement never got. Iraq was a challenge to us, our manhood, our power and anyone in the way just didn't care.

It wasn't anything to do with concrete facts. It wasn't just fear, but emasculation which Bush sold and that worked on women like a charm. People wanted to believe that the US could run down Iraq and then all manner of miracle would follow, not because of what people wanted but because people feared the US. It wasn't democracy, but control, to finally make Iraq like Israel, a Westernish country loyal to the US. It wasn't anything about what the Iraqis wanted, although the exiles fed into those delusions, which fell into their own delusions, that Iraq was just waiting for their leadership.
So this is why so many people believed in Bush for so long - it was all emotional, and only now reality is messing that up. The Iraq War psychological payback for 9/11 and all that - even if he was the wrong guy who had pretty much left us alone. He'd do.

But nothing worked out and now all we have is the sad pathology we as a nation selected (if Kleiman is right) -
Bush is a bully and a coward at heart. Iraq was chosen because Iraq would be easy, and then the rest of the Middle East would follow. It was the easy way to solve our problems, not our real problems, but our emotional pain, the unresolved conflict over being attacked. And Bush would resolve his lifelong lack of success.

Bush will not leave Iraq, not because he thinks we can win, or he thinks it's part of the war on terror. But because he cannot face another failure. Which is why Scowcroft and Baker have had no influence on him. They are his father's men, veterans, despite their politics, realists. Bush is not and never has been. When he wasn't hiding from his failure with booze and coke, he hid from it with Jesus. Now he has Henry Kissinger whispering in his ear, telling him what he wants to hear. He doesn't want advice, he wants support and only support. Those who do not support him, are diminished, then banished.

This is a man who has never honestly looked himself in the face and said I have failed. He has always been protected from failure.

Which is why Rumsfeld keeps his job. To admit he was incompetent, and some days he seems positively addled, would reflect poorly on Bush.

When people look to understand Iraq, they look at the facts and see failure, but that isn't what Bush sees. He sees one more chance for personal glory and he will not quit until he is forced to.
Gilliard argues many Republicans have no idea that they have bought into this odd psychodrama. The man "seeks redemption as desperately as he drank - and his redemption is in Iraq." He's just dragging us all along with him, and now people want out. It's too late for that. This is not the UK - there isn't any "no confidence" vote. The midterm election may hobble him, should the Democrats gain the House or Senate, or both. But that won't change much. Now he can use the veto he never used before. He'll just dig in - they call it "hunkering down." Maybe thing will slowly begin to change after mid-January 2009 as someone else is sworn in. Or maybe not. Perhaps the system does self-select nasty people.

Until then? This -
As bad as Saddam was, you could walk the streets without being kidnapped by criminals or having your daughters raped on the way to school. We have created a charnel house in Iraq because of Bush and his refusal to listen to advice he didn't want to hear.

Phased withdrawal is bullshit. Once you start withdrawing troops from Iraq, the demand to do it quicker will mount. Because Iraq is a house of cards, once it goes, it goes quickly. Anyone who would serve in an occupation government isn't strong enough to lead a real government and Maliki is doomed to join Kerensky as the leader of a failed state.

Iraq is only now become fact, not emotion, and we have to find a way out of it. George Bush's psychodrama is going to end badly.
Ah, but will it end? Is there any way out?

The administration is talking about creating a "blueprint" for making progress in Iraq, and it goes like this -
Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

... A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said that Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he added, "If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment" of the American strategy in Iraq.

... "We're trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming," a senior Bush administration official said. "We can't be there forever."
But when the New York Times reported all this on Sunday, October 22, the White House was all over the media saying this was not a "timetable" thing - timetables are evil, they encourage the enemy to hang on and wait us out, and we'll never set timetables. We'll set milestones - it's a different thing entirely.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is exasperated -
Take your pick: (a) They're serious about this. (b) They're trying to put together a plan - any plan - in order to prevent James Baker's forthcoming recommendations from becoming the default "sensible" middle course accepted by everyone in the DC punditocracy. (c) It's meaningless except as political theater. Bush just wants the country to think he's busily working on something, and this is the something.

I actually don't know which of the three it is. Maybe all of them to some degree. But while we're on the subject, note that this is all coming in the same week that the former head of the British armed forces gave his considered opinion about how we're doing in our various wars: "I don't believe we have a clear strategy in either Afghanistan or Iraq. I sense we've lost the ability to think strategically." He was talking about Britain, but obviously his remarks were aimed at the United States as well. After all, we're the ones primarily setting the strategy.

I wonder how long it will take America to recover from George Bush's uniquely blinkered and self-righteous brand of ineptitude. In the past five years he's demonstrated to the world that we don't know how to win a modern guerrilla war. He's demonstrated that we don't understand even the basics of waging a propaganda war. He's demonstrated that other countries don't need to pay any attention to our threats. He's demonstrated that we're good at talking tough and sending troops into battle, but otherwise clueless about using the levers of statecraft in the service of our own interests. If he had set out to willfully and deliberately expose our weaknesses to the world and undermine our strengths, he couldn't have done more to cripple America's power and influence in the world. Beneath the bluster, he's done more to weaken our national security than any president since World War II.

So how long will it take - after George Bush has left office - for our power and influence on the world stage to return to the level it was at in 2001? When I'm in a good mood, I figure five years. Realistically, ten years is probably more like it. And when I'm in a bad mood? Don't ask. It's really all very depressing.
Of course it is. There's no way out, and (c) is most likely - it's meaningless except as political theater, the administration wanting the country to think they're busily working on something, and this is the something. One thing sounds as good as another. Consider it an appeal to the emotions. That's what leadership comes down to these days - not doing much of anything, but creating the right attitude in the general population, one that keeps you in office.

And they know all of it is show. Take the case of Alberto Fernandez, our director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the state department -a special appointment by Condoleezza Rice herself, a long and distinguished career, and dead-flat fluent in Arabic. Sunday, October 22, we get this -
A senior U.S. State Department diplomat told Arab satellite network Al Jazeera that there is a strong possibility history will show the United States displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity" in its handling of the Iraq war.

Alberto Fernandez, director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs, made his comments on Saturday to the Qatar-based network.

"History will decide what role the United States played," he told Al Jazeera in Arabic, based on CNN translations. "And God willing, we tried to do our best in Iraq."

"But I think there is a big possibility ... for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq," the diplomat told Al Jazeera.

… "I can only assume his remarks must have been mistranslated. Those comments obviously don't reflect our policy," a senior Bush administration official said.

Fernandez told CNN that he was "not dissing U.S. policy."

"I know what the policy is and what the red lines are, and nothing I said hasn't been said before by senior officials."
In short, everyone knows we've been extraordinarily arrogant and quite stupid in myriad ways. What Fernandez is saying is that it hardly matters. Leadership is doing what we do, whatever it is, and often it is nearly insane. But it's leadership. History, which will judge all this, is for later. Leadership is for now. It was a big shrug. What are you going to do? We did what we did.

What it comes down to, what Frank Rich was reflecting, is that we now seem to define leadership as "doing" - and it hardly matters if what's being done is stupid, or if it doesn't work, or even if it does the opposite what the leader says it will do (like make us all safer). And even if this "doing" is generated from some very odd pathology, it's still doing something. So we go along, as it's emotionally satisfying to do so.

Things have to get really bad for people to withdraw support from a leader who is "doing things." We may be there. We can live with the pathologies - we've done so before (Nixon and others of your choice). But now it's what has actually been done. Breaking everything is not leadership, even if it is doing something.

Posted by Alan at 20:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006 07:23 PDT home

Saturday, 21 October 2006
Gloom and Doom
Topic: Perspective
Gloom and Doom
Eleanor Hall hosts The World Today - a weekday lunch hour current affairs show on ABC Local Radio and Radio National, except the ABC in this case is the Australian Broadcast Company - think BBC with kangaroos or something. It's one of those NR-style shows - background and debate from Australia and the world - offering what Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, calls thumb-suckers. It's background on the news, extended background. But the show on Thursday, 19 October, seems to have caused a stir beyond the land down under. And of course noon Thursday in Sidney was seven in the evening Wednesday in Hollywood, and it wasn't until Friday before folks here started to notice this - Eleanor Hall interviews a famous military strategist who says the United States has lost control Iraq, and maybe never really has it anyway.

This is depressing. Could it be so? The link has the transcript and the audio in three different formats, but the gist of it is in her introduction -
A key US military strategist who counts the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, among his students, is absolutely scathing about the current Bush administration's strategy in Iraq and says no one except the President is in any doubt that it should change. Harlan Ullman who's now at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says the US lost control of events in Iraq almost immediately after the invasion and that far from assisting in the development of democracy, the US-led allies, including Australia, have fomented chaos. But Dr Ullman says he holds out little hope that either the escalating US deaths in Iraq or the recommendations now being developed by a senior policy adviser to the former Bush administration, James Baker, will convince the President to change his mind.
That's cheery, or in his own words -
We lost control of events on the ground probably in April or May of 2003. And it's taken a long time for that recognition to dawn in the White House.

The President and the administration has refused to recognize reality. Iraq is a disaster. It is a disaster at every level, and to think that they've got a functioning government and to think that the situation is better today than it was in 2003 or 2004, or 2005, is unbelievable.

We have a catastrophe on our hands and of course we've got to make course corrections and the only guy in town who seems not to be able to recognize that, sadly, is the President.

And so under these circumstances, it's very difficult to move forward because of the power of the President, and how you get the President to change his or her mind, in this case his mind, is extremely difficult.

But of course we're on a stupid course, but that doesn't mean that we are going to change it quickly enough to make a difference.
Well, we elected someone resolute - so we'd better learn to live with it, except for the troops who die, who won't.

But, but… they had elections and we could eventually get a fine democracy there.

No -
It's just not conceivable, it is not feasible, probably in our lifetime. We should have understood that from the beginning, but we haven't, and what we have to do now is limit the damage in Iraq, so it does not spill over the borders and create a further catastrophe in the Middle East, which we cannot contain.
But James Baker's Iraq Study Group will come up with something, won't they?

No -
I know the people on the group, they are rational, and they are smart. And anybody who has looked at this, who is rational, smart and objective, understands that we are losing, that we have to change things, that we have to change our strategy, we have to take American, British, Australian troops out of the line of fire, get them out of Baghdad, get them out of Basra. It's up to the Iraqis.

We know what we have to do is to defend the sovereignty of Iraq, that is the borders, we've got to train, but it's up to the Iraqis. We also have to have a regional conference on Iraq with all the powers, we've got to talk to Iran, and we've got to talk to Syria. Question is, how do you get the President to listen?
Well, you don't. Everyone knows that, and more than a few people have pointed out the one of the dynamics in play here - like so many former alcoholics (or dry-drunks or "recovering alcoholics" or whatever term you use) who skipped AA and declined medical treatment and quit by sheer force of will or in Bush's case, as he claims, by finding Jesus, you get stuck in a certain kind of rigidity. That's what saved you. You know that any kind of wavering on anything will destroy you. That rigidity is what holds your whole personality together. Loosen up and you'll go mad, or be back on the sauce - you'll lose who you are, the person you worked so hard to create from the previous chaos. Your will, and in this case, your belief in Jesus as your most very personal savior, is all you have. Many of us have met these folks - it's classic, and commonplace. There's no point is asking them to consider alternatives, to consider different points of view. All they see there is a black pit that will swallow them whole. It's an existential thing.

Ullman, of course, is not concerned with the psychodynamics here. He just observes the overt behavior, and of the suggestions floating around that the Baker group will recommend the United States seek should seek assistance from Syria and Iran - open a diplomatic front with these two states and get everyone together to work out some sort of stability - he knows that's not going to happen -
No, and that's the problem, because the President is going to hold and is going to say I've got to stay the course and I can't talk to members of the axis of evil. This is the issue.

I mean, George Bush will not change his mind, he's the President. Iraq, the government there, is divided along ethnic lines, it cannot control the militias, it cannot control anything.

And so to say we can't change our course means that we're going to lose this. And what I mean by "lose" is that Iraq becomes a chaotic state, and that chaos extends throughout the greater Middle East. And all of us will suffer for it.

… James Baker is not well received by George W. Bush. Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Jim Baker, they worked for his father. And they are rational, they are pragmatic, and they are right. And their views butt directly against the President's.

So, it is tough, even though Jim Baker was instrumental in helping George Bush win the (inaudible) and gain the presidency, I think that there is little friendship in that area.

And what you're saying to the President of the United States, somebody who's got a huge ego, who is very, very, very stubborn, "you are wrong". And George Bush does not want to admit he's wrong.
There's more. It's not pretty. But it's not the "huge ego" - it's the desperate rigidity, the fear you see in the man's eyes, the fear he may lose it all.

Dan Froomkin, late Friday in his Washington Post compilation of who's said what about all this, suggests the problem is simply the ugly truth -
It's often said that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But there may be nothing that goes against President Bush's nature more than doing just that.

When it comes to Iraq, Bush's political strategy in the run-up to the mid-term elections has been to stress the possible downsides of the "cut and run" approach - civil war, increased carnage, instability at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq as a base for terror - while refusing to acknowledge that his "stay the course" approach, ironically, appears to be delivering all those things and more.

Now, a presidency that has been all about aggression risks a major public rebuff as a sizeable majority of the Americans appears to have accepted what Bush can't: That his brassy approach has backfired - and that it's we who are getting beaten up.

Evidently, something needs to change. But what?

The Bush White House (and its press corps) often confuse tactics, strategy and goals. Tactics are what you use in the service of the strategy you choose to achieve your goal. Even the best tactics, in pursuit of an ill-chosen strategy, will not achieve the desired goal.

Bush's goal is a stable, secure, democratic Iraq. His strategy is for American troops to stay there until that happens. The tactics are getting those troops killed.

And while the president has been talking about adjusting tactics lately, he can't accept that his strategy may need changing - or even his goal. At least not yet.
And William Arkin puts the facts on the table -
Long ago, the Bush administration decided, with its stand-up/stand-down policy, that it was content not to "win" the Iraq war.

The American people got it, and withdrew their support.

Beyond politics, because American honor and credibility, and American security, were at risk if we precipitously withdrew, the Bush administration promised we were on the road to turning Iraq over to the Iraqis, and it grasped at every possible indicator that things were getting better to justify continued American deaths and injuries. Maybe they believed it.

Many months later, the vision has been proven wrong, and we are no where near standing down. Iraq is close to anarchy, and American boys and girls are held hostage until after next month's elections and until after the new political line-up emerges.

It is tragic, and there is no magical or easy answer. Withdrawal of U.S. forces is a foregone conclusion at this point. That is to say, it is one hundred percent certain that the United States will be out of Iraq before there is peace, Republican or Democratic rule.
But what do the Democrats purpose? That kind of doesn't matter, as one of Josh Marshall's readers points out -
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were in the front seat.

They drove the Iraq car off a cliff.

Then they turned to the Dems in the back seat.

And said the Dems couldn't complain unless they could come up with a plan of their own.

The tragedy is that there is no rational hope for a plan (any plan) that will work well. When you've driven the car off the cliff, your range of options is quite limited. We're in the hands of gravity at this point.
Gravity is notoriously unforgiving.

One more voice might be worth listening to - Chas Freeman. He might know a few things. He hangs around in the background. He was the principal American interpreter during the President Nixon's visit to China in 1972, but wasn't in the opera about all that. Ping, Pang and Pong are the diplomatic guys in Turandot. Adams would have none of that in his opera.

Freeman was also Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from 1993-94, and has his public service awards from the Department of Defense for his roles in designing a NATO-centered post-Cold War European security system and in reestablishing defense and military relations with China. And he was our ambassador to Saudi Arabia during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Previously he served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires in our embassies at Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984). He was Director for Chinese Affairs at the Department of State from 1979-1981.

So he knows a few things, and he knows we're in trouble - we have lost international support not because foreigners hate our values but because they believe we are repudiating them and behaving contrary to them -
Americans began our independence with an act of public diplomacy, an appeal for international support, based upon a "decent regard to the opinions of mankind."

And through the end of the 20th century, no country was then more widely admired or emulated than ours. The superior features of our society - our insistence on individual liberty under law; the equality of opportunity we had finally extended to all; the egalitarianism of our prosperity; our openness to ideas, change, and visitors; our generous attention to the development of other nations; our sacrifices to defend small states against larger predators both in the Cold War and, most recently, in the war to liberate Kuwait; our championship of international order and the institutions we had created to maintain it after World War II; the vigor of our democracy and our dedication to untrammeled debate - were recognized throughout the world. Critics of our past misadventures, as in Vietnam, had been silenced by the spectacle of our demonstrable success.
But then we had our national nervous breakdown. It seem 9/11 did change everything All that was "before" stuff -
It was before we panicked and decided to construct a national-security state that would protect us from the risks posed by foreign visitors or evil-minded Americans armed with toenail clippers or liquid cosmetics. It was before we decided that policy debate is unpatriotic and realized that the only thing foreigners understand is the use of force. It was before we replaced the dispassionate judgments of our intelligence community with the faith-based analyses of our political leaders. It was before we embraced the spin-driven strategies that have stranded our armed forces in Afghanistan, marched them off to die in the terrorist ambush of Iraq, and multiplied and united our Muslim enemies rather than diminishing and dividing them. It was before we began to throw our values overboard in order to stay on course while evading attack.

It was before, in a mere five years, we transformed ourselves from 9/11's object of almost universal sympathy and support into the planet's most despised nation, with its most hateful policies.

You can verify this deplorable reality with polling data or you can experience it firsthand by traveling abroad. Neither is anything a thoughtful patriot can enjoy. In most Arab and Muslim lands (which include many in Africa and Asia) the percentage of those who now wish us ill is statistically indistinguishable from unanimity. In many formerly friendly countries in Europe and Latin America, those with a favorable opinion of us are in the low double digits. Polls show that China is almost everywhere more admired than the United States. We used to attract 9 percent of tourists internationally; now we're down to 6. The best and the brightest from around the world came to our universities; now, very often, they go elsewhere. We are steadily losing market share in the global economy.

Suffice it to say that the atmosphere is such that men like Hugo Chávez Frías and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad felt confident of a warm response to their unprecedentedly anti-American diatribes at the UN. And that's what they received. Clearly, we are now more than "misunderestimated," to employ a useful word coined by our president; we are badly misevaluated and misunderstood abroad.
And we have reacted in one of three ways, the first being the Roman model -
Caligula's motto for effective foreign policy was ODERINT DUM METUANT - "let them hate us, as long as they fear us." Some, many of whom seem to inhabit the bubble universe created by our media as an alternative to the real world, agree with Caligula and the cult of his followers in the Administration and on the Hill. They think it's just fine for foreigners to hate us as long as we've got the drop on them and are in a position to string 'em up. They're surprised that "shock and awe" has so far proven to be an inadequate substitute for strategy, but they're eager to try it again and again on the theory that, if force doesn't work the first time, the answer is to apply more force.
The second is your basic denial -
That's the only way I can explain the notion of "transformational diplomacy" coming up at this time. Look, I'm all for the missionary position. But, let's face it, it's hard to get it on with foreigners when you've lost your sex appeal. A democracy that stifles debate at home, that picks and chooses which laws it will ignore or respect, and whose opposition party whines but does not oppose, is - I'm sorry to say - not one with much standing to promote democracy abroad. A government that responds to unwelcome election results by supporting efforts to correct them with political assassinations and cluster bombs has even less credibility in this regard. (If democracies don't fight democracies, by the way, what are Gaza and Lebanon all about? But that's another discussion.)
The third is the new call for a return to public diplomacy, "this time on steroids." But that's probably not going to work -
… as we all know, Americans no longer do diplomacy ourselves. We are very concerned that, by talking to foreigners with whom we disagree, we might inadvertently suggest that we respect them and are prepared to work with them rather than preparing to bomb them into peaceful coexistence. Both at home and abroad, we respond to critics by stigmatizing and ostracizing them. To avoid sending a signal of reasonableness or willingness to engage in dialogue, we do threats, not diplomacy. That's something we outsource to whomever we can find to take on the morally reprehensible task of conducting it.

Usually, this means entrusting our interests to people we manifestly distrust. Thus, I note, we've outsourced Korea to Beijing even as we arm ourselves against the Chinese; we've outsourced Iran to the French and other fuddy-duddies in the officially cowardly and passé "Old Europe;" and we've outsourced the UN to that outspoken international scofflaw, John Bolton, who, despite representing us in Turtle Bay, remains unconfirmable - as well as indescribable in polite company. We can't find anyone dumb enough to take on the Sisyphean task of rolling the Israeli rock up the hill of peace or to step in for us in Iraq so we try to pretend, with respect to both, that the absence of a peace process equates to the absence of a problem. Everything is under control and going just fine.
But that's not the biggest problem. There's this -
As our founding fathers understood so well, for public diplomacy to persuade foreigners even to give us and our policies the benefit of the doubt, let alone to support us, we must put on at least the appearance of a decent respect for their opinion. Persuasiveness begins with a reputation for wisdom, probity and effectiveness, but succeeds by showing empathy and concern for the interests of others. Finally, it's easier to make the case for judgments that have some grounding in reality, and for policies that have a plausible prospect of mutually beneficial results, than for those that don't.

I will not dwell on how poorly our current approaches measure up to these standards. Americans are now famous internationally for our ignorance and indifference to the world beyond our borders. We are becoming infamous for our disregard for the fate of foreigners who perish at our hands or from our munitions. Some of our military officers sincerely mourn the civilian Arab deaths their operations and those with whom we have allied ourselves cause; there is no evidence that many other Americans are the least bit disturbed by them.

Not content just to let foreigners - Arabs and Muslims, in particular - hate us, we often seem to go out of our way to speak and act in such a way as to compel them to do so. Consider Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the practice of kidnapping and "rendition," our public defense of torture, or the spectacle of American officials fending off peace while urging the further maiming of Lebanon and its people. Catastrophically mistaken policies based on intelligence cooked to fit the policy recipe have combined with the debacle of Iraq reconstruction and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina to discredit American competence with foreign governments and publics alike. It's hard to find anybody out there who believes we know what we're doing or that we have a sound grasp of our own interests, let alone any understanding or concern for theirs. We have given the terrorists what they cannot have dared dream we would - policies and practices that recruit new terrorists but that leave no space for our friends and former admirers to make their case for us or for our values or policies.
So we're screwed. And it seems not much will change, even if the upcoming elections sweep the Democrats into power -
Judging by its record, the so-called opposition party has suffered from the same hallucinations that made us so sure that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that there was an urgent need to eliminate them; the same delusional beliefs that foreign occupation - because it was by Americans - would be seen as liberation, that regime removal in Afghanistan and Iraq would result in democratization, and that inside every Arab there is an American struggling to come out; the same disorganized thinking that equates elections to democracy, and the same ruthless impulse to reject and punish the results of democracy when - as in the case of the Palestinian elections this past January - Americans find these results uncongenial.

Neither party is in the least introspective. Both are happy to attribute all our problems to the irrationality of foreigners and to reject consideration of whether our attitudes, concepts, and policies might not have contributed to them. Both are xenophobic, Islamophobic, Arabophobic, and anti-immigrant. The two parties vie to see which can be more sycophantic toward whoever's in charge in Israel and to be most supportive of whatever Israel and its American lobby wish us to do. Neither has a responsible or credible solution to the mess we have created in Iraq, a plan for war termination in Afghanistan, an answer for how to deal with Korean issues, a vision for relations with China or other rising powers, or a promising approach to Iran or the challenge of post-Fidel Cuba, among other issues. … Neither party displays any willingness to learn from the successes and errors of foreigners, and both are unjustifiably complacent about our international competitiveness.

Both Republicans and Democrats seem to consider that statecraft boils down to two options: appeasement; or sanctions followed by military assault. Both behave as though national security and grand strategy require no more than a military component and as though feeding the military-industrial complex is the only way to secure our nation. Both praise our armed forces, ignore their cavils about excessive reliance on the use of force, count on them to attempt forlorn tasks, lament their sacrifices, and blithely propose still more feckless tasks and ill-considered deployments for them. Together, our two parties are well along in destroying the finest military the world has ever seen.

So now what. The contention he is we get real - "the threat the United States now faces is vastly less grave but much more ill-defined than that we faced during the Cold War."

Think about it -

Muslim extremists seek to drive us from their lands by hurting us. They neither seek to destroy nor to convert nor to conquer us. They can in fact do none of these things. The threat we now face does not in any way justify the sacrifice of the civil liberties and related values we defended against the far greater threats posed by fascism or Soviet communism. Terrorists win if they terrorize; to defeat them, we must reject inordinate fear and the self-destructive things it may make us do.

… Muslim extremists cannot destroy us and what we have stood for, but we can surely forfeit our moral convictions and so discredit our values that we destroy ourselves. We have lost international support not because foreigners hate our values but because they believe we are repudiating them and behaving contrary to them. To prevail, we must remember who we are and what we stand for. If we can rediscover and reaffirm the identity and values that made our republic so great, we will find much support abroad, including among those in the Muslim world we now wrongly dismiss as enemies rather than friends.
That's not going to happen with our own Caligula, Cheney, directing everything. We may be "a far better and more courageous people than we currently appear," but those who represent us don't seem to want anyone to know that.

It seems that things are not going well. There's little or no reason to think they'll get any better.

Posted by Alan at 15:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 21 October 2006 15:44 PDT home

Thursday, 19 October 2006
Beyond Kafka
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Beyond Kafka
Well, on Thursday, October 19, it became clear the Baghdad thing didn't work out -
The U.S. military acknowledged Thursday that its two-month drive to crush insurgent and militia violence in the Iraqi capital had fallen short, calling the raging bloodshed disheartening and saying it was rethinking its strategy to rein in gunmen, torturers and bombers.

The admission by military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell came as car bombs, mortar fire and shootings around the country killed at least 66 people and wounded 175. The dead included the Anbar province police commander, slain by gunmen who burst into his home in Ramadi.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of three U.S. troops in fighting, raising the toll for American troops in October to 74. The month is on course to be the deadliest for U.S. forces in nearly two years.
But while there may be some "rethinking the strategy," the word from the very top, and that's not the president, was tinker all you want, but keep throwing those warm bodies into the meat grinder -
Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States was not looking for a way out of Iraq. "I know what the president thinks. I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory," Cheney said in an interview posted on Time magazine's Web site Thursday.
Cheney was doing damage control, dealing with some unfortunate remarks from what he might as well have called a lily-livered fool. He seems to think these military guys just don't understand warfare. They have the wrong experience and come to the wrong conclusions. It was a bit of that "we sent a boy to do a man's job" thing - it just wasn't professional. Perhaps he avoided military service back in the Vietnam War days because he knew the services were filled with people who knew nothing about war, and serving under them would drive him crazy.

Anyway, Caldwell told reporters the joint effort with the Iraqis to just crush all the violence in the capital (no little irony there) - the operation that started back on 7 August - had not delivered "the desired results," as attacks in Baghdad rose twenty-two percent in the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan. He apparently decided it wouldn't be wise to say everything was fine, no matter what Cheney wanted. He decided reality had to be acknowledged - "In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence." And he added - "The violence is indeed disheartening."

He just about said that this isn't working. The New York Times headline was General Urges New Strategy for Baghdad, but this implied much more. The efforts in the city imply the efforts in the country. It wasn't very subtle. This isn't working.

So, General Caldwell said that the new security plan for Baghdad hasn't reduced violence there at all. And this was a model for how to get things done. Of course"the American military was working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts." It seems "as they stand up, we stand down" - the central administration answer to when we wrap up this thing and boogie on home - needs a whole lot of work. Caldwell also pointed out that American troops had to return last week to Dora, a nasty southern Baghdad neighborhood that had been our "showcase" - it was one of the first areas to be cleared of the bad guys. We fixed that, moved on and left things to the Iraqi forces, and the bad guys were back. The plan seems to be crap.

So did William B. Caldwell just ruin his career by offending Cheney? Well, he tried to do his own damage control there. There was a new special reason things had gotten to bad - "We also realize that there is a midterm election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur."

Sentence structure aside - West Point doesn't exactly have the best English Department in the northeast - he just said what's going on is an effort by the bad guys to get Democrats elected in November. One can imagine Cheney grinning at those words. It's Dick and Karl and the Republicans up against the Islamic terrorists and Iraqi insurgents and the allies in the Democratic Party. This general can be useful.

There is of course the report from the Iraq Study Group - James Baker, Lee Hamilton and those guys - that will come out after the election. The "wise old men" - Baker was secretary of state for the president's father and the lawyer who managed the recount suit in 2000 that convinced the Supreme Court to give the son the presidency, stopping all vote recounts and in spite of the son losing the popular vote (the swing vote being Justice Scalia, appointed by the father) - were going to fix this problem too. But there had to be a problem, and Cheney doesn't think there is one. How could there be?

These guys were apparently going to say victory was not possible and there were two basic alternatives here - give up on a unified Iraq, divide it into three parts and let what happens just happen - and slowly drawn down and hang around the neighbor to go back in now and then to solve problems as the arise. Or maybe both could be done. The leaks had been carefully staged, to prepare the nation for the inevitable.

These "wise old men," like the general, are just stupid. Why does no one but Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld know anything at all about war? The sound of the vice president grinding his teeth could be heard throughout the land, or more precisely this -
Awaiting the recommendations of a commission exploring U.S. options in Iraq, the White House on Wednesday emphatically ruled out some proposals to end the long and unpopular war.

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said a suggestion to divide Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions, each with high degrees of autonomy, was a "nonstarter." Similarly, he said a phased withdrawal of American troops - perhaps by 5 percent every two months - also was a "nonstarter."

"You withdraw when you win," Snow said. "Phased withdrawal is a way of saying, 'Regardless of what the conditions are on the ground, we're going to get out of Dodge.'"
So that's that. The "plan" isn't working because the bad guys are just trying to mess up our election and get their friends, the Democrats, elected, and anyone who is suggesting alternative will be shut down - they're fools and cowards, and they know nothing.

So nothing will change. If he Democrats regain control of congress, if the "wise old men" do recommend these things, they all can just go pound sand. It's called resolve - being steadfast. Or you can call it other things. Many words come to mind.

But, bottom line, as they say, is that no one tells Dick Cheney what to do, unless someone does -
A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to release information about who visited Vice President Dick Cheney's office and personal residence, an order that could spark a late election-season debate over lobbyists' White House access.

While researching the access lobbyists and others had on the White House, The Washington Post asked in June for two years of White House visitor logs. The Secret Service refused to process the request, which government attorneys called "a fishing expedition into the most sensitive details of the vice presidency."

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said Wednesday that, by the end of next week, the Secret Service must produce the records or at least identity them and justify why they are being withheld.
Cheney will also tell the court to go pound sand. The "unified executive" argument will save him - the courts and congress cannot tell the executive branch what to do. That's been the operating principle for the last six years. The courts may have told Nixon to turn over those Watergate tapes, but this administration has established that he was foolish to comply - there was no need. This should be interesting.

So nothing will change, and we will keep sending troops into the meat grinder, all but a few -
Thousands of U.S. troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt they are considered security risks, according to an Associated Press review of military records.

The number of troops held back has climbed dramatically in the past few years. And while they appear to represent a very small percentage of all U.S. military personnel, the increase is occurring at a time when the armed forces are stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We cut their benefits and combat pay to teach them responsibility, and some couldn't handle it, it seems. As Cheney is no doubt thinking - "What's wrong with these people?"

Odd - it's all like some sort of bad novel about a banana republic run by characters lifted from a Woody Allen or Marx Brothers movie. It cannot be Kafka - it's too comically absurd for something that middle-European Czech sourpuss to crank out in his Prague garret.

But then the day, Thursday, October 19, wasn't all bad news, as there was this -
Gina Lollobrigida, once dubbed "the most beautiful woman in the world" after the title of one of her movies, is getting married to a man 34 years her junior.

"We wanted for this to happen sooner, but it just wasn't possible," Lollobrigida, 79, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday, without elaborating.

Lollobrigida said she met her husband to be, Javier Rigau y Rafols of Barcelona, Spain, at a party in Monte Carlo and the two have been dating for 22 years.
Even Kafka couldn't come up with something that strange. That's well beyond the tale of the poor fellow who woke up to discover he was a cockroach. Javier Rigau y Rafols will wake up in a far stranger world.

Where we all are these days is in a world far beyond Kafka. Or maybe not.

There's Kafka's short novel The Trial - Josef K. wakes up one morning and, for reasons never revealed at all, is arrested and subjected to all the rigors of a very unsettling judicial process for an unspecified crime. He never finds out what his crime is. This thing has been filmed by Orson Welles, and there's a more recent remake, with the screenplay from Harold Pinter, no less. But as we say out here in Hollywood, who need movies when you have the real thing? (No one out here ever says that, of course)

But it does come down to this -
Once President Bush signed the new law on military tribunals, administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress wasted no time giving Americans a taste of the new order created by this unconstitutional act.

Within hours, Justice Department lawyers notified the federal courts that they no longer had the authority to hear pending lawsuits filed by attorneys on behalf of inmates of the penal camp at Guantánamo Bay. They cited passages in the bill that suspend the fundamental principle of habeas corpus, making Mr. Bush the first president since the Civil War to take that undemocratic step.

Not satisfied with having won the vote, Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, quickly issued a statement accusing Democrats who opposed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 of putting "their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America." He said the Democrats "would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans' lives" and create "new rights for terrorists."

… While the Republicans pretend that this bill will make America safer, let's be clear about its real dangers. It sets up a separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an "illegal enemy combatant." It raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions. It does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.

The law does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents. And it chips away at the foundations of the judicial system in ways that all Americans should find threatening. It further damages the nation's reputation and, by repudiating key protections of the Geneva Conventions, it needlessly increases the danger to any American soldier captured in battle.

In the short run, voters should see through the fog created by the Republican campaign machine. It will be up to the courts to repair the harm this law has done to the Constitution.
That's from the New York Times lead editorial for Thursday, October 19 - but they have it wrong in one detail. Most constitutional law experts read it more carefully - the president now has been given the option to declare any American citizen he decided is an "unlawful enemy combatant" and deny them any opportunity to prove they are not. That may not be a minor detail. Anyone so designated has no right to challenge this status, no right to one of these tribunals to figure out what's up - convening such is only an option if the president so chooses - and can be tried and convicted on evidence they may not be allowed to know, evidence obtained by "coercive techniques" that the rest of the world says is torture but we say isn't quite torture (the president has been given the option to decide on a case by case basis what is and what is not torture). This is Kafka territory.

But it's a little too abstract for most folks. The president is supposed to keep us safe so let him do his job - so the thinking goes. What does it matter?

There are a few voices in the wilderness screaming that this is madness. In the low-ratings wilderness of MSNBC cable news - those hapless souls far behind CNN and way, way behind Fox News - there is the astonishing Keith Olbermann, on fire about such things. But General Electric (GE), the corporation that owns NBC-Universal (and Universal Studios and Telemundo out here), which in turn owns MSNBC, is about to perform a mercy killing and disassemble MSNBC - they aren't making enough money.

But before GE - "We Bring Good Things to Life" - pulls the plug on this particular appliance, Olbermann is make the most of the last days. His midweek commentary (transcript here and video here or here) turned so heads.

Some of what he said -
We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived as people in fear.

And now - our rights and our freedoms in peril - we slowly awaken to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before - and we have been here before, led here by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors.

American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.

We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as "Hyphenated Americans," most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.

American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America.

And we have been here when President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that Executive Order 9066 was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that order to imprison and pauperize 110,000 Americans while his man in charge, General DeWitt, told Congress: "It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen - he is still a Japanese."

American citizens, in American camps, for something they neither wrote nor said nor did, but for the choices they or their ancestors had made about coming to America.

Each of these actions was undertaken for the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

… In times of fright, we have been only human.

We have let Roosevelt's "fear of fear itself" overtake us.

We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, "The wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass."

We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.

… We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.

You, sir, have now befouled that spring.

You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.

You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And - again, Mr. Bush - all of them, wrong.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that "the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values" and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens "unlawful enemy combatants" and ship them somewhere -anywhere - but may now, if he so decides, declare you an "unlawful enemy combatant" and ship you somewhere - anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" - exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

This President now has his blank check.

He lied to get it.

He lied as he received it.

Is there any reason to even hope he has not lied about how he intends to use it nor who he intends to use it against?

"These military commissions will provide a fair trial," you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, "in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them."

"Presumed innocent," Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain "serious mental and physical trauma" in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

"Access to an attorney," Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

"Hearing all the evidence," Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

… Habeas corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be "the beginning of the end of America."

And did it even occur to you once, sir - somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations of the horrors of 9/11 - that with only a little further shift in this world we now know -just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died - did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a "competent tribunal" of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of "unlawful enemy combatant" for - and convene a Military Commission to try - not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And doubtless, Sir, all of them - as always -wrong.
You can click on the links and read it all, the elided detail, but you get the idea. The style may be over the top, but what he's getting at isn't.

Readers react - the high-powered Wall Street Attorney whose photos sometimes appear in these pages, and who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino of Watergate fame -
This doesn't seem over the top to me, nor would it seem over the top to Peter Rodino.

Because there are so few in the media speaking out against Bush, those who do so must do so loudly.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Actually, I don't think Olbermann is really over the top, not in general and not in this piece. I not only totally agree with what he says but also share his anger and apparent frustration that not enough attention is being paid to what this man is doing to the country. (Still, I do wish he'd stop punctuating his sentences with the word "Sir" - it reminds me too much of a state trooper asking to see my license and registration.)

In regards to the frustration mentioned above, it knocked me backwards the other day when I heard on NPR a soundbite from a woman in Missouri who, explaining why she plans on voting Republican this year, said she didn't want to see any terrorist having the same freedoms she has, on account of he wants to kill her just because she's a Christian! It's been paraphrased before but needs to be paraphrased again, that our problem is not just in our leaders, it is mostly in ourselves.

Yeah, I know the problems with this, but every now and then I toy with the idea that some sort of standardized historical literacy test - covering the kind of material found in a course on the founding of the United States and the adoption of its constitution - needs to be passed before a person is allowed to register to vote - and of course, also to run for public office.
Nope, literacy tests and such are illegal. They can be abused, however useful they might be. But it is a thought. And we really did bring this on ourselves.

From Wall Street - "Regarding the use of the word 'Sir' - I hear it differently. I think implied are the two words missing prior to 'Sir' which would be F- You."

From Atlanta - "No, no, that's the way I hear it, too! Although in my mind's eye, it's coming through the window of my car.

From our musician-mason-photographer Phillip Raines -
"Sir" could have been code for simply-idiotic-Republican, but I think it was recognizing the respect of the office. As far as theater goes it was a punctuation device, but Olbermann still rates as a B+ speaker in my humble opinion even though I agree with what he says. The vapors of testosterone hang heavy with this rant, but Bush and his "knuck when you buck" posturing toward the press is more pervasive and low brow. I'll be interested in how Keith is silenced. Maybe by a dirty bomb at a football game.
Nope, it'll be the budget cuts and reorganization that does him in.

And perhaps Olbermann knew his rant would be seen as a bit much. He is a former sportscaster and a bit of an oddball. On the same show he tried to counter that with someone who isn't either - Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, and that interview added the substance behind the angry words - 
OLBERMANN: I want to start by asking you about a specific part of this act that lists one of the definitions of an unlawful enemy combatant as, quote, "a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a combatant status review tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the president or the secretary of defense." Does that not basically mean that if Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld say so, anybody in this country, citizen or not, innocent or not, can end up being an unlawful enemy combatant?

TURLEY: It certainly does. In fact, later on, it says that if you even give material support to an organization that the president deems connected to one of these groups, you too can be an enemy combatant. And the fact that he appoints this tribunal is meaningless. You know, standing behind him at the signing ceremony was his attorney general, who signed a memo that said that you could torture people, that you could do harm to them to the point of organ failure or death. So if he appoints someone like that to be attorney general, you can imagine who he's going be putting on this board.

OLBERMANN: Does this mean that under this law, ultimately the only thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out of Gitmo is the sanity and honesty of the president of the United States?

TURLEY: It does. And it's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president. In fact, Madison said that he created a system essentially to be run by devils, where they could not do harm, because we didn't rely on their good motivations. Now we must. And people have no idea how significant this is. What, really, a time of shame this is for the American system. What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values. It couldn't be more significant. And the strange thing is, we've become sort of constitutional couch potatoes. I mean, the Congress just gave the president despotic powers, and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to, you know, "Dancing with the Stars." I mean, it's otherworldly.

OLBERMANN: Is there one defense against this, the legal challenges against particularly the suspension or elimination of habeas corpus from the equation? And where do they stand, and how likely are they to overturn this action today?

TURLEY: Well, you know what? I think people are fooling themselves if they believe that the courts will once again stop this president from taking over - taking almost absolute power. It basically comes down to a single vote on the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy. And he indicated that if Congress gave the president these types of powers, that he might go along. And so we may have, in this country, some type of über-president, some absolute ruler, and it'll be up to him who gets put away as an enemy combatant, held without trial. It's something that no one thought - certainly I didn't think - was possible in the United States. And I am not too sure how we got to this point. But people clearly don't realize what a fundamental change it is about who we are as a country. What happened today changed us. And I'm not too sure we're going to change back anytime soon.

OLBERMANN: The president reiterated today the United States does not torture. Does this law actually guarantee anything like that?

TURLEY: That's actually when I turned off my TV set, because I couldn't believe it. You know, the United States has engaged in torture. And the whole world community has denounced the views of this administration, its early views that the president could order torture, could cause injury up to organ failure or death. The administration has already established that it has engaged in things like waterboarding, which is not just torture. We prosecuted people after World War II for waterboarding prisoners. We treated it as a war crime. And my God, what a change of fate, where we are now embracing the very thing that we once prosecuted people for. Who are we now? I know who we were then. But when the president said that we don't torture, that was, frankly, when I had to turn off my TV set.

TURLEY: Well, this is going to go down in history as one of our greatest self-inflicted wounds. And I think you can feel the judgment of history. It won't be kind to President Bush. But frankly, I don't think that it will be kind to the rest of us. I think that history will ask, where were you? What did you do when this thing was signed into law? There were people that protested the Japanese concentration camps, there were people that protested these other acts. But we are strangely silent in this national yawn as our rights evaporate.
Turley and Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, seem to agree. We did it to ourselves.

Now what?

Kafka never finished The Trial - it was never meant to be published (the manuscript was rescued after his death by his friend Max Brod and published in 1925). But we have to finish this one. What will it be? What sort of ending will we choose?

This does not appear to be a movie. It's quite real.

Posted by Alan at 23:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006 23:25 PDT home

Wednesday, 18 October 2006
When Movies Get Too Real
Topic: Couldn't be so...
When Movies Get Too Real
In Metaphors Regarding Power you had two different people explaining current events by referring to movies. There was that Kuo fellow who wrote his book about how the quest for political influence had corrupted the evangelical movement, and how the key people in the administration were laughing at them all behind their backs for being such rubes. He said it was like getting the Ring of Power - you may want to do good with it, but the power corrupts you. Then Senator Santorum decided the best way to explain why we had to keep on keeping on in Iraq was that it was like in the movie - we had to keep the Eye of Mordor focused on that place so it wouldn't see us here, or something like that. It wasn't terribly clear. But both were referring, of course, to The Lord of the Rings - probably the three movies and not the Tolkien books. As we know out here in Hollywood, people do turn to popular culture, something most everyone knows in some way, to explain things. It may be rather stupid, but people often use popular commercial films to explain real life. It's no big deal. What else do we all have in common?

But sometimes it gets creepy. Consider the following.

Movies Explain Life, Part One

If you're a late baby boomer, or addicted to junk movies on the less visited cable television channels late at night, you might know The Time Machine (1960), George Pal's version of the 1895 H. G. Wells tale, starring Rod Taylor and the fetching Yvette Mimieux, as Weena. The deal here is a Victorian scientist and tinkerer builds a time machine and uses it to explore the distant future where there are two races, a mild gentle race, and a cannibalistic one living underground. His machine is stolen by the underground race and he must risk capture himself (and being eaten) to return to his own time. That's the hook. But there's something else going on.

You see, the year he ends up in is 802,701 - and he finds this apparently peaceful, pastoral, sort of Taoist future, and it's filled with happy, simple humans who call themselves the Eloi. But they're all dumb as a post and not curious about anything. As Wells would have it, this lack of intelligence and vitality is the logical result of mankind's struggle to transform and subdue nature through technology, politics, art and creativity in general. They got there, to that utopia, and found nothing. They devolved. With no work to do, they became physically weak and slight, in all senses of the word. And with no work to do and no hardships to overcome, their society eventually became non-hierarchical and non-cooperative, with no defined leaders or social classes. But then, on the bright side, there was no war and crime, but also no art or much of anything interesting (save for the lovely Yvette Mimieux). It was a crappy trade-off, depending on your point of view.

And there were the other folks - because the human race had by then diverged into two branches. The wealthy, leisure classes evolved into the ineffectual, not very bright Eloi, but the downtrodden working classes had evolved into the brutish Morlocks. These are cannibals who sort of look like albino apes and who labor underground maintaining the machinery that keep the Eloi - who are really their flocks - docile and plentiful. They eat them. It's a scary synergy - two distinctly flawed mutually dependent races with sub-human intelligence.

That's the future. Wells was not exactly an optimist.

Well neither is Oliver Curry, the evolutionary theorist at the London School of Economics. The BBC notes here, on 17 October (2006 of course), that Curry has worked out that after the year 3000 mankind will have "peaked" and at that point will be divided into two subspecies - brilliant, attractive people and weak-chinned, degenerate goblins. There's even an illustration at the BBC site.

You see it's our technology and more discriminating mating patterns that will inevitably lead to this division -
The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

But in the nearer future, humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts, while life-spans will have extended to 120 years, Dr Curry claims.

Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises. Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.
Ah, Yvette Mimieux and those pert breasts. But he also says racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding. We'll all be coffee-colored. Actually, that would be cool.

And it seems Wells was right about the technology stuff ruining things - "Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect. People would become less able to care for others, or perform in teams." It's those I-Pod things, of course, and everyone commuting to work alone, and all the rest.

And the new humans would have been ruined by McDonalds and KFC - "Physically, they would start to appear more juvenile. Chins would recede, as a result of having to chew less on processed food."

Bummer. And there's that Eloi-Morlock thing, as sexual selection - being choosy about one's partner - will create more and more genetic inequality -
The logical outcome would be two sub-species, "gracile" and "robust" humans similar to the Eloi and Morlocks foretold by HG Wells in his 1895 novel The Time Machine.

"While science and technology have the potential to create an ideal habitat for humanity over the next millennium, there is a possibility of a monumental genetic hangover over the subsequent millennia due to an over-reliance on technology reducing our natural capacity to resist disease, or our evolved ability to get along with each other."
We get along with each other now? Well, maybe we do, relatively speaking.

This is startling stuff. Science fiction becomes reality, once again, although some of us are still waiting for our flying cars and robot housecleaners.

Reaction to all this was immediate. Shakespeare's Sister here - "I feel so torn. As an intelligent person, I'm rooting for the upper class. As a squat, goblin-like creature, I'm rooting for the underclass. What's a girl to do?"

The logical Lindsay Beyerstein, saying there not much real evidence here, and a whole lot of gloom and doom, offers this -
The stories leave a number of questions unresolved. For example haven't seen dramatic genetic changes in the human species over the last thousand years. People have gotten taller and sturdier over the years, thanks to better nutrition. Still, there's no evidence that humans today are dramatically genetically and morphologically different from people 1000 years ago. Furthermore, even if Curry could show that there have been substantial genetic changes, he would still have to establish that these differences were the result of differential reproductive success. So, why does Curry think that the next thousand years will produce a willowy super-race and a permanent goblin underclass?
Because he saw the movie, Lindsay!

The even more logical William Weston offers this -
Many observers of the rich have noticed that they use their money to select attractive mates. I have noticed that the smart tend to use their smarts to select smart mates. (Yes, there are ugly rich people and pretty smart ones; we are talking big trends here.) So, if Curry is even a little right, perhaps the Eloi of the future will be themselves divided into the smart and the handsome. And that might be a fair fight.
So you get the smart but homely Eloi, the pretty but dumb Eloi, and the damned Morlocks, who are neither. The future looks dim.

Movies Explain Life, Part Two

All war criminals, and in particular the Nazi dudes who didn't make it to the Nuremburg trials, end up in the middle of South America - Uruguay, Paraguay, interior Brazil and such places. We learned that in The Boys from Brazil (1978) - a young inexperienced Nazi hunter stumbles onto a secret SS meeting in 1970's South America. Led by the infamous Doctor Josef Mengele, the plot of the Nazis is first dismissed as unimportant by veteran Nazi hunter Lieberman. When the young Nazi hunter turns up murdered, however, Lieberman investigates the mysterious meeting and discovers an insane plot to resurrect the Führer, Adolf Hitler, and establish the Fourth Reich. Gregory Peck is Josef Mengele, Laurence Olivier is Ezra Lieberman (Simon Wiesenthal, of course), and there's James Mason, Lilli Palmer and Uta Hagen on hand. It's an amusing film.

But then there's this.

At the site "Bring It On" they've put together quite a story. It won't get much press, but it's really fascinating.

It has four parts -
  • There's this - The Cuban News Service reports that George W. Bush has purchased 98,840 acres in Paraguay, near the Bolivian/Brazilian border.
  • There's this - the heavy drinking wastrel Jenna Bush paid a secret diplomatic visit to Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte and U.S. Ambassador James Cason. There were no press conferences, no public sightings and no official confirmation of her 10-day trip which apparently ended this week.
  • The Paraguayan Senate voted last summer to "grant U.S. troops immunity from national and International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction."
  • Immediately afterwards, 500 heavily armed U.S. troops arrived with various planes, choppers and land vehicles at Mariscal Estigarribia air base, which happens to be at the northern tip of Paraguay near the Bolivian/Brazilian border. More have reportedly arrived since then.
Something is up. Maybe George has been watching old movies, and actually thinking about what might happen when next month, as seems more and more likely, the Democrats gain control of both houses of congress and the investigations begin. Or maybe he's worried about what might start up in the International Criminal Court when he leaves office. Paraguay has agreed to be a safe haven.

No, it couldn't be. The Cuban News Service, Prensa Latina, is a Cuban-government operation and they could be just messing with our minds. This is not happening, except the land purchase has also been reported in the Brazilian press here (in Portuguese of course), in the Argentinean press here, and in the Paraguayan press here. Those last two are in Spanish, but the gist of it is that all the paperwork and deeds are secret, but someone leaked the information - a new "land trust" created for President Bush has purchased almost a hundred thousand acres of land near the town of Chaco.

And there's more regarding Jenna Bush dropping in for secret meetings with the local president and America's ambassador to Paraguay, James Cason. President Bush had posted Cason in Havana in 2002, as our diplomatic envoy (they don't get an ambassador or anything) but last year moved him to Paraguay. Cason is the former political adviser to the U.S. Atlantic Command and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, and he'd previously been stationed in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama over the last thirty years. So this may be military, and not based on the silly movie.

But why is the land in his name? And why is it protected by a semi-secret U.S. military base manned by American troops who have been exempted from war-crimes prosecution by the Paraguayan government?

This is very curious.

And there's more information on the base, which Rumsfeld secretly visited late last year, here -
U.S. Special Forces began arriving this past summer at Paraguay's Mariscal Estigarribia air base, a sprawling complex built in 1982 during the reign of dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Argentinean journalists who got a peek at the place say the airfield can handle B-52 bombers and Galaxy C-5 cargo planes. It also has a huge radar system, vast hangers, and can house up to 16,000 troops. The air base is larger than the international airport at the capital city, Asuncion.

Some 500 special forces arrived July 1 for a three-month counterterrorism training exercise, code named Operation Commando Force 6.

Paraguayan denials that Mariscal Estigarribia is now a U.S. base have met with considerable skepticism by Brazil and Argentina. There is a disturbing resemblance between U.S. denials about Mariscal Estigarribia, and similar disclaimers made by the Pentagon about Eloy Alfaro airbase in Manta, Ecuador. The United States claimed the Manta base was a "dirt strip" used for weather surveillance. When local journalists revealed its size, however, the United States admitted the base harbored thousands of mercenaries and hundreds of U.S. troops, and Washington had signed a 10-year basing agreement with Ecuador.
"When the young Nazi hunter turns up murdered, however, Lieberman investigates the mysterious meeting and discovers an insane plot to resurrect the Führer, Adolf Hitler, and establish the Fourth Reich." No, couldn't be.

But wait! There're more! One sees here that the odd and messianic Reverend Moon, the owner of the pro-Bush Washington Times, and who has said he's the savior come to redeem us all, bought 1,482,600 acres in the same place - Chaco, Paraguay.

It only gets odder and more mysterious, doesn't it?

And it also involves the president's father. That item above from Paraguay mentions the first President Bush already owns about a hundred acres there. It must be the new Moon-Bush compound.

And here's some background -
"In the early stages of the Reagan Revolution that embraced the Washington Times and Moon's anti-Communist movement, it was embarrassing to be caught at a Moon event," wrote The Gadflyer last year. "Until George H.W. Bush appeared with Moon in 1996, thanking him for a newspaper that 'brings sanity to Washington.'" That was while on an extended trip to South America in Moon's company. A Reuters' story of Nov 25 of that year describes the former president as "full of praise" for Moon at a banquet in Buenos Aires, toasting him as "the man with the vision." (And Moon helped Bush out with his own vision thing, paying him $100,000 for the pleasure of his company.) Bush and Moon then traveled together to Uruguay, "to help him inaugurate a seminary in the capital, Montevideo, to train 4,200 young Japanese women to spread the word of his Church of Unification across Latin America."
Uruguay, Paraguay, interior Brazil and such places are not much in the news of course. But something is up. You have your old Nazis, young Japanese women training to spread the word of the Church of Unification across Latin America (Moon is Korean), and the Moon and Bush family land is located at what Paraguay's drug czar says is an "enormously strategic point in both the narcotics and arms trades." And it sits atop one of the world's largest fresh-water aquifers. You've got just everything there.

It's amazing what you find reading the gossip rag Wonkette.

It's probably nothing. But there was that movie.

And it all makes some sort of weird sense from out here in Hollywood.



Black Sunday (1977), directed by John Frankenheimer - "A demented war veteran (Bruce Dern) plots to kill thousands of Americans at the Superbowl in Miami by using a specially designed dart-gun from the Goodyear blimp which flies above the stadium. However, a tough Middle Eastern anti-terrorist agent (Robert Shaw) has uncovered some of the plot and is out to stop him."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006, this -
By now, Americans have gotten pretty used to over-hyped terror threats out of Washington. But now we have another layer of hype to contend with. There's been a frenzy this afternoon over a report that a threat was posted on the Internet regarding several coordinated "dirty bomb" attacks on NFL stadiums, supposedly set to happen this weekend.

What very few seem to be noting, however, is that the "threat" was posted not to one of many Islamist militant Web sites - but to an American humor site, "The Friend Society." That fact seems rather pertinent - but the AP has buried it at the end of the long version of its report. Moreover, as of this post, a search of Google News revealed only 36 media outlets carrying the long version. Other sites, like the virulently anti-Islamist blog Little Green Footballs, where proprietor Charles Johnson admitted the threat was "probably bogus," were actually reporting that the threat came from an Islamist Web site.

The Friend Society Web site - which sometimes also uses "" as a URL - appears to be down. The post about the terror threat, which was reportedly made on Oct. 12 by a Friend Society user named "javness," seems to have vanished from the Internet altogether -- though Google caches of the site remain available. The thread itself has been cached; called "New Attack on America, Be Afraid," it stretches to three pages…

Other threads under discussion on The Friend Society at the time included "stretchy vagina debate," "PEYOTE" and "MLB Playoffs." javness, the user who allegedly put up the post in question after recently joining the site, was also participating in another thread concerned with matters of warfare - it was called "Optimus Prime's First Line Could Be Your Own!"

The Department of Homeland Security seems to have a handle on this one. In response to a request for comment, DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen emailed Salon a press release (which included the full "New Attack on America" post) from the Open Source Center, a group in the Directorate of National Intelligence. The press release notes that The Friend Society "contains none of the hallmarks of jihadist websites." It also points to comments that accompanied the original post: Responding to other users who had challenged "javness" to provide some sort of proof of the terror plot, "javness" quipped back, "you already know too much."

Posted by Alan at 22:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006 07:37 PDT home

Tuesday, 17 October 2006
Metaphors Regarding Power
Topic: Perspective
Metaphors Regarding Power
As mentioned last week in Explaining Things, one of the things that needs explaining is what is in the just published Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, a book by David Kuo. Kuo was an up and comer among those known as social conservatives - the religious right, opposed to women having any option at all to abort an unwanted pregnancy, to gay marriage, to that separation of church and state business that forbids mandatory prayer in school and forbids the government funding or even endorsing crosses on hills and the Ten Commandments on slabs of stone in courthouses. That was the fight. He wrote speeches for Ralph Reed, one of the founders of the Christian Right organization - although Reed is now disgraced, caught up in the Abramoff scandal, where Reed jerked around various Indian tribes for fun and profit. Kuo had also served as a policy adviser to John Ashcroft, the former attorney general who draped heavy cloth over the statues in Justice Department lobby (the stone bare breasts were offensive) and who led his subordinates in daily prayer meetings imploring Jesus for guidance. Kuo has said Bill Bennett was his mentor - and that would be the Bill Bennett who wrote the Book of Values and the Book of Values for Children, and admitted he had dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling in Vegas casinos, but it was no big deal. Kuo joined the George Bush campaign early - 1998, two years before the first presidential election - and rose to become second in command at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Now he's slapping his forehead and saying evangelicals should take a two-year "fast" from politics. The new book documents that the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was kind of a farce - a tool to trick the Christian Right and its associated organizations into getting out the Republican vote, and behind their backs Rove and the rest were mocking Falwell and Dobson and the rest as "nuts" and "kooks." They were useful idiots, with the emphasis on the word idiots. It was pure manipulation of the Christian groups, and there was the failure to fund the policies the president said were his "personal priority" - giving grants to religious organizations to do government work. Nothing much was ever funded - in fact such funding actually decreased - but the political benefits were enormous. If you were a certain kind of Christian - the evangelical kind - you had to be a Republican. The government was finally on your side, and on Jesus' side - unless you looked at the spreadsheets. Kuo looked at the spreadsheets, and he heard what was said behind the backs of the major evangelical leaders. He was not amused. He took notes. He wrote a book about it all. And he even appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes" to discuss it all (video here).

The White House is most unhappy with him, and the evangelicals are pretty much refusing to believe all this is so. It's quite a mess, but the White House is good at saying things that are so are just not so - they've raised that to a fine art - and evangelicals are conditioned to believe in authority, be it the inherency of the Bible or the inherent authority of a devout and godly president, one who's always saying that he is doing Jesus' work. The damage may be minimal.

Those outside that frame of reference - who don't have a predilection to stop thinking, shut down and simply trust what others claim is inherently authoritative, or trust anyone who makes the claim, without evidence, to be an authority figure - find all of this puzzling.

In an exclusive interview with Richard Wolffe of NBC, Kuo tries to provide a frame of reference for the few skeptics left in America. That odd bit of explaining what's going on is here -
I have no anger towards my former colleagues or towards anyone else. Part of what made this so difficult to write is the amount of respect I have for my former colleagues. I like and respect them.

It was also a real challenge to try and tell the entire story, my own intimate story about what happens when you struggle with God and politics - and politics wins. I think one of the things that drove me was feeling the urgent need to tell people, particularly Christians, I suppose, that politicians look at any constituency with very cold eyes. They form constituencies to form a governing coalition. That isn't a bad thing; that's just what they do. And I think Christians have come to this notion that this White House is somehow their fellow parishioners with them, and that is simply not the case. I am shocked, frankly, by the White House response that it [the faith-based agenda] hasn't been political. That is the other side of absurd, and fundamentally misleading.

… In some ways White House power is like [J.R.R.] Tolkien's ring of power. When you put it on, it feels good and it's dazzling. But after a while it begins to consume you in ways you don't realize. That's the nature of White House power. I have no doubt that Christian political leaders have gotten involved for all the right reasons. I just think over time it becomes harder and harder to stand up against that ring of power and the White House, to say no and walk away.
So, as you saw scrawled on the walls of midtown subways near NYU in the early 1960s - Frodo Lives! Tolkien's rolling over in his grave. But if you know the books, or the film trilogy (and how could you not?) then this begins to make sense.

As you recall, the One Ring was created by the "Dark Lord" Sauron during the Second Age in order to gain dominion over the remaining elves of Middle-earth. Don't ask. Anyway, he tricked the elves into helping him make such rings and then forged the One Ring himself in the fires of Mount Doom. It controlled all the rings of power ever made. Sauron was obliged to place most of his native power, life force and will into the ring, and then, by doing that, as long as the One Ring existed, it was impossible to remove him from the mortal plane - he was both immortal and invincible. With it he could control others and rule the world, but then he lost the damned thing. And whoever found it would have all the power. Drat! And everyone really wanted it, but part of the nature of the One Ring was that it slowly but inevitably corrupted its wearer, even if the wearer wanted to use its unimaginable power to do good. For this reason the Wise - Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel - when Frodo came up with the thing, refused to wield it in their own defense, saying it must be destroyed. They knew it would corrupt even them, and turn them into monsters. Political power at its highest level - the office of the leader of the most powerful nation on earth - is kind of like that. Or it isn't.

But is it an explanation of what is happening here for those outside the evangelical world of ceding critical thought to authority. Just think of what the ring did - it drove people who wanted it to make the world better quite mad, and for those who possessed it, twisted them in to monsters. The hero of the tale, Frodo the Hobbit, at great personal cost, got to Mount Doom and destroyed the thing - and saved the world.

And that leads to this -
David Kuo's comparison of White House power to Sauron's Ring of Power is something that has been on my mind recently too. Neither he nor I are alone in making that comparison - a couple of weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker on the streets of Portland, Oregon which said "Frodo Has Failed, Bush Has the Ring."
No! Really? But you can actually buy the bumper sticker (and matching mugs, t-shirts and a backpack). Amazing.

But wait! There's more! The guys on the other side of the political fence can use Tolkien too!

Note that here we see in an interview with the editorial board of the Bucks County Courier Times, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, knowing that he's losing the battle to keep his senate seat - he's the third ranking Republican in the senate and as socially conservative as they come, and a staunch supporter of the president's "we stay until we win it all" approach to Iraq - says the Iraq War is just like what's going on in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." Really it is. But its not the ring business - you see, the United States has avoided terrorist attacks at home over the past five years because the "Eye of Mordor" has been focused on Iraq instead.


That goes like this -
As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.
So both sides can play this Tolkien game, or we're all Hobbits, or something. For those not into Tolkien, or who missed the films, even with the eleven Oscars, the Courier Times explains - the "Eye of Mordor" was "the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth." Of course it is. Everyone knows that.

The problem is, of course, the one side is making a joke and Santorum is quite serious. Or he's mad. The idea that there is one vastly evil and somewhat supernatural power scanning the globe and out to get us all seems a bit pathological, but then he doesn't say aliens from the planet Clorox II are sending messages to him through the fillings in his teeth, and that's why he's wearing the tin-foil hat. It's just he imagines one super-powerful bad guy behind everything, and it doesn't appear to be Michael Moore. He never says who it is, actually. It may be Professor Moriarty - but that's Sherlock Holmes' stuff, not the Hobbit stuff. But we are supposed to admire his unified paranoia, which is supposed to be some sort of geopolitical wisdom.

But Santorum does come down to earth, sort of. Elsewhere in the interview he says he disagrees with the notion that the United States is "bogged down" in Iraq. And there's all this talk of troop withdrawal. People are asking quests, and they shouldn't - "I don't think you ask that question. I know that's the question everybody wants to ask. But I don't think anyone would ask that question in 1944, 'Gee, how long are we going to be in Europe?' We're going to be in Europe until we win."

People should shut up. And they should really worry about THE EYE.

Okay. Why not? Santorum is always amusing.

And anyway, the war is going fine, in fact "remarkably well." Vice President Cheney came out of hiding to tell Rush Limbaugh that with this -
Well, I think there's some natural level of concern out there because in fact, you know, it wasn't over instantaneously. It's been a little over three years now since we went into Iraq, so I don't think it's surprising that people are concerned.

On the other hand, this government has only been in office about five months, five or six months now. They're off to a good start. It is difficult, no question about it, but we've now got over 300,000 Iraqis trained and equipped as part of their security forces. They've had three national elections with higher turnout than we have here in the United States. If you look at the general overall situation, they're doing remarkably well.

It's still very, very difficult, very tough. Nobody should underestimate the extent to which we're engaged there with this sort of, at present, the "major front" of the war on terror. That's what Osama bin Laden says, and he's right."

As Andrew Sullivan says - "If you were at all concerned that this administration has no grip on reality, then you need to become more concerned."

But maybe Dick Cheney is Lord Sauron, or one of his tools. You never know.

But the recent flurry of Tolkien talk is an anomaly. The standard authoritative reference work about how the world works is still the Bible. See the video clip here (at the 4:58 mark) or check out the Sacramento Bee here.

It's John Doolittle, the Deputy Majority Whip and Secretary of the House Republican Conference, with this -

As for Armageddon, I just note with interest that's what the Bible says. That it's on the Plains of Megiddo. Right there in Israel. And it makes you wonder where this conflict's all going to ultimately lead. And I happen to believe it will ultimately lead to what the Bible says.

There are books more dangerous than Tolkien's. And Doolittle isn't dealing in metaphor. Such folks don't do that.

Whether Kuo is right or not - the political operatives at the White House think the religious folks who drop by are "kooks" to be used and mocked - there's a chance he had it wrong. And we're going to all die, because the Bible says we should.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006 07:05 PDT home

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