Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 30 June 2005

Topic: The Media

Web Notes: No More Blogs?

The business with Time magazine keeping its reporter out of jail, and avoiding big fines, by releasing his confidential sources, and the New York Times going the other way, isn't the only media story out there. (Quick summary here.) Is it important that the press be able to gather inside information from people who don't want their names revealed? Isn't what is said by the government or a large corporation good enough for us all? Why do we think we have a right to know what's really going on, and have a free press? Don't we trust our leaders? You get the idea. Yes, it is a bit more complicated than that. But if you have some "whistle-blower" kind of information, or think you know something others should know, don't tell anyone from Time - as soon as they get a court request from those in power, to find out who is saying all these bad things, they'll give you up. You're toast. Keep to yourself - or tell Judy Miller from the New York Times when she gets out of jail.

This is big stuff.

Little stuff, however, is still important.

For example, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is proposing to bring blogs and other forms of Internet political advocacy under the umbrella of the federal campaign-finance and spending laws. The agency held a hearing into the proposal Tuesday, June 28.

This all boils down to a simple issue. Expressing a political opinion in a magazine is the stuff of having a free press - the Weekly Standard can cheer our current neoconservative empire builders and the Nation can rail against them. No big deal. Newspapers can write editorials advocating what they will. Out here some newspapers even say Arnold Shwarzenegger is a joke as governor, a bumbling fool. Really. They all have what is called a "media exemption" from the federal campaign-finance and spending laws. Expression opinion is not political campaigning. Even Fox News has this exemption, although their preference as to who is elected to which office is always clear. The press can rant in all directions. It's what they do.

The Federal Election Commission is proposing that those of us who have daily political web logs (blogs), or weekly sites like Just Above Sunset, do not merit this exemption. What we write, whether or not we are paid for writing what we write by any campaign, is, under the proposed new rules, in fact, an "in kind" campaign contribution to the left or right, or whomever. (Disclosure: no one pays the editor or anyone who writes for Just Above Sunset or its daily web log anything to say what is said, or for any reason.)

This proposal is most curious. The idea is that if something appears on these sites that suggests, for example, the current administration might be a bit wrong-headed in attempting X, Y or Z - then that should be reported as an "in kind" contribution to some group or other - the Democratic Party or Move-On or whomever - with all the bookkeeping that might involve. And they would have to estimate its monetary value somehow – by the number of page hits? – and count that as a contribution. If I say George Bush is a cool guy, the same applies. The Republican Party or whomever would have to note that as an "in kind" contribution.

The general idea is that somehow we have to get campaign spending under control.

For a run-down of what was said at the hearings visit Tech News World for this where Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of, asserts, "We have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens publishing their thoughts through research, through journalism, their activism and encouraging others to do the same."

Yeah, but does one get a "media exemption" to the FEC rules? Moulitsas is working with a lawyer who volunteered to help bloggers fight new government regulations - and he says he is prepared to lobby Congress himself if necessary. Note he is the treasurer of BlogPac, a political action committee formed last year by bloggers. Yes, this web writer is a member.

What about the guys on the right? Michael Krempasky, founder of - which is just what you think it is - called bloggers "citizen journalists" and said that like traditional media, they should get an exemption from campaign finance regulation. His question? "What goal would be served by protecting Rush Limbaugh's multimillion-dollar talk radio program, but not a self-published blogger with a fraction of the audience?"

Yes, Limbaugh has the "media exemption."

An editorial from one of the few outlets addressing the issue here -
… The proposed rules exempt Internet communications from these laws - except for paid political advertising. That's a huge, unacceptable exception because the entire contexts of overtly political blogs could be classified as political ads.

Moreover, the commission would decide whether a given blog should be included in the "media exemption" in the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. That exemption protects the traditional media from campaign-finance contribution and expenditure rules.

The notion that a government agency should get to decide which forms of communication are media and which are ads runs counter to the spirit of American free speech. We have never liked McCain-Feingold for that reason. Americans who are willing to do the work of civic engagement can make these distinctions.

The First Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in an era of partisan printers, revolutionary committees and correspondence, and pamphleteers - long before the conventions of modern journalism came about. The blogosphere is part of that proud tradition. Even minimal regulation would stifle its growth, which is why bloggers should seek relief in court if the commission follows through on regulation.
Yeah, whatever. The commission really wants to decide who gets the exemption.

Whatever are we who write commentary going to do?

It seems we're going to do an end run.

We'll call ourselves magazines, not blogs!


See this from Talk Left, Thursday, June 30, 2005:
The Day the Bloggers Died

As of yesterday, blogs are dead.

Say hello to the Online Magazine Community. Others joining so far:

Crooks & Liars
Sadly, No!
Swing State Project
Law Dork
Dispassionate Liberalism
Chaos Digest
The Political Forecast

Talk Left is joining the community. We are now "the online magazine for liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, was really put off when I started Just Above Sunset more than two years ago and kept referring to it as "an online magazine." In March of 2004 when I switched to a new hosting service and changed the masthead to Just Above Sunset Magazine he was more than wary.

Now it seems I was prescient. I'm claiming a media exemption. Just Above Sunset is a magazine, really. And the daily web log isn't called a blog anywhere - As Seen from Just Above Sunset in the masthead only says "Notes on how thing seem to me from out here in Hollywood" - although to be safe I could change that to "A Daily Magazine from Hollywood." Hey, Time and Newsweek are online. Daily newspapers have online editions. Works for me.

But I don’t think that's going to wash with the Federal Election Commission.

I just wish someone on the left would pay me.

No, I don't. This is just fine.

And if some leftie organization has to count what I write as a campaign contribution, that's their problem, not mine.

Posted by Alan at 16:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2005 16:25 PDT home

Topic: Selling the War

So it is out of this deep faith in the future that they are able to move out and adjourn the councils of despair, and to bring new light in the dark chambers of pessimism…

As a follow up to the previous post Failure Is an Option note that this idea is gaining some momentum.

Well, there is a conflict here. As Peter Baker and Dan Balz report in the Washington Post on the June 30 front page -
In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.

Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: "Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?" and "Can the United States ultimately win?" In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls - such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level - are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.

"The most important single factor in determining public support for a war is the perception that the mission will succeed," Gelpi said in an interview yesterday.
And that's the problem. This war may just not be winnable.

At Juan Cole's site Informed Comment the idea has been under discussion for some time, particularly with Professor Cole's deconstruction of the Tuesday night Bush speech to explain why we must "stay the course." Cole, often mentioned here, is that professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress. He thought the speech way far beyond foolish. Although he did not use the word "delusional" he did note Bush was not discussing any reality Middle East experts know.

Thursday, June 30, Cole published a letter from Alan Richards.


Here is who he is, as made clear by the Naval Warfare College (our own navy, by the way) -
Alan Richards is a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was educated in political science, Middle Eastern studies, and economics at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Between 1992 and 1994 Professor Richards worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development as a senior political economist, conducting or directing political economy analyses. He has taught economics at the University of Wisconsin, Harvard University, and the American University in Cairo. With John Waterbury he coauthored A Political Economy of the Middle East (2d ed., 1996). He was a MacArthur Fellow in International Environmental Policy for the University of California. He is an advisory editor of Middle East Policy and a frequent consultant to the U.S. government on Middle Eastern affairs.
Well, he seems to be reputable, even if Santa Cruz is known out here as the true center of left-over sixties hippie culture, the land of bra-less old women with hairy legs, wearing Birkenstocks of course, lunching in shady vegan restaurants. But the University of California Santa Cruz is pretty well respected.

Richards' take on things? "The Iraq Avalanche Cannot be Stopped"

In reviewing all the discussion of the speech, Richards notes this:
… I am troubled by what I perceive as a tacit assumption - a very American assumption - underlying most of the discussion. It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

I regret to say that I think this is wrong. There is no "solution" to this mess; it is sometimes not possible to "fix" things which have been broken. I can see no course of action which will prevent widespread violence, regional social upheaval, and economic hammering administered by oil price shocks. This is why so many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq so strenuously in the first place! We thought that it would unleash irreversible adverse consequences for (conventionally defined) US interests in the region. I am very sorry to say that I still think we were right.
Then he lists six specific reasons why, and those who like details of the region and economics can click on the link and read all about the situation, as this man sees it. It's not pretty.

And he ends with this:
Please don't misunderstand me: I am not advocating regional-crisis-cum-oil-price-spike. I simply think that it is probably unavoidable. If we leave, there will be violence, mayhem, slaughter, and instability, and if we stay there will be violence, mayhem, slaughter, and instability. If there is (as I tend to think) a large crisis looming on the horizon, it will certainly be ugly, even hideous. And then - something else will happen. The one thing I don't think is possible is to avoid it.

So let me close where I began: I think it is delusional to imagine that there exists a "solution" to the mess in Iraq. From this perspective, the folly of Bush, Cheney and Company in invading Iraq is even worse than most informed observers of the region already think. Starting an avalanche is certainly criminal. It does not follow, however, that such a phenomenon can be stopped once it has begun.
But who are you going to believe. "Most informed observers" - or our leaders?

Many on the left, like Geov Parrish, have decided (he didn't like the speech either) -
How many times must we hear this president, this administration, use 9-11 as a suggested free pass for pursuing any half-assed policy that comes to mind? How often is our intelligence going to be insulted by the vaguely racist insinuation that any war against a Muslim nation is justified because the 9-11 terrorists were Muslim? How many more American soldiers are going to die while this White House insists, against all evidence, that there's a "clear path to victory"? How many more Iraqis must die to sate the stubbornness of political leaders halfway around the world?

… I'm tired of the thin rationalizations that have characterized not only the case for going to war, but the supposedly informed assessments of how that war is going - polyannaish drivel contradicted every time one turns on the evening news. The sacrifice, Bush told us Tuesday, is "worth it." To whom? Halliburton? Bechtel? And let's not even try to talk about how we extract ourselves from this mess. It's a verboten topic, in part because Bush doesn't have the guts or honesty to admit that it's a mess in the first place.

The question of what to do about Iraq is a tricky one with no easy answers. Now that we're there, we have a responsibility to help clean up the mess we've created. Too, there's a clear national interest in not allowing Iraq to slip into another Shiite autocratic theocracy ala Iran, an all too realistic possibility. Iraq's current puppet government and its army is no match for the insurgency, in large part because it has no legitimacy among Irarqi people. Rumsfeld and Bush, meanwhile, are trying to get away with using far fewer troops than their generals think are needed for the job. And the services can't recruit the soldiers needed to do the job. A multinational force would be most effective, but Bush won't cede that kind of control.

In such a policy quagmire, the least helpful possible approach is exactly what Dubya is doing: squeezing his eyes real tight, proclaiming his fealty to the flag, and swearing that he loves the troops. It's meaningless gibberish, and the American public knows it. It's also dishonest, because Bush is refusing to deal with the very real problems that are a direct consequence of decisions that he, and nobody else, made.
Well, that appeared in Working for Change, and may be "out of the mainstream," so to speak.

More in the mainstream is Bob Herbert in the New York Times with is June 30 column, Dangerous Incompetence. That open with this: "The president who displayed his contempt for Iraqi militants two years ago with the taunt "bring 'em on" had to go on television Tuesday night to urge Americans not to abandon support for the war that he foolishly started but can't figure out how to win."

Had to go on television? Had to? I'm not sure that is what Bush supports would say. But be that as it may, you get the idea.

What Herbert is saying is more of the same -
The incompetence at the highest levels of government in Washington has undermined the U.S. troops who have fought honorably and bravely in Iraq, which is why the troops are now stuck in a murderous quagmire. If a Democratic administration had conducted a war this incompetently, the Republicans in Congress would be dusting off their impeachment manuals.

The administration seems to have learned nothing in the past two years. Dick Cheney, who told us the troops would be "greeted as liberators," now assures us that the insurgency is in its last throes. And the president, who never listened to warnings that he was going to war with too few troops, still refuses to acknowledge that there are not enough U.S. forces deployed to pacify Iraq.

The Times's Richard A. Oppel Jr. wrote an article recently about a tragically common occurrence in Iraq: U.S. forces fight to free cities and towns from the grip of insurgents, and then leave. With insufficient forces left behind to secure the liberated areas, the insurgents return.

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country."

The latest fantasy out of Washington is that American-trained Iraqi forces will ultimately be able to do what the American forces have not: defeat the insurgency and pacify Iraq.

"We've learned that Iraqis are courageous and that they need additional skills," said Mr. Bush in his television address. "And that is why a major part of our mission is to train them so they can do the fighting, and then our troops can come home."

Don't hold your breath. This is another example of the administration's inability to distinguish between a strategy and a wish.
They're different? Don't tell anybody.

At Groom Lake's Best of the Blogs you get this more succinct summary of the message Tuesday night: "You trusted me to screw this up, trust me to screw it up more, and if you don't trust me to screw it up more you hate America."

So the opposition is railing against Bush. Many more sense they've been had - as early in the week ABC News reported a record fifty-seven percent of the population now says the administration intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, and fifty-three percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting. Maybe he had to make the speech.

Will those numbers change? Perhaps.

But this does not bode well -
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President Bush's address to the nation, urging Americans to stand firm in Iraq, drew the smallest TV audience of his tenure, Nielsen Media Research reported on Wednesday.

Bush's speech on Tuesday night at the Ft. Bragg military base in North Carolina averaged 23 million viewers combined on the four major U.S. broadcast networks and three leading cable news channels networks that carried the speech, Nielsen said.

That number was 8.6 million viewers below Bush's previous low as president, his Aug. 9, 2001 speech on stem cell research, which was carried on six networks.

Even Bush's last prime-time address, his April 28 speech on Social Security overhaul, drew more viewers, 32.7 million.

Bush garnered the biggest U.S. TV audience of his presidency -- 82 million viewers on nine networks -- when he addressed a joint session of Congress nine days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

By comparison, his May 1, 2003, speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq averaged 48.4 million viewers.
Nor does this, from the other Hollywood, the one in Florida, reporting that local veterans there say the backing for Bush on Iraq is just gone -
June 29, 2005
HOLLYWOOD - The televisions at VFW Post 2500 in Hollywood were tuned to President Bush on Tuesday, but his words weren't getting rapt attention.

About 30 people were around the bar drinking, chatting, smoking as the president talked. "Does it have to be so loud?" asked Barbara Flint as she sat next to Jerry Giblock, a visiting Vietnam veteran.

"He's running scared," said Giblock, 63, a former Post 2500 member who lives in Anchorage, Ala. "His poll numbers are so low, he's got to say something, but the support is gone. It's gone. I don't think there's anybody in here who's behind him." ...
Not good.

One senses the numbers aren't going to change. Those two political scientists from Duke may be onto something - the key task is to stress winning this thing. Say we can fix this. Change the perception. That will change the numbers.

But it didn't work - or it hasn't worked this week.

The new Zogby Poll was released late in the day June 30 - No Bounce: Bush Job Approval Unchanged by War Speech; Question on Impeachment Shows Polarization of Nation with this summary from Tim Grieve:
A Zogby poll taken a week before the speech had 56 percent of the public saying they disapproved of the president's job performance. The new poll, taken after the speech, has 56 percent of the public saying they disapprove of the president's job performance. The percent of the public that approves of the job George W. Bush is doing dropped from 44 to 43 percent, a change John Zogby called statistically insignificant.

"It's all about the war,'' Zogby tells Bloomberg. "This war has really polarized Americans. This is what his presidency is all about. The only thing that could change is if things start to go better on the ground, and it's not good to be at the mercy of external events."

Another poll result that's "not good" for the president: The concept of impeachment is slowly sinking in for a substantial portion of the American people. It's not a majority, but 42 percent of the public, including 25 percent of the Republicans surveyed, now say that Bush should be impeached if - and is this really an "if," now? - he misled the country about the reasons for going to war.
Zogby himself was on MSNBC, on the Olbermann "Countdown" show, remote from Utica, New York, commenting on the poll. Olbermann played up the one-quarter-of-Republicans-would-impeach number. Zogby shrugged and said they'd poll that again next month. And they did not discuss that big "if" - which is only a hypothetical. Most of that twenty-five percent of impeachment-minded Republicans would ask, "What really is a lie?"

Curiously, over at Corrente, Tom points to these numbers (with links to the source data) -
ABC News Poll. December 16, 1998. N=510 adults nationwide.

"As you may know, the House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on whether or not to impeach Bill Clinton. If the House impeaches him, the Senate will hold a trial to decide whether or not Clinton should be removed from office. Based on what you know, do you think the House should or should not impeach Clinton?"

Should - 40 percent
Should not - 58 percent
No opinion - 2 percent
Yes, support for Bush's impeachment is now higher than it ever was for the impeachment of Clinton.

So what?

Now the people who know the region and its history and its current politics say, essentially, even that doesn't matter much. Some things cannot be fixed.

There is perception. There is reality.


Note: The title here is from a speech that Martin Luther King delivered in 1961 to the annual meeting of the Fellowship of the Concerned in Atlanta.

Posted by Alan at 10:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2005 19:34 PDT home

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

More Fallout from the Speech to Explain Everything: Failure Is an Option?

Okay, you could compare last night's presidential address on what the real situation is now in Iraq - full text of the speech here - to Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech (here) back in the days of the Vietnam War. Taking the lead from Digby at Hullabaloo we tried that here. Both were exhortations to "stay the course" no matter how we got to where we are. We cannot pull out. That's no way to end this war.

The parallels are spooky.

But are they useful? Perhaps not.

Although Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, commented -
NIXON: "But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world."

Did he?
No. We may be there again, and in the commentary all over comparisons to the Vietnam War are growing by leaps and bounds.

Be that as it may, others are just dumbfounded by now having to deal with a third rationale for why we in Iraq. Just after the speech John Kerry on CNN's "Larry King Live" said we had just been offered such a "transformation" to this third reason for the war - "The first, of course, was weapons of mass destruction. The second was democracy, and now, tonight, it's to combat the hotbed of terrorism. But most Americans are aware that the hotbed of terrorism never existed in Iraq until we got there."

True, but is that relevant? Perhaps through incredibly bad judgment, for reasons that will forever be obscure, we have created this new hotbed of terrorism, alienated almost all the nations of the world and made ourselves almost universally reviled (see this and this in the latest issue of Foreign Policy for detail and discussion), inspired the jihadists everywhere - with many pouring into Iraq now, and learning there to become far more efficient and effective, and others gleefully planning new attacks elsewhere - and have come close to stretching our military to the breaking point.

It's a bit of a mess.

As Kevin Drum puts it bluntly: "These guys still can't face the reality of what's happened to their lovely little war. They willfully ignored the advice of the uniformed military officers who had actual experience in fighting modern wars, and because of that they didn't know what they were getting into before the war, they didn't know what they were up against after the war, and they're apparently still clueless about what to expect in the future."

So what? What do we do now?

BUSH: "To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban - a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends. And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."

A comment from a pro-war fellow here -
The inference here is clear. The U.S. intervention, and its ill-planned, under-manned, haphazard execution, has made Iraq more of a terrorist threat than it might otherwise have been. I say "might," because an eventually unconstrained Saddam could well have become such a menace. But the president here outlined the case of the war critics: that this war may have made matters worse; that Iraq could become another Taliban-Afghanistan; and that is now why we can't afford to lose. …
But he goes on to say that these are fights over the past, and the question is now what?


Bill Montgomery (Billmon) over at Whiskey Bar has an idea: Failure Is an Option

And why would that be?
The critical reaction to Bush's speech - I'm talking here about the "respectable" establishment critics, not the antiwar left and right - seems to revolve around three points:

- Bush falsely tried to connect Iraq to 9/11.

- He lied when he said we have enough troops in Iraq.

- Failure in Iraq is not an option.

Unfortunately, all three statements are wrong. (Actually the second one, the bit about not having enough troops, is correct but also completely irrelevant. We don't have any more troops to send, and Bush and his establishment critics both know this.)

It's true, of course, that Bush shamelessly waved the bloody shirt of 9/11 in hopes (probably vain) of recovering his war president mojo. And we can sit around and make stupid jobs about Bush and fat jokes about Karl Rove and dream of the day when we can spit on both their graves for what they have done. Why not? It's therapeutic.

But it doesn't change the fact that Bush has managed to make himself right at last: Iraq indeed has become the central front in the war against Al Qaeda (although the eastern front in Afghanistan is heating up quickly, and there's always the risk of a breakthrough on the Southern front - Saudia Arabia - or the Western front - the Maghrib and/or Europe.)

But saying that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism is neither an argument nor a strategy. At the moment, it's pretty clear the Cheney administration and its pet military commanders don't have a strategy, other than to pin their hopes on a political process that is going nowhere slowly, and that in any case is extremely unlikely to break the insurgency's base of support - at least, not before it breaks the American volunteer army.
So Bush has managed to make himself right at last? Seems so.

And there is much that follows on why more troops would not make a difference - our military has made itself enormously unpopular in Iraq: "It's hard to see how putting more jittery, haji-hating American soldiers on the streets of Iraq is going to help peel away the insurgency's 'soft support' or induce more Sunnis to cooperate with a government led by Shi'a fundamentalists."

Fine. And he sees that, with or without more troops, "it seems inevitable that Iraq will continue to descend into chaos and (ultimately) something close to Hobbes's war of the all against the all - a condition which may already be near at hand."

The situation? This staying-the-course business is likely to result in a completely failed state and the Pentagon is stuck with the worst of both worlds: "trying to fight a counterinsurgency campaign with a ground force that is far too small to pacify the country, but far too big (and visible) to avoid acting as the insurgency's recruiting officers. Meanwhile, a hefty cut of whatever supplies or weapons are given to the Iraqi security forces are likely to end up in hostile hands - meaning the Army could wind up being the insurgency's quartermaster corps as well."

Can it be this bad? Can't we just soldier on?

Under the circumstances, the mindless chants of "failure is not an option" are starting to sound like the desperate prayers of the terminally ill. Failure is always an option - particularly for morons who launch a war of choice under the impression that they can't possibly lose it.

Is the war hopelessly lost? I tend to think so, although I'm realistic enough to admit that I don't have all the facts, and couldn't interpret them all correctly even if I did. I know there are some military analysts whose opinions I respect who think the war is lost - analysts such as William S. Lind, who, for all his wing-nuttery on cultural and social issues, is one smart cookie when it comes to "Fourth Generation" warfare:

"There's nothing that you can do in Iraq today that will work," said Lind, one of the original Fourth Generation Warfare authors. "That situation is irretrievably lost."

Even if Lind is wrong, it would seem rational and wise to plan for the eventuality that he may be right. (I know, I know: When has the Cheney administration ever been rational and wise about anything? But somebody should be thinking about these things.)

What's the correct response, if the war in Iraq is indeed lost? It seems to me that planning would have to be done on the tactical, strategic and grand strategic levels.
And he provides an outline of how that would work. And that is recommended reading, a detailed discussion of phased withdrawal options and realignments of alliances and priorities.

Likely? Hardly.

And there is good reason -
... it would require us to admit that the traditional thrust of U.S. foreign policy - the relentless drive to open the globe to American trade, American capital, American ideas and American values - has left us facing some hard questions, like: How far is America willing to go to ensure the rest of the world adapts to its economic and cultural preferences?

And: How does America reconcile its stated aspirations for "democracy" and "freedom" with its more prosaic needs for cheap oil, cheap labor and pliable regimes willing to guarantee our access to those things?

And, most importantly: What do we do when we encounter cultures - or large groups within those cultures - that refuse to accept or even negotiate over the terms we are offering?

At this point, Americans aren't even willing to ask those questions, much less answer them.
So we muddle on. And failure is an option.

The best summary of "The Speech to Explain Everything" is from Tom Tomorrow over at This Modern World. That would be his Shorter George Bush: "We really screwed the pooch, and now you have no choice but to let us try to clean up the mess."


A note on whether we can change the "traditional thrust" of how we approach the world -

A reader's letter on the Andrew Sullivan site that strikes me as about right -
"It seems to me that so much of the political divide boils down to the issue of American exceptionalism. The dominant conservatives have blind faith in American exceptionalism (more and more fueled by religious faith) and have no reservations about the use of American power. The most vociferous liberals categorically reject American exceptionalism and any use of American power (internationally). Independents (as well as independent thinking liberals and conservatives) seem to be tolerating simultaneously seeing that America is great, we do have special role in the world, and that we are capable of intentional and unintentional bad acts. We therefore see the use of American power as sometimes appropriate but approach it cautiously. Too bad that, in the current climate, any politician capable of independent thought gets eviscerated and 'disciplined' by their own party."
As was said in these pages on June 22, 2003 -
If Canadians were like these guys - the conservative Republicans who have the helm down here now - they would be out to transform the world and put a Tim Horton franchise on every corner in every third-world country, and force people to watch endless curling events. And every single one of my pleasant Canadian friends would ask the same question. Why do that? What's the point? There is national pride, and then too there is pure foolishness.
Foolishness or not, we are where we are, still doing the Manifest Destiny thing.

Posted by Alan at 18:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 29 June 2005 19:10 PDT home

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

The Speech: Things Going Badly Calls for More of the Same

Monday in the daily web log readers made predictions about the Bush speech Tuesday night – see What's Up: Who Will Say What? for that. The speech was important for many reasons, among which was a poll by the Washington Post and ABC News which showed that fifty-two percent of us believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the nation into this war, a nine per cent increase since March.

So we had the speech, summarized here by Julian Borger in The Guardian (UK) - a view from the outside.
George Bush last night rallied Americans to the cause of the Iraq war, urging them not to forget the lessons of September 11" and arguing the fight was vital to future US security.

Addressing the nation from Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, President Bush confronted head on America's growing pessimism and uncertainty over the war.

Again and again in his primetime speech, the president attempted to bind the Iraq counter-insurgency to the broader "war on terror" started the September 11 attacks, trying to rebuild a connection in the public mind that has given way to scepticism [sic] about the justification for the invasion.

… The president set out a two track strategy for victory. The military track would be focused on accelerating the work training Iraqi troops.

The president spoke of three specific steps. Iraqi units were being "partnered" with coalition troops in combined operations. Second, coalition "transition teams" of coalition officers and non-commissioned officers would "live, work, and fight together with their Iraqi comrades". And third, the Iraqi defence [sic] and interior ministries would be given support specifically for counter-terrorist operations.

The political track involved supporting Iraqi politicians in formulating a constitution, involving more Sunni Arabs in the process, paving the way for referendum and elections. …
Yes, that was about it.

From this side of the pond? Our commanders say we don't need any more troops, a timeline for withdrawal is bad, and democracy is on the march. And no outright promise that we won't leave any permanent bases in Iraq. That was about it.

Even if all polling now shows a majority of us now agree that there was no solid link between 9/11 and Iraq, and most of us no longer think the war Iraq is worth the cost, in lives or even in money, we were told we were wrong - "Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country."

Shall we trust him on that?

The morning of the speech a suicide bomber assassinated Dhari al-Fayadh - the "dean" of the parliament in Iraq. He was eighty-seven and they got his sons too. This is the day that is the anniversary of us handing them their sovereignty. We lost two military near Baghdad, and CH-47 Chinook troop transport helicopter went down in Afghanistan and the neo-Taliban says they shot it down - sixteen to twenty more.

"We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins."

That's a pretty inclusive "they" - the usual "whoever is doing bad things" are they same guys who flew the planes into the building way back when. All the same folks. One supposes most people really do buy into the generalization. They all hate us. They're just terrorists. A simple way of summing it all up. No need to understand more.

The full text of the speech is here. Here's a by the numbers analysis: References to September 11th: 5 - References to WMD: 0 - References to freedom: 21 - References to exit strategy: 0 - References to Saddam Hussein: 2 - References to Osama Bin Laden: 2 - References to a mistake: 1 - References to mission: 11 - References to mission accomplished: 0

You get the idea.

From the left, Ed Kilgore here:
1.) At a time when a graceful, and even minimal, admission of past errors, from WMD to the invasion plan to every aspect of the DOD "reconstruction" non-plan, would have disarmed some critics, the best Bush could offer was: "Our progress has sometimes been uneven."

2) At a time when a significant majority of Americans no longer believe the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with a rational response to 9/11, Bush repeated the claim that it was all about 9/11 several times, and at least twice suggested the war kept "terrorists" from attacking America.

3) And at a time when the country, and even Republican Members of Congress, are begging the administration for some change of course in the plan for Iraq, Bush offered as his "news" warmed-over military transition initiatives that essentially build on the failed efforts of the recent past.

I heard one NPR analyst suggest that the major object of Bush's speech was to reinforce Republican support for his Iraq policies (which has dropped from more than 90 percent to about 70 percent in recent months). I don't know if the speech accomplished that objective, but it's hard to imagine it had a positive impact on much of anybody else.
Well, perhaps it did, but Digby over at Hullabaloo says this -
This makes Nixon sound like Cicero. The only news here is that he forgot to say "and then I had a choice to make: take the word of a madman, forget the lessons of September the 11th, or do what's necessary to defend this country. Given that choice, I will defend America every time," and "we will form a coalition of the willing and we WILL disarm Saddam Hussein." We've heard all the rest before. Ad nauseum.

I notice the props are having a hard time keeping their eyes open, though. Poor guys.
Yes, as our friend the Wall Street attorney notes - and he listened to it all while driving from Manhattan to central New Jersey - there was no spontaneous applause. Perhaps that was planned.

Did Nixon make a better speech with this?
My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said that we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war.

- I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Vietnam without regard to the effects of that action.

- Or we can persist in our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement if possible, or through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization if necessary - a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom. I have chosen this second course. It is not the easy way. It is the right way.

It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace - not just in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in the world.

In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America.

... I recognize that some of my fellow citizens disagree with the plan for peace I have chosen. Honest and patriotic Americans have reached different conclusions as to how peace should be achieved.

... I share your concern for peace. I want peace as much as you do. There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives, and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam. It is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.

- I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam.

- But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world.

- And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all people on this earth.

I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed.

... Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.

And so tonight - to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans - I ask for your support.
Same old same old, no?

Ah well. And Digby also notes that Tuesday morning the Republican National Committee sent out an email headlined "Democrats Still Wrong on Iraq." His comment? "Yeah. Find any of those WMD yet, flyboy?"

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, issued the expected -
Tonight's address offered the President an excellent opportunity to level with the American people about the current situation in Iraq, put forth a path for success, and provide the means to assess our progress. Unfortunately he fell short on all counts.

There is a growing feeling among the American people that the President's Iraq policy is adrift, disconnected from the reality on the ground and in need of major mid-course corrections. "Staying the course," as the President advocates, is neither sustainable nor likely to lead to the success we all seek.

The President's numerous references to September 11th did not provide a way forward in Iraq, they only served to remind the American people that our most dangerous enemy, namely Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose and Al Qaeda remains capable of doing this nation great harm nearly four years after it attacked America.

Democrats stand united and committed to seeing that we achieve success in Iraq and provide our troops, their families, and our veterans everything they need and deserve for their sacrifices for our nation. The stakes are too high, and failure in Iraq cannot be an option. Success is only possible if the President significantly alters his current course. That requires the President to work with Congress and finally begin to speak openly and honestly with our troops and the American people about the difficult road ahead.

Our troops and their families deserve no less.
Perhaps so. But nothing much happened with this speech.

Robert Perry on what Bush might have said -
My fellow Americans, let me explain to you what really went wrong with the Iraq policy and why so many young Americans have died in what looks like a futile war without end.

First, you must know that I have long obsessed about getting rid of Saddam Hussein, taking care of some unfinished business from my dad"s presidency. There"s also a lot of oil there and my neoconservative advisers wanted to project American power into the Middle East.

So when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, I saw my chance. Vice President Dick Cheney and I began merging references to al-Qaeda and Iraq. That way, the casual listener would start associating Iraq with Sept. 11 subliminally, even if there was no real evidence to support that connection.

We also decided to exaggerate the shaky intelligence we had about Iraq's WMD because we knew that would scare the American people into supporting a war against a country that wasn"t threatening us.

Next, I got rid of officials, like Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Gen. Eric Shinseki, who had doubts about the Iraq War plans. To keep British Prime Minister Tony Blair on board, we agreed to go to the United Nations, but only because we hoped that Saddam would reject a demand for U.N. inspections and give us a better pretext for war.

"When Saddam crossed us up by letting the inspectors in, we started a war hysteria inside the United States. When the French wanted more time for the inspections to work, we turned "France" into a dirty word, even renaming French toast and French fries into "freedom toast" and "freedom fries."

Before it sank into the American people that the U.N. inspectors weren't finding any WMD, I forced the inspectors to leave. Later, after the war was over, when your memories were getting a little fuzzy, I pretended that Hussein had never let the inspectors in and had shown "defiance," leaving me no choice but to invade as a "last resort."

In the first days of the Iraq War, when we realized "shock and awe" didn't have quite the effect we hoped, I had the U.S. military bomb civilian targets, such as a residential restaurant which we obliterated because of some sketchy information that Saddam might be eating there. We did this even though we knew that civilians would be killed. We were right about the civilians getting killed, but Saddam turned out not to be there.

All these acts that I"ve described to you tonight might well be considered war crimes, but I really don't care much about international law. Remember when I reacted to one question about international law by joking, "International law? I better call my lawyer." That's just the way I feel about treaties and other things that try to tie me down.

Some of my critics might say that I've been a dissembler, which means someone who doesn't tell the truth. But that's just politics.

Well, so now that I've leveled with you about how we got into this mess, I'm sure you feel you can trust me to continue protecting the American people and leading our great nation to victory in Iraq.

As I actually did say in my radio address on June 18, "I'll continue to act to keep our people safe from harm and our future bright. Together we will do what Americans have always done: build a better and more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren."
Well, this alternative speech was unlikely.

So on we go. And nothing will change.

Karl Rove teed it up last week with his comments in response to problem with public perceptions. Oppose Bush and you are a traitor undermining our troops. Question how we managing all this, and, for example, whether using torture is wise, or even effective? Same thing. You hate America.

UCLA professor Mark Kleiman has some advice for us, the madmen (and women) who would ask questions, and even would like answers -
Karl Rove is no fool.

The belief that we should respect our own laws, international treaties, and fundamental human rights, even when dealing with those accused of terrorism, is very much a minority view, and every time liberals speak out against torture they cost themselves votes.

Winning in politics is important, of course, and rarely more so than now, when the ruling party's contempt for the law, for fair play, and for the national interest create a profound threat to the Constitutional order.

But Vince Lombardi was wrong: there are more important things than winning, and maintaining human decency and national self-respect is one of them. I'm sorry to be on the losing side, but I'm not sorry to be on the side that doesn't want to win at the price of going along with torture, rather than the side that not only orders torture but uses its willingness to do so to gain political advantage.

Query for those opponents of torture who still support the GOP: Which side do you want to be on?
There are more important things than winning? Cold comfort. A war that even our closest ally knew from the start was both illegal and badly thought out - that comes with torture as a de facto policy?

That's what we have. And we're told to stay the course with this "trust us, it's important that we change nothing at all" speech.

Unacceptable - but what can you do?

Posted by Alan at 19:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 June 2005 20:11 PDT home

Monday, 27 June 2005

Topic: Dissent

What’s Up: Who Will Say What?

Last week Karl Rove - the president's chief political advisor, life-long friend, and right-hand man - said this in a speech in New York - "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." What else he said and the fallout from it all was discussed on June 26th in Just Above Sunset in Spin City, with a note that this seems to be part of a larger public relations offensive in Effective Response to Disappointing Numbers.

Something is up.

Rove's comments created a firestorm of anger from a whole lot of New Yorkers, and from the slightly less than half of the country who voted for the other guy in the last round. It seems they didn't like being called cowards and wimps - and traitors on the side of the nation's enemies.

Was this a mistake, or carefully planned as a way to suggest disagreement and questions are tantamount to treason? Or what?

Tuesday night the president will address the nation on how things are going with our war, and we will see if he piggybacks on Rove's comments, or tries for moderation or unity, or announces something no one expects.

Our columnist Bob Patterson, who writes for us as the World's Laziest Journalist and The Book Wrangler, has some thoughts -
Karl Rove is to politics as a Grand Master is to chess. This cannot be an error or lapse of judgment. He has done this stunt for a reason.


Booby traps work best when you rush into them.

The Democrats are rushing into reminding the world about how they stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush after 9/11.

What would happen if on Tuesday night Bush calls for a renewal of the draft and asks the Democrats to support his call for a renewal of the draft?

Rove isn't dumb. This is a deliberate provocation. He's up to something.

I say it will be a call for renewal of the draft Tuesday night.

I could be wrong, but that's my call.

Rove "has done the stunt for a reason." Is it a booby trap?
It seems to me that if you want to imagine a set-up, imagine this:

Given: The war is going badly and things are generally spinning out of control, and Rove, no fool, sees the political problem with that. As we nearly two thousand of our guys (and gals) dead and more ten thousand maimed or brain-damaged vegetables, or both, this just looks bad. How to make sure that all the dead and crippled don't much impact unquestioning support for Bush and his successors? Given the net and everything else, you cannot really shut down the news. It got too diffused - no one has enough fingers for that dike. So?

Step One: Keep hammering on the idea your side is manly and warlike and really, really, really wants this thing to work - and the other side just doesn't. They're just women. Yes, the facts don't support the idea, but keep saying it again and again until folks are numbed to the idea and, hearing it for the ten-thousandth time, shrug and say "whatever."

Step Two: Pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan late this year or by the middle of 2006, completely, and let those sad places disintegrate, and let the ensuing mess - oil disruptions and regional wars, and the economy destroyed - play itself out.

Step Three: Sadly say you didn't want to do that and, yes, things are a bigger mess than ever before, but what can you do when the women on the other side seduced the nation with all this talk of diplomacy and cooperation and understanding?

Step Four: Suggest the only solution, now that things are so much worse, is eschewing this "female view" - diplomacy and cooperation and understanding - and let the realists, the real men, do things right.

Result? Win all future election in landslides.

A return to a "drafted" Army isn't on the table. That would just piss off people. My scenario works better.

But I bet on nothing. What do I know? As Dennis Miller would say, "I could be wrong."

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, points out some problems -
Yes, but why do they need to win in a landslide when they can still claim having "capital" to spend from winning in a squeaker, which is really a much easier way to win?

I mean, appealing to the broad spectrum of the American electorate can only be achieved in a way that would turn off the religious base, and also runs the risk of losing to someone else who does a better job of it, whereas appealing to the evangelicals - something the other side couldn't do anyway - means having a highly motivated bunch of volunteers working for you, and who are also just enough in number to put you over the top!

And even if they're not? You can always try Plan B: Cheat! After all, it's a lot easier to win a squeaker by cheating than a landslide.

But there's one more possible motive to keep in mind, and that is that, even as Bush cannot run again, Rove's career is not necessarily over after this presidential term ends. Is he working on 2006? Is he setting himself up for another candidate in 2008?

I don't know, but I assume time will answer those questions.
Yes, I failed to consider how important martyrdom is to the conservative side - and landslides are not what you want. It's hard to be "the oppressed but righteous and feisty minority" when everyone and their gay brother votes for you. Heck, I even wrote about it once - July 18, 2004 - The Importance of Martyrdom to the Conservative Movement - so what was I thinking? Heck, that item was even cited over at "Conservative Think."

As for cheating? They would do that? Really?

Most likely Tuesday night's Bush speech will be more of the "your government doesn't make mistakes" line, with the usual who-do-you-trust and stay-the-course embellishments. No more. I wonder if Social Security reform will come up in the talk. Maybe. Oil just hit sixty dollars a barrel and is rising steadily. Mention of that? Probably not.

Preparing for ennui seems appropriate. Scotch seems appropriate.

The gay conservative essayist Andrew Sullivan hopes for a big announcement - a resignation -
One way to help rebuild confidence would be to dismiss the architect of the war: Rumsfeld himself. He's proven himself useless in gauging the necessary troop levels, he has presided over the worst PR debacle for the military since My Lai, his recruitment targets aren't being met and he blames the military for decisions that were and are his to make. I love the man personally. But he's got to go. It's very hard to have confidence on our strategy with him still in charge of it.
That seems unlikely.

Of course, Bush could come out of the closet and reveal his affair with Rove - there's a reason he calls Rove "turd blossom" of course. Maybe Bush will reveal he's really an alien from the planet Clorox II. Maybe….

We shall see.

Posted by Alan at 18:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 27 June 2005 19:08 PDT home

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