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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 14 November 2006
Voices of Reasonable Despair
Topic: Perspective
Voices of Reasonable Despair
Everyone seemed to agree the big story of Tuesday, November 14, was this -
Suspected Shiite militiamen dressed as Interior Ministry commandos stormed a Higher Education Ministry office Tuesday and kidnapped dozens of people after clearing the area under the guise of providing security for what they claimed would be a visit by the U.S. ambassador.

Witnesses and authorities said the gunmen raced through all four stories of the building, forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men and loaded them aboard about 20 pickup trucks.

Shortly afterward, authorities arrested six senior police officers in connection with the abductions - the police chief and five top subordinates in the Karradah district, the central Baghdad region where the kidnappers struck, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf said.
Things aren't going well, and the newly elected Democratic Senate and House have no plan to fix it all. The election had been seven days before, and people were getting upset. Of course the new Congress doesn't get sworn in until January 20 - more than two months from the first Tuesday after the election - but no matter. They're not doing their job, damn it. Did the nation make a mistake? Why have the Democrats trapped us in this quagmire in Iraq, with no plan to fix things?

Yep, that's a little absurd - but no one seems happy with the idea there are no solutions to tough problems. We don't like having no solutions. We just don't think that way. Unlike the dour French existentialists of the fifties, we know there's always a solution, no matter what the problem. Otherwise, life would be as absurd at Sartre and Camus said, and that's an absurd idea to us. We're Americans, and we, not those long-dead Frenchmen, know what absurd really is. Absurd is thinking that some problems just cannot be fixed. Thomas Edison didn't think that way, nor did the Wright brothers, nor did Robert E. Lee (even if George Allen went down to defeat in the recent election, the South will rise again, and all that).

But even if the war is no longer the responsibility of the current administration, or something like that, they are looking for the solution, that magic bullet, that rabbit they can pull from the hat. That's what the Baker-Hamilton commission is all about, the Iraq Study group the will fix everything. Yeah, the commission is five Republicans and five Democrats, all retired politicians and not one Middle East expert in the mix at all, but they will find the solution to everything, or set of solutions. It has, of course, occurred to more than a few people that having no one on the commission who know jack about the region speaks volumes. They're looking for a domestic political solution - something the American people will accept and won't make the president go ballistic (literally).

No one knows what they will recommend. The dynamics of "the acceptable" is a puzzle, and everyone is waiting for the report, in what Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly calls a kabuki dance -
What will they recommend? The betting favorite is talks with Syria and Iran, which is a fine idea with one wee drawback: talks would likely have almost no effect on the violence in Iraq even if they were successful. Iran may be causing trouble in Iraq, but at this point the vast bulk of Iraq's trouble is homegrown. Iran could help in only a limited way even if it wanted to.

The other crowd-pleaser getting airtime these days is "One Last Push," the idea that we can surge in another 20,000 troops or so and end the Iraqi violence once and for all. John McCain is one of many running this idea up the flagpole, but it's a suggestion so puerile and reckless it boggles the mind. It's unlikely that 20,000 troops would have made a difference three years ago, let alone now, and he knows it.
And everyone really knows that this commission won't come up with any magic solution. Drum contend that liberals play along with this game anyway - it helps them avoid the real truth, that the conservatives are pretty much correct when they say that a pullout would be a disaster for Iraq. But then -
War supporters may have only themselves to blame for this state of affairs, but that doesn't make them any less right: A pullout now would almost certainly touch off a full-scale civil war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and the eventual establishment of a Shiite theocracy.
So no one wants to face up to the fact - there is no solution. We're not French, after all. But Drum seems to think "that our continued denial only makes the situation worse with every passing day, virtually guaranteeing a higher body count and an even more brutal end game."

It seems the choice is stay, and things get worse and worse, or leave, and things get worse and worse. If that is so, we might want to choose the latter. Either option being dismally equal, in producing the same net result, the latter saves American lives. But we pretend there's some third option. It's the pretending that's killing us - and our troops, and the Iraqis.

The logic here is clear, if you accept the premise that some problems - and this one in particular - admit no solutions. The nation is still working on that concept. It's a new one for us.

But what about talking with Iran and Syria?

Simon Jenkins argues, in the November 15th Guardian, that this is absurd. Look at it from Iran's point of view - "Why stop the Great Satan? He's driving himself to hell. Tehran can sit back and watch its tormentors sweat."

First there's the irony -
Help from Syria and Iran? Surely these were the monsters that George Bush and Tony Blair were going to crush, back in 2003? Surely the purpose of the Iraq adventure was to topple these terrorism-sponsoring, women-suppressing, militia-funding fundamentalists in favour of stability, prosperity and western democracy? Can the exit from Iraq really be through Tehran and Damascus? Was that in the plan?

I remember asking a western intelligence officer in Baghdad, six months after the American invasion, what he would advise the Iranians to do. "Wait," he said with a smile. Iran has done just that. If I were Tehran I would still wait. I would sit back, fold my arms and watch my tormentors sweat. I would watch the panic in Washington and London as body bags pile up, generals mutter mutiny, alliances fall apart and electors cut and run.
Reality has not yet replaced denial, of course. For the moment, denial still rules -
In America last week I was shocked at how unaware even anti-war Americans are (like many Britons) of the depth of the predicament in Iraq. They compare it with Vietnam or the Balkans - but it is not the same. It is total anarchy. All sentences beginning, "What we should now do in Iraq…" are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.
This is followed by a status report -
From all available reports, Iraq south of the Kurdistan border is beyond central authority, a patchwork of ganglands, sheikhdoms and lawlessness. Anbar province and most of the Sunni triangle is controlled by independent Sunni militias. The only safe movement for outsiders is by helicopter at night. Baghdad is like Beirut in 1983, with nightly massacres, roadblocks everywhere and mixed neighborhoods emptying into safe ones. As yesterday's awful kidnapping shows, even a uniform is a death certificate. As for the cities of the south, control depends on which Shia militia has been able to seize the local police station.

The Iraqi army, such as it is, cannot be deployed outside its local area and is therefore useless for counter-insurgency. There is no central police force. There is no public administration. The Maliki government barely rules the Green Zone in which it is entombed. American troops guard it as they might an outpost of the French Legion in the Sahara. There is no point in patrolling a landscape one cannot control. It merely alienates the population and turns soldiers into targets.
If this is so, the argument goes, all this talk that Iraq will collapse into civil war if "we leave" is to "completely misread the chaos into which that country has descended under our rule." The reality is that something else is going on there, perhaps worse than civil war. Civil wars have their own logic - and this is just Darwinian "survival of the fittest" - or of the best armed and most ruthless. We had a sensible civil war here in the nineteenth century - with uniforms and massed armies and all the rest. What is happening in Iraq has not "risen to the level" of civil war. They just skipped that step and went for total anarchy. They're far beyond civil war.

And it is hard to see what we can do about it -
It is possible that a shrewd proconsul, such as America's Zelmay Khalilzad, might induce the warring factions to agree a provisional boundary between their spheres of influence and assign militias to protect it. But my impression is that Iraq has passed beyond even the power of the centre to impose partition.
But then our ambassador, Khalilzad, a Sunni born in Kabul, is quitting, leaving at the end of the year. Maybe he's secretly French, one of those who know some problems have no solution, and you need to get out before the "why didn't you fix it" crowd starts circling, looking for someone to blame.

Ah, maybe it's all just a language thing. The word problem is naturally linked to the word solution, in a "clang test" sort of way. I say a word and you say the first word that pops into your head. Problem! Solution! No one usually blurts out - "Oh well." We're kind of hard-wired to think anything can be fixed. We never drove Citroëns.

Jenkins concludes with this -
Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realize that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave.
But we won't do that. That's no solution. And so it goes.

Then too there are domestic issues that may have no solution, as Garrison Keillor notes here, regarding the recent elections -
… the election is over, so let's all relax and quit irritating each other. OK? Nancy Pelosi, the she-wolf from Sodom, is about to become the madam of the House, so you Republicans just get over it. Cash in your blue chips and invest in gold ingots and maybe real estate in Costa Rica. The black helicopters have landed. Live with it.
And he says Democrats intend to bring reform to Washington, so deal with that too.

And he suggests starting with the United States Senate, sorely in need of reform for a century or so - "Two senators per state is a good idea in theory, assuming they are half smart, but then you look at George Allen, a lumbering frat boy from the state of Madison and Jefferson, and you think, whoa, something is wrong with this picture."

What we are offered is a solution where there is no problem, or there's a problem no one thought about.

He suggest fewer states -
First of all, is there a reason for Wyoming to exist as a state? I have often wondered about this. Why give two Senate seats to a half million dimestore cowboys while California gets two seats for 34 million people? (Wyoming has roughly the population of Sacramento.) It's OK if Wyoming sends somebody with brains and an independent streak, but when they send a couple of Republican hacks, then it makes no sense.

The idea behind the Senate was to create a sheltered body of wise counselors who, because they don't have to shill for money perpetually, can rise above the petty tumult and think noble thoughts and do the right thing in a pinch. Can you think of a time when Wyoming's senators have done this? No, you can't. So let's bite the bullet and make Wyoming a federal protectorate and appoint an overseer. This would be a good assignment for Halliburton. It's done a heck of a job in Iraq, so let's give it Wyoming and, while we're at it, Alaska. A wonderful postcard place, but what have its congresspeople done other than grub for federal largesse for Alaska? Change the name to Denali and put Halliburton in charge of it.
Other solutions -
While we're at it, let's admit that Utah, Texas and Vermont have never been completely comfortable as part of the United States. They've tried to fit in, but it just isn't working, so let's allow them to pull out and find their own path. You could attach Nevada to Utah and make a lovely little desert nation out of that, and let Vermont join Canada, and make Texas a republic. Add Oklahoma to it. They really are part of the same thing. This leaves us with 43 states, which we could reduce to 40 by joining Rhode Island and New Hampshire and making Idaho part of Montana and combining North and South Dakota into one state called West Minnesota. It's called consolidation, folks. It goes on all the time in corporate America and also in local school districts, so let's make it work for America.
Obviously, he should be on the Baker-Hamilton Iraq commission. He thinks outside the box. He didn't even know there was a box.

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq commission isn't like that. Don't expect much. And pretend you're French.

Posted by Alan at 23:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006 08:27 PST home

Monday, 13 November 2006
The Issue of Bullies
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
The Issue of Bullies
With all the news floating around, all urgent (maybe), you can miss things. Veterans Day this year, November 11, fell on a Saturday, and no one listens to the president's weekly radio address - not on a Saturday morning. No one much listens to commercial radio at all, perhaps, what with that iPod feeding your ear, or satellite radio feeding you Howard Stern or all Elvis, all the time, commercial free. There's pop rock and the talk shows - Rush and the right-wingers, Air America on the left - and the medical and self-help shows. Who the heck is listening to the president, or to the Democrat of the week with the counter-spin? The whole business is sort of an early fifties thing - from the days when you could hear Jack Benny or Jack Webb weekly for a dose of comedy or Dragnet (before television).

So Veterans Day no one much noticed when the president said this - "One freedom that defines our way of life is the freedom to choose our leaders at the ballot box. We saw that freedom earlier this week, when millions of Americans went to the polls to cast their votes for a new Congress. Whatever your opinion of the outcome, all Americans can take pride in the example our democracy sets for the world by holding elections even in a time of war."

Yeah, yeah - more meaningless nice words - we're a wonderful nation and all that. But, but… just what was he implying?

Someone was troubled -
That was really a scary comment. Did they actually think of canceling the election because of Iraq?

Why would he say such an inflammatory thing if the thought never crossed his mind?
And this -
We should be "proud" that the federal government didn't cancel our elections? That the Bush administration didn't use the war as an excuse to interrupt the democratic process?
Well, some on the right, mightily disappointed in the results of the election, were being provided comfort. The implied message was that, yes, he could have declared marshal law and canceled the elections - and declared himself president-for-life or some such thing - but that would have been wrong.

No doubt there are those who are angry that he didn't - seeing him now as a wimp like his father. What's the point of having power if you don't use it? He got rid of habeas corpus and can lock up whomever he wants without charges forever, no one has successfully challenged him on bypassing warrants and all the laws to wiretap anyone he chooses, he signs bills into law and adds signing statements reserving the right to ignore those laws when he chooses, he systematically calls those who question his policies, or any of his decisions, traitors who might as well join the worldwide jihad and fly a 757 into any nearby big building - and he wouldn't take this step? Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned it at all. There's no pleasing some people.

Those would be the authoritarian bullies. But then, they've had their day. Joan Walsh in Salon says that's what the election was about, and they lost. Her take on things is that the results of the midterms was clear - it was "the repudiation of the culture of bullying and intimidation perfected by Republican leaders, especially since 9/11."

She trots out her examples.

George Allen -
Everyone knows he stepped in "Macaca," but the debate about the word's racial meaning threatened to obscure the basic message: Allen was caught on YouTube doing what comes naturally, bullying somebody, somebody who just happened to be the lone brown-skinned man at his campaign event. Sure the racism mattered, a lot, but it was the bullying no one could deny. And when Salon, just a few weeks later, revealed the senator's habitual use of the N-word in college, one factor cited by witnesses who came forward was seeing Allen, the bully of old, captured on that video.
And there was the incumbent senator from Pennsylvania, the number three Republican in Congress, who got toss from his seat -
In the last year Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tried to transform himself into a good Catholic conservative motivated by love, not hate, but Santorum sealed his defeat in 2003 in an interview where he equated homosexuality with bigamy, polygamy, incest and most famously "man on dog" sex. In the furor that followed, Republican leaders from Sen. Bill Frist to President Bush defended Santorum, head of the Republican Conference, who held onto his leadership post despite the storm. "The president believes that the senator is an inclusive man," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. "The president has confidence in Senator Santorum and thinks he's doing a good job as senator - including in his leadership post." Pennsylvanians obviously disagreed.
Well, maybe, but there were lots of issues there - using state money to educate his kids in Maryland, the general flakiness (Iran is really not The Eye of Mordor) and a sense that he didn't care a whit for what happen in native Penn Hills or in Scranton. But Walsh may be partially right.

Then she lays into Donald Rumsfeld -
Given his unconscionable botching of the Iraq war, it may seem a small thing to accuse Rumsfeld of mere bullying. But his complete control over war planning and execution - as well as over the president's perspective on them - stemmed largely from his capacity to belittle and intimidate everyone from Condoleezza Rice to generals to the Pentagon press corps. So many images from Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" have stayed with me - Rummy "snowflaking" the Pentagon with his orders on little white Post-its, micromanaging every aspect of the Defense Department, is one of my favorites. But one of the most damaging sections depicted his work to make sure Bush didn't pick Adm. Vern Clark, the outspoken chief of naval operations, as his first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2001. "Clark was the one officer who might survive Rumsfeld and preserve some sense of dignity and independence for the uniformed military," Woodward explained, and Rummy preferred the more pliable Air Force Gen. Richard Myers. Rumsfeld got his way, on that choice and countless others - at least until last Tuesday.
Well, he's gone now. Rush Limbaugh isn't, so we get this -
Here's hoping soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the bloviating radio host flowers and candy, because he cost Jim Talent his Missouri Senate seat - and the Republicans their Senate majority - by mocking Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms. (Thanks for having that camera in the studio, Rush - your monstrous ego was your party's undoing.) Now Limbaugh is claiming he feels "liberated" by the Republicans' losses, because he no longer has to "carry water" for inept GOP leaders. That's just good comedy. From Vice President Dick Cheney to President Bush to beleaguered Denny Hastert after the Foley scandal, Republicans in trouble made it a point to head to Rush's studio and cry on his man-bosom about Democratic perfidy. Let's hope the nation is soon "liberated" from Limbaugh's abuse.
No irony intended, but fat chance. He's the one success on commercial radio - his audience is massive. He'll be mocking the handicapped, crippled, sick and unlucky for years to come. His career depends on it - and he's found a broad swath of Americans who, too cowardly or weak to be bullies themselves, get their jollies letting him say what they will not. They feel deep grudges and seethe with resentment - life is so unfair - so Rush will be around for them for a long time to come. He'll find someone to mock for all of them.

Walsh says the defeat of George Allen is the most significant thing in all this, "as last spring he was considered a front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008. Allen was cut from the same cloth as Bush, two transplants to the South - Allen from Southern California to Virginia, Bush from Connecticut to Texas - who embraced certain Southern stereotypes, from cowboy boots to nicknames to a faux-down-home suspicion of book learnin', but not much Southern dignity or decency."

So we have two peas in a pod, but she doubts the president will learn much from what happened. She doesn't explain that, but everyone knows the explanation anyway. Bullies don't learn. They just get meaner. There's no alternative. Any other way of dealing with life would shatter their carefully constructed sense of self. To keep that - to keep one's very self - you redouble your efforts to be what you know you are, to hold onto your identity. It's an existential thing.

Really? Of course, as, after the elections removing his power base, the president reintroduced the nomination of John Bolton to be our ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton was not approved before and appointed to the post when the senate was in recess, and has to leave in January unless they actually confirm him. That didn't work the first time, and it is certain to not work this time. But as the new congress won't convene until January 20, so the president wants this lame duck senate to confirm him. They say they won't. He insists they do. There is no chance at all they will. What's up with that? It's that sense of self thing. The president has no alternative.

Similarly he wants this lame duck congress to approve the Arlen Specter compromise on wiretapping anyone and everyone the president chooses without warrants. The bill gives the president the right to do that, with the caveat that, if he chooses, he can decide to tell a few select senators and congressmen when he has done such a thing - but informing them is entirely optional. That bill is dead too. But the pressure from the White House to pass the thing is increasing. The pressure is a statement of "being," really. It has little to do with what the law is and could be. It's an existential thing too.

And there's this -
Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, the Bush administration said Monday, opening a new legal front in the fight over the rights of detainees.

In court documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Justice Department defended the military's authority to arrest people oversees and detain them indefinitely without access to courts.
That's not going to fly. The courts don't appoint kings. The law matters. But it does make a statement, an identity statement. This is who we are!

In a more scholarly vein, Austin W. Bramwell in The American Conservative move the whole thing away from the less than scholarly president - there are not the president's ideas alone (if at all, they are on the instinctual level) - and suggests the whole bully thing is integral to reactive conservatism and got hooked to the whole neoconservative movement -
After 9/11, neoconservatives championed any war that we waged in reaction. In this, they were acting opportunistically but not hypocritically: in their view, 9/11 is what happens when the United States suffers any challenges to its authority. The rest of the movement knew only that it wanted a ruthless response. Neoconservatism just happened to provide a convenient ideological infrastructure with which to justify metonymic revenge against some Muslim Arab or other. Before 9/11, the movement was praising modesty in foreign affairs; after 9/11, it did not so much embrace neoconservatism as blunder into it by accident...

What they need is analysis: the skeptical tradition extending from Machiavelli to Hobbes, Hamilton, and Burnham that seeks to understand the world as it is rather than as we might like it to be.
Yeah, but bullies don't do analysis. And they don't use words like metonymic - "a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated." They just knew someone had to be hit hard, and it hardly mattered who that was - Iraq would do. Metonymic, my ass.

Bramwell decides that the "conservative movement" is now dead, much like Walsh. As if.

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the lastes issue of Foreign Policy, offers a letter My Fellow Neoconservatives. All is not lost. We can still find our inner bully.

First, don't abandon George Bush -
All policies are perfect on paper, none in execution. All politicians are, well, politicians. Bush has embraced so much of what we believe that it would be silly to begrudge his deviations. He has recognized the terrorist campaign against the United States that had mushroomed over 30 years for what it is - a war that must be fought with the same determination, sacrifice, and perseverance that we demonstrated during the Cold War. And he has perceived that the only way to win this war in the end is to transform the political culture of the Middle East from one of absolutism and violence to one of tolerance and compromise.

The administration made its share of mistakes, and so did we. We were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation. Did we fail to appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories? Did we underestimate the human and societal damage wreaked by decades of totalitarian rule in Iraq? Could things have unfolded differently had our occupation force been large enough to provide security?
Are we idiots led by an idiot? Ask the question the right way, Joshua.

And he adds don't abandon Rumsfeld, even though he's gone -
One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources, just as our execrable intelligence in Iraq seems traceable, at least in part, to the reliance on machines rather than humans. Our forte is political ideas, not physics or mechanics. We may have seized on a technological fix to spare ourselves the hard slog of fighting for higher defense budgets. Let's now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough and sufficiently well provisioned - however "redundant" - to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake.
Right. When things don't work, do more of the same.

And there's more - subvert Middle East governments, combat anti-Americanism but finding Europeans who understand the persuasiveness of military force, and the key -
Prepare to Bomb Iran. Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.

The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.
Good luck with that.

And as a kicker, he has one last suggestion -
Recruit Joe Lieberman for 2008. Twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world. In 2008, we will have a lot on the line. The policies that we have championed will remain unfinished. The war on terror will still have a long way to go. The Democrats have already shown that they are incurably addicted to appeasement, while the "realists" among the GOP are hoping to undo the legacy of George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani both look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously and with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and our country needs. As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman? Lieberman says he's still a Democrat. But there is no place for him in that party. Like every one of us, he is a refugee. He's already endured the rigors of running for the White House. In 2008, he deserves another chance - this time with a worthier running mate than Al Gore.
Okay, run Joe. And tell the American people it will be no more realism - that not what the country needs - just all innovation, all the time.

The bullies don't realize they were voted out for a reason. Maybe Bush should have called off the elections last week. This is madness, and it's only partially contained. Not all of us want to connect to our inner bully. It seems a few thousand more than half of us don't. It's an existential thing. It only seems political.

Maybe it's time to face the truth. All this never was political, and there's no political solution to be found. When people flight to maintain their identities, what compromise is possible?

Now THAT is a depressing thought.

Posted by Alan at 21:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006 21:33 PST home

Sunday, 12 November 2006
The Momentum of War
Topic: Couldn't be so...
The Momentum of War
Momentum -

1 - a property of a moving body that the body has by virtue of its mass and motion and that is equal to the product of the body's mass and velocity; broadly, a property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force or moment
2 - strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events

The Democrats may have won the House and Senate in the midterm elections, but the new Congress doesn't convene until January, and anyway, in spite of the talk of things changing in the country, they don't have the momentum. The war in Iraq, by virtue of its mass and motion (accelerating and increasing violence as two of the three major factions there find ever more horrific ways to kill those on the "other side" in greater and greater numbers), has its own momentum. And what we started in early 2003, with an invasion, the removal of the government there, and an ongoing occupation tp get things working there in some sort of way, has its own momentum. There's a whole lot of mass and motion involved there too.

Newton's First Law of Motion states that bodies at rest tend to remain at rest, and that bodies in motion tend to remain in motion. Those bodies that are in motion move at a constant speed in a straight line. This is called inertia, or in the case of what happens to be in motion, momentum. You have to take that into account. Nothing much is going to change very quickly, if at all. Momentum must be countered with some sufficient force. The Democratic majority in the two houses may not be it.

And this is pathetically insufficent -
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats, who won majorities in the U.S. Congress in last week's elections, said on Sunday they will push for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin in four to six months.

"The first order of business is to change the direction of Iraq policy," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is expected to be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Congress.

Levin, on ABC's "This Week," said he hoped some Republicans would emerge to join Democrats and press the administration of President George W. Bush to tell the Iraqi government that U.S. presence was "not open-ended."
That's not an opposite and equal force to counter the momentum, much less reverse it. It's wishing.

Sunday, November 12, the talk was of this -
After meeting with President Bush tomorrow, a panel of prestigious Americans will begin deliberations to chart a new course on Iraq, with the goal of stabilizing the country with a different U.S. strategy and possibly the withdrawal of troops.

Tuesday's dramatic election results, widely seen as a repudiation of the Bush Iraq policy, has thrust the 10-member, bipartisan Iraq Study Group into the kind of special role played by the Sept. 11 commission. This panel, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D), might play a decisive role in reshaping the U.S. position in Iraq, according to lawmakers and administration officials.

Those familiar with the panel's work predict that the ultimate recommendations will not appear novel and that there are few, if any, good options left facing the country. Many of the ideas reportedly being considered - more aggressive regional diplomacy with Syria and Iran, greater emphasis on training Iraqi troops, or focusing on a new political deal between warring Shiites and Sunni - have either been tried or have limited chances of success, in the view of many experts on Iraq. Baker is also exploring whether a broader U.S. initiative in tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict is needed to help stabilize the region.
So they will meet with the president and then begin deliberations - which seems to involve sitting around and trying to think of something that will slow the war's self-sustaining momentum and, one day, reverse it.

Then there's this assessment - Why the Baker Commission on Iraq Doesn't Matter.

There are the unpleasant actual facts -
The situation in Iraq is "even worse than we thought,'' with key Iraqi leaders showing no willingness to compromise to avoid increasing violence, said Leon Panetta, a member of the high-powered advisory group that will recommend new options for the war.

… Private assessments by government officials are much more grim than what is said in public, Panetta said, "and we left some of those sessions shaking our heads over how bad it is in Iraq.''

U.S. forces can't control sectarian violence and powerful militias. One of the most disturbing findings, Panetta said, is that many Shiite religious leaders who are a big part of the government have no interest in deals or compromises with Sunnis and other groups, and are "playing for time because they say it's their show.''
So this assessment is that the "meeting between the overgrown child in White House and the would-be foster parents of the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker" doesn't matter much. Not only has it long been obvious that the Shiite leadership had no interest in compromise, they essentially couldn't compromise with their Sunni counterparts.

That goes like this -
Nor, as the U.S. government has been embarrassingly slow to learn, is there anything we can do to force the Shiites to make concessions. Even as Iraq spiraled into the abyss, this was demonstrated when Team Shiite shut Baathists out of the government formed this spring, just as it had excluded them from the previous one… "Too many Shiites have died at the hands of Baathists (both during Saddam Hussein's reign and since then) for them to take any chances."

The increasing sectarian atrocities this year have only made matters worse. So it's almost laughable to think that anything Baker and his team come up with will manage to change the basic power equation in Iraq - one in which all sides would rather fight than share power peacefully with their increasingly bitter enemies.

Events have shown that even the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are little more than overwhelmed bystanders at this point... or, at best, speed bumps slowing down an otherwise full-speed descent into the hell of civil war. The underlying dynamic has been in place since before the American invasion, when both sides planned in advance their response to the toppling of Saddam Hussein - the Shiite religious leaders by plotting to use our promises of democracy to install a hard-line sectarian government, and Saddam himself by carpeting the countryside with weapons and explosives to ensure that the U.S (and the Shiites) would face the most well-armed insurgency in history.

The impotence of the American military during the nationwide rampage of looting after Saddam was deposed convinced every Iraqi faction that no one could secure their interests but themselves, and conversely that the path to power was wide open to whoever could acquire the most armed strength. Since then, our inability to impose our will has only become more obvious - the Shiite religious leaders seized the political initiative in November 2003 when Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani vetoed the U.S. scheme to concoct our own constitution for Iraq before holding elections, and a devastating guerrilla offensive in April 2004 forced us to essentially withdraw from Anbar province, more or less conceding that we could never defeat the Sunni insurgents militarily.

Those decisive moments have largely dictated the events of the past three years, not to mention the ultimate conflagration that will erupt when the U.S. is no longer able to sustain its presence in Iraq. So there's really no need or reason to work up much fear, hope, or anything else about what Baker and/or his group propose.

The Baker commission's only reason for existence is to provide a formal channel for telling the President that there's no pony in Iraq - that failure/defeat is not only an option, it's basically the only one left. The question is whether he'll listen even now.

Well, the president's personality-based inertia aside, the "facts on the ground" don't offer much hope.

What bold move will change everything? We're hardly about to convene a regional summit and chat with Iran and Syria about working out some sort of stability in the area - the president has made it clear we do not hold any sort of talks, even secret back-channel talks, with countries we consider evil, as that only legitimizes them or even rewards them. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said publicly, and repeatedly, there is absolutely and unequivocally no reason to talk with them - they know what they're supposed to do. And of course, after a publicly belittling like that, they certainly have no reason to talk. She shut that door, and locked it.

And we're hardly about to change positions on what most say is the core issue in the region and return to the position of previous administrations, deciding to play "honest broker" between Israel and the Palestinians. It's a little late for that, after the Israel-Hezbollah war that dismantled Jordon that we urged should continue, and our latest veto of a UN resolution condemning Israel for killing nine civilians in their ongoing attacks on Gaza. The Israeli government said it was a technical error that killed the nine kids. That's good enough for us. We decided early on in this administration that what former presidents of both parties thought was important - getting the parties together to cool things down - wasn't. The thought seemed to be that changing Iraq would change everything in the region, and thorny issues a few hundred miles west of Baghdad would be resolved as regimes changed and people woke up to how things could be - with Jeffersonian democracies springing up left and right. That actually was our position. And we're not about to back down from our matching Israel-can-do-no-wrong stance. We'd appear weak, and foolish, and there'd be a heavy price to pay with Israel and here at home. And of course it would solve nothing now - an "abandoned" Israel might just, on their own, take out most of Iran's nuclear sites, their command and control apparatus, and most roads and bridges, if we stepped back our support for them. All hell would break loose from Pakistan to Turkey - not to mention crazed anger in Muslim countries around the world, like Indonesia - but Israel has its own survival to consider. So nothing can be changed there. We made our decisions.

So any sort of change in all this is hard to imagine. In football (our version), momentum is a problem. You seem have "The Big Mo" and then you've lost it - and it's hard to get back. What can change things? Sometimes it's a lucky call from the refs, or the other team makes an unexpected bone-headed mistake. Suddenly you're back in the game and everything is falling your way again. But you can't depend on that, so you try a trick play - a quadruple reverse or some fancy Hail Mary thing no one expects. In gambling, it's a bit different. You've been on a roll and then, for some reason or no reason, it's all snake eyes, all the time, or in poker, you're just not getting the cards. You find yourself deep in a hole. You're just about to lose everything. And in that case there are only two alternatives - cut your losses and walk away (to the bar, as your drinks will now be on the house), or double-down. So you can stay in and make it all back - double your bets and assume the law of averages, or at least what statisticians call "the return to the mean," will save your butt. It could happen.

Robert Kagan and William Kristol think so. In the Sunday, November 12, Financial Times, they say Bush Must Call for Reinforcements in Iraq. Send ten or twenty or thirty thousand more guys in there - maybe more. Slap these people around and make them cut the crap. The problem is we've not taken this seriously enough. It's time to double-down. Heck, we might even find those WMD (no, they didn't go that far).

And it's not just those two thinking this way. In the first NBC "Meet the Press" after the midterm elections, Tim Russert and his bookers decided to continue their "no Democrats" policy and invited John McCain and Joe Lieberman to come in for a chat on "what it all means and where we are going." Lieberman, of course, did not run as a Democrat - he lost the primary - and told Russert now that he's won his senate seat back as an independent, he wouldn't rule out caucusing with the Republicans and voting with them on all issues, and at the same time he'd keep his Democratic committee chairmanships and meet with the Democrats if they were nice to him (he didn't mention kissing his ring), as he's moved beyond political parties. Russert asked what Lieberman was going to demand of senate Democrats for his cooperation - what he would force them to do to get his support. Lieberman hemmed and hawed for a bit and said he was not going to do anything like that, really. He's having a bit of trouble settling into the "I'm better than anyone else" role. It's a work in progress.

In any event, as NBC carefully booked no Democrat who won any seat in either house, they had the floor, or screen, or camera, or whatever. They both called for a massive increase in the number of troops we have in Iraq.

There's a video of McCain saying that here - "We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months." So it's double-down.

Russert noted that on December 8, 2005, McCain had said, "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have a fair amount of progress [in Iraq] if we stay the course." McCain was forced to admit he had "proven not to be correct." But things are different now? That seems to be the idea. Lieberman too had said not six months ago that things we're going great in Iraq and the evil media was reporting it all wrong, and undermining the president. Now he says pour in the additional troops. They agreed. So that's how things are. The transcript is here.

Summing it up is Duncan Black here -

Well, reading the tea leaves it's pretty clear what's going on. The Iraq Study Group which Democrats have decided is going to save them is going to recommend either sending in more troops (McCain/Lieberman position this morning) or beginning to bug out. Elite Consensus will tell us to double down one more time, send in another 30,000 troops or so, while condemning the Democrats as defeatists. There won't be enough Democrat support to use what little levers of power they have (not many) to force the administration's hand. So more American soldiers will have their lives disrupted and families torn apart, more of them will die, more Iraqis will die, so that soulless Joe "no one wants out of Iraq more than I do" Lieberman can prop up his feeling of self-importance.

God I hate these people.
But you cannot fight the momentum here. The president is hardly the sort of man to cut his losses and walk away to the bar for a stiff one, or three or four. He was an alcoholic through his early forties, and now he doesn't drink. And those other ideas - talk with Iran and Syria, and go all "neutral intermediary" on the Israel-Palestine issues? After six years of having none of that he's hardly likely now to eat crow and reverse his positions there. And although he cannot explain what winning in Iraq means - no one can, exactly - he sure as hell isn't about to preside over anything that looks like losing. Every business in which he was involved failed - he needs this. When you've never won anything and you're backed into a corner, there's only one option, double-down. They're not his chips anyway, not his kids off to join the hundred fifty thousand we have there now. Why not?

Duncan Black is reading the tea leaves right. Things in motion just have their momentum.

Operationally we're talking about this -
"Roughly, you need another 20,000 troops in Iraq, but that means expanding the Army and Marine Corps by as much as 100,000 people," the Arizona senator told reporters after a campaign event for Republicans in New Hampshire's North Country.
So where do we find those people? There aren't even enough unemployed former senators and representatives.

The day before Kagan and Kristol and McCain and Lieberman gave the president the only option he would consider this hit the wires -
The Pentagon is developing plans that for the first time would send entire National Guard combat brigades back to Iraq for a second tour, the Guard's top general said in the latest sign of how thinly stretched the military has become.

Smaller Guard units and individual troops have already returned to Iraq for longer periods, and some active duty units have served multiple tours. Brigades generally have about 3,500 troops.

The move - which could include brigades from North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas and Indiana - would be the Pentagon's first large-scale departure from its previous decision not to deploy reserves for more than a total of 24 months in Iraq.
There aren't more chips for this game. And if McCain is right - we're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months - signing up another hundred thousand to get the twenty thousand chips necessary for this big hand of poker doesn't fit his timeline. They'd be ready in eighteen months. By then the game, he himself says, would be over.

Time to head for the bar. Big Mo won. George can have a ginger ale.

Posted by Alan at 22:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006 07:49 PST home

Saturday, 11 November 2006
Quotes Regarding Elections
Topic: Election Notes
Quotes Regarding Elections
Just for the fun of it -

RABBLE, n. In a republic, those who exercise a supreme authority tempered by fraudulent elections. The rabble is like the sacred Simurgh, of Arabian fable - omnipotent on condition that it do nothing. - Ambrose Bierce

"Our elections are free - it's in the results where eventually we pay." - Bill Stern

"Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." - George Bernard Shaw

"An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry." - George Eliot

"Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates." - Gore Vidal

"Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." - H. L. Mencken

"In our brief national history we have shot four of our presidents, worried five of them to death, impeached one and hounded another out of office. And when all else fails, we hold an election and assassinate their character." - P. J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores

"Win or lose, we go shopping after the election." - Imelda Marcos

"You will expect me to discuss the late election. Well, as nearly as I can learn, we did not have enough votes on our side." - Herbert Hoover

"The unconscious democracy of America is a very fine thing. It is a true and deep and instinctive assumption of the equality of citizens, which even voting and elections have not destroyed." - G. K. Chesterton

"Ninety-eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hard-working, honest Americans. It's the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them." - Lily Tomlin

"The Roman government gave them bread and circuses. Today we give them bread and elections." - Will Durant

"A politician should have three hats. One for throwing into the ring, one for talking through, and one for pulling rabbits out of if elected." - Carl Sandburg

"The best argument against democracy is a five minute talk with the average voter." - Winston Churchill

"Votes are like trees, if you are trying to build a forest. If you have more trees than you have forests, then at that point the pollsters will probably say you will win." - Dan Quayle

"Vote for the man who promises least. He'll be the least disappointing." - Bernard Baruch

"If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side." - Orson Scott Card

"The voters have spoken - the bastards!" - Morris

"Those that know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories." - Polybius

"The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass all the time." - Jim "Catfish" Hunter

"If you can keep your head about you when all about you are losing theirs, it's just possible you haven't grasped the situation." - Jean Kerr

"When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less." - Paul Brown

"Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans." - Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North, Patton, 1970

Posted by Alan at 14:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 10 November 2006
Gloating and Recriminations - Agenda-Driven Hysterical Harrumphing
Topic: Election Notes
Gloating and Recriminations - Agenda-Driven Hysterical Harrumphing
After the midterm elections, where, in the end, after a few days of counting the votes again at few locations, it does seem the nation chose to say, "Stop, let's rethink all this." A good number of those claiming there was nothing to rethink lost their seats in Congress. For the first time in twelve years the opposition party will have control of both houses - one third of the government, with the power to approve or deny funding for anything the government does, subpoena power to investigate anything the executive branch does, and the power to change laws enacted or to enact new laws the executive branch must follow, even if the executive branch has for the last few years has maintained that's "old thinking" and in the dangerous world in which we now live the president has the right, if not the duty, to ignore the law for whatever he decides is the greater good at the moment. And at the highest level of the judicial branch, the Supreme Court, all that will be straightened out? Well, that's the system - two hundred thirty years old and still working, to some extent.

Things certainly had been simpler for the preceding six years - with one party in control of two of the three branches, and appointing compliant judges to the third branch at will. All the whining that things needed rethinking was mocked, and the media pretty much joined in. Everyone seemed to enjoy the bully winners laughing at the hapless losers who wanted "to think about things" - much like the amusement in seeing a masterful football team roll over some comic and bumbling last place team, ruining up the score with that eleventh touchdown and doing the funky victory dance in the end zone again and again. There's a certain pleasure in watching masterful professionals at work, doing what the want at will. It's heady stuff.

Some people, on the other hand, equally enjoy seeing the hapless underdogs rise to the occasion and unexpectedly win - the '69 Mets winning it all, or Rutgers beating Louisville two days after these elections. It's that satisfying "fall of the mighty" thing. And most people like to think of themselves as the underdog who will one day win it all - even rich and successful folks. Everyone has some sort of chip on his or her shoulder, however subtly hidden.

So the underdogs won control of Congress and the mighty will get their comeuppance, or something.

But it wasn't all good. It came with baggage -
A new recording Friday attributed to the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq mocked President Bush as a coward whose conduct of the war was rejected at the polls, challenging him to keep U.S. troops in the country to face more bloodshed.

"We haven't had enough of your blood yet," taunted terror chieftain Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, identified as the speaker on the tape.

He gloated over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation, claimed to have 12,000 fighters under his command who "have vowed to die for God's sake," and said his fighters will not rest until they blow up the White House and occupy Jerusalem.

Yeah, yeah - that was predictable. Comment on right was generally - "See, Bush was right, the Democrats and al Qaeda are the same thing, out to kill us all."

It was nonsense, but also predictable.

The Associated Press item in this case notes that was just what Abu Hamza al-Muhajir had in mind -

The audio message appeared to be an attempt to exact maximum propaganda benefit from the results of Tuesday's midterm elections, in which the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress, in part because of the war.

Al-Muhajir praised the American people for handing victory to the Democrats, saying: "They voted for something reasonable in the last elections."

He also said Bush was "the most stupid president" in U.S. history.

"We call on the lame duck not to hurry his escape the way the defense secretary did," al-Muhajir said in reference to Rumsfeld's resignation as Pentagon chief on Wednesday. "Remain steadfast on the battlefield, you coward," said al-Muhajir, who took over leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June. "We will not rest from our jihad (holy war) until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house - which is called the White House," al-Muhajir said.
Blowing up the White House is not, of course, what the Democrats have in mind. They'd like one of their folks to move in there in January, 2009. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir is not thinking things through.

But the president and his national security team will meet Monday with members of that "blue-ribbon" commission trying to devise a new course for this unpopular (now a matter of record) war - and that would be the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton. No gloating will be involved. This is all about rethinking things.

But at the end of "election week" there were still those resisting any of that rethinking stuff. Over at Andrew Sullivan's Time Magazine site there was an extended discussion of what Rush Limbaugh had been saying (see the footnote to The Day After - Fallout). Limbaugh pretty much admitted he had lied and been saying that the Republicans were great, when he knew they were corrupt incompetents, but the threat that any Democrat would win any seat gave him no choice. Democrats in power would destroy the nation and happily let the Islamic fanatics rule the world - and you just could have that. Hugh Hewitt had been saying much the same on his radio show and at his website. The idea that the Democrats want al Qaeda to take over the world and end what we know as the United States after two hundred thirty years seems to be a given on that side, even if the voters, in the end, just weren't buying that view.

That view of those who want to rethink things does seem cartoon-like and childish, and Sullivan concludes with this -
There comes a point at which an adult conservative should be eager to see the Democrats come to the center, if only to avoid the hubris and corruption that always stems from one-party rule, whichever party it is. I think the explanation for the intellectual dishonesty was that an entire industry was built around demonizing the left; and that this demonization became all conservatives were about. There was so much money in it; and it was so easy to demonize liberals that that's all they ended up doing.

The Republicans had become so enthralled by what they were against that they had forgotten what they were supposed to be for. So they came off as negative, mean-spirited and cruel. Hence the solid American center moving back to the Dems. The result, however, is in many ways a good conservative one. Many more conservative Democrats are now in Congress than before. We have a chance to move in a realistic way in Iraq, now that the loonies have been removed from the Pentagon (Cambone has just been given his papers, I hear). And we may get a sensible compromise on immigration. Bush has a real opportunity to rescue his presidency. For the sake of the country, I hope he succeeds.
Yeah, but Limbaugh and his crowd rely to that, usually, by reminding everyone that Sullivan is a fag - a homosexual man engaged to his "partner." Are you going to listen to what he says? Don't you read you Bible?

The problem is that line of thinking (to use the term quite generously) seems to has lost its power. Consider this from Republican Chairman Steve Salem from Woodbury County, Iowa, of all places -
You've heard of IslamaFascists - I think we now have Christian fascists. What is the definition of a fascist? Not only do they want to beat you, but they want to destroy you in the process... if things keep going the way things are going locally and statewide, it is going to be more and more difficult for Republicans to recruit candidates. We have elements of the party who are moral absolutists, who take the approach that if you don't take my position every step of the way, not only will I not support you, but I will destroy you.
That's odd. The Republican Party in Iowa wants to run candidates who listen and think things through?

You'd think Iowa is suddenly New York City, where Paul Krugman says pretty much the same thing in that newspaper Rush and that crowd revile, the New York Times -
… we may be seeing the downfall of movement conservatism - the potent alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. This alliance may once have had something to do with ideas, but it has become mainly a corrupt political machine, and America will be a better place if that machine breaks down.

Why do I want to see movement conservatism crushed? Partly because the movement is fundamentally undemocratic; its leaders don't accept the legitimacy of opposition. Democrats will only become acceptable, declared Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, once they "are comfortable in their minority status." He added, "Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate."

And the determination of the movement to hold on to power at any cost has poisoned our political culture. Just think about the campaign that just ended, with its coded racism, deceptive robo-calls, personal smears, homeless men bused in to hand out deceptive fliers, and more. Not to mention the constant implication that anyone who questions the Bush administration or its policies is very nearly a traitor.

When movement conservatism took it over, the Republican Party ceased to be the party of Dwight Eisenhower and became the party of Karl Rove. The good news is that Karl Rove and the political tendency he represents may both have just self-destructed.

Two years ago, people were talking about permanent right-wing dominance of American politics. But since then the American people have gotten a clearer sense of what rule by movement conservatives means. They've seen the movement take us into an unnecessary war, and botch every aspect of that war. They've seen a great American city left to drown; they've seen corruption reach deep into our political process; they've seen the hypocrisy of those who lecture us on morality.

And they just said no.
And they seem to have said no even in Iowa.

And even in the UK folks get it. There's Martin Kettle in The Guardian with this -
The Democrats did not just win among the usual groups such as the poor, women and black people. This time they won among the middle class too, among small-town voters, among every age group and - crucially and emphatically - among independents and moderates. Even where the Democrats lost they polled significantly, taking 45% in the south, 28% of white evangelical Christians, 20% of conservatives and 15% of people who voted for Bush in 2004. These strong showings among unlikely groups help explain why Democrats won congressional seats in so many "red" states this week and why the win that finally gave them control of the senate came from the near south.

No one can say if this is an epochal hit or one from which the Republicans will bounce back in 2008. But the implications of the 2006 crash are fascinating. This is not the creation of a new majority… but a lot of space has nevertheless opened up in which the Democrats could do even better in future. Clearly such optimism has to be highly contingent. Only a fool would overstate it. Karl Rove has not become incompetent overnight. But this week defies the argument in influential recent books that America is a conclusively conservative country.

It will take time for this to sink in among conservative Republicans. This election has been a major blow to their self-image and world-view. Like the Thatcherites, they got used to assuming that they were always right and would always be victorious. On Tuesday the voters told them they were wrong. It has taken many false starts for the Conservative party to get back in the game in Britain. Something similar could happen to the suddenly weakened Republicans. But there's nothing they like more than a fight.
He's right about that last part.

And he notes the implications of it all - it's a reminder to the rest of the world that the problem is not America but this American administration - "Foreigners have had the useful reminder that Americans are not nuts." In fact, Americans seem to have actually become multilateralist in foreign policy for the first time - fifty-eight percent agreeing that America's security "depends on building strong ties with other nations" compared with thirty-four who think it depends "on its own military strength." What's up with that, Rush?

And the quite conservative former diplomat Greg Djerejian, with Rumsfeld gone now too and that Gates dude taking his place, is actually feeling relief -
Regardless, what we saw [Tuesday] was American democracy at its finest. We saw the public mount a critically needed intervention, because without it a President well beyond his depth would have likely continued to cast his lot with discredited cocksure ideologues and/or Jacksonian nationalists like Rumsfeld.

In Gates, we have an anti-ideologue and a realist. In his role with the Baker-Hamilton commission (a welcome dose of bipartisan sanity in an increasingly moronic Washington, media and blogosphere), he will have had access and been influenced by distinguished peers grappling with what to do next in Iraq in a climate characterized by sober appraisal of the national interest, rather than the agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing afoot in all the usual quarters.
Now that's a nice turn of phase - agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing. Agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing has made Rush Limbaugh a very rich man.

Sullivan is gleeful -
What we are seeing is an almost Shakespearean drama in which the wayward son is forced back to the advisers of the father he once rejected. Two words: Poppy's back! His arch-nemesis, Rumsfeld, is gone. Two of Poppy's closest allies and friends are now trying to figure a path out of the hole Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld dug. So the Bush presidency is back! The other Bush presidency. The one that, in retrospect, seems sane and wise.
Yes, Andrew, but that's only by contrast. The father was goofy and dangerous in his own way - and stuck with completely at sea Dan Quayle until the very end, for goodness sakes. But just goofy would be a relief these days. (It is odd that William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the main spokesman, "deep thinker" and cheerleader for the neoconservatives, was Dan Quayle's press secretary - but that sort of makes sense now.)

Things are getting back, though, to something like sensible. The problem is that in cutting Rumsfeld loose other problems just had to come up. He's not in office, and no longer a government official, and as Pinochet and Milosevic discovered, there a bit of exposure now -
A lawyer for the families of Saudis in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay hailed the resignation of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said he "reserved the right" to sue him over alleged abuses there.

Kateb al-Shammari said in a statement that Rumsfeld's departure after the Republicans' drubbing in mid-term congressional elections was a "positive step" for the detainees, since he was "primarily responsible" for the abuses there. Rumsfeld was also a main advocate of keeping Guantanamo "outside international and US law," and he sanctioned the use of torture under the euphemism of "interrogation techniques," Shammari charged.

"In my capacity as a lawyer in this affair and agent for most of the families of Saudi detainees in Guantanamo, I reserve the right to file a lawsuit against Rumsfeld and the other (officials) responsible for the abuses committed against the detainees, and for their continued detention without legal justification," the lawyer added.
Yep, we had ninety Saudis at Guantanamo, repatriated thirty-seven, and sent them the bodies of the two who, in an act of asymmetrical warfare against us, as we said, managed to commit suicide. And a lawyers' group representing Guantanamo prisoners said in Washington that Rumsfeld's resignation on Wednesday leaves him open to legal action over his alleged role in "authorizing torture" of people held in our worldwide war or terror - he's open game now. We have denied authorizing torture down there, but Rumsfeld has angrily defended the use of "robust interrogation techniques" to find out what we could find out. Now he's in trouble. It will all be in what you call what was done, as what was done was done.

And it gets worse, in Germany, with this -
Just days after his resignation, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as the so-called "20th hijacker" and a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that one of the witnesses who will testify on their behalf is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the one-time commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski - who the lawyers say will be in Germany next week to publicly address her accusations in the case - has issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says, in part: "It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."
And others are named - Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee, former deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, General Counsel for the Department of Defense William James Haynes II; and David S. Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. And there are military - General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top Army official in Iraq, General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo, senior Iraq commander, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, and Col. Thomas Pappas, the one-time head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib.

Guys - don't leave the government. Germany was chosen for all this because German law provides "universal jurisdiction" - allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world.

But being in the government doesn't seem to matter -
Indeed, a similar, but narrower, legal action was brought in Germany in 2004, which also sought the prosecution of Rumsfeld. The case provoked an angry response from Pentagon, and Rumsfeld himself was reportedly upset. Rumsfeld's spokesman at the time, Lawrence DiRita, called the case "a big, big problem." U.S. officials made clear the case could adversely impact U.S.-Germany relations, and Rumsfeld indicated he would not attend a major security conference in Munich, where he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, unless Germany disposed of the case. The day before the conference, a German prosecutor announced he would not pursue the matter, saying there was no indication that U.S. authorities and courts would not deal with allegations in the complaint.
Right - US law could handle the problem. But now, things have changed. Rumsfeld's resignation means that he will lose the legal immunity "usually accorded" high government officials.

And they're also arguing that the previous German prosecutor's reasoning for rejecting the prior case - that we can deal with that stuff - had been proven wrong. We don't do jack about such stuff, obviously.

And this administration has long said we will not adhere to the International Criminal Court (ICC) - such things are just a way for envious people to make trouble for us, because we're so powerful - so Washington is laughing. It's all very odd.

It's as if the election results uncorked a lot of things. Back in 2005 Italy issued arrest warrants for thirteen CIA agents (see this) - they said we kidnapped people we had decided might be radical Muslims off the streets of Rome or Milan or wherever and had flown them on "Ghost Air" to secret prisons in countries that practice torture. The Italians didn't think much of that. But that story disappeared.

Now, two days after the elections here, there's this news item - one of those guys the Italians say we kidnapped and flew to Egypt for "enhanced interrogation was Abu Omar, also known as Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. There seems to be a handwritten account of it, from him, smuggled out of the Egyptian prison where her was being held. It made its way to Italian prosecutors. And it was leaked to the press -
In his letter, Nasr described how his health had badly deteriorated. He had lost hearing in one ear from repeated beatings, he said, and his formerly pitch-black hair had turned all white. He said he was kept in a cell with no toilet and no lights, where "roaches and rats walked across my body."

He also gave a graphic account of Egyptian interrogation practices, including how he would be strapped to an iron rack nicknamed "the Bride" and zapped with electric stun guns.

On other occasions, he wrote, he was tied to a wet mattress on the floor. While one interrogator sat on a wooden chair perched on the prisoner's shoulders, another interrogator would flip a switch, sending jolts of electricity into the mattress coils.
And there's this -
Court papers allege that the kidnapping was orchestrated by the CIA's station chief in Rome and involved at least two dozen CIA operatives, most of whom arrived in Italy months before to lay the groundwork. Italian judges have issued arrest warrants for the CIA officers and have pledged to try them in absentia if necessary.

The U.S. has refused to confirm or deny the allegations.
The Democrats win an election and all sorts of things happen.

It may be time for some major CYA, as Michael Wolff discusses in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. That issue is getting a lot of buzz as it has the item where all the neoconservative bigwigs explain what went wrong with Iraq (the change-the-world theory was fine but the Bush folks were idiots). Michael Wolff offers Survivor: The White House Edition, must about Woodward's latest book, but more about where things are heading -
Bush fires Cheney and names McCain as the replacement V.P. - although it is not yet entirely clear to me who tells Bush to fire Cheney, if not Cheney. The war in Iraq, except for the shooting, is so over. But between now and when, as the president has no doubt accurately described it, we "cut and run," when there's a final helicopter lifting from a Green Zone rooftop, there's a whole third act to play.

… Everybody's positioning himself for the end.

The plot structure of the war, and how it reaches its conclusion, is determined less, at this point, by events in Iraq (although the Times gamely reported a few weeks ago on the front page that the military was really, truly honing a new counter-insurgency strategy) than by the involvement of so many drama queens with their super-awareness of crisis and timing.

The basic facts, after all, are three years old: no WMD, no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, not enough troops, no planning, and, obviously, no idea about how to deal with an ever growing insurgency.

But patience is key. Richard Clarke, the terrorism expert of both the Clinton and first Bush administrations, went public more than two years ago with his harsh critique of the Bush terror war, and, to many, seemed like a bitchy Cassandra, which is not necessarily the perfect career face. Clarke seemed to think he could precipitate the dénouement, but the drama has its own rhythms. It's only in the third act that you get the big reversals and tough truths - we're finally ready.

Knowing when we're ready is the important skill set - the higher media talent.
And if that's not cynical enough, try this -
This information divide itself - between those who have read these [Woodward] books and those who haven't, or, anyway, those who have read about these books - becomes a crucial element of the third act. In some sense, it was the third act of Vietnam that defined these dual constituencies: part of the country, which followed the information trend, came to believe the war was unwinnable and suspect, while the other part, more remote from the information, continued to believe in the simpler, standard patriotic assumptions. This is the same divide that we now analyze ideologically as blue and red, but in so many aspects it might just be reduced to the smarts and the stupids, or the on-the-makes and the always-out-of-its.

It involves not only information (i.e., knowing that Saddam and Osama were not partners in the same law firm) but opportunity too - or opportunism. This is one reason the smarts have such a bad reputation among the stupids, because so many of them, including the Democrats in Congress, the news media, and Woodward himself, as well as the many people who once helped give the president his 80 or 90 percent approval rating, were stupids when that was advantageous. And because so many of them, like Woodward, and the editors of the New York Times, and the Clintons, did not make the break across the information divide until they were confident that they'd be in good company.

Indeed, the Woodward book gives a pretty clear picture of the time lag between when the smarties knew the war was a loser and when they decided to strategically alter and broadcast their own positions with regard to it. In some sense, the book goes back to Woodward's career theme: who knew what when. First there's the cover-up and then the unraveling.
And now we have the fall guys -
Rummy, for instance - "enigmatic, obstructionist, devious, never know what his game is" Rummy (as Woodward has Scowcroft describe him) - is, let's face it, dead. He's gone at any moment. Indeed, as Woodward points out, he's managed to hold on only because intransigent Cheney intransigently supports him.

Cheney. "Cheney was the worst," Woodward says, again using Scowcroft as his moral guide. Kissinger, the architect of the bloodiest and most catastrophic phase of the Vietnam War, emerged as well as he did (for sure, a war criminal to some, but to many, a man of renown) because most of the ill will got heaped on Nixon. Kissinger was the contrast gainer. Next to Nixon, he seemed … human.

So, yes, Cheney is the new Nixon.

… Cheney, in this respect, is such a gift. Born to be hated. He might even willingly - given his dystopian personality - take the fall. He resigns - his hundred heart attacks could be the gentle cover. But it's clear: the war's on him. It's his mistake. (Since we've regarded him as a virtual president anyway, we ought to accept his leave-taking as a virtual impeachment and removal.) McCain is nominated to replace Cheney as V.P. The Republicans go wild because they have a presidential contender in the White House (likewise, the Democrats might not be so unhappy to have McCain suddenly stuck with Iraq). The smarty-media pendulum swings (or at least hesitates) because McCain is McCain and because he might be the next president. A big conference of Arabs is convened. McCain heads a blue-ribbon delegation to Iraq (Powell comes back for this), which determines that the Iraqis are ready to handle their own security. We cut and run, declaring victory.

And Bush can go to China, or North Korea. With Kissinger.

The end in Iraq may not yet be near, but it is ordained.
Ah - gloating and recriminations. The midterm elections just sped up things a bit. Rethinking things? It's already been done.

Posted by Alan at 22:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006 22:22 PST home

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