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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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Wednesday, 26 July 2006
Topic: For policy wonks...
Isolation - When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?
The question is not really hypothetical, and it's certainly not rhetorical. It is a real question. When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you? As of Wednesday, July 26, the grand experiment, to show that the United States can bend the rest of the world to its will continued.

Midmorning of that day, out here on the west coast, came the news that the talks to work out a ceasefire in southern Lebanon, between Israel and Hezbollah, had fallen apart. All parties agreed to call for an immediate ceasefire, except for Israel and the United States. We maintain the fighting could lead to "a new Middle East" and just stopping it would leave everything still a mess. We have a different vision - a ceasefire only when and if Hezbollah - and Hamas and all the rest - are defanged. Anything less would be pointless. No one agreed with us, and the fighting raged on - Israel losing either nine or fourteen soldiers, and no one making much military progress. The AFP report is here with all the details, but the details point only to the obvious - this is going nowhere, slowly, and will last for weeks, or months, or years, or decades.

Then there's this Countries Slam Israel over UN Deaths - someone called in a precision airstrike on a UN observation post that had been repeatedly been radioing in just who they were. Four UN observers died. Kofi Annan said that this seemed deliberate. Israel was ticked that he said that, but reluctantly said the whole business was regrettable. All parties agreed this was pretty awful, except for Israel and the United States. Israel offered its grudging "oops" - and the United States was silent.

Of course this was the day Prime Minister Maliki of our new Iraq addressed a rare joint session of congress. He avoided saying what he had said before - that Israel not Hezbollah was the real aggressor here - and just said thanks for the new country, send more troops and money, and we'll get things together one day, and yes, the Iraq War was worth it all, and if you lose this one you'll have lost everything. The details are here, but what would you expect him to say. He steered clear of any mention of the Israel-Hezbollah business. A few minor notes - there was a lot of chatter about who wrote his speech for him - Karl Rove, the American Enterprise Institute, or maybe Dick Cheney, but the White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, late of Fox News, said the White House only went over a few points with him. It's tricky. He has his own Shi'a constituency to satisfy, and lots of people noted that when he was in exile long ago in Syria he was one of the founders of Hezbollah. It's really tricky. And a minor giggle, on Fox News before the speech Senator John McCain said Maliki really had denounced Hezbollah and was on Israel's side in all this. There was a web-based campaign to flood McCain's office with demands to show anyone when and where Maliki had said anything like that. But Fox News is Fox News. They ran with it. You and watch McCain or read the transcript here, but who knows what to make of that? When things are complicated and nasty you make up stuff. Politicians do that.

Condoleezza Rice is no different. She's the Secretary of State. She represented us at the ceasefire talks in Rome, and said they went just fine (details here). Sure, there was no agreement on an immediate ceasefire, but we were not alone at all - everyone agreed that we all want things to be better than they had been before. That's agreement, isn't it? It was just that some details had to be worked out. No big deal.

Marc Lynch, who surveys the press in the Middle East, disagrees -
I don't know anyone who will be surprised that the Rome conference failed - it seems to have been designed to fail, to give the US the chance to appear to be "doing something" while giving Israel the time it wants to continue its offensive. But this policy is so transparent, such an obvious stalling mechanism, that it is probably making things even worse for the United States and for Israel: when you are faking it, you're supposed to at least try to maintain the pretence so that others can at least pretend to believe you. The call for an immediate ceasefire has become more or less universal now, other than from the United States and Israel: even the pro-American Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, which initially blamed Hezbollah for the crisis, are now loudly demanding an immediate ceasefire.

America is totally alone on this. And more than most Americans might realize, America is being blamed for Israel's actions. The shift in Arab public discourse over the last week has been palpable. For the first few days, the split [was] between the Saudi media and the "al-Jazeera public" which I wrote about at the time. Then for a few days, horror at the humanitarian situation, fury with the Arab states for their impotence, speculation about the endgame, and full-throated condemnation of Israeli aggression. But for the last few days, the main trend has been unmistakable: an increasing focus on the United States as the villain of the piece. (That the Israeli bombing of Beirut stopped just long enough for Condoleezza Rice's-photo op certainly didn't help.)

While there's disagreement as to whether Israel acted on behalf of an American project, there is near-consensus about American responsibility for not stopping what al-Jazeera is now calling "the sixth [Arab-Israeli] war". For instance, al-Jazeera's prime time Behind the News on July 25 was devoted to "the American project for a new Middle East" (with no American officials accepting their invitation to participate). If you review the daily Arab media selections I've been posting in the left sidebar (with short English comments and summaries) you'll see something of this trend over the last few days: Sami Soroush, in al-Hayat, a new Middle East through Israeli war? America keeps making the same mistakes every single time; Hossein Shabakshi, al-Sharq al-Awsat, yes the Middle East needs reform and change... but not through the massacre of innocents; Abd al-Wahab Badrakhan, in al-Hayat: American plans require Israeli victory at any cost; Yasir al-Za'atra, al-Hayat: real roots of the escalating crisis is American drive for hegemony in the region; Hazem Saghiye, al-Hayat, America's responsibility; and that's not even getting in to Abd al-Bari Atwan (today: the Middle East against America) and the writers in al-Quds al-Arabi.

Perhaps this negative focus on America was inevitable, given Iraq and the war on terror and al-Jazeera?

No. This wasn't inevitable. Real American leadership, such as quickly restraining the Israeli offensive and taking the lead in ceasefire negotiations, could have created a Suez moment and dramatically increased American influence and prestige (especially if the Saudis had delivered Iran in a ceasefire agreement, as I've heard that Saudi officials believed that they could). But by disappearing for the first days of the war and then resurfacing only to provide a megaphone for Israeli arguments and to prevent international efforts at achieving a ceasefire, the Bush administration put America at the center of the storm of blame. I think that the Lebanon war will go down in history as one of the greatest missed opportunities in recent American diplomatic history - not because we failed to go after Iran, or whatever the bobbleheads are ranting about these days, but because we failed to rise to the occasion and exercise real global leadership in the national interest.
But the neoconservatives don't much care. When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?

"Digby" offers another way of looking at the neoconservative approach, even if angry -
This is just the latest in a decades-long series of delusional miscalculations in which it is fantasized that if only the US would just get tough everything would fall into place. This is the simple essence of everything they believe in. And when they found themselves an empty brand name in a suit named George W. Bush they found the man whose infantile personality and outsized vanity could be manipulated perfectly to advance that belief.

The situation in Lebanon requires American leadership and we have failed miserably to provide it. The various players are engaged in a struggle in which minimizing loss of life and face saving kabuki may be the best we can hope for at any given time. The megalomaniacal belief that if only the Israelis are allowed to "get tough" or the Americans "take it to the Iranians" or whatever other simplistic schoolyard impulses they have been operating under have led us to the point at which the US is taking on the character of a rogue superpower, not a global leader.

I maintain that the players in the mid-east expected the US to exercise its power wisely and the American failure to fulfill its obligation has led to confusion, overreach and miscalculation. This is not surprising. The bumbling, hallucinatory nature of this administration's foreign policy has been manifest for some time now, but it's still hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the most powerful country in the world is being led so incompetently that it simply cannot rise to the occasion when the stakes are so high. I confess that I'm still shocked by that myself, although less so each time we are confronted with a challenge and these neocon magical thinkers automatically default to bellicose trash talk they are unable to back up.

This is a very dangerous moment for the world. The US is showing over and over again that it is immoral and incompetent. That is the kind of thing that leads ambitious, crazy or stupid people to miscalculate and set disastrous events in motion. The neocons have destroyed America's carefully nurtured mystique by seeking to flex its muscles for the sake of flexing them. What a mistake. This country is much, much weaker today because of it and the world is paying the price. At some point I have to imagine that we are going to be paying it too. Big Time.
Well, they would argue back that they have a grand vision, and everyone else is just thinking small.

And it's not like we said we would be sending troops in to defang Hezbollah. The hypothetical multinational force would defiantly not have any US troops. We said so, publicly.

So why is there this in Harpers? -
According to the former [CIA] official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a "multinational" deployment [in Lebanon], and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

The uniformed military, however, is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source. "They are saying 'What the fuck?'" he told me. "Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don't like it because we're already way overstretched."
But nobody stands up to Rumsfeld. That ends careers.

Then there's this -
My friend is an old Middle East hand who has some good sources on the Israeli side, mostly ex-military and ex-Mossad, plus some contacts among the Bush I realist crowd - although of course they're not in government any more either.

He didn't have any secret dope on what the next military or diplomatic moves will be - it seems to be purely day-to-day now - but he DID get a clear sense that the Americans and the Israelis both understand now that they are in serious danger of losing the war.

They're freaking out about this, of course, because they're deathly afraid that if Israel is seen to fail, and fail badly, against Hezbollah, everybody and their Palestinian uncle will get it into their heads that they can take a crack at the Zionist entity.

… Plan B, then, is to try to "make something happen" on the ground - although what, exactly, isn't clear. Today it was killing a low-level Hezbollah leader (in a border village they supposedly secured three days ago) and pumping him up as a big catch (shades of Zarqawi's 28,000 "lieutenants"). Tomorrow it will be something else - maybe the capture of the "terror capital" of south Lebanon, beautiful downtown Bint Jbeil.

But, of course, I'm getting the impression from reading between the lines of the official propaganda that the IDF is struggling just to produce these little symbolic victories - they seem to be "securing" the same objectives over and over again. So my guess is that the internal debate will now turn to how many more divisions to commit to the battle, how far north to push, etc. My friend can't tell, nor can I, if the primary objective is still to smash the hell out of Hezbollah, or whether the Israelis are just looking to save a little face.

But the Israelis are being squeezed between two relentless pressures. One is the desire to avoid taking too many casualties, and the other is the amount of time left to achieve even their minimal objectives. The less time, the more casualties - and the more firepower that will be unloaded on Lebanon to try to keep those casualties as low as possible. More firepower means more scenes of civilian death and destruction. (The Arab puppet regimes can see perfectly clearly what's coming, which is probably why they all bailed out today.)

But the end game remains stubbornly unclear. Or rather, what is being put forward as the official end game - insertion of a force of NATO peacekeepers into the "buffer zone" -- is so outlandish it's hard to believe the Israelis (the ultimate hard-eyed realists) believe it for a second. An ex-Mossad guy actually told my friend the Israelis are hopeful that the EU would provide the troops. The EU!

So I explained to my friend that the EU manages a currency and writes standardized regulations for toaster safety and stuff like that, but it doesn't do peacekeeping. If the Israelis want boots on the ground, they're going to have to go to NATO or directly to the Germans and the Danes and the Poles and the French (yes, the cheese eating surrender monkeys) -- who are about as enthusiastic for the idea as they are for Mad Cow disease. Maybe less so.

… One possible twist: The Condi might ask the Turks to jump in. This has certain uncomfortable historical overtones (call it the return of the Ottomans) but the Turkish Army is pretty good and might actually be able to handle the job, if anyone can. But one imagines that before the Turks agreed to do any such thing, they would name their price. And if I were the Kurds, I'd be a little nervous about that.

To me the whole thing sounds like cloud cuckoo land. It seems particularly so after today. My conversation with my friend pre-dated the strike on the UN observers, so I don't know if it has changed anybody's thinking. But to me it seems like such an enormous provocation that I almost have to wonder if some military crazies on the Israeli side didn't do it on purpose - just to foreclose the possibility of anyone or anything getting in the way of a fight to the death with Hezbollah.

I know that sounds paranoid, but then this is the Middle East.

… If all this sounds familiar - the half-baked war plan, the unexpected setbacks, the frantic search for foreign legions, the lack of an exit strategy, the rising tide of blood - it certainly should. We've already seen this movie, in fact we're still sitting through the last reel. It's a hell of a time to release the sequel.
But wait! There's more.

There's this -
According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."
Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East expert comments -
The horrible thing is that the Lebanese could not do anything about Hezbollah if they wanted to. Their government is weak and divided (Hezbollah is in it, and the Bush administration and Ambassador Mark Feltman signed off on that!) Their new, green army only has 60,000 men, and a lot of them are Shiites who would not fight Hezbollah. Lebanon was a patient that needed to be nurtured carefully to health. Instead, it has been drafted and put into the middle of the worst fighting on the battlefield.
And add this -
Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasized that the offensive … was open-ended. "Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that," he said.
Cole -
In other words, Halutz, who is also said to have threatened ten for one reprisals, is openly declaring that he will commit war crimes if he wants to. Nothing is safe? A Christian school in the northern village of Bsharri? A Druze old people's home in the Shouf mountains? A Sunni family out for a stroll in the northern port of Tripoli? He can murder all of them at will, Halutz says. And Luft gives us the rationale. If these Lebanese civilians aren't curbing Hezbollah for Israel, they just aren't going to be enjoying their lives. They are a nation of hostages until such time as they have properly developed Stockholm syndrome and begin thanking the Israelis for their tender mercies.
It is a bit mad, and Cole's summary cuts no slack either way -
Israel's present policy toward Lebanon, of striking at so many civilian targets as to hold the entire civilian population hostage, is unspeakable.

I haven't complained about the Israeli border war with Hezbollah. I'm not sure it is wise, and I don't know how many Israelis Hezbollah even killed in, say, the year 2005. Is it really worth it? But I don't deny that Hezbollah went too far when it shelled dozens of civilian towns and cities and killed over a dozen innocent civilians, even in reprisal for the Israeli bombing campaign. (You can't target civilians. That is a prosecutable crime.) That is a clear casus belli, and I'd like to see Nasrallah tried at the Hague for all those civilian deaths he ordered. The fighting at Maroun al-Ra's and Bint Jbeil was horrible on all sides, but it was understandable, even justifiable. The fighting itself isn't going to lead anywhere useful, though, and it is time for a ceasefire and political negotiations - the only way to actually settle such disputes.

What was done to Lebanon as a whole is among the most horrible war crimes of the young 21st century. And that it was done tells me that there is something sick in the heart of the Israeli military and political elite, a sickness of the soul that had better be faced and remedied before our entire world catches the contagion.

I mean, who talks like that? "If you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land." … "Nothing is safe, as simple as that." If they are the good guys, why do they talk like James Bond villains?

Yes, yes, Nasrallah and his shock troops are also evil. They are also sick in the soul. We have established that. … I have been to Haifa, too, and the city means a lot to me. I mind deeply when I hear that the mad bombers around Nasrallah have killed people there and done substantial damage.

But you will note that 800,000 Israelis are not homeless, that the ports are still operating, that Tel Aviv airport is open, that over 400 Israeli civilians aren't dead in two weeks, that factories, roads, bridges, telecom towers are still there. In fact, you will note that no flotilla of international vessels had to come to evacuate tens of thousands of foreigners from Israel. It is suffering, and that is wrong.
A pox on both houses, and can we end this? No. That's not our position.

There are political considerations, as Peter Baker explains in the Washington Post here (emphases added) -
The discord at a conference in Rome yesterday over a proposed cease-fire in Israel and Lebanon underscored the widening gap between the United States and Europe over how to stop the fighting. And the images of mayhem from the two-week-old war, combined with the rising death toll in Iraq, have further rattled a domestic audience that polls show was already uncertain about Bush's leadership.

For the president, the timing could not be much worse. In a second term marked by one setback after another, the White House was in the midst of a rebuilding effort aimed at a political comeback before November's critical midterm elections. Now the president faces the challenge of responding to events that seem to be spinning out of control again, all but sidelining his domestic agenda for the moment and complicating his effort to rally the world to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

The crisis imperils one of Bush's signature ambitions. This is a president who eschewed Middle East peacemaking of the past as futile, embarking instead on a grand plan to remake the region into a more democratic, peaceful place. A year ago, a wave of reform seemed to take hold. Yet today radicalism is on the rise, Iran is believed to be closer to nuclear weapons and Bush is sending thousands more troops to Baghdad to quell spiraling violence.

"You've got Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories aflame, you've got Iraq still aflame, and you've got the Iran issue now unresolved," said Carlos Pascual, a senior State Department official until this year. "It has hurt the U.S. internationally because it has only reinforced in everyone's mind that the U.S. was not being strategic, it was not looking ahead to how to handle the whole panoply of issues in a way that's both realistic and effective."

Bush advisers who have been buffeted in the past year by a catastrophic hurricane, rising gasoline prices, a failed Social Security initiative, Republican revolts, criminal investigations and a relentless overseas war said they have grown accustomed to constant crisis. "This is a new normal for our administration in the last couple years," said one senior official. "You begin to expect the unexpected."
But you don't make it worse, do you?

We had almost won back our European allies, and things went in the weeds -
He was ready to reap the benefit of this diplomacy when he left for Europe and the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg earlier this month, confident that he had a broad consensus with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China to take stronger measures against Iran for defying them on its nuclear program.

By the time Bush arrived in St. Petersburg, however, the latest conflict had broken out and Iran was shoved onto the back burner. Although European leaders agreed that Hezbollah was to blame for the fighting, they condemned what they called Israel's disproportionate response and insisted on an immediate cease-fire, while Bush resisted any instant cessation of hostilities and effectively gave Israel leeway to destroy as much of Hezbollah as it could.

Moreover, the administration appeared uncertain at first how to respond, some analysts said. When the G-8 countries adopted a statement calling for consideration of an international force in southern Lebanon after hostilities end, some U.S. officials all but rejected the idea. But now it is a centerpiece of what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to accomplish.
Oh well. Of course swaggering and talking with his mouth full, and that surprise back rub he gave the German Chancellor, didn't help either. In any event, we're leading no coalition, just explaining our unusual and counterintuitive positions to our allies, just as before. And they are just as impressed as before. That would be "not very."

So what about the original question? When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?

The answer from some circles is a resounding no, it certainly does not matter.

As reported in Insight Magazine, the magazine of Reverend Moon's Washington Times (some say the official daily of the administration), "conservative national security allies" - those in the vice president's office and others- are urging the president to dump the "incompetent" Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State and move her into some kind of "advisory role." The item is here and says everyone thinks she knows next to nothing of the Middle East and has been a wimp - her foreign policy in insufficient aggressive, or something like that. One senior Republican congressional staffer puts it this way - "Condi was sent to rein in the State Department. Instead, she was reined in."

Ah, seduced by diplomacy. And they cite Richard Perle here saying it was her fault we "blinked" on Iran - "What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of - and increasingly represents - a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."

Newt Gingrich says the same thing, the administration is "sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk."

We all know talk is useless. Can her ass. And when Iran has its nuclear weapon, blame her. "At that point," one GOP source says, "Rice will be openly blamed and Bush will have a very hard time defending her." These people know diplomacy never works. When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, it just does not matter if no one at all agrees with you.

These next two and a half years will be interesting.

Posted by Alan at 23:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006 07:44 PDT home

Monday, 24 July 2006
We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping
Topic: For policy wonks...
We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping

The week opened with "a surprise" on Monday, July 24, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice started her brief visit to the Middle East to see what she could do with the situation in southern Lebanon, where Israel and the Hezbollah had been at it for eleven days, with a stop in somewhat disassembled Beirut. She couldn't fly in as the Israeli Air Force had taken out the runways, and fuel depots, at the international airport - so it was buzzing in, in a helicopter in from Cyprus to the American embassy in the hills above the city, in the Christian section - a northern approach pattern - then a convoy down to the city to chat with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah. The following day with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem would be easier. The following day's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah would be just strange, as Abbas is not the head of the Palestinian government, the Prime Minister, only a minority figurehead as Hamas runs things now, thanks to the election we insisted upon where they elected to wrong people, according to us - the people we won't talk to.

But the Beirut thing was pretty strange in and of itself. This was probably because the message she carried to Beirut was a downer - she told them the United States government was opposed to an immediate ceasefire. We take the position that just stopping everyone from fighting was pointless. Yes, much of Beirut was rubble and nearly four hundred civilians were dead and all that, and the weak government there in trouble, but what was the point in stopping this fighting if nothing changed? This was a chance to "transform" things. Reuters quotes her as explaining things this way - "Any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions."

Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12, and all hell broke loose, but if everyone just stopped fighting now, nothing would be resolved, really. Sure, many people would live and all that, but what would change, really?

The message was that Washington was "thinking big" - we want things to change, and lots of folks would just have to die for the big concept. We'd send aid - food and medicine and all that, but that was it. We're all for the idea of a humanitarian corridor to get help to "the needy," and Israel says it could support that idea. It's just that stopping the fighting right now solves nothing, four hundred dead civilians, and climbing, notwithstanding. David Welch, Rice's point man on the Middle East put nicely - "We did feel that Lebanon has been dealt a severe blow; there's a lot of concern about that." But not enough concern to stop any of this.

It's not like we don't want a ceasefire at all. We just think Israel has the best plan - Hezbollah pulls back from the border to allow an international force to deploy, Hezbollah is disarmed, and Israel gets the two guys back, without conditions. And then this hypothetical international force stops Hezbollah from doing bad things, fighting them in whatever sort of combat comes up - instead of the Israelis fighting them, or the half-assed Lebanese army. You see, then things would be different.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who had pleaded for an immediate ceasefire, knew he was going to get nowhere with that idea. And the Reuters item notes they talked about how Rice's plan would work, and the sequence of events for any deal - and Nabih Berri, the ally of Hezbollah and close to Syria, told her a ceasefire should come first, followed by an exchange of prisoners and then discussion of other issues. She was not impressed. The ceasefire had to follow all the terms being met. He gave it up. Hezbollah has long fought Israeli attempts to drive it from the south, and they'd just fight this hypothetical "international force" of course. This was all pretty pointless.

Throughout, watching the news, you could sense her frustration - small minds with their petty concerns just don't understand just what America is up to, transforming the world through neoconservative will to make everything the way it should be. It's that "Triumph of Will" thing. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. One suspects she was seething that the Lebanese and Palestinian people just didn't get it. Nor did the rest of the world, but what are you going to do? What can you do with these folks? It's enough to make Bill Kristol cry, and all the other founders of the Project for the New American Century mutter about all the little minds who just don't understand them.

As for assembling an "international force" to smack down Hezbollah, the American Jewish magazine Forward was reporting that we're working on how that would look, as we see here -

During a briefing with senior officials at several major Jewish organizations, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams reportedly said that a multinational force in Lebanon would have to be "combat ready," authorized and appropriately equipped to engage Hezbollah militarily if needed. Such a force, he said, would also have to patrol not only Lebanon's border with Israel but also Lebanon's border with Syria, to prevent smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah. In addition, such a force would have to observe Lebanon's sea and air ports to make sure that Iran is not rearming Hezbollah, Abrams reportedly said.
That's a tall order for a proxy army in this war on terror. But we know just what we want, and what the task orders would be.

Kevin Drum here points out the obvious -
This is fascinating. At a guess, something this ambitious would take a minimum of seven or eight combat brigades plus associated support and logistics. Call it 40,000 troops in round numbers.

The United States has previously said that it won't be able to participate in this because our troops are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN can't help since it deals only in peacekeeping missions, not combat missions. None of the troops can come from Middle Eastern countries, of course. NATO troops are largely committed to Afghanistan, and Europe has in any case been notably reluctant to commit combat troops to either the Middle East or Africa.

What's needed here are (a) large numbers of (b) quickly deployable (c) combat troops. Offhand, I can't think of anyplace this could come from. Am I missing something?
No, he's not, and running classified ads in Soldier of Fortune magazine wouldn't work either - all the mercenaries are now happily employed. We've found jobs for them in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elliot Abrams may have a detailed deployment plan with specific tasks and rules of engagement and all the rest - he just doesn't have an army. That's no small detail. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not.

Elaine Sciolino and Steven Erlanger in The New York Times review how there are just no volunteers -
Support is growing for the creation of an international military force to stabilize the Lebanese border with Israel and to bring an end to the fighting. But there is no agreement on the size, mandate or mission of such a force and little enthusiasm around the world for sending troops.

The United States has ruled out its participation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says that it is already stretched thin, France is calling the mission premature and Germany said it was willing to participate only if both Israel and Hezbollah called for it.

"All the politicians are saying, 'Great, great' to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground," said a senior European official. "Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus."
Of course France and the United States have been burnt before, with that multinational force in Lebanon in 1982 after an Israeli invasion. You get all messed up in a civil war. Then there was Hezbollah's suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 - 241 US Marines and 56 French soldiers dead. And then the Arab League sent in Syria to calm things down, which they did, and they were forced to leave only last year. People remember such things.

But maybe Israel can twist arms -
Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, played it tough with some of Europe's foreign ministers on Sunday, European and Israeli officials said. Olmert rejected an immediate cease-fire and said that the Israelis could keep up its fight with Hezbollah for a year if needed, European officials said.

"The Europeans want us to stop, and we wonder how badly they want us to stop," an Israeli official said. "It's unacceptable for them to say cease-fire and then wash their hands of the consequences. If you're not part of the solution, then don't complain."
So send your troops or stop bitching. Israel will keep smashing south Lebanon in the meanwhile. Hezbollah had to go. Either the Israeli Army or this "international force" would have to do it. It had to be done. So put up or shut up.

And there is some movement, but not much -
On Monday, the German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, said that Berlin would be willing to participate if both sides requested German participation and if certain tough, and potentially insurmountable, conditions were met, including a cease-fire and the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

"We could not refuse a peace mission of this nature if these conditions were met and if requests were directed to us," Jung said on German television.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he hoped a plan, including an international force, a mutual cease-fire and the release of the captured soldiers, could be negotiated and announced in the next few days.

"If someone's got a better plan I'd like to hear it," he said. "It's the only one I've got and I'm trying to make it happen."

As for France, Douste-Blazy left his meetings with Israeli leaders on Sunday convinced that the idea of an international force for Lebanon was "premature," French officials said.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on Monday in Brussels that an international force would not be "an easy force to deploy," but added that talks were under way to deploy such a force under a UN Security Council mandate.

"I think several member states of the European Union will be ready to provide all necessary assistance," he said, but did not name the countries or what they might be prepared to do.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, meanwhile, officials said that they were taken by surprise by comments of Israeli officials that they would welcome a NATO-led force to secure their border.

"No request has been made to NATO," James Appathurai, the NATO spokesman, said by telephone. "The possibility, the shape, the structure of any international force - none of them have been seriously addressed. We have had no political discussions and don't intend to have any political discussions of NATO's role."
Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. Or maybe they just don't want to get involved if it means being the enforcement arm of the United States and Israel. Being seen as America's "muscle" may not be in any nation's national interest these days. Jackie Ashley put it succinctly in The Guardian (UK) here - "So why would a progressive European government want to have anything to do with the one-sided diplomacy of a fading president, driven by extreme theology?"

Good question, and besides, these guys are not what we've been told, a bunch of religious flakes who just bumble around.

See Hezbollah A Tough Foe for Israeli Military (Steven Gutkin, Associated Press) -
Fearing a prolonged quagmire and heavy casualties among its troops, Israel says it has no intention of launching a massive land invasion to defeat Hezbollah. But the past several days' small-scale pinpoint operations to root out guerrilla positions along the border are proving far more daunting than expected, according to soldiers returning from battle.

The troops complain of difficult terrain and being surprised by Hezbollah guerrillas who pop out from behind bushes firing automatic weapons or rocket-propelled grenades. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded Monday as they tried to take the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail amid a heavy exchange of gunfire, missiles and mortars.

The pinpoint incursions are supposed to accomplish what the 4,000 Israeli air sorties have been unable to achieve. But the twin strategy of airstrikes and limited ground offensives will not be enough to force Hezbollah to refrain from launching attacks, said Israeli counter terrorism expert Boaz Ganor.
Asymmetrical warfare is a bitch. Overwhelm force and superior technology aren't working that well. It's not fair. They were supposed to be amateurish clowns - murderous clowns, but clowns nonetheless.

But we've always got that wrong, as James Wolcott notes here -

Wolcott had been watching Shepard Smith of Fox News, stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border, saying the Israeli soldiers looked "stunned" at the ferocity of the Hezbollah fighters, and how deadly and sophisticated their tactics were. And that leads to -
... one of the arch paradoxes of the War on Terror - that nearly five years after 9/11 we persist in both overestimating and underestimating our enemies. The hawks warn about a clash of civilizations, nuclear clouds as smoking guns, the global network of sleeper cells, an octopus with a thousand tentacles: a foe that kills without pity or remorse or discrimination, and ranks with Nazi Germany as a juggernaut of evil. Yet at the same time the politicians and pundits (particularly on the right) persist in deprecating the strength, agility, and ingenuity of the very foes they claim could bring down Western society, mocking Bin Laden in his cave (the greatest mass murder in American history, and the Bush administration treats his non-capture as a neglible detail), sluffing off the Iraqi insurgents as embittered Baathists and "dead-enders," and deluding ourselves that massive air power will bug-squash guerrilla fighters and shock and awe the remnants into submission. We still regard them as savage primitives of low cunning who sporadically lash out. Our commentators and military strategists suffer from a catastrophic failure of imagination, unable or unwilling to see the world through our enemies' eye and to think like them, assuming that our thought processes are superior, sufficient, and will prevail.

... It doesn't help that nearly every Retired Military Expert on cable news spouts the same Rumsfeldian faith in technopower and the supremacy of Western intel (through spy satellites, unmanned drones, etc) and fighting capability, pointing at terrain maps as if grabbing landscape had much relevance in the era of Fourth Generation warfare. They still talk confidently about air strikes "softening up" pockets of resistance, with "mopping up" operations later to clear out the remaining riffraff.

The early coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah fight reflected this standard Pentagonthink. On MSNBC one of their resident talking warheads - retired Lt Col Rick Francona - was also smug as he related how excellent Israeli intel was in Lebanon. This was before Israel dropped 23 tons of explosions on a bunker to take out the Hezbollah high command. They took out the bunker, but the Hezbollah inner circle was otherwise disposed. Similarly, Israel has struck civilian convoys and ambulances, which means either their vaunted intel is scantier than advertised.
So who are the clowns here?

There's this - "Famed for its penetration, Israeli intelligence failed this time. It didn't detect the new weapons Iran and Syria had provided to Hezbollah, from anti-ship missiles to longer-range rockets. And, after years of spying, it couldn't find Hezbollah"

There's this - "Nine days ago, the Israeli army ordered the inhabitants of a neighboring village, Marwaheen, to leave their homes and then fired rockets into one of their evacuation trucks, blasting the women and children inside to their deaths. And this is the same Israeli air force which was praised last week by one of Israel's greatest defenders - Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz - because it 'takes extraordinary steps to minimize civilian casualties.'"

Israel has PR problem, at best. Hezbollah doesn't -
The Hezbollah soldiers on camera look normal, no masks, no keffiyahs, just jeans. They speak English. They are courteous, even helpful to the reporters.

Despite its capacity for violence, Hezbollah is being treated with a level of respect no Arab state fighting Israel has ever gotten. You are hearing normal people testify to the good works of the Hezbollah quasi-state.

I mean, this isn't two seconds of news, but detailed interviews with women and children, English speaking kids, testifying to their good works.

The Western public is getting a new view of Israel and the Arabs, and if the Israelis had a clue beyond bombing TV towers, they wouldn't drop another bomb in Beirut and stop shooting up convoys and gas stations. Because you have American reporters running from Israel bombs and American citizens trapped there and Hezbollah is getting a hearing.
Wolcott -
Conversely, you have images of Condi Rice flying into the region today with a big Pepsodent smile and a jaunty manner. What's she got to smile about? I've never seen a fireman grin as he entered a burning building. It's a bit late for a charm offensive.
The international force that Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams envisions would not be on the side of charm. You're asking these nations to align themselves with the neoconservative transformational theorists and the dismantling of Lebanon and all the death, for the concept.

But a simple ceasefire the talks and terms and prisoner releases and all the rest following isn't in the cards. We want change, not peace. No one is helping.

Of course it would help if we got the concept of what changes we want straightened out. More and more our explicit policy in the Middle East is that we are now the ally of the Sunnis on a mission to crush the Shi'a crescent - we will line up Sunni Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and the rest to fight the Shi'a madman in Iraq and Syria and the stateless Hezbollah and al Qaeda. Except before we were out to get that madman Saddam Hussein who suppressed and killed all the Shi'a he could find in his Iraq, as he was sure those Shi'a fanatics would bring him down, which would make him on our side now. Huh? Keeping the good guys and bad guys straight gets harder all the time.

Bill Montgomery finds this in the Daily Telegraph (UK) -
White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.
Now wait just one second. The plan all along was to help the Sunnis fight Shi'a terrorism? No one mentioned it before. That would have been nice to know. It's was WMD stuff, or that Saddam was behind the September 11 stuff, or even bringing democracy to Iraq. The grand plan was helping the Sunnis? Oh. Missed that.

Montgomery says this -
The question is whether this astonishing statement is the product of bad writing, the slack-jawed stupidity of the Telegraph's Washington correspondent, or a deliberate Eastasia/Eurasia switch by our fun-loving Orwellians in the Cheney administration.

If it's just bad writing or stupidity - if the phrase "building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism" doesn't actually modify "post-September 11 plan," but instead is just another way of pretending that Shrub is capable of the kind of leadership that has its "moments" - then the sentence is only unintentionally hysterical. However, given the current situation on the ground (all 18 zillion square miles of it) it may well be precisely the lie it appears to be, to wit: that fighting "Shi'a terrorism" was the point of Shrub's post-9/11 master plan all along.
But that's what Saddam Hussein was doing, on a local level. Damn, it's confusing.

And the Israelis are on board -
An adviser to Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told The Observer: "We are finally going to fight Hizbollah on the ground. The Israeli people are ready for this, and the Sunni Muslim world also expects us to fight Shi'a fundamentalism. We are going to deliver."
Israel will fight for the Sunnis? Of course. Things shift a lot, don't they?

Digby has a good take on this here -
The truth is, I don't think it matters a damn anymore which "terrorists" we are fighting today or what the goals allegedly are. This is the GWOT and the enemies of "non-terror" are whoever is deemed "terrible" today. It's irrelevant that the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting yesterday are now our allies against the terrorist we are fighting today. It's all good.

... The US managed somehow, against the best efforts of Karl Rove, to separate the Iraq war from the broader "War on Terror." It looks as though they are taking another crack at it and are now trying to conflate every problem in the Middle East with its alleged fight against terrorism. This, I believe, is purely for domestic political consideration. It must be, because it is completely incoherent on the substance: we simply cannot be "fightin' terrorism" as allies of the Israelis and Sunni Muslims against the Shiites while we occupy Iraq and say we are promoting democracy. The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance embodied in that statement.

Unfortunately, while the nutty rhetoric must have the rest of the world wondering who put the acid in the sweet mint tea, here in the US it makes perfect sense. We're fightin' 'em over there - whoever those Ayrab/Jews/terrorists are - so we don't have to fight 'em over here. Don't worry your pretty little heads about the details -- here's a tax cut, go out and buy one of those big screen Teevees and watch you some American idol. Republicans will keep you safe from all of 'em.
The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance of it all. No wonder most of the adult population throws up its hands and says, whatever, and decides its best just to let those in power do what they will, and explain it any way they want. It's not supposed to make sense. The neoconservative transformational theory is too tricky for mere mortals. And no wonder the rest of the world is not helping. It's a wonder they're not laughing.

Posted by Alan at 22:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006 07:41 PDT home

Saturday, 22 July 2006
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?
Topic: For policy wonks...
MIA: Say, What Ever Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?
Yes the third war is being waged - you've got your Afghanistan War, not finished as the defeated and extinct Taliban are busy retaking towns in the south, and you've got your Iraq War, which may not be our war anymore but just one where the locals have at it and we try to keep a lid on things, hoping not for the best but the least-worst, and you've got the new two-front war Israel is waging with our approval. And with all the talk from the neoconservatives saying that this is just the right time to take care of Syria and bomb Iran back to the days before anyone discover nuclear energy or weapons - we've got them all on the run so let's kick as now - you may get two more wars.

Back in the days when wars were metaphoric - the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, for example - they weren't any easier to win. Like the War on Terror, these were wars on abstractions. Still there were those who thought one of them, Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, was a rather fine idea, even if a bit more conceptual than real. Johnson may have launched the thing to divert attention from the Vietnam mess, but doing something to get people who were in trouble working and fed and housed and educated seemed like that might do the country some good.

The push back from the right was the usual. These people had to take personal responsibility, not handouts, and what they needed was to be forced to work for what might sustain them and eventually get them into the mainstream. The day of handouts was over - as it wasn't fair that those who worked hard then were being forced by the evil government to chip in to keep those who had bad luck or dark skin and made the mistake of being born in the wrong place from dying in the streets. These losers needed to be forced to do for themselves, like everyone else. This was called compassionate conservatism, or tough love, or the American Way, or something, and thus we got welfare reform, where you got the food stamps and other aid, if you put in forty hours a week doing something, anything at all. There would be no more lazy "takers" - whining people playing victim and taking the money of those who worked hard and did useful things. To just give them help was wrong - it was "soft bigotry of low expectations" and the conservatives were not bigots. They knew these people were capable of becoming rich, or something.

Oddly the real welfare reform came in the Clinton administration, as he was doing that triangulation or "third way" thing, mixing liberal stuff with conservative stuff in an attempt to pull the country together. Unfortunately, there was the Monica lass.

With the conservatives taking control of the government - first with the Newt Gingrich revolution of 1994, where congress was convincingly won be the conservatives, to the present situation where both hoses, the executive branch, and most of the judiciary are in the hands of the conservatives - things might have been even harsher. But as there is a baseline of people in the country disturbed by the thought of millions of homeless dying in the streets and children starving and all that, the line became "sure we're conservative and think people should take care of themselves and the government has no business in helping people with anything, but we're not heartless." Thus Republicans ran on the platform of "compassionate conservatism" - no one deserves anything from the government, but we'll make a few exceptions here and there. George Bush ran on that idea, and got the votes of those who were resentful any of their tax dollars went to someone not working when they were, but felt a little guilty when each winter another homeless woman or two froze to death under the bridge down the street. Those who felt no guilt at all - serves 'em right for being so lazy - knew the whole thing was a ploy. There are things you have to say to get elected, and they understood.

And the have been right. In the Washington Post, in the pages not devoted to the wars, there was this, a discussion of how the administration has said nothing at all about poverty in America since the president gave that amazing speech in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina - we would do something about the poverty that led to all these deaths, of the people who didn't have the means to get out of the path of the storm, and yes it was a racial thing too, and we'd fix that too. Enough was enough. The post notes that was it. It was a one-shot. Not only were the issues never mentioned again, anywhere or at any time, the speech was never referred to again, and no actions of any sort were taken of any sort to even vaguely related to the issues of poverty or race. It seems other things came up. And even if they had not come up, one wonders if anything would be different.

Poverty? Never heard of it. The New Orleans speech stands out as an anomaly - something from an alternative universe, the Universe of Compassionate Conservatism. It's the stuff of Marvel Comics - a place where everything is reversed, and Superman is a bad, and dumb.

Ezra Klein explains -
... the roots of the Bush administration's betrayal on poverty reach far beyond Katrina. Compassionate conservatism, after all, was once more than an empty catch phrase; it described a policy philosophy that sought economic uplift through government incentives. Myron Magnet, author of the foundational compassionate conservative work The Dream and the Nightmare, met with Bush repeatedly during the campaign, and visitors to Karl Rove's office used to leave with a copy of the book in hand - according to Rove, it laid out the campaign's roadmap. So when Magnet assured us that "At [Bush's compassionate conservatism's] core is concern for the poor - not a traditional Republican preoccupation - and an explicit belief that government has a responsibility for poor Americans," it was safe to assume he knew what he was talking about.

Only he didn't. Compassionate conservatism retained only its disinterest in small government conservatism. As the years ground excruciatingly onward and the Bush administration's domestic policy priorities crystallized, it became abundantly clear that this administration was corporatist, not conservative in nature - theirs was a philosophy of industrialist, not indigent, uplift. It didn't have to be that way: Bush's early moves were promising, with No Child Left Behind a flawed but supportable attempt at codifying equality in our schools. After 9-11, though, the war president killed the poor's president, and Bush turned his already meager interest in the mechanics of governing entirely away from domestic issues.

I've never been entirely convinced by the explanations for why that happened. Bush's record in Texas and his rhetoric on the campaign trail never suggested the sort of leader that would emerge. September 11 changed him, but it's not precisely clear why it enabled such an abandonment of the domestic realm.
Maybe because it was a joke to begin with? Just as the evangelical Christians tell us you have to understand when Jesus was just kidding - like that turn the other cheek business and that love everyone stuff - so you need to understand the New Orleans anomaly the same way.

Or as Digby at Hullabaloo puts it -
I would argue that there never was a "compassionate conservative" Bush, but a political slogan that was adopted when the face of the party was the slavering beasts of the Gingrich years who shut down the government and impeached a popular president against the will of the people. The game plan was to run Bush as a Republican Clinton without the woody.

And to the extent that they actually believed any of their campaign blather about "soft bigotry of low expectations" and prescription drug coverage, it was only to massage certain constituencies they needed to cobble together a majority - which they didn't actually manage to do in 2000. Karl was just buying votes like any smart pol does.

... They failed on social security, the big ticket domestic item of the second term, but the reason was that they always overestimated the amount of political capital a "war president" who only won a second term by 51% of the vote actually has. He had plenty of juice after 9/11 but he used it all up on Iraq - and when the WMD didn't show, most of that evaporated over time.

But the tax cuts, the indiscriminate deregulation, the expansion of executive power (not only through the programs like the illegal wiretapping but through the passage of the Patriot Act as well) can only be considered great successes by the standard he set forth. The reason his "compassionate conservative" agenda wasn't part of that package is because it was just a campaign ploy to begin with. After 9/11 they made the calculation that he could win by running solely on national security with a smattering of homo-hating. And he did.
Poverty just didn't matter.

But now it may, as those in the middle start the slow descent to the levels below. The economy is booming, a wages for most are falling, and have been for several years. This would be no problem if only CEO's were allowed to vote, and those who have large portfolios (those who own the capital). The problem is we allow those who live off their labor alone, their work, to vote. The problem is so obvious that even John Derbyshire at the old-line conservative National Review sees it -
If the rich get richer while the middle class thrives, and some decent provision is made for the poor, I'm a happy man, living in a society I consider healthy and am proud of. If, however, the rich get richer while the middle class is struggling, or actually declining, I am not a happy man. There are some reasons to think that is happening, and you don't have to be a socialist to worry about this.
Amd even the folks over at the Wall Street Journal, of all places, see the problem, as Steven Rattner notes here -
After months without a domestic agenda to capitalize on Bush administration unpopularity, Democrats are moving - haltingly, disjointedly, belatedly - toward embracing the mother of all electoral issues: the failure of robust top-line growth in the U.S. economy to filter into the wallets of Americans below the top of the pyramid.

... No amount of chaff can hide the failure of our remarkable productivity surge (and the accompanying robust growth of the overall economy) to meaningfully boost average wages, which have barely grown with inflation. Separated by income level, the picture is more dismal. From 2000 to 2005, for example, average weekly wages for the bottom 10% dropped by 2.7% (after adjustment for inflation), while those of the top 10% rose by 5.3%.
No amount of "but the economy is booming talk" can override the fact of the empty wallet at the gas pump. Interestingly he uses the word chaff, the foil that used to be dropped from bombers to befuddle the guys on the ground at their radar screens. The working man's radar may be able to see through it, even if the Democrats screw up this issue too. Rattner seems more worried about those who work for a living than any Democrat.

Is the day of reckoning at hand? If you're told you're really doing well, and you've dropped your health insurance and are skipping meals, and you can't pay even the monthly minimum on your credit cards, are you going to believe that? Who needs the Democrats? You may just feel these guys have screwed you.

Well, they always said government doesn't solve problems, government is the problem. That was one of Ronald Reagan's favorite lines, and he's said to be the father of all the concepts at play.

That leads to this rant, on the underlying issues, presented here in full, as the writer no doubt wants this widely disseminated -
What Did You Expect, America?
by SusanG
Sat Jul 22, 2006 at 03:16:59 PM PDT

Would you hire a babysitter who hates children and thinks they should be eliminated? Or who declares for years in your hearing that children are irritants who should be starved to be small, unseen and mute?

Would you hire cops who think laws are stupid and useless and should be abolished?

Would you hire a conductor for your orchestra who believes music itself an abomination?

Then why would you hire - and you did hire them, America; they are your employees, after all, not your rulers, despite their grandiose pretensions - members of a political party who think government is useless, ineffective, bloated and untrustworthy?

You've hired for your kitchen the chef who spits in your food because he despises preparing meals.

You've hired for your yardwork the gardener who sets out to kill your roses to demonstrate his assertion that they will die in your climate.

You've hired for your office the accountant who's staked his career on proving no accurate books can be kept.

In electing Republicans, America, you put people in charge of institutions they overtly, caustically loathe and proudly proclaim should not exist. Good thinking, USA, and stellar results: Katrina, Iraq, Medicare D, trade and budget deficits, mine disasters and on and on and on and ...

Conservatives have declared officially for decades that they hate public programs and love private business. Why then, do Americans profess shock when these same people run the public credit card up to bunker-busting levels to line the pockets of friendly corporations, leaving taxpayers - current and the as-yet unborn - the bill? It's the dine and ditch mentality writ large, and American citizens are the unfortunate waiters having their lowly pay docked to cover the deadbeat loss - and their future grandchildren's pay docked as well.

We are witnessing an orchestrated, unprecedented transfer of public wealth to private pockets, a national one-party feeding frenzy that's making beggars and beseechers of us all, and yet many Americans stand around muttering in a daze of semi-apathetic befuddlement about gosh darn how did all this come to be and how sure as shit, uh-huh, those Republicans shore were right, government doesn't do a the little guy a damn bit of good, no sirree bob. Better drown it some more. Cut them taxes, privatize something, anything, pronto!

Kee-rist on a pogo stick.

If you put people in charge of running a project they are ideologically committed to proving a failure, it will fail.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. But hey, I'm a Democrat. You know, one of those people who think universal quality public education is a massive good to society, that maintaining our highways and levees and bridges and dams is part of what makes this country great, that paying first-responders and nurses what they're worth helps guarantee our public health and safety, that providing for fellow citizens who fall on hard times is not only the ethical thing to do, but the pragmatic one, ensuring that this country does not incubate a permanently inflamed and disgruntled underclass ready to drop a match on a pool of social gasoline.

Here's a thought - just a thought, mind you, beloved America: Perhaps it's time to return to government the party that has an ideological stake in making it ... you know ... succeed. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to raise our sights a wee bit and elect people who think public service is more than an opportunity for the "Biggest! Fire Sale! Ever!" for their friends and loved ones. Perhaps it's time to insist on greater - if not great - expectations from the employees we decide to hire or fire every two years to carry out our will under the constitution.

As one-party Republican rule has clearly shown, when you expect incompetence, corruption and deceit from your government, you get exactly what you vote for. In spades.
Enough said. But logic seldom works.

Posted by Alan at 18:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 22 July 2006 18:58 PDT home

Tuesday, 18 July 2006
Research: Is the Sky Falling?
Topic: For policy wonks...
Research: Is the Sky Falling?
On Tuesday, July 18, the seventh day of the current war Israel is fighting on two fronts, it seemed best to decide if this was really the start of World War III, or IV, depending on which neoconservative enabler you listened to (see Steven Colbert on the matter here or here). World Wars are a big deal - millions die, economies collapse, refugees pour across borders, and the investments on which one's retirement depends can evaporate without anyone like Ken Lay doing a thing. It would be nice to know what's up, and who to believe.

So some research was in order. And here are the results.

There was more of that 1914 stuff, like this from Fred Kaplan -
Is Israel really planning to invade Lebanon - not just a minor raid on a discrete target but a full-blown invasion and an occupation to follow? Are the Hezbollah militants really trying to blow up the chemical plant in Haifa? Are Syria and Iran really going to let this happen? Could Israel restrain itself from retaliating against not just the attackers but their sponsors?

All over the world, people are asking themselves: Could this really be happening? It seems like the inveterate foes of Israel's existence are gearing up for a shot at dream-fulfillment. And it seems like Israel is gearing up to take out the dreamers first.

This sensation of palpable prelude - is this how people felt in the summer of 1914, as the major powers played out the logic of mobilization and escalation? Will future historians draw parallels between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the nabbing of the two Israeli soldiers across the Lebanese border?
Oh my. Say it's not so, Fred.

And he says it's not so -
There are at least two differences between the preparations for war in Europe 92 years ago and those taking place in the Middle East now. First, today's big powers are not locked in to escalation through alliances; one country going to war does not necessarily force another to follow. The world isn't even divided into hostile blocs, at least not to the same extent. Second, global institutions have been formed in the intervening century precisely to keep such scenarios from cascading.
But it could be so -
.... there are two other facts that mitigate those differences and that draw attention to the similarities between 2006 and 1914. The major powers and the global institutions are just standing by. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan talks about putting a "stabilization force" on the Israeli-Lebanese border, but he has little leverage to impose anything meaningful. The G8 nations unanimously harrumph a resolution of concern and condemnation, but they take no action. President George W. Bush tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he thinks his secretary of state will make a trip to the Middle East pretty soon.
Oh crap. So that's not good at all. Both sides here view their very existence as being at risk and so no one will back down. Diplomacy is called for, and it might work, or not, but no one to give it a try - not those in conflict or those looking on.

Kaplan says it's like this -
Israeli leaders seem to think that if they fight on for another week, they can strengthen their strategic position - and weaken Hezbollah's - so that when the international community does step in to impose a cease-fire, they'll come out significantly ahead.

However, another argument can be made that the longer Israel keeps bombing and shelling Lebanon, and unavoidably killing Lebanese civilians, the more its standing will diminish, regionally and globally. An editorial in today's Daily Star, Beirut's relatively moderate newspaper, is headlined, "Israeli onslaught will strengthen, not weaken, Hezbollah's popular appeal."
And then you mix in the sectarian stuff and it just gets weird -
The opportunity for a nonmilitary solution (the phrase "peaceful solution" may be going too far) is golden right now but not for long. In a remarkable statement, the Saudi foreign minister criticized Hezbollah's cross-border attacks as "unexpected, inappropriate, and irresponsible acts." So did the leaders of Egypt, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Some criticized Israel's response as "disproportionate," or they urged "restraint." But these caveats seemed almost pro forma. Rarely, if ever, have Arab leaders so condemned other Arabs on an issue of conflict with the Jewish State.

Yet there's something else that binds those Arab leaders - they're all Sunnis, while Hezbollah, Iran, and (nominally) Syria are ruled by Shiites. This is another reason this fire needs to be put out as soon as possible. Otherwise, it might not only ignite the grand battle between Israel and its most fervent foes, but also feed the flames of the region's larger war between Sunnis and Shiites.
Okay, the neoconservatives arguing it's time to get with what Israel has started and join them by taking out Syria and Iran, and occupying Damascus and Tehran and setting up the governments there that we really want, is too simplistic. We don't get World War III or IV and the "clash of civilizations" about which Rush Limbaugh is so excited he is nearly peeing his pants - we get to sit on the sidelines as international war between Sunnis and Shiites is waged everywhere. Bummer.

But something must be done. This is getting really dangerous. Will Bush send Condoleezza Rice over there to knock heads and set things straight, doing that shuttle diplomacy thing?

No -
The point of shuttle diplomacy, when Henry Kissinger and James Baker conducted it, was to talk with leaders who can't talk with one another, shuttling back and forth conveying messages, feints, fears, and ultimately offers. One problem right now is that the United States - the would-be shuttle diplomat - has long cut off relations with Syria and Iran, both of Hezbollah's enablers (and thus potential disablers). If Bush doesn't reopen the lines, there's no point in sending Rice on the plane; it would be a shuttle to nowhere - and, short of sensational luck, a region sliding to war.
We're screwed. But is a World War coming?

That's hard to tell. There are wheels within wheels here, and we just don't talk with the bad guys. We've made things so clear and simple we're out of the equation - and we call it "moral clarity." That precludes diplomacy, which is never clear and what Henry Kissinger once defined as "purposeful ambiguity." We no longer do ambiguity. The president can't grasp it, and Cheney and the neoconservatives think it's un-American. Maybe it is.

Okay, let's turn to Aluf Benn, the diplomatic editor of the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He's covered Israel's foreign policy and the Arab-Israeli peace process since 1993, so he must know a thing or two. His analyses of what's really going on have appeared in Foreign Affairs over the years. He knows stuff. He can say how dire things are right now, or reassure us things will be fine.

And Aluf Benn says this -
The wisest of all Israeli statesmen, Moshe Dayan, once made a prescient comment about the inexplicable nature of Arab-Israeli wars. "All our wars started when afterwards we needed very thorough research to explain and understand why they had started at all," he said in a closed Cabinet consultation in April 1973. Indeed, several months later, the Yom Kippur War took Dayan and the rest of Israel's political-military elite by total surprise.

Dayan died in 1981, but had he lived today, he would undoubtedly have repeated his age-old analysis. This summer started out as the best one that Israel has had since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada six years ago. Tourists filled Tel Aviv beaches, the stock market hit its all-time high, and the government, flush with unexpected budgetary fat, lowered taxes and discussed cutting defense and beefing up welfare programs that had been cut in previous years.
And then things went south, and north as it were. The war was on. The regional troublemakers, the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah, would be dealt with, severely.

And Benn provides a narrative of how that happened, with the political and psychodynamics, which actually helpful (emphases added) -
The road to war began in early June, when the tacit cease-fire between Hamas and Israel began to crack. Smaller Palestinian groups kept firing their Qassam missiles at the Israeli border town of Sderot. The IDF responded with targeted killings of suspected perpetrators, unfortunately killing innocent bystanders as well. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, put the brakes on military plans to escalate the fighting, and so did the Hamas leaders. But on June 25, a small Hamas unit attacked a military outpost on the Israeli side of the border, abducting a soldier and killing several others. Olmert decided against exchanging prisoners and hit back at Hamas, aiming to crush its military wing, halt the Qassams and weaken the civilian Hamas-led Palestinian government, which, despite enormous external pressure, has refused to recognize Israel and forswear terror.

Olmert's decision to fight back was in part a result of his political weakness: Israel's new Cabinet, sworn in on May 4, is led by a freshman team lacking battlefield experience and hangs on a loose coalition. It is a byword of Israeli politics that weak governments tend to hit harder. A former war hero like Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin or Ehud Barak, "Mr. Security" at the top, could afford politically to be more flexible. But Olmert, who was smeared by his right-wing adversary Benjamin Netanyahu as a leftist weakling, could not. Along with the new defense minister, Amir Peretz, Olmert had to show the weary public and the military leaders that he had balls.

The world stood by as Israeli tanks returned to Gaza, and Washington intervened only to tell Israel to avoid hitting key civilian facilities (after the IDF destroyed Gaza's only power plant) and to spare Mahmoud Abbas, the powerless president of the Palestinian Authority and America's darling. But Israel has failed to this day to achieve its goals in Gaza. Its abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit, is still missing, the Qassams keep hitting Sderot, and the Hamas government has stuck to its positions despite the arrest of dozens of its ministers and legislators in the West Bank.
It's odd how much that sounds like politics over here. Can't be a leftist weakling, and you have to show some balls and send the kids off to war. Sigh. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is in the same fix. Nasrallah rose to his present position when Israel assassinated his predecessor, Abbad Moussawi, in 1992. They play hardball over there.

And there was a George Bush moment, although Olmert wasn't reading "My Pet Goat" to grade school kids at the time -
Olmert heard the news about the Hezbollah attack when he was meeting the parents of Gilad Shalit, the abducted Gaza GI. This was his ultimate leadership test. As he said later, "There is a moment when a state says: No." Decisive by his nature, he instantly resolved to hit back forcefully and use the opportunity to reduce Hezbollah's capability for "holding Israel hostage" through its arsenal of rockets.

This was not an easy decision. Olmert was putting at risk not only the abducted soldiers, but also the lives, property and welfare of hundreds of thousands of Israelis within the rockets' range. The country's hard-won economic boom and tourism revival were at stake too. But he sensed correctly that the public expected him "to hit the bastards" and therefore would support his actions, and that given the circumstances, Israel would receive unprecedented international backing even for forceful attacks.
Sounds familiar. We threw our international support away by attacking the wrong guys, against all advice, but maybe that won't happen here.

And the attack was focused on the practical, "a Kosovo-style air campaign to destroy Hezbollah's headquarters and the south Beirut neighborhood where it is centered, its ammunition and rocket hideouts and village bases, as well as targeting Lebanese infrastructure like roads, power stations and bridges to prevent Syrian re-supply."

And, surprise, international support has not evaporated, yet -
The international community sided with Israel, stipulating only that it avoid killing too many innocent bystanders, and not topple the fragile Beirut government of Premier Fouad Siniora. G8 leaders, convened in St. Petersburg, Russia, put the blame firmly on Hamas and Hezbollah and all but halted the "diplomatic hourglass" to give Israel more time to finish the job. President George W. Bush's support for Israel is no surprise, but for key Arab states like Saudi Arabia to criticize Nasrallah, and then remain silent when Israeli warplanes destroy parts of an Arab capital is unprecedented.
But we'll see how long that lasts.

But it may work out -
If Israel succeeds in destroying Nasrallah's forces - and even in killing him - and a new international force dismantles Hezbollah's rockets and prevents a new buildup, then Olmert would be the clear winner in this round. Israel's economy will resume its growth course (even if defense cuts would be called off) and public morale will soar. If, however, Nasrallah walks out of his hiding place, shakes the dust off his beard, and still has thousands of rockets with their launchers - perhaps even replenishing them from Iran - he would be positioned as the king of "Arab resistance" against "the Zionists."
Yeah, yeah. Unlikely. The Sunni Saudis and Sunni Egypt may be a little alarmed, and al Qaeda may feel a bit miffed as the new kids on the block get to be the heroes. But writing from Tel-Aviv, concerned with the immediate war, Aluf Benn may think that's something for later, something to consider in the next bigger war.

Well, it's one view.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, is 5,995 miles (9,648 kilometers) from Tel-Aviv, but your research take you where it will, and there you will find Juan Cole, the eminent professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, and things look different from there. Of course he might have been at Yale this year, but they withdrew their offer after all sorts of pressure from the right wing side of things (detailed here with Cole's comments here) - the "Bush can do no wrong" side doesn't much like what he concludes about the Middle East, and about the efficacy of our policies. But he's been all over the region and speaks, read and writes the major languages, and he knows the players. Ridiculing his views may be short-sighted.

And Juan Cole has a few things to say about the two-front Israeli war in progress here, which he calls Israel's "maximal option." He's not impressed. He's not impressed with either side.

The situation -
Everyone is wondering about the military objectives of the Israeli and Hezbollah leaderships, whose rash and immoral actions have brought their countries to this dangerous pass.

Beirut, of course, has taken the far heavier punishment, with dozens of buildings razed, massive bomb-produced potholes in the streets and frantic rescue crews carting away bloody bodies, mainly of civilians, including families and children. But Haifa is in greater shock, its inhabitants unused to taking direct enemy missile fire. Nor are they accustomed to seeing a bombed-out Israeli warship towed into the bay. The big international companies with offices not far from where the rockets landed include Microsoft, and the danger posed to Israel of capital flight in the billions dwarfs in magnitude the Lebanese losses of $100 million a day, mainly in forfeited tourism.
Both sides are screwing thing up for everyone, but he notes this -
One option being entertained by the Israeli leaders would have the effect of turning the Lebanese capital into a fetid slum, swamped by hundreds of thousands of cowering peasants expelled north by a vast Israeli human engineering project. And if this project produces a civil war between Shiite Lebanese and the central government, as the Israeli high command and the Kadima Party who are considering this plan believe, then all the better.
He thinks they want to do that Jordan thing again, like in 1970-71 when Jordan had filled up with Palestinian refugees after the 1967 war and the fledgling Palestine Liberation Organization was doing guerrilla crap against Israel- so back then they bombed and forced King Hussein to clamp down on the PLO. That led to a civil war within Jordan but the PLO was taken care of, severely. The idea might work in Lebanon now - get the current government to crush Hezbollah.

Bu the parallel doesn't pertain -
Lebanon, however, is far more fragile than Jordan. It is a multicultural society, sometimes called a country of minorities. In East Beirut, Jounieh and points north, into Mount Lebanon, Maronite Catholics are the majority. Sunnis are important in the port cities - Tripoli, West Beirut and Sidon - as well as in the Bekaa Valley and in the far north. In the Shouf mountains live the Druze, hardy adherents of an esoteric offshoot of Ismaili Islam. The deep south down near the Israeli border is orthodox (or a "Twelver") Shiite territory, though they are also a majority in the Bekaa Valley to the east, with Baalbak a major center, and decades of immigration to the capital have created a southern ring of Shiite slums around Beirut. Poor Shiites are the constituency for the fundamentalist Hezbollah Party, though in opinion polls most of them do not report their main political commitment as Muslim fundamentalism.
That's more detail than you might need. Don't worry about it. It's quite complicated and complex -and simple ideas may not work.

And Hezbollah aren't raggedy displaced nonentities. They're part of the government now.

This is the compressed history -
Hezbollah emerged as the militarily most important group in Lebanon when 14,000 Syrian troops withdrew from the country in spring 2005. The Syrians had played the role of peacekeeper, or at least referee, during the Lebanese Civil War. When the warring factions made peace from 1989 forward, all the Lebanese factions disarmed their paramilitaries except Hezbollah, which was struggling against the continued Israeli occupation of the south. In the 1990s and early zeroes, a reduced Syrian force provided some security in the rest of the country at a time when the Lebanese army was being rebuilt. Following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which a UN investigation linked to Syria, a popular movement, known in the West as the "Cedar Revolution," led to a Syrian withdrawal last year. Although the anti-Syrian reformers did well in the elections held late last spring, so too did the Shiite parties, including Hezbollah and Amal, who together won 29 seats in the 128-seat parliament. Hezbollah became part of the government for the first time, but resisted demands that it disarm its militia in the south, maintaining that the continued threat of Israeli violence and renewed occupation made it necessary. It pointed out that Israel continues to retain control of the Shebaa Farms, a small border area claimed by both Lebanon and Syria. (If the Israelis had negotiated the return of this land years ago, it would have been much more difficult for Hezbollah to have justified not disarming.)

The Cedar Revolution was hailed by the Bush administration as a great achievement of democratization, but in fact it pushed the fragile Lebanese political system into a state of dangerous instability, in which the Lebanese ethnic factions no longer had a referee. As members of the reformist bloc such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt began pressing for disarming Hezbollah, they threatened its prime source of political legitimacy and power. Within the arena of Lebanese politics, escalation of tension with Israel benefited Hezbollah at a time it was under this pressure.
So they're important, and integrated into the government, and big trouble -
On Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah delivered a disturbing videotaped speech in which he gloated over his party's missile strikes on Israel. He said that the attack on Haifa had not been for revenge but for the purpose of deterring Israeli assaults on Lebanon. He contrasted his strikes, which he claimed deliberately avoided targeting civilians, with Israel's, which he claimed had targeted civilians. Since his missiles are inaccurate, this was a self-serving lie: Any Katyushas he launched could (and did) kill civilians. He sanctimoniously pointed out that he could have hit chemical plants and fuel plants and produced a much worse disaster for the city, but had refrained from doing so for the moment. He also promised further "surprises" for the Israelis. Nasrallah, soft-spoken behind his white-speckled soft black beard, exuded an adolescent nationalism, taking pride in this "Arab" achievement of striking back at last against the Israeli cities from which the Lebanese Shiites had taken decades of bombings.

... Nasrallah's speech was full of delusions of grandeur. His goals appear to include giving aid to the beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza, claiming the mantle of the most important political and military leader in Lebanon now that the Syrians are gone, and forcing Israel to negotiate with him as an equal. None of these goals is realistic. He has raised Hezbollah's status with the Arab street, but has no way to translate that into actual power. His ability to help the Palestinians is nonexistent. His amateurish missile attacks, most of which have done no real damage, cannot possibly deter Israel from its military plans for the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure. And after years of fighting the Israelis, he should have known enough about their psychology to know that nothing would guarantee a widening of the war more than menacing the descendants of victims of the Holocaust with poison gas.
Yeah, he's a real piece of work. Rush Limbaugh is a piker compared to him.

As for Israel, it is being just as odd -
There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, and to respond appropriately to Hezbollah's illegal and immoral abduction of two soldiers and killing of others. A "proportional" response by Israel to Hezbollah's initial attack, of the sort demanded by international human rights lawyers, would have involved killing three Hezbollah fighters and capturing two down at the border between the two countries - and a heavier response directly specifically at Hezbollah could also have been justified. Instead, Israel has bombed, blockaded, isolated and crippled the entire country. Why? In preparation for what?
Who knows? What they says is the idea is to move all the Hezbollah bad guys back from the border, so their rockets cannot reach any part of Israel, but that's displacing a whole lot of people. And UNICEF's representative in Lebanon told AFP that "The situation is both alarming and catastrophic. There are about 500,000 people displaced already."

But the logic is clear -
If it comes about, the forced transfer of the Shiites of the south would have several advantages for the Israelis. The depopulated territory would make it easier to search for and destroy all the Katyusha emplacements and the heavier missiles of which Hezbollah boasted on Sunday. With Hezbollah's approximately 5,000 fighters deprived of civilian cover, it would be easier to kill them. The Israelis clearly anticipate that a refugee crisis in Beirut will put pressure on the Lebanese government to turn on Hezbollah decisively and to intervene against it militarily. Finally, they expect Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in the aftermath, to send the Lebanese army south to take up positions along the border and so form a buffer between Hezbollah and Israel.
That might work, but Cole notes that, ethically, it is "monstrous, involving war crimes on a vast scale insofar as it targets a civilian population for forcible relocation."

And it won't work anyway -
Even if Lebanon's famously fractured political elite could come to a consensus that Hezbollah had to be curbed, it is unclear how they could accomplish that task. The reconstituted Lebanese army formed after the civil war is 60,000 strong, but most of the troops are green and many of the infantrymen are Shiites. The 5,000 battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters defeated the Israeli occupation with suicide bombings and guerrilla tactics. Even if the Shiite troops in the regular Lebanese army would fight their own, it is not clear that they could do so successfully.

... The Israeli plan to pressure the Lebanese government to take on Hezbollah will therefore likely fail. The Jordan precedent has no analogies here. The Shiites of Lebanon have played a role in contemporary Lebanese nationalism very unlike that of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Neither President Emile Lahoud nor Prime Minister Siniora command the respect, or have the steel, of Jordan's King Hussein, and the Lebanese army lacks the cohesion and loyalty that had characterized his Bedouin troops.

Instead, if Israel follows through on threats to create a massive internal refugee problem in Lebanon, they will further radicalize the Shiites, many of whom now support Hezbollah because of the services it provides or because it looks out for their interests rather than because they really want an Islamic Republic. If the Israelis manage to disrupt the party structure, as they appear to hope, they will simply remove any discipline over rank-and-file members and encourage small-group terrorism of the sort that has recently plagued Madrid, Spain, and London. Radicalized Lebanese Shiites can expect ongoing aid not only from Iran but from the newly liberated radical Shiites of Iraq, such as the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Yep, he did mention Iraq -
... the kind of large-scale injustice apparently being planned in Israel against tens or hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shiites may profoundly affect the situation in Iraq. Many Iraqi Shiites entertain a profound hatred for the American and other coalition troops in Iraq, feeling humiliated by what they view as an infidel military occupation. Many have refrained so far from attacking the foreigners, however, because they have seen them as allies against Saddam Hussein and other Sunni Arab leaders, who persecuted the Shiites. Anger has grown in the Shiite south of Iraq against coalition troops, however, as witnessed by persistent attacks on the British in Basra and elsewhere. If the Iraqi Shiites decide that Britain and the United States are enabling Israel to crush the Lebanese Shiites, they may begin attacking the coalition in revenge. On Friday, Shiites demonstrated in the thousands in Baghdad against Israel's predations in Lebanon. The US and Britain have already had difficulty dealing with a vigorous Sunni Arab guerrilla movement, and the opening of a second front, with enraged Iraqi Shiites, could doom their enterprise in Iraq.
And locally nothing good can come of it all either -
There are two most likely outcomes of the war. One is the collapse of the Lebanese government and the creation of another failed state on Israel's border, where desperation will breed terrorism for decades. The other is a strengthened Hezbollah, which will become the leading force in Lebanese nationalism, weakening the reformists. The maximalist option would likely turn Beirut into a poor Shiite city, reinforcing Shiite political power at the center. Destroying a few Katyusha emplacements in the south will not affect either outcome, and in both cases Hezbollah will probably be able to rebuild its arsenal.

The Israelis' current blank check will begin to be canceled by the world community, as the full scale of the destruction of Lebanon becomes apparent and humanitarian crises ensue. At some point it will be forced to cease its attack. Israel will not get the Lebanese government of which it dreams. It may get a UN or Lebanese buffer for a while, but it will not be effective, and the southern Lebanese clans are famed for nothing if not long memories and determined feuding.
But that wouldn't be World War III (or IV), just the same old same old.

Aluf Benn opened with a quote. Cole ends with one -
If, as Abba Eban once said, the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, it is equally true that the Israelis, with their reflexive instinct to shoot first and negotiate later, never miss an opportunity to make a bad situation worse.

The Israelis have responded the same way to military threats for decades -- with overwhelming force. This is perhaps understandable, but each time they overreact they create future catastrophes for themselves. Just as their 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of the south haunted them for a generation, they will be living with the blowback of their ill-considered war on hapless little Lebanon for decades to come. Tragically, the United States, as Israel's closest ally, will also have to suffer for its actions.
But it won't be World War III. At least that what the research shows so far.

So now you know the basics. It's more than enough. There will be a test.

On the other hand, the president says it's quite simple - "You see, the ... thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

Maybe he knows best. People make things so complicated.

We're in trouble.

Posted by Alan at 23:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006 06:41 PDT home

Wednesday, 24 May 2006
Wonk Stuff: Authority as an End in Itself Regardless of Outcome
Topic: For policy wonks...

Wonk Stuff: Authority as an End in Itself Regardless of Outcome

Glancing through what that NYU journalism professor and big-time author Eric Alterman has to say on Wednesday, May 24, on his MSNBC web log, that day you would see Alterman quoting Andrew Bacevich.

Who's he? Well, Bacevich was born in Normal, Illinois, so he is, by default, or by birth, a normal person. And Normal is a real American place, even if Mitsubishi Motors North America now has their big factory there. Bacevich attended West Point, fought in the Vietnam War, and then had a twenty-year military career that ended in 1992. Now he's a professor of history at Boston University. That's all in the normal range.

But do normal people say this about how the troika of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, the three key architects of current war (no, George Bush didn't think it up all by himself), felt about what happened on September 11, 2001, in New York and at the Pentagon? This is how he assumes they were thinking that day -
Yes, it was a disaster. Yes, it was terrible. But by God, this was a disaster that could be turned to enormous advantage. Here lay the chance to remove constraints on the exercise of American military power, enabling the Bush administration to shore up, expand, and perpetuate U.S. global hegemony. Toward that end, senior officials concocted this notion of a Global War on Terror, really a cover story for an effort to pacify and transform the broader Middle East, a gargantuan project which is doomed to fail. Committing the United States to that project presumed a radical redistribution of power within Washington. The hawks had to cut off at the knees institutions or people uncomfortable with the unconstrained exercise of American power. And who was that? Well, that was the CIA. That was the State Department, especially the State Department of Secretary Colin Powell. That was the Congress.
And so they did. Under Porter Goss the CIA was purged of anyone unwilling to provide only that intelligence that supported the administration's position. You supported the concept of how things were that the White House had, or you were gone. The new guy, Hayden, now inherits a neutered and compliant organization after Goss did the dirty work and really couldn't stay - his work was done at a high cost to morale, and "hatchet men" of course don't have the skill set to rebuild the organization into something more obedient. It's a narrow talent.

Of course Colin Powell was neutered in place, cut out of discussions and decisions, and Condoleezza Rice took his place at State, to bend the diplomats to the will of the policy makers. There had been many a tale of mid-level State Department people, asked for their analysis of how things were going in Iraq, sending back cables that things weren't going well and could be getting worse. They were forced out, or reassigned to Portugal or wherever. Under Rice there'd be no more of that.

Congress, with both houses firmly in control of the president's party, didn't need to be jerked around that much, but they got those background briefings on the small drone planes full of nasty chemicals and biological agents heading for Miami, and tightly edited versions of what the CIA had churned out, if they were thinking of balking at starting our first preemptive war. And the Democrats were not much of a problem - all you had to do was ask if they really wanted to be on the side of the terrorists who want to kill us all, or whether they thought Saddam Hussein was a good man. Raise questions and that's what the public would think, helped along by Fox News. It was a classic trap, and just about every major Democrat is still in it, or thinks they are. That's where the New York senator who would be the next president, Hillary Clinton, is now - supporting the war. What choice does she have? She can't say, now, that back then she was a just a silly woman who was manipulated by information she wasn't smart enough to see was rigged. No one votes for anyone who admits that. So congress was cut off at the knees, and rather easily.

The historian Andrew Bacevich is concerned with the "radical redistribution of power within Washington" in regard to what the war was really about - not terror around the world, not some sort of justice or revenge for what happened at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, not about bringing democracy and Wal-Mart to Baghdad, and not that much about securing oil reserves. It was about power, as he puts it, about securing US "global hegemony" - attaining the position in the world where no one can tell us what to do or what not to do, where no laws that apply to others apply to us, nor do any treaties. So in an odd way it all was about freedom, after all. The freedom to do what we want no matter what anyone thinks. That may be the real core of what the neoconservatives and their Project for the New American Century was about. All else - Iran, Iraq, Syria, this war, that war, and how we wage each and all - is just detail.

So the aim of it all - the nation's plan - became the unconstrained exercise of American power, not for anything in particular (the rubes would buy anything proposed), but for the power itself. Think of it as meta-policy, or if you will, policy about policy. Systems people deal all the time with meta-data, the high-level data describing the actual data. Same sort of thing.

And it led to people like Thomas Freidman of the New York Times arguing we had to go to war, just to show we would - maybe Iraq was the wrong target entirely but it didn't matter. Freidman argued we couldn't appear weak, or passive, in this awful world. With that sort of thing who needs Fox News?

The interesting thing is the domestic mirror of the foreign policy that is not really policy at all. Just as militarily and diplomatically it doesn't much matter just what we do so long as whatever we do establishes we can do whatever it is and no one can stop us, it doesn't seem to matter whether how the nation is governed domestically as the real effort is to establish that the administration can do what it wishes and no one can limit the administration. All else is just detail.

There's an interesting discussion of that here from Kevin Drum, with this at its core -
This is actually my Grand Unified Theory of Bush. Pundits keep trying to figure out just what it is that makes Bush so different from other presidents, but most of them start by trying to figure out what he values. For example, maybe he's far more dedicated to hardline conservative ideology than any other president? That seems reasonable at first glance, but even a cursory look at the evidence turns up way too many exceptions for this to account for his record.

Pure, ruthless political calculation? There's plenty of that, but it really doesn't explain things like No Child Left Behind, the Iraq war, or his immigration policy.

Pandering to the Christian right? Nah. In fact, Bush's most striking feature in this regard is his cynical willingness to promise the Christian right the moon and then deliver almost nothing. They're right to be pissed off at him.

Unbridled fealty to business interests? That's probably the closest to the truth, but what about Sarbanes-Oxley or McCain-Feingold?

... So what is it that makes Bush so different? Just this: until Bush they also all cared about serious policy analysis. This was obviously more striking in some (Clinton) than in others (Reagan), but they all paid attention to it and it informed their actions.

But not Bush. He's subject to the same stew of competing interests and factions as any other president, but what truly makes him unique is what's missing: a respect for policy analysis. After eight months of working in the Bush White House, John DiIulio reported that "the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking."

Paul O'Neill described Bush in cabinet meetings as "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." A senior White House official told Ron Suskind that the Bush White House is "just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. It's depressing." The meltdown at FEMA, the war with the CIA for being insufficiently hawkish, the lack of a serious plan for Social Security privatization, the staffing of postwar Iraq with inexperienced ideologues - all of these things have the same root cause: a belief that ideas are all that matter.
So the unconstrained exercise of executive power, not for anything in particular (the rubes would buy anything proposed), but for the power itself, is the idea that matters - establishing a domestic "radical redistribution of power within Washington" - a domestic homogony if you will. This would not be the unconstrained exercise of American power around the world, but the unconstrained exercise of executive plenary power. It really doesn't matter just what you do. What matters is fighting hard to establish the idea that you can do whatever it is you do and no one can stop you. It the local version of the global big idea.

Thus you have the warrantless spying on Americans business - saying yes, there is a law that forbids that, and yes it was broken on purpose, and yes, it continues to be broken, but the law doesn't really apply if you think of the constitution a certain way, and you're all wimps who can't do a thing about it anyway, so accept your role. You are just children who don't have the will, nor obviously the power, to do anything meaningful other than to agree with daddy. Just as we have pretty much said that to all the nations of the world, even our allies, that's the message to congress. The seven hundred fifty presidential signing statements explaining how what congress passed is fine, but in the real world of adults don't mean much, is part of the message. As for the courts? Just argue they really have no jurisdiction over executive decisions, or invoke the "state secrets" thing so they have to back off. No problem.

Of course things fall apart as actually governing is a bore and not seriously attempted. Nothing works out because no one planned? Details. Beside the point. FEMA a mess as the next hurricane season begins? Boring. Baghdad burning. Yeah, so? Think of the big picture.

For those of us who live in the real world, this is a bit frustrating. We pay taxes for this? We don't live in a theoretical world where it's important to establish a condition in which no one can question the country or the president. It's nice and all that, but some things still need attention - the economy, education, healthcare and health insurance, this immigration mess, energy costs, and all the rest. The White House and the neoconservative crowd may find all that just detail, but that's where most of us live. We like to call it reality. Yeah, it's boring.

But the administration's meta-policy actions can be just irritating. Yes, the president's poll numbers, the approval ratings, are about as low as those of Richard Nixon when he resigned, and his base is angry and Republicans running for office don't want him around on their campaign trails, and are opposing him on issue after issue in congress. But the president has to do the power thing and remind them he's the boss, the daddy, "the decider" - so on a Friday night (May 19) the administration puts on a little show of who's boss and has the FBI raid the office of a congressman. This is the first time in our history the executive branch has ever done that. It's a clear warning. This president is not like any other before. He doesn't give a hoot about this co-equal branches of government crap. Know the FBI is outside the door, and the FBI reports to the president. As does the IRS, and all sort of agencies that can make things bad for those who misbehave.

Of course the warning was tempered by the fact the congressman in question, William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, is a Democrat, accused of various payola schemes somehow involving Africa. And they have him on tape taking money as a bribe, and they found nine thousand of the marked bills in his freezer, so who's going to publicly protest a little raid on his office documents? You get the message and shut up. Such a thing has never been done before but times have changed.

Initially the story had been spun in the press as proof the Democrats were just as corrupt as the Republicans, and that got some traction until people started think about it. Abramoff ran a criminal enterprise that involved scores of major Republican politicians, the "Duke" Cunningham scandal sucked in the number three guy at the CIA and may involve Goss, the former director, Senator Frist, majority leader, may have done funny things with selling stock and insider information, and so on an so forth. Jefferson was a crook, but a freelancer, and not even slick - cash in the freezer in the kitchen offers no returns, nor does it accrue value. What was he thinking. Amateur.

But since the raid the unexpected has happened. The children don't seem to know their place, and, in fact, are saying they're not children. They're saying the executive branch just can't do this - legislative workspace is constitutionally off-limits to the Justice Department. Uppity kids.

Wednesday, May 24, the uproar was covered by the Washington Post here and Associated Press here -
In rare, election-year harmony, House Republican and Democratic leaders jointly demanded on Wednesday that the FBI return documents taken in a Capitol Hill raid that has quickly grown into a constitutional turf fight beyond party politics.

"The Justice Department must immediately return the papers it unconstitutionally seized," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

After that, they said, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana must cooperate with the Justice Department's bribery investigation against him.

The leaders also said the Justice Department should not look at the documents or give them to investigators in the Jefferson case.

The developments capped a day of escalating charges, demands and behind-the-scene talks between House leaders and the Justice Department that ended with no resolution, according to officials of both parties.

House officials were drafting a joint resolution frowning on the raid. And Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., announced a hearing next week titled, "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?"
The message backfired. It's akin to our "shock and awe" and liberation of Iraq more than three years ago - instead of being awed the locals were pissed, and they keep saying their liberation looks like our occupation to them. We say we made things better, and they see a civil war, little power, not much drinkable water and sewage in the streets. They're not buying the message.

In the Jefferson business here, Pelosi said Jefferson should resign from the Ways and Means committee. He refused and filed a motion asking the federal judge in the case to order the FBI to return the material it seized from his office.

But that's minor stuff now -
Hastert, Pelosi and several other leaders of both parties in the Senate say the weekend raid violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine.

"These constitutional principles were not designed by the Founding Fathers to place anyone above the law," Hastert and Pelosi said. "Rather, they were designed to protect the Congress and the American people from abuses of power, and those principles deserve to be vigorously defended."
It wasn't supposed to work out this way - "Hastert on Tuesday complained directly to Bush that the raid violated the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine."

And the doctrine? See Matthew Yglesias here -
I know this is an out of season remark and all good liberals should be both distancing themselves from corrupt Rep. William Jefferson and mocking the GOP leadership for suddenly taking issue with the problem of executive branch overreach under circumstances that appear designed to make it easier for congressmen to take bribes, but Dennis Hastert and the other congressional leaders are right on the merits here.

There's a reason why security for Congress (and the Supreme Court) is provided neither by the Secret Service, nor by the FBI, nor by the DC Police Department, but rather by a special Capitol Police Department (or Supreme Court PD for the SCOTUS). This is also why the Constitution stipulates that members "shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place." There's a real separation of powers principle at stake here; the executive branch is not supposed to be charged with policing the behavior of the members of other branches of government. I'll shed no tears for Jefferson, but this is not unlike if the Bush administration were to use an illegal secret wiretap to catch an actual terrorist.

Now, of course, the flipside of this dynamic is that the legislative branch is supposed to police its own members. The House can vote to expel people for misconduct. The House has an ethics committee precisely because it's supposed to police its members. When push comes to shove in separation of powers cases, the executive always has the preponderance of power on its side. The only way to maintain the privileges of the Congress is for public opinion to support Congress. That's simply not going to happen in this instance because Hastert and the rest of the leadership have made it eminently clear that they're not going to keep corruption in check if left to their own devices. Virtually nobody respects Congress as an institution, or the congressional leadership as individuals at this point, and nobody should. So you get what we had here last week; I don't like it any more than Hastert does, but it wouldn't have happened if he'd been doing his job.
It's complicated. Or it's about the right of the president to have his agencies keep congress in line.

And late in the day, this -
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is under investigation by the FBI, which is seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress, ABC News has learned from high level official sources.

Federal officials say the information implicating Hastert was developed from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.
Hastert shouldn't have complained to the president personally the day before? No, just a coincidence.

Okay, the issue is authority. Sometimes daddy has to assert his authority, even if he's wrong, just because authority is important. Everyone knows that. This may be "a radical redistribution of power within Washington" as the historian from Boston calls it, but it's all family dynamics.

There is that funny, minor movie, Matilda, directed by Danny DeVito, and the father's line in the film, disciplining his grade school daughter - "I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. And there's nothing you can do about it." He says that a lot. It doesn't work out so well for him.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, the very first line...

It's too bad there is so much the government should be doing. But we get this.

Posted by Alan at 23:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006 06:44 PDT home

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