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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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Friday, 22 September 2006
Because They Think We Are Weak
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Because They Think We Are Weak
It seems to be a given that the presidency of George Bush, the younger, has been, in all matters international, a grand experiment in testing the theories of those folks called the neoconservatives - that is, putting the precepts of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) into action.

You know the cast of characters. The chairman is William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular contributor to on Fox News. Others project members moved into administration slots - Elliott Abrams, pardoned for the Iran-Contra business, is now our National Security Council Representative for Middle Eastern Affairs; Richard Armitage was Deputy Secretary of State (2001-2005); John Bolton is now our UN ambassador after being Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs; Cheney is Vice President and one of the founders. And there was Francis "the end of history" Fukuyama, once on the President's Council on Bioethics Council but now fed up with the whole business. Another PNAC big gun was Zalmay Khalilzad - now our ambassador to Iraq and previously our ambassador to Afghanistan. Add to the PNAC list Scooter Libby and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and all the others - Jeb Bush, Steve Forbes, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Dan Quayle, and so on and so forth. It's quite a crew.

The group was established in 1997 with the aim, it seems, of establishing military and economic, space, cyberspace, and global domination by the United States, to establish - or maintain - American dominance in world affairs, claiming it is our moral duty to do so, as history shows that free-market capitalism and western-style democracy are the only systems that really work well in this world to make things just fine for everyone concerned. And besides, there's no one else who can fix the world - we're the only superpower left standing. The implication is that occurred because how we run things just works - nothing else does.

What was an interesting theory in 1997 got a chance for a test-run with the Supreme Court in 2000 declaring Bush, not Kerry, should be president. Cheney, one of the founding members, would guide the new incurious and shallow president in the details of implementation. And the attacks of September 2001 suddenly provided an opening to really put the theories into operation. So after a feint at Afghanistan we were off to remake the Middle East by changing the nature of Iraq, and to work on regime change anywhere we were opposed. We defined the Axis of Evil and declared our now "forward leaning" approach to world affairs - preventative war, disguised under the term preemptive war. The first is illegal under international law, the second allowed in extraordinary circumstances, like imminent attack. We talked about WMD and all that in Iraq, but decided, after that didn't pan out, to fudge the difference. They're just words. Who cares, and anyway, who's going to stop us?

Insofar as "9/11 changed everything" is concerned, it did. The folks who were considered jingoistic, messianic nutcases in 1997, and were tentatively fiddling with their new boy-toy president in 2000, in 2001 took control. The grand plan was underway. And they're still working on working out the details of implementation - the Iraq experiment didn't go as planned, and Iran and North Korea aren't cowering in fear and changing their ways. We're now told this will take some time, and maybe another war or two. On Friday, September 22, 2006, the number of troops we've lost in the current war exactly matched the number killed here on September 11, 2001 - adding a curious detail that might raise some eyebrows regarding the wisdom of the grand plan. Just what are we doing?

Those who object to this "forward leaning" approach to world affairs - do things our way or die - are told that the simply misunderstood how things work in this world. They are told, with condescending patience, that others oppose us, and in particular terrorists attack us, because they perceive that we are "weak." Vice President Cheney most often articulated this view, presenting it as an axiom, a given no one could dispute. It was a simple if-then argument - if those who don't think much of our policies or our freedoms or even our haircuts think we're weak they attack, and if they think we're strong, then they simply don't. Thus the key to everything, and especially to our safety, is never to appear weak in any way at all. Others have to see we are not hobbled by any rules or laws the bad guys thought we'd follow, not limited by our traditions of fairness and tolerance, and not constrained by pesky western moral scruples. A scruple is a moral or ethical consideration inhibiting action, or, alternatively, a jeweler's measure of weight - 6.479891 carats to be exact. The first meaning now doesn't matter much, and the second is esoteric trivia. Forget both. We must have a "muscular approach" to things and keep the bad guys off balance. They think they'll take advantage of us being nice. They've got another thing coming.

All of that is, of course, context for seeing how we're dealing with the two issues of the day. Those are, first, the upcoming war with Iran, where we bomb away all their capability to enrich uranium, a necessary step to producing nuclear weapons, and also the cover story for the September 25 issue of Time Magazine, and second, the compromise reached between the White House and some feisty senators that now allows the CIA to continue what the rest of the world sees as torture. Both are important statements to the bad guys - we're not the wimps you think we are, so back off.

Regarding the Iran business, Bill Montgomery here provides a lengthy analysis of the game of chicken underway, and who has which possible motivations, and what the next most likely moves are on each side. He sees Iran having the advantage now - time and the knowledge we have resource constraints - so he concludes this -
There is only one US move I can think of that could possibly offset Iran's natural advantages in this game of geopolitical chess - the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The objective of such a strike would not only be to destroy Iran's nuclear plants more completely, but to demonstrate to Tehran that the old rules don't apply, that America is prepared to commit even barbarous war crimes if that's what it takes to deter hostile powers from acquiring, or even trying to acquire, nuclear weapons.

It would, in other words, take the logic of preventative war - and Cheney's one percent doctrine - to their ultimate conclusion.

Perhaps saturation bombing - the indiscriminate destruction of Iran's civilian infrastructure and economic resources - could accomplish the same goal. It would, however, take longer, be messier (from the Pentagon's point of view) and wouldn't have the same psychological shock value as the deliberate first use of tactical nuclear weapons. A certain kind of mind (that is, one resembling a vacant lot) might even convince itself that a nuclear strike is actually the more humane option, or that it's what Harry Truman would have done, or some other piece of sophism.

The consequences, of course, would be appalling - for the Iranian people, for the world, for Americans who prefer not to be regarded as the direct, linear heirs of the Nazi Party. But if the overriding objective is to stop Iran from building a bomb - or rather, to make absolutely sure they can't or won't build one - and military force is held to be the only option left on the table, then a tactical nuclear strike, or even multiple strikes, may be the only way to do it.

Matt Yglesias has reported chatter in Washington that the Cheneyites might order such a strike and then deny it, relying on the chaotic aftermath and the residual traces of Iran's own nuclear materials to cover their traces. This sounds absurd to me - I'm reasonably sure it would be technically impossible to hide the tell tale signs of a nuclear detonation. But the fact that it's being talked about - even if just as a cocktail party rumor - is a bad sign. It means the idea is being normalized, injected into the debate, made thinkable. I can already imagine the boys at Fox News awarding Shrub brownie points because he doesn't deny ordering the first use of nuclear weapons.

It's getting very dark in here - the little bit of light left is primarily the result of me trying to convince myself the signs we saw in the run up to the Iraq invasion don't have the same significance this time around. Who knows? Maybe doing the same things and expecting different results isn't crazy after all.
Yes, the famous definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting, somehow, different results, or as Doctor Johnson once put it, the triumph of hope over experience. But maybe the "muscular approach" will work this time - we'll be made safe by our being unexpectedly brutal, and everyone will, if not admire us, at least never think of messing with us or opposing us.

In a parallel way, the administration, in response to the Supreme Court pointing out that the Geneva Conventions actually do apply to the terrorists we've captured - we ratified and are party to the treaty so it actually is the law for us - is invested heavily in going on record publicly that we will continue to treat prisoners in ways all other nations consider torture. We will not be hobbled by any scruples in this matter - we will define what we do as not really torture, but close enough that no one will ever consider us wimps and think we won't fight back. Much of this is for domestic consumption - a political move to paint any Democrats who object as unworthy of office - they won't go the extra mile to keep America safe. But it has its international component - we're not the "nice guy" losers the bad guys seem to assume we are. Nice guys finish last, or in this case, we're told they die as cowards.

Of course pulling this off is tricky. We cannot say "screw the rules" and have any allies at all. We have to say we are clarifying how we interpret the rules, out of necessity, and for practical purposes - but they're fine rules and everyone should follow them.

This leads to a curious headline in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, the New York Times' newspaper there. They run the Associated Press account of the compromise on torture policy under the headline President to Define Geneva Standards. And that's the "out" here.

The basic are clear. The compromise deal, if passed next week by Congress as planned, would end "a two-week stretch of headlines on Republican infighting." So that helps the Republicans. And it also would allow us to go back to full-on CIA interrogations, as nasty as before. And it would permit the administration to begin prosecuting terrorists linked to the 9/11 attacks in new tribunals.

But the devil is the details - the compromise plan explicitly states that the president can, on his own, "interpret the meaning and application" of the Geneva Convention standards. That's his call - no one else's. But it also enumerates acts that constitute a war crime - torture, rape, biological experiments, and cruel and inhuman treatment. They kept the list short. He needs leeway.

As for the military tribunals the Supreme Court shot down - no one authorized those - there is now authorization. During those trials "coerced testimony" would be admissible - if a judge allows and if it was obtained before cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment was forbidden by a 2005 law. So we become the first modern nation beside Stalinist Russia to allow that. The three "rebel" Republican senators - John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - had wanted to exclude it. They folded. They decided that didn't matter much. They were concerned with our obligations under the Geneva Conventions, and they got a gentlemen's agreement that the president would meet those obligations, as he alone defines those obligations. They trust him.

And there are other minor details -
The agreement contains concessions by both sides, although the White House yielded ground on two of the most contentious issues: It agreed to drop one provision that would have narrowly interpreted international standards of prisoner treatment and another allowing defendants to be convicted on evidence they never see.

One potential issue that lingers and could be a problem for House-Senate conferees on the final version of the bill is the question of how to protect classified information which might be brought into evidence in a military tribunal.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said he felt "very confident" that the issue could be ironed out in negotiations still to come.
We'll see how that works out. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined Democrats in insisting that all suspects have a right to challenge their detention in a US court. The agreement reached Thursday strips those at Guantánamo Bay of those habeas corpus rights. It's the tribunals or nothing. Most Democratic senators said they would carefully review the deal but AP says they appeared unlikely to oppose it.

So that's that.

If you're one of those conservatives who think the AP is left wing, hopeless bleeding-heart liberal and hates America, and hates George Bush, and wants the terrorist to win, you can read the actual compromise document here. Just know that, as with most legal documents, every comma matters, and it's not lively prose. Knock yourself out.

And don't pay attention to Vladimir Bukovsky, the fellow who spent nearly twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals - one of those pesky nonviolent human rights protesters who has written a few books on such matters. He's sixty-three now and has lived Cambridge, England, since the mid-seventies. He's not in the game, but he says this -
I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse.

This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources.

When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.

So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.
But we're not doing torture from here on out. It just looks like it. And it's supposed to. That the message.

And there's the "gentlemen's agreement" - but you can see that, as Andrew Sullivan does, this way -
The major step forward in this bill, however, seems to me to be the idea that the president specify in the Federal Register the torture methods he has actually approved. What I don't understand - and what even now good lawyers tell me they don't understand - is why these techniques aren't already published before the bill is passed; or whether they will be published ahead of a torture session or after it; or whether the president can simply withhold this information as he sees fit. Some lawyers say that the president will not be required to issue such regulations and facts; merely permitted to do so. If that's true, it's meaningless. My fear is that this is a ruse; my hope is that it is a window for transparency. It is critical that the president tell the American people and the world what techniques he is using and what standards are being applied in the name of the United States. Sources tell me that there is a gentleman's agreement that waterboarding is now off the table, that sleep deprivation will be restricted to 48 hours (as opposed to 48 days in one case), and that other barbaric practices like hypothermia will cease.

The trouble is: Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Addington are not gentlemen. If we have learned anything these past few years, it is that they are not to be trusted on the torture question, that they have lied repeatedly and knowingly and insistently, that their use of the English language is designed to obfuscate and obscure the reality they are advancing, and the constitutional freedoms they are bent on dismantling. In so far as this bill grants this president discretion in enforcing Geneva, it means that the standards of Geneva will not apply under this president - although they might under a more civilized and competent one.

I should add that it is essential to the integrity of language and law that the word torture not be defined out of existence. Waterboarding, hypothermia, long-time-standing, and various forms of stress positions are torture, have always been torture and always will be torture. What we must do is what Orwell demanded: speak plain English before it evaporates from our discourse, refuse to acquiesce to the corruption of language and decency. In that respect, the press must continue to ask both McCain and all administration representatives whether passing this bill means that waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, long-time-standing or stress positions are now illegal and unavailable to the CIA. They must not be allowed to get away with the answer that they will not mention specific techniques. The specifics are everything. And we must not be snowed by abuse of English into saying something is true when it isn't. Until they are completely forthcoming on these critical details, this bill should not be passed.
Sullivan is not a trusting sort. And the bill is a done deal.

And as for clarity, see Marty Lederman here -
More important is the bill's definition of "serious physical pain or suffering." One would think that, on any reasonable understanding of ordinary language, the "alternative" CIA techniques do, indeed, result in serious physical suffering, at the very least. Indeed, such serious suffering - and the prospect of ending such suffering by telling one's interrogators what they wish to hear - is the whole point of using such techniques in the first place. But remarkably - and not accidentally - the bill's definition would not cover all such actual "serious physical suffering."

The definition would require, for one thing, a "bodily injury" - something that would not necessarily result from use of the CIA techniques - even though one can of course be subject to great physical suffering without any "physical injury."

What's worse, such physical injury would also have to "involve" at least one of the following:
(1) a substantial risk of death;
(2) extreme physical pain;
(3) a burn or physical disfigurement of a serious nature, not to include cuts, abrasions, or bruises; or
(4) significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.
As you can see, this definition simply does not cover many categories of actual serious physical suffering, including, naturally, the physical suffering that ordinarily results from the CIA techniques that have been reported.

The result, unfortunately, is a very constrained conception of what constitutes "cruel treatment" - a much narrower conception than a fair or reasonable interpretation of Geneva Article 3(1)(a) would provide.

And therefore the bill would appear to exclude from the definition of "cruel treatment" many cases of actual cruel treatment prohibited by Common Article 3. And when that occurs, it is likely the Executive will construe the statute - and Common Article 3, as well - to permit some forms of cruel treatment that Geneva in fact proscribes, i.e., the "alternative" CIA techniques. Indeed, it's happened already: The ink was hardly dry on the draft when numerous Administration spokespersons were gleefully informing the press that the bill is a green light to the CIA to reinstitute the "alternative" techniques that Hamdan had effectively interdicted.

Byron York has gone so far as to relate that "both sides appear to believe that the agreement permits the CIA to continue to use sleep deprivation, cold rooms, and other such techniques," even though such techniques do, in fact, constitute a breach of our Geneva obligations.
As Sullivan notes, we "formally" leave Geneva alone, but grant the executive branch complete discretion in determining what "cruel" means; and the language of the bill certainly can be construed to allow waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and long-time standing. It even allows for a person to be beaten, cut, or near-drowned. What was the point of all this again?

The Washington Post is exasperated here -
The bad news is that Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation.

Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to US courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated US law against war crimes.
So is the New York Times here -
About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush's agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant.

... On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House's original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
Yep, they caved.

Of course the Democrats weren't even around, and Charles Pierce notes here -
The New York Times has the right of it here, limning the pathetic gullibility at the heart of the "compromise." There is nothing in this bill that President Thumbscrews can't ignore. There is nothing in this bill that reins in his feckless and dangerous reinterpretation of the powers of his office. There is nothing in this bill that requires him to take it - or its congressional authors - seriously. Two weeks ago, John Yoo set down in The New York Times the precise philosophical basis on which the administration will sign this bill and then ignore it. The president will decide what a "lesser breach" of the Geneva Conventions is? How can anyone over the age of five give this president that power? And wait until you see the atrocity that I guarantee you is coming down the tracks concerning the fact that the president committed at least 40 impeachable offenses with regard to illegal wiretapping.

And the Democratic Party was nowhere in this debate. It contributed nothing. On the question of whether or not the United States will reconfigure itself as a nation which tortures its purported enemies and then grants itself absolution through adjectives - "Aggressive interrogation techniques" - the Democratic Party had… no opinion. On the issue of allowing a demonstrably incompetent president as many of the de facto powers of a despot that you could wedge into a bill without having the Constitution spontaneously combust in the Archives, well, the Democratic Party was more pissed off at Hugo Chavez.

This was as tactically idiotic as it was morally blind. On the subject of what kind of a nation we are, and to what extent we will live up to the best of our ideals, the Democratic Party was as mute and neutral as a stone. Human rights no longer have a viable political constituency in the United States of America. Be enough of a coward, though, and cable news will fit you for a toga.
Yeah, well, the Democrats didn't even oppose other details - past violations of the Geneva would not result in criminal or civil legal action (the get out of jail free card), but the agreement prohibits detainees from using the Geneva Conventions to challenge their imprisonment or seek civil damages for mistreatment, as the administration wanted al along (no get out of jail card there). And this - "A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that Bush essentially got what he asked for in a different formulation that allows both sides to maintain that their concerns were addressed. 'We kind of take the scenic route, but we get there,' the official said."

And the political analysis from Digby at Hullabaloo here -
McCain, the Republican rebel maverick, showed that Republicans are moral and look out for their troops.

Bush, the Republican statesman and leader, showed that he is committed to protecting Americans but that he is willing to listen and compromise when people of good faith express reservations about tactics.

The Democrats showed they are ciphers who don't have the stones to even say a word when the most important moral issue confronting the government is being debated.

… I honestly think it would have been much, much better if they'd have forced their way into the debate and taken a firm stand -- if only to show they give a damn. This is a turn-out election and I have a feeling many a Democrat's stomach will turn as they see this triumph of GOP "leadership" in action. Why bother to vote when the Democrats don't bother to show up?

Political winners, assuming the detainee deal is drafted and goes to a floor vote in the House and Senate:

- Bush: In return for making some concessions, he gets clear guidance for CIA interrogators on what they can and can't do to detainees and he ends an intra-party impasse.

- McCain: Conservative commentators had attacked him for blocking Bush on the detainee tribunals but now he can resume his courtship of the GOP rank and file as he looks to the 2008 presidential nomination.

Probable losers: Civil libertarians who may still object to the tribunals and Democrats who have been laying low on the issue, apparently assuming that McCain-Bush impasse would prevent any deal. "They painted themselves into a corner," said GOP Senate aide Don Stewart. "They said, 'I'm with McCain,' and now McCain has reached an agreement."
So it was all good politics, and the bad guys know we don't mess around.

Still Richard Einhorn is unhappy -
So tell me, my fellow Americans:

How does it feel knowing that your government will pass laws permitting the violation of the Geneva Conventions against torture?

How does it feel knowing the taxes you pay from money you earned are going towards the salary of legally sanctioned torturers?

How does it feel knowing that the only political party with an organization large enough to stand in opposition to the American fascists in charge of this country's legislature and executive were actually boasting that they were not going to get involved in one of the most important moral debates of our time?

And how does it feel to have George W. Bush, that paragon of moral probity, mental stability, and well-informed intelligence, granted the legal right to determine what is and isn't torture?

I'll tell you how I feel. I am outraged and ashamed.

Shame, shame, shame on the cowards in both parties that permitted this disgracefully grotesque farce to happen. This is as inexcusable a stupidity as the neglect that permitted the 9/11 attacks, the idiotic reasoning and intellectual blindness that advocated and executed the Bush/Iraq war, and the failure to prepare for Katrina.

What the hell is going on, that a country that prides itself on its heritage of freedom and liberty, that fought such an awful war over the degrading enslavement of human beings - that such a country would vote to permit some of the most repulsive and evil practices human beings are capable of and place the power to do so directly in the hands of a moral midget?
What can you say? It seems 9/11 changed everything.

And anyway, it kept people from thinking about the war for a few weeks.

Maybe Robert Dreyfuss is correct here -
What's happening in Washington now is that the establishment political class - and that includes the military, moderate Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the jabbering pundits and op-ed writers, and the bulk of the think tank denizens - are coming to grips with the stark fact that the war in Iraq is over. And that the United States has lost. It's beginning to sink in, but it won't be confronted directly by the political class until after the November elections. After that, all hell is going to break loose. If the Democrats win back Congress, it will happen faster - but even if the Republicans hang on, the gusting winds on Iraq now buffeting the White House will gather strength to become a full-fledged, Category 5 hurricane.
And why are more and more people quoting Mark Twain from 1906 on the war in the Philippines where in his "Glances at History" - notes on a book he never got around to writing - where he wrote this -
I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object - robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician's trick - a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: "Our Country, right or wrong!" An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor - none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, "Our Country, right or wrong," and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?

For in a republic, who is "the Country?" Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant - merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is "the Country?"?Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn't.

The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: "Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor." Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people on their terms - independence - would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam's phrase - you should take it up and examine it again. He said, "An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war."

You have planted a seed, and it will grow.
It grew.

Posted by Alan at 22:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006 22:45 PDT home

Thursday, 21 September 2006
Topic: Perspective
When you go to New York you try to fit in, as in the old joke - a tourist goes up to a native New Yorker - "Excuse me, sir, could you please tell me where the Empire State Building is, or should I just go screw myself?"

Maybe New Yorkers are just direct. You read the tour books and decide how you will to deal with this legendary trait. In Paris you're formal and polite - you're quiet and you don't grin - and you soon figure out that courtesy and addressing people properly works wonders. In Los Angeles you do your best to be cool. The American South is harder for outsiders. But in New York "blunt" works.

That seems to be the advice someone gave Hugo Chavez, the man who leads Venezuela, before his recent visit. You can read all about it in the CNN account here, but the basics of his approach are now well known.

Wednesday, September 20, he addressed the UN General Assembly - Turtle Bay, midtown East, Manhattan. The problem was his audience wasn't the locals.

But he dove in with "the blunt" - noting that president Bush had addressed the General Assembly the day before - "The devil came here yesterday and it smells of sulfur still today." Chavez also accused Bush of having spoken "as if he owned the world." Add this - "As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: 'The Devil's Recipe.'"

Oh my. And Chavez also alleged during the UN speech that the United States is planning, financing and setting in motion a coup to overthrow him. He always says that. And we did try once, but it didn't work out. He won't let it go.

As he was exiting the UN building Chavez told reporters that Bush is not a legitimate president because he "stole the elections." And then the zinger - "He is, therefore, a dictator." (The CNN item has a links to video clips of all this if you're interested.)

This was direct, colorful, and very New York - except it shocked the diplomats and other observers "accustomed to the staid verbiage of international diplomacy." The UN compound is in New York, but not of New York. He needed to take it outside.

So he did. Thursday, September 21, he took a stroll trough Harlem. Other world leaders visit Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center once stood, or visit Wall Street, or drop by the major news studios, from Fox across the street from Radio City Music Hall and NBC at Rockefeller Center, up to CNN, now high over Columbus Circle. No, Chavez goes to Harlem - and said he was expanding his heating-oil program to help low-income Americans, as Bush's own government couldn't seem to get around to doing that. CITGO can - that's him - in September, 1986, Southland Oil sold a fifty percent interest in CITGO to Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the national oil company of Venezuela. PDVSA acquired the remaining half of CITGO in January, 1990. So that's that.

But then he dumped yet another load of "blunt" - calling the president "a sick man" who is unqualified for the job. It's that business of Bush being an alcoholic until he was forty, and failing at every business that was handed to him, before he was rendered relatively harmless as governor of Texas. There, except for the record number of executions, he couldn't do much harm. Chavez was on a roll. Chavez said he had no quarrel with the American people - "We are friends of yours, and you are our friends." He has a problem with George. He thinks we should too.

Why? "He walks like this cowboy John Wayne. He doesn't have the slightest idea of politics. He got where he is because he is the son of his father. He was an alcoholic, an ex-alcoholic. He's a sick man, full of complexes, but very dangerous now because he has a lot of power." And he's a "menace" and a "threat against life on the planet." Add to that it seems to Chavez that in America rich people are getting richer, and poor people are getting poorer - "That's not a democracy; that's a tyranny."

So he has a problem with George and thinks we should too.

Maybe so, but watching the news one could see this backfired. Charles Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York, a rather blunt man himself, said this - "You don't come into my country; you don't come into my congressional district and you don't condemn my president." Rangel said we can do that fine ourselves, thank you very much - "I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president: Don't come to the United States and think, because we have problems with our president, that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our chief of state." And his new rule - "If there's any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans, whether they voted for him or not."

One wonders whether the rest of the world will follow that rule. Rangel of course meant it for visiting leaders only. Tourists may be exempt. And back home in your own country you can say what you want.

And then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, from "the land of the gay and the left," San Francisco, said she too was miffed - "He is an everyday thug." And this - "Hugo Chavez abused the privilege that he had speaking at the United Nations - in doing so, in the manner which he characterized the president, he demeaned himself and demeaned Venezuela."

For Pelosi it was a matter of decorum. For Rangel it was a New York thing - you want a piece of him you've got to go through me, buddy.

And these were Democrats. Bush administration officials dismissed the whole thing. What's to say? State Department spokesman Gonzo Gallegos - "As a matter of policy, there are no restrictions on President Chavez or anyone else wanting to speak their mind in the United States." Yes, CNN reports the name as Gonzo. John Bolton, our acerbic ambassador to the UN - "We're not going to address that sort of comic-strip approach to international affairs." (Yeah, he's one to speak on that issue.)

In any event, Chavez got the "New York Rude" thing all wrong. Not that it matters very much. He caught a flight home after the Harlem stroll.

See also John Dickerson - He's Our Jerk - The New Standard for Foreign-Policy Bipartisanship. That popped up here in Hollywood as a private email - one makes odd acquaintances on the net and we've traded a few emails before - and later appeared in SLATE. Dickerson is the son of the pioneering newswoman Nancy Dickerson - his book about his mother is On Her Trail. He's the chief political correspondent for SLATE, the online magazine that's part of the Washington Post group, so he is attuned to the fallout of all this.

His points -
Republicans may wish they had waited a day to start the attack ads they've aimed at the foreign-policy credentials of Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.

… Since the Cold War, American politicians have roughly hewed to Sen. Arthur Vandenberg's principle that "politics should stop at the water's edge." As the parties have become more partisan and contentious in recent years, that rule has mostly been invoked by members of the president's party to criticize their opponents for slights both real and imaginary. Now Charlie Rangel has offered a Vandenberg corollary, one most often associated with the rules that define ethnic humor: Catholics can joke about Catholics. Jews can joke about Jews, etc. (Sen. George Allen, however, should still just stay silent). When it comes to criticizing the president on American soil, only US citizens can participate.

Defending the president may be the patriotic thing to do. But it's also good politics for Democrats as the president's party gears up for a campaign designed to drive home that giving the minority party control of Congress would be only a slight improvement over installing Chavez himself. Hillary Clinton last week railed against a film that features a staged assassination of President Bush in 2007. "I think it's despicable," she said. "I think it's absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick." Of course, the former first lady has plenty of personal reasons both past and possibly future to be outraged at films that depict the shooting of a president.

It's not just the Democrats who are bashing foreign leaders to improve their statesman credentials. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has an impressive résumé, but it's a little light on the foreign-policy front. So, when former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami spoke at Harvard University on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Romney denounced him and the school. "State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel," Romney said in a written statement, calling Khatami's visit a "disgrace."
But Dickerson predicts this "moment of showy bipartisan outrage" won't last. The idea is that ragging on Chavez for ragging on Bush implicitly establishes that Bush needs someone to defend him, even Democrats of all people. That's real weakness - because the observations all may be based on accurate observation. Hey, we KNOW we have a problem here - or something like that.

Consider, for example, this, from Alex at Martini Republic ("Lead, follow, or have a drink…") -
Face facts: Hugo Chavez is a buffoon. But what's with all the outrage over the buffoonish comments?

Liberals and true Conservatives (as apart from Bush cultists) should be truly outraged by the fact that the President, the "leader of the free world," has done so much to lower the respect, integrity and gravitas of that position in the eyes of the world.

The fact that Bush has denigrated his office does not excuse Chavez's buffoonery; but by the same token, the fact that Chavez is a clown and a small-town bully does not alter the fact that Bush's degradation of his office has so lowered the esteem with which that office is viewed and thus extended a sliver of credibility to an otherwise incredible Chavez.

Chavez's farcical performance at the United Nations doesn't make Bush any less of a failure as a President.
What's true is true, even if one particular messenger is a clown.

We know what we're dealing with, as Daniel Froomkin points out in his online column in the Post with this -
On the dominant issue of our time, the president is in denial.

By most reliable accounts, three and a half years into the U.S. occupation, Iraq is in chaos - if not in a state of civil war, then awfully close. But President Bush insists it's not so.

He says the people he talks to assure him that the press coverage about how bad things are in Iraq is not to be trusted.

You might think that the enormous gulf between Bush's perceptions and reality on such a life-and-death topic would be, well, newsworthy. But if members of the Washington press corps consider it news at all, apparently it's old news. They report Bush's assertions about Iraq without noting that his fundamental assessment of the situation is dramatically contradicted by the reporting from their own colleagues on the ground.

And in the rare circumstances when they directly confront the president with observations that conflict with his own, they let it drop too quickly.
And this is what Froomkin is talking about, Wolf Blitzer interviewing the president on CNN's situation room (transcript here and video here) -
BLITZER: I'll read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, 'If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war.' Is this what the American people bought into?

BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi. I'd rather quote the people on the ground who are very close to the situation, and who live it day by day, our ambassador [Zalmay Khalizad] or General [George] Casey [the top U.S. military official in Iraq]. I ask this question all the time, tell me what it's like there, and this notion that we're in civil war is just not true according to them. These are the people that live the issue.

… "The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so therefore, I reject the notion that this country is in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating. . . .

"That's how I learn it. I can't learn it - I can't - frankly, can't learn it from your newscasts. What I have got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.
And Blitzer lets the issue drop. Maybe that's a matter of decorum too. You don't tell the president he's wrong, even if he is.

Way back in July of 2003 that business came up in these pages here, regarding Bush saying this -
The fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful.
Of course we all watched that stuff from the UN, about how the Blix fellow and his team were in Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction and coming back to New York every few weeks to talk about what they had and had not found. Now it seems that never happened. No UN inspectors ever went to Iraq. They were never allowed in. So the press has been irresponsible. Why did CNN and the rest fabricate this whole thing? Our government went to war precisely because Blix never made those trips CNN and the rest was reporting. He wasn't ever allowed in. Damn.

There wee lots of links to folks saying this was madness and the press should have called him on it - it just wasn't so - but at the time, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, one of the people who got CNN up and running back in 1980, added this -
Was this a Bush "lie" or a Bush "goof"? An argument can be made for both sides. Technically, he's obviously wrong, UN inspectors did obviously go in and then leave shortly before the bombing started. On the other hand, he was probably thinking of that time before the UN resolution when Iraq actually was refusing to allow the inspectors in, at least unconditionally.

As for the question of what the media is to do about Bush's comments… Nothing much.

Although people think journalists are always there, ready to jump all over slips like this, that's pretty much a misconception. Think about it. Although you may think you do, you actually rarely see news media, on their own authority, running around pointing out the lies of public officials. What you actually see is news media running around reporting on some political opponents' claims about the other guy's lies. Try as it might, objective journalism has yet to find a way to independently expose what may or may not be "lies" and even just "goofs" without appearing, maybe with some justification, like they're just pimping for some special interest or political ideology.

But until they can figure out how to do that, the bottom line right now is this: You want to get on someone's case about Bush not being outted on this? Get on Howard Dean and John Kerry. If those two make a case out of this, you can bet your bottom buck that reporters will let the rest of us know about it.
So now, three years later, it's still not Blitzer's job. Maybe so.

And you could line up lots of things similarly.

Bush in 2003 with this -
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit.

Then of course, as Andrew Sullivan points out here, in the same speech Bush then demands his own prosecution, by an international tribunal if necessary - "I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture."

Then if you consider what the president says in another speech (see this), he calls himself a war criminal - "the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

But that's not on the news - that's from UCLA's Mark Kleiman here. The news folks will report it if some bigger fish make the case, or the official opposition. Until then, it's not important, or not "news." And Hugo Chavez doesn't count. Visiting thuggish clowns are not to be taken seriously.

There are rules - save when Anderson cooper lost it in New Orleans, got angry, and became a star. There is decorum.


Footnote on Decorum:

What's coming up on the CBS show "60 Minutes" this Sunday - September 25 - is an interesting study in decorum, as Associated Press reports here -

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan says the United States threatened to bomb his country back to the Stone Age after the 9-11 attacks if he did not help America's war on terror.

Musharraf says the threat was delivered by Richard Armitage, then the deputy secretary of state, to Musharraf's intelligence director, the Pakistani leader told CBS-TV's 60 Minutes.

"The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, 'Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'" Musharraf said in the interview to be shown Sunday on the CBS television network. It was insulting, Musharraf said. "I think it was a very rude remark," he told reporter Steve Kroft.

But, Musharraf said he reacted responsibly. "One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation and that is what I did," he said.
Armitage on "60 Minutes" will dispute the language attributed to him - but not deny the message was a strong one. AP tried Friday to reach him at his home and his office. No go.

But it gets better - Musharraf told the CBS folks that Armitage demanded that Musharraf turn over Pakistan's border posts and its military bases to the US military to use - and demanded the "ludicrous," that Musharraf suppress any domestic expression of support for terrorism against the United States. Musharraf - "If somebody is expressing views, we cannot curb the expression of views." Right. We do it here a bit, of course.

The State Department now declines to comment on this conversation between Armitage and the Pakistani official - "We are referring all questions to Mr. Armitage." His problem. Pakistan is our ally now, however it happened. The White House also declined to comment on the record on any of this.

No one plays nice anymore. Decorum is for Chavez - to learn.

Posted by Alan at 22:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006 07:02 PDT home

Wednesday, 20 September 2006
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
One tries to keep up on things, browsing who's saying what. It's just that listening to all the voices can spook you. What to make of it all? We're in for it.

As mentioned previously, there seems to be a war coming with Iran. It's not just Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker - William Arkin in the Washington Post reported that in his Early Warning column. The cover story of the week's Time Magazine tells us the plans are finalized and units are on notice. And the reporters who used to be Knight-Ridder - now McClatchy - here tell us there's the new the Iranian directorate at the Pentagon - getting the "real" information on the building of nuclear weapons there - bypassing the CIA and other agencies again, relying on Iranian exiles in America who want their old Iran back. That worked so well the first time with Iraq of course. And yes, Knight-Ridder alone was the news outfit that got the run-up to the Iraq war right - pointing to the holes in the information about the actual threat Iraq posed, and being skeptical, in a reasonable way.

And here we're told we are already on the ground in Iran, conducting operations there -

1.) "The evidence is overwhelming, from both the Iranians, Americans, and from Congressional sources."

2.) "The plan has gone to the White House. That's not normal planning. When the plan goes to the White House, that means we've gone to a different state."

3.) "I would say - and this may shock some - I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way."

That's from Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College and who famously found more than fifty instances of demonstrably false stories planted in the press in the run up to the war, back in 2003. The link is to a television appearance - he's one of CNN's military analysts. Maybe he's wrong.

But then his white paper is now available, a report for the Century Foundation - The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing U.S. Military Options in Iraq, September 2006 (in PDF format).

And it contains this gem -
When I discuss the possibility of an American military strike on Iran with my European friends, they invariably point out that an armed confrontation does not make sense - that it would be unlikely to yield any of the results that American policymakers do want, and that it would be highly likely to yield results that they do not.

I tell them they cannot understand US policy if they insist on passing options through that filter. The "making sense" filter was not applied over the past four years for Iraq, and it is unlikely to be applied in evaluating whether to attack Iran.
The italics were added to emphasize the obvious. This isn't supposed to make sense. Something else is going on.

In any event, Gardiner says the preparations for war "will not be a major CNN event." This will be subtle, sort of, as it "will involve the quiet deployment of Air Force tankers to staging bases" and "additional Navy assets moved to the region." He also adds that while nobody's talking about a land invasion of Iran - as there's no resources left for that - "significant elements in the government" do have much more ambitious goals than straightforward surgical strikes at Iranian nuclear facilities. You see, such strikes are very unlikely to actually resolve the perceived Iran issue, and there are administration figures who have convinced themselves that a sufficiently wide "air target set" will prompt regime change in Iran. We bomb them and the angry populace rises up and cheers us. Well, many have reported that's the current thinking.

Another voice - Matthew Yglesias here - "One should note that the curious thing about air power is that the professionals involved in managing it have a longstanding, cross-national, and incredibly pernicious habit of massively and systematically overstating its efficacy in accomplishing all sorts of implausible things."

Yep, ask the Israelis about that. But over at SLATE, Fred Kaplan here is wondering if the "prepare to deploy" order that's "been sent out to US Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships" means we're going to war with Iran.

But Yglesias then adds this -
At this point, I think I need to bring up what one might call the Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time. This story came to me last week from an anonymous individual who I would say is in a position to know about such things. According to this person, the DOD has (naturally) been doing some analysis on airstrikes against Iran. The upshot of the analysis was that conventional bombardment would degrade the Iranian nuclear program by about 50 percent. By contrast, if the arsenal included small nuclear weapons, we could get up to about 80 percent destroying. In response to this, persons inside the Office of the Vice President took the view that we could use the nukes - in other words, launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran - and then simply deny that we'd done so. Detectable radiation in the area of the bombed sites would be attributed to the fact that they were, after all, nuclear facilities we'd just hit.

Now I rather doubt that's going to happen. Typically, Bush dials down the crazy factor a notch or two relative to what comes out of the OVP [Office of the Vice president]. Nevertheless, it's a sobering reminder that we have genuine lunatics operating in the highest councils of government at the moment. It's an extremely dangerous situation.
The italics there come from Yglesias. He wants things to make sense, so he doesn't think we'll launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran. The first voice, Colonel Sam, argues the other way.

Another voice, from the SALON review of Frank Rich's new book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, there's this -
It is now widely accepted that the Iraq war is one of the greatest foreign policy blunders, if not the greatest, in US history. Some have gone further: The respected Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld argues that it is "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them." Not a few regard Iraq as spelling the beginning of the end of American dominance in the world.

The review goes on to discuss what seems to be Rich's thesis - the Iraq war was waged to get Republicans elected again and again. That's the "sense" that the Europeans who talked with Colonel Sam seem to have overlooked.

Another voice?

On Tuesday, September 19, reporters asked General John Abizaid, the top US military commander for the whole Middle East, whether the United States is currently winning the war in Iraq. The Washington Post dutifully reported his answer - "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

That's not very reassuring and not particularly realistic. It makes little sense. But it is an answer, and an honest one.

And here's another voice, from August 25, retired General John Batiste, the former commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq - "Donald Rumsfeld is still at the helm of the Department of Defense, which is absolutely outrageous. He served up our great military a huge bowl of chicken feces, and ever since then, our military and our country have been trying to turn this bowl into chicken salad. And it’s not working."

You can see the video of that here. (There are words you can't say on national television.)

And from the New York Times item of September 20, on how our government is really unhappy with the current premier of Iraq - he's not doing much of anything but visiting Iran and getting chummy with them - we get this - "To bolster Iraqis' confidence, American generals are spending money on quick reconstruction projects like trash pickup as the military goes through troubled neighborhoods of Baghdad."

Compare and contrast - Condoleezza Rice in a Times interview from October 21, 2000 with this - "We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten."

But that was Kosovo, of course.

Those two contrasting gems were brought up by Bill Montgomery, at his site Whiskey Bar, where he is either the editor and sole writer, or proprietor - or the barkeep, if you will. And his voice comes next with this -

From crossing guards to trash collectors seems like a demotion to me - especially when the trash includes things like dead dog carcasses with IEDs stuffed inside them. But, hey, be all you can be.

We'll never know if this kind of stuff - nation building as an exercise in court-ordered community service - has made any difference in Iraq, or could have made a difference if more of it had been done more competently. I tend to doubt it, but then in the failure-was-inevitable vs. we-coulda-been-contenders debate, I tend to come down firmly in the inevitability camp.

The question is empirically indeterminate, since we don't have another Iraq to use as a control -- one where the post-conflict reconstruction process goes flawlessly, the U.S. Army is a model of counterinsurgency tact and wisdom and the entire process is guided by the kind of people who gave us the Marshall Plan and the long telegram [see this - AMP], instead of the cast members of a Three Stooges short feature.

However, at least some evidence for the inevitability argument can be found in record of the non-fantasy Iraq occupation.

In his book Fiasco, Tom Ricks lavishes praise on Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the 101st Airborne division, which was originally given the job of occupying the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. According to Ricks, Petraeus and his officers did everything the counterinsurgency textbooks told them to do. They established unity of command, worked with local leaders, avoided excessive use of firepower, tried not to antagonize or humiliate the locals, were selective in their arrests and interrogations and spread a lot of money around in small, local projects.

Whether it was because of these tactics or for some other reason, nobody contests that Mosul was relatively calm through the early months of the occupation - even after the 101st rotated out. But when the replacement force had to be drawn down to send reinforcements to Fallujah in October 2004, public order in Mosul promptly collapsed, with the police deserting in droves and insurgents taking over whole neighborhoods in the Arab quarter of the city. So much for hearts and minds.

Likewise, we heard a lot in the first two years of the war about the vastly superior counterinsurgency training and tactics of the British Army, and how this was the key to their success in keeping southern Iraq happy and docile. We don't hear nearly so much of that talk these days.

You can certainly argue that Petraeus's effort in Mosul and the British Army's work in the south were both undermined (stabbed in the back, so to speak) by the general incompetence of the CPA, the Cheney Administration, the military bureaucracy in Baghdad, etc. etc. Or, conversely, you can claim the successes were never as successful as they were cracked up to be - that what Petraeus and the Brits really were better at was media relations, not counterinsurgency.

Like I said, it's a counterfactual argument, one that historians no doubt will still be having long after you and me and Gen. Petraeus are all in our graves. But if you think Iraq was doable - that the Cheneyites snatched defeat from the jaws of victory instead of just making a miserable situation even worse - then you need to explain why virtually every other recent nation-building exercise has been as complete or almost as complete a failure : from Somalia to Afghanistan, Sierra Leone to Columbia.

… Under the circumstances, nation building in the Middle East might best be compared to sand castle building - on the beach in the face of a rising tide. We'd probably all be better off if our imperial strategists could come up with a strategy for managing the transition to a more decentralized, fragmented and at times chaotic world, instead of trying to turn back the clock to an earlier day. But, of course, if they were comfortable doing that they probably wouldn't be imperial strategists.

Oh well. It certainly doesn't hurt that the Army is picking up the trash in Baghdad, and it may even help, a little. But if I were them I wouldn't expect to get any tips - non-explosive ones, I mean.
But then, if Frank Rich is right (and not just rich), the whole idea is really to win elections here - by appearing tough and strong.

Eric Boehlert notes how that is going -here -
Here then, is some much-needed historical perspective to put Bush's standing in context:
  • According to Gallup, on the eve of President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, he was suffering the worst job-approval ratings of his presidency - 58 percent.
  • In 1968, when the war in Vietnam was claiming hundreds of US casualties each week, President Lyndon Johnson was considered so unpopular that he didn't even run for re-election. Johnson's average Gallup approval rating for that year was 43 percent.
  • When Reagan's second term was rocked by the Iran-Contra scandal, his ratings plummeted, all the way down to 43 percent.
Oh well. You do what you can.

And something that came up before, in these pages - Monday, August 21, The Hedgehog Is Back - a discussion of Jim Baker's little group with this -
A Bipartisan commission quietly started work last spring with a mandate to help the Bush administration rethink its policy toward the war.

… [W]hat makes this particular commission hard to dismiss is that it is led by perhaps the one man who might be able to break through the tight phalanx of senior officials who advise the president and filter his information. That person is the former secretary of state, Republican insider, and consigliere of the Bush family, James A. Baker III.
Who knew? And the Washington Monthly item ends with this -
"The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible," another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president "like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, 'Look, my friend, it's time to change.'"
That's most curious. Everyone knows it's time to do something.

Wednesday, September 20, the New York Sun reports this Iraq Study Group has met with its subgroups - the working committees - and we get this -
According to participants in that meeting, the two chairmen received a blunt assessment this week of viable options for America in Iraq that boiled down to two choices.

One plan would have America begin its exit from Iraq through a phased withdrawal similar to that proposed this spring by Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat of Pennsylvania and former Marine. Another would have America make a last push to internationalize the military occupation of Iraq and open a high-level dialogue with Syria and Iran to persuade them to end their state-sanctioned policy of aiding terrorists who are sabotaging the elected government in Baghdad.

... The Iraq Study Group is likely to be as influential as the 9/11 commission, which Mr. Hamilton cochaired with a former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Keane. While the Iraq panel is not charged with assigning blame on past policy failures, as the 9/11 commission was, it does have the ability to give new legitimacy to a withdrawal strategy and force the administration's hand on policy.
And that leads to another voice, Kevin Drum, with this -
So: Bush should either plan to withdraw from Iraq or else open up talks with Syria and Iran. It's hard to know which of those two options he'd loathe the most, and even with Baker delivering the bad news it's hard to see Bush agreeing to either course. By the time the Iraq Study Group delivers its recommendations officially, though, he might not have much of a choice.
Maybe so. Or maybe than why a war with Iran is necessary. It would provide cover for either unpalatable alternative.

How'd we get here? The final voice is Digby at Hullabaloo, from right out here in Santa Monica, with this -
Virtually none of the foreign policy establishment were concerned that invading Iraq was a bad strategy in light of the threat of terrorism. It was obvious that we would inflame the Islamic radicals and create more of them - an American occupying army in the Mideast at a time of rising extremism and anti-American fervor was about as provocative an act as could have been imagined. This argument was glossed over as some sort of appeasement when, in fact, it was extremely salient. Why on earth would you go out of your way to aid the recruitment of your enemy unless it was absolutely necessary? The administration may need to play to its base with useless strongman preening but there was no excuse for liberal hawks not to care about this argument.

But the greatest strategic error was dismissing the possibility that by occupying Iraq it would empower Iran in the process. This was undoubtedly seen as pessimism or immoral realpolitik by the neocons and liberal hawks, but it was a very serious consideration that we are now seeing played out before our very eyes. It's quite clear that the most successful beneficiary of our Iraq policy has been Iraq's longtime rival, Iran. Had Iraq really presented the existential threat the administration claimed, it might have made sense. But nobody but the most deluded of neocons believed that Saddam was planning to launch drone planes filled with nukes and chemical weapons at the US. There should have been more attention paid to the ramifications of empowering Iran before we invaded Iraq by people who should know better. (The great irony is that the administration is now recycling the same fear mongering to use against Iran - instead of "gassed his own people" it's "denies the holocaust." SOS)

So, in the months before we went into Iraq the situation was this:
  • The Bush Doctrine was morphing before our eyes into a permission slip for unilateral aggression based on nothing more than guesswork about a possible future threat, degrading our moral authority before the war even started.
  • Many of our allies were balking which meant that we would potentially lose valuable cooperation on terrorism and would have a much harder time coalition building in the future.
  • Saddam had been successfully contained for more than a decade and could have stayed contained for some time, even if the hyped up threat assessment had turned out to be correct.
  • The evidence for terrorist ties between Iraq and al Qaeda was virtually non-existent and there was no reason to believe that they would ever have the same goals. Conversely, invading Iraq was likely to empower Islamic extremism in Iraq and elsewhere.
  • We rushed into it as if it were an emergency when Saddam had done nothing for years. This meant that planning (which never happened anyway) would have had to be done on a crisis basis, increasing the chance of mistakes and missteps.
  • We were committing our military to a non-urgent long term operation at a time when we needed them to be flexible for the emerging threats of the new era of Islamic extremism.
  • We knew that upending the structure of the middle east before we had a chance to fully assess the situation could result in empowering the actors we wanted to marginalize, both state and non-state.
For all those reasons one could see not just that it was an impossible task or that the Bush administration would mess it up, but that it was simply a bad idea when the circumstances after 9/11 dictated that we be smart about national security. 9/11 didn't change everything but you'd think the threat of terrorism and asymmetrical warfare would have changed the neocon and liberal hawk's longtime assumptions about the efficacy of traditional military power. If there was ever a time for realism - in the pure sense of the word - it was then. Instead, we had the right lashing out incoherently at their ancient demons and the liberal hawks naively believing that it was a good idea to express our goodness and greatness through a military action that was quite obviously unnecessary at that moment and for which the risk far outweighed the benefit.

We all know that the result was even worse that we feared. We couldn't know they did no planning at all for the occupation. It didn't occur to us that they would literally bring in twenty-something college Republicans to run the reconstruction. I couldn't imagine they would botch it so thoroughly on every level that we have now exposed ourselves as something of a paper tiger when it comes to such unilateral actions. It's weakened us considerably. (And it's also brought us to a very frightening point...) The abandonment of moral authority with aggressive war and torture, the lost opportunities in Afghanistan, the empowering of Iran are all fall-out from this terrible decision and while we couldn't necessarily know exactly what would happen, there was NO DOUBT that the outcome was unpredictable. Great powers can't afford to run dangerous military experiments with unpredictable results unless it's absolutely necessary. Blowback tends to be rather extreme.

The administration dazzled the nation with a big show and the media was chomping at the bit to have a "real" war that they could cover. But when you stripped away all the hysterical rhetoric it was clear then that even if the Bush administration had been capable of preventing Iraq from descending into chaos and achieving all its goals, liberal hawks should have known that rushing into war in the spring of 2003 was a bad idea anyway.
And now we're at it again.

And a quick summary from another voice, Stanley Kurtz, at "The Corner" - the daily commentary section of the now hyper-neoconservative and Bush worshiping National Review, with this -
On the one hand, we are faced with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, nuclear blackmail and terrorist chaos at the heart of the world's Persian Gulf oil supply, and terrorist-planted nuclear weapons in America's cities. On the other hand, we can choose an economically disruptive war with Iran that will alienate us from the world, push us to and beyond our military limits, and that even then may not even succeed. The by now stock phrase, "there are no good options" doesn't quite do justice to the awful choice we face.
Even there?

In any event, those are the voices out there. Make of them what you will.

Posted by Alan at 21:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006 07:23 PDT home

Tuesday, 19 September 2006
The Thai Solution
Topic: Dissent
The Thai Solution
No one much here follows politics in Thailand, but Tuesday, September 19, there was this -
Thai military leaders are looking to consolidate their hold on power after staging a coup while the prime minister was at the UN General Assembly.

Martial law has been declared, and the coup leaders have announced that regional commanders will take charge of areas outside the capital, Bangkok.

They have ordered provincial governors and heads of government agencies to report to them in the coming hours.

The country's stock market, banks and schools will be closed on Wednesday.

BBC World, CNN and other international TV news channels have been taken off the air, while Thai stations have broadcast footage of the royal family and patriotic songs.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cancelled a speech he was due to give at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday evening.
You had to dig for perspective, like this on Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecommunications mogul who became prime minister of Thailand in 2001.  It seems Thaksin responded to the terrorist threat there by passing an emergency powers law, dismantling local councils in the Muslim south, and dispatching thousands of soldiers to the south, officially turning southern Thailand into a war zone. This won him reelection in 2005, but then -
As the situation in the south worsened, Thaksin chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. "Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years," one Thai expert told me.

... For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin's spell. This summer, the prime minister's popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Thai journalists have probed procurement scandals in Thaksin's government, and they united to help defeat an effort by one of the prime minister's allies to buy into the most respected Thai-language newspaper, Matichon. Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin's style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister's own party members have begun to speak out against him.

Gee, that sound awfully familiar, and they even had their own Patriot Act, sort of.

And "he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years." Just what President Bush was saying in 2004, of course, with that business about how he'd had his "accountability moment" - the election - and things were settled. Then came the plunging approval ratings and the revolt of key members of the legislature controlled by his own party. The trip to New York was clearly a bad idea.

Okay, first there was Hungary - riots in the street as the lies caught up with the man in power, then this coup in Thailand. The parallels in leadership are ridiculously obvious, and the reactions so unlike anything that would happen here - a popular uprising in the streets in one place and a coup in the other. We don't work that way, or even like the Brits who forced Blair to announce he's leaving. We just keep on keeping on.

You do get things like this, Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, wondering what's happing here, but not channeling Stephen Stills -

I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue - the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a "high-value" terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.

It's past time to stop mincing words. The Decider, or maybe we should now call him the Inquisitor, sticks to anodyne euphemisms. He speaks of "alternative" questioning techniques, and his umbrella term for the whole shop of horrors is "the program." Of course, he won't fully detail the methods that were used in the secret CIA prisons - and who knows where else? - but various sources have said they have included not just the infamous "waterboarding," which the administration apparently will reluctantly forswear, but also sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, bombardment with ear-splitting noise and other assaults that cause not just mental duress but physical agony. That is torture, and to call it anything else is a lie.

It is not possible for our elected representatives to hold any sort of honorable "debate" over torture. Bush says he is waging a "struggle for civilization," but civilized nations do not debate slavery or genocide, and they don't debate torture, either. This spectacle insults and dishonors every American.
Yep, this is more serious than what Stills was singing about - the rather tame riot on Sunset Strip, back in 1966, a block down the street actually. This is a little more serious.

And it's not just a Post Columnist. How about the associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, Bruce Fein, with this -
The most frightening claim made by Bush with congressional acquiescence is reminiscent of the lettres de cachet of pre-revolutionary France. (Such letters, with which the king could order the arrest and imprisonment of subjects without trial, helped trigger the storming of the Bastille.) In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Bush maintained that he could pluck any American citizen out of his home or off of the sidewalk and detain him indefinitely on the president's finding that he was an illegal combatant. No court could second-guess the president. Bush soon employed such monarchial power to detain a few citizens and to frighten would-be dissenters, and Republicans in Congress either cheered or fiddled like Nero while the Constitution burned. The Supreme Court ultimately entered the breach and repudiated the president in 2004's Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Republicans similarly yawned as President Bush ordained military tribunals to try accused war criminals based on secret evidence and unreliable hearsay in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court again was forced to countervail the congressional dereliction by holding the tribunals illegal in 2006's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Something is up, and the conservatives are just catching up - that lettres de cachet business was discussed in these pages in early February here. It's an obvious parallel. Welcome to the club, Bruce.

So McCain and the others stand up on this issue - no Hungarian riots or Thai coup here - but it hurts. The Washington Post reports here that McCain's opposition to torture could really hurt his chances for the Republican presidential nomination - it's a matter of loyalty, something about alienating the Republican base McCain has been cultivating. But it's that, and more than that -
In a reprise of criticism showered on McCain during his 2000 campaign, some prominent conservatives are branding him a disloyal Republican and an unreliable conservative because of his assertiveness on the detainee issue.

… The senator's actions "are blocking our ability to gain from terrorist captives the vital information we need," said a front-page editorial Saturday in the Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., the largest newspaper in the state with the first presidential primary.

Conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh said Friday that opposition to Bush's approach "is going to go down as the event that will result in us getting hit again, and if we do, and if McCain, et al., prevail, I can tell you where fingers are going to be pointed."
To be clear then, it is a moral imperative of some sort to torture bad guys - even if the information elected is totally bogus and cannot be verified, and it turn the world against us, and puts our troops in real danger if they are captured. Okay then.

And if you want to keep your seat in congress, it's good politics -
I do think that the fast-evolving base of the GOP is likely to be roused by the promise of torturing terror suspects, and that running on Guantanamo Bay may make sense if you want to rile up these people - and, boy, do they need riling.

I understand Rove has postponed using 9/11 families against the Geneva Convention - he'll wait till later in the campaign to do that, if it becomes necessary. But make no mistake: Rove isn't going to duck the torture issue. He's going to brandish it. McCain, Graham, Warner: these men represent the old Republican Party, not the new pro-torture, Christianist, Jacksonian base. Rove would love to isolate the old, decent guards from the Southern base and find a candidate to continue the Bush legacy. And this may be his opportunity.
But that's Andrew Sullivan. What else would you expect from a gay conservative Republican of the old school?

And there's the religious competent here. Janet Hook and Richard Simon offer this, in the September 19 Los Angeles Times, concerning the political price John McCain may be paying for his stance on torture and coercive interrogation -
"This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, one of several conservative activists who support Bush's proposal on interrogation techniques.
It would seem then the unrestricted right for the CIA to abuse prisoners is now a traditional value, and endorsed by the evangelicals. They really did like Mel Gibson's Christian snuff film The Passion of the Christ - it got them all excited, what with Jesus spending all of one Friday afternoon in a stress position, almost exactly of the sort we now use, and dying from it, just as more than a few of our prisoners have. That it did some good is obvious - Jesus died for our sins and all (it is called Good Friday, after all) - but why are we the Romans here? It's very confusing.

One "DK" at Talking Points Memo puts it this way -
The torture debate in Congress - I never expected to write such words- - is as surreal to me as watching the collapse of the Twin Towers. If the Democrats are able to take control of at least one chamber in November, then surely the President's pro-torture bill will be viewed in hindsight as the nadir of the Bush presidency. If not, how much lower can things go?

I am beyond being able to assess the political implications, one way or the other, of this spectacle. Regardless of which version of the bill finally passes, this debate is a black mark on the soul of the nation. Of course passage of a pro-torture bill will diminish US standing internationally and jeopardize the safety and well-being of U.S. servicemen in future engagements. But merely having this debate has already accomplished that. Does anyone honestly believe that if Congress rebuffs the President in every respect that the rule of law and the inviolability of human rights will have been vindicated? Of course not.

… Only the weak, scared, and evil torture. Those who order and sanction torture, but leave the dirty work to others, are an order of magnitude more culpable morally. (A special place is reserved for the lawyers who give legal cover for such orders.) In their fear and their weakness and their smallness, the President and those around him stepped over the line. To do so in the heated days after 9/11 is understandable to a point, though not justifiable. Yet they persisted, first in saying that they did not step over the line and now in seeking to redraw the line. So which is it?

They are descending from the morally reprehensible to the morally cowardly.
But then the gamble is that this is a winner, politically. They're willing to do anything to protect us, no matter how stupid or reprehensible, or illegal. Would any Democrat have the guts to do that? So there you have it.

Of course one should note here the Republicans who are jumping ship and lining up with the Democrats on this issue - Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, Mike DeWine, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, Lincoln Chafee, and Chuck Hagel. Very odd. Rush Limbaugh and Reverend Sheldon are going to be very unhappy.

Can the folks at the conservative Boston Herald (not the Globe) be right when they print this -
At one level this battle between the White House and a rebellious handful of Senate Republicans is a war of words - a fight over legalese, interpretations, meanings. At another level this is about core American values, about the rule of law and maintaining this nation's reputation for taking the moral high ground. And this time George W. Bush has picked the wrong fight at the wrong time with the wrong people.
Oh my. But William "Bill" Kristol, the public voice of the neoconservative movement, at The Weekly Standard urges Republicans to campaign on torturing military detainees here. What does he care if Archbishop Desmond Tutu says this -
You taught us no government worth its salt can subvert the rule of law. We believed you. That's part of what you have as a gift for the world. Then how can you commit Guantanamo Bay? Take back your country.
What, like the folks in Hungary or Thailand?

And besides, the president said he'd shut down the CIA program if he doesn't get his way, to which a retired diplomat says this -
I try hard to respect the Office of the President of the United States, but it is truly a miserable wretch of a man who would threaten to disband the CIA interrogation program if he doesn't get his wish to eviscerate a good deal of Article 3 compliance thereto, as the President threatened at a press conference last week. This hullabaloo about "outrages against personal dignity" versus "shocking the conscience" is a tempest in a teapot. Outrages against personal dignity are like pornography, which is to say, you know it when you see it (sometimes, indeed, they fuse somewhat, like Rumsfeld's Pentagon authorized tactic at Guantanamo of having female guards rub their breasts in the face of a male detainee, before smearing fake menstrual blood on him, in a particularly noxious use of our military personnel).

Article 3 compliant interrogations have stood us in good stead for decades, and there is absolutely no convincing reason for a carve-out allowing the CIA to avoid compliance with its provisions. We know that Army Field Manual compliant interrogations are more than effective, and we know further that torture often leads to false confessions and unreliable information. So if Congress has the will to face the President down (which they must), the CIA interrogation program should be allowed to continue, but with the interrogations pursued in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention. This is, after all, how the uniformed services are again now (after belated remedial action) satisfactorily interrogating detainees. Bush, like a petulant adolescent who risks not having his way, is threatening to shut down the entire CIA program if his gutting of portions of Article 3 doesn't prevail through Congress. Then, the cowardly pro-torture crowd, should god forbid a terror attack subsequently occur, will blame those noted anti-American appeasers and defeatists like John Warner, Colin Powell, Jack Vessey, Lindsay Graham and John McCain for allowing the carnage.

One would think even this President would not be so reckless as to shut down an important interrogation program merely because he'd have to comply with Article 3, which would be more than effective regardless. Or so one would at least hope. But he will likely disingenuously argue he cannot abide risking CIA interrogators facing criminal liability because of vague and confusing standards, as if "shocking the conscience" is crystal-clear black-letter law, and "outrages against personal dignity" constitute some amorphous, hyper-confusing morass of conflicting standards. For decades these standards have been more than clear, so this rationale must be seen for what it is, utter and complete claptrap. Appropriate legal safeguards for interrogators can be drafted into the law, but the bedrock principle here must be total fidelity to Article 3 norms, not so we here can preen as detainee rights purists, but rather so as to preserve America's moral leadership on an issue so critical to the ideological component of the war on terror, so as to prevent other governments from rushing to a race to the bottom on detainee and interrogation treatment standards, and not least, to better be able to protect our own POWs, from a position of moral strength, when they are, as they inevitably will be, captured by foreign forces.

Of course, very little if anything surprises me anymore with this White House.
And Tim Grieve here notes how Byzantine all this has become -
Memo to Tony Snow: The next time you're inclined to say that Colin Powell is "confused" about issues related to the "war on terror," perhaps you should retract the thought before it comes tumbling out of your mouth.

The White House is apparently offering a new proposal on military tribunals and detainees now, its plan to rewrite the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 dead on arrival in the face of opposition from Senate Democrats and at least five Senate Republicans - all of whom were provided political cover when Powell wrote a letter saying the president's previous proposal put U.S. troops at risk. Snow last week attributed Powell's opposition to confusion on the part of the president's former secretary of state. He tried to retract the charge, but the president piled on anyway, dismissing Powell's missive by saying that he'd seen "all kinds of letters" about his plan and suggesting that Powell had somehow equated the United States with terrorists.

Powell's response? In an interview with the Washington Post, Powell says that the way in which the Bush administration has waged its war on terror is causing the world to question America's bona fides. "If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," Powell tells the Post, "whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."

Case in point No. 1: A government commission in Canada Monday released a report in which it found "no evidence" that Maher Amar - subjected to rendition by the United States and then torture by Syrian officials-- had committed any crime or posed any threat to Canadian security.

Case in point No. 2: Bush's plan itself. As experts on both sides of the issue tell the New York Times, the president's plan to "clarify" the Geneva Conventions' prohibition against "humiliating and degrading treatment" was driven by a desire for latitude, not specificity. Among the techniques on the table, experts say: "sleep deprivation, playing ear-splittingly loud music and waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning."

For Powell, it's a goose-and-gander issue. "Suppose North Korea or somebody else wants to redefine or 'clarify'" the Geneva Convention protections that U.S. soldiers now enjoy. "To say that we want to modify, clarify or redefine Common Article 3, which has not been modified for the 57 years of its history, I think adds to the doubt" about whether the U.S. really has the high moral ground in the war on terror, he says.
But Powell is now considered a fool. Before, he was a useful idiot.

But this Maher Amar? He's back in the news?

His case was first discussed in these pages here, on December 21, 2003, for goodness sakes.

Two years, eight months, and twenty-nine days later the New York Times reports this -
OTTAWA, Sept. 18 - A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities about their plans for Mr. Arar before transporting him to Syria.

"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada," Justice Dennis R. O'Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference.

The report's findings could reverberate heavily through the leadership of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which handled the initial intelligence on Mr. Arar that led security officials in both Canada and the United States to assume he was a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist.

The report's criticisms and recommendations are aimed primarily at Canada's own government and activities, rather than the United States government, which refused to cooperate in the inquiry.

But its conclusions about a case that had emerged as one of the most infamous examples of rendition - the transfer of terrorism suspects to other nations for interrogation - draw new attention to the Bush administration's handling of detainees. And it comes as the White House and Congress are contesting legislation that would set standards for the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

"The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar's case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion," Justice O'Connor wrote in a three-volume report, not all of which was made public. "They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar's case in a less than forthcoming manner."

… The Syrian-born Mr. Arar was seized on Sept. 26, 2002, after he landed at Kennedy Airport in New York on his way home from a holiday in Tunisia. On Oct. 8, he was flown to Jordan in an American government plane and taken overland to Syria, where he says he was held for 10 months in a tiny cell and beaten repeatedly with a metal cable. He was freed in October 2003, after Syrian officials concluded that he had no connection to terrorism and returned him to Canada.
We refused to cooperate in the inquiry? Yep. State secrets. And we said he couldn't sue us for damages. State secrets.

The Washington Post adds more - in Syria, Arar "was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan - where he never has been - and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for ten months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found."

We have to torture the bad guys to get the vital information that would save lives. But what we get is… what they think we want to hear. Pain and fear of death does that. He screamed out that, yes, he HAD trained in Afghanistan with the bad guys. So, don't we get to sue the guy we tortured if we find out what he said is just something he made up to get us to stop the torture? What are our options in that case? Torture him more, or file a complaint with some court or other? Can we bring an action against him for being innocent AND lying about it when we beat the crap out of him? Surely the Attorney General is working on that.

Is that far-fetched? See Glenn Greenwald here -
For the last four years, the United States has been (and still is) a country which kidnaps other countries' innocent citizens (including those of its own allies); brings them to Jordan, Syria and Egypt to be tortured (sometimes for as long as a year); lies to its allies about what it is doing with their citizens; and then, when the innocent citizens are finally released and they go to an American court to try to obtain compensation from the US government for their disappearance and torture, the Bush administration tells the federal judge that the case must be summarily dismissed because national security would be harmed if the administration were held accountable in a court (and the courts then comply).

Do any other counties in the world kidnap civilians who are citizens of other countries and torture them?

… So on top of operating secret torture gulags in Eastern Europe, we also kidnap people, charge them with no crime, given them no opportunity to defend themselves, send them off to be tortured for months, and then when it turns out that they are completely innocent, we block them from obtaining compensation in our courts because our Government claims that national security would be jeopardized if they were held accountable for their behavior.

How can you be an American citizen and not be completely outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted by this conduct? What the Bush administration is doing on so many levels is a grotesque betrayal of every national value and principle we have claimed to embraced and fought for. Can it even be debated at this point that the Bush administration has so plainly, as Billmon described it the other day, "forfeit(ed) forever its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit?"

Who would ever take seriously the notion that a Government that engages in this behavior can lecture anyone on human rights abuses or import democratic values around the world?
But the same day the president addressed the UN and did just that. As one commentator summed it up - "The sad fact is that, even among Middle Eastern countries governed by aspiring or actual democrats, the United States is less and less a moral model. Our beacon has dimmed not because of who we are but because of what we've done. And President Bush made clear today that he's not going to do anything differently."

Nor are we. This is neither Thailand nor Hungary.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006 07:48 PDT home

Monday, 18 September 2006
The Hungarian Option
Topic: Couldn't be so...
The Hungarian Option
From China this -
BUDAPEST, September 18 (Xinhua) - Hundreds of Hungarian protesters gathered in front of the parliament on Kossuth square on Monday morning, demanding that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and his government resign for having "lied" to voters.

The protest started on Sunday evening after the leak of a tape about a Socialist party meeting in May, in which Gyurcsany said his government had lied to the public about the state of the country's economy.

Protesters said they would hand in a petition to parliament, demanding the resignation of Gyurcsany and his government.
From Australia (the Herald Sun) - Anti-Government Riots Turn Violent.

Something is up, as from the UK (The Guardian) there's this -
The prime minister of Hungary has confirmed the legitimacy of a leaked tape recording in which he says his government lied to win April's election and "lied in the morning; lied in the evening" during office.

The recording comes from a speech Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany gave to a closed party meeting shortly after his Socialist-Liberal coalition took office for a second term.

In the leaked speech, parts of which have been played on Hungarian state radio, he argued that major economic reforms were needed. "There is not much choice. There is not, because we screwed up," he said. "Not a little: a lot. No European country has done something as bone-headed as we have," he continued.
Could it happen here?

That depends on how you feel about the war. Some things were just not so. But maybe they were honest mistakes. Not lies - just honest mistakes.

But there's an array of things to consider, as the conservative former congressman Joe Scarborough notes in the Sunday, September 17, Washington Post with this -
I can't help but feel sorry for my old Republican friends in Congress who are fighting for their political lives. After all, it must be tough explaining to voters at their local Baptist church's Keep Congress Conservative Day that it was their party that took a $155 billion surplus and turned it into a record-setting $400 billion deficit.

How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power despite botching a war, doubling the national debt, keeping company with Jack Abramoff, fumbling the response to Hurricane Katrina, expanding the government at record rates, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, isolating America and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their House majority leader?

How does a God-fearing Reagan Republican explain all that away?

Well, you tell them we're not Hungarians here, not at all. And there's no secret tape of Bush, Cheney and Rove - sipping diet soda or whatever they drink there, given the president's problem with alcohol and the vice president's problem with shooting friends in the face after a scotch - calling up Rumsfeld and chatting about this bone-headed thing or that, and how they lied there way out of each to electoral success. We get that Downing Street memo and all sorts of other secondary sources, but not a "we really screwed up" tape recording broadcast on whatever passes for State Radio here - Fox News with television and Reverend Moon's Washington Times with print.

And these guys say they have no doubts. Everything they did was the right thing to do, and done exceedingly competently. Is this denial, or delusion, or something like madness - or was there a parallel discussion to the one in Hungary, but never recorded? In private, do such "we really screwed up" conversations take place? That would make what we're told just bluster - public relations blarney (if you're Irish) or keeping the resolve of the nation firm (if you're into manipulation of the masses for the good of the masses). Who knows what they think?

One indication comes from John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and the author of War by Other Means.

First mentioned in the pages here (December 2005), Yoo is the legal theorist who says everyone has long misunderstood this country's constitution - the president can anything he wants and what everyone thinks is controlling law just isn't. The president doesn't have to obey laws passed by congress or abide by decision of the Supreme Court. The executive is a co-equal branch. He's just as powerful as they are, and it's time he asserted that. And now is the time because we face a threat we've never faced before.

Yoo is at it again, in the New York Times with this -

A reinvigorated presidency enrages President Bush's critics, who seem to believe that the Constitution created a system of judicial or congressional supremacy. Perhaps this is to be expected of the generation of legislators that views the presidency through the lens of Vietnam and Watergate. But the founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action, just as executive overreaching is to be checked by the courts and Congress.

The changes of the 1970's occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon's use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents.
The emphases were added - and you can imagine how people reacted.

Josh Marshall here -
It's hard to know who to root for or who to expect will come out on top in the long-running and fast-galloping race between John Yoo's moral bankruptcy and his historical illiteracy, but as long as the topic has foisted itself upon us again, I would like to address this question of War on Terror-inspired Cold War revisionism.

As you've probably seen, Yoo has now taken to arguing that the restraints on presidential power enshrined in the 1970s came about largely because the US faced no serious national security threats during that era. (George McGovern must be kicking himself, right?) And it occurs to me, considering this, that even at the relatively young age of 37, I and those my age are probably the last people who have any meaningful living memory of what the Cold War was like. Or in other words, what it was like living in a world where the primary geopolitical antagonism was between the United States and the Soviet Union and a full escalation of that conflict would result, for all practical purposes, in the end of the world.

So, perhaps folks in their twenties and early thirties have some excuse for this dingbat historical amnesia, but what's the excuse of anyone over 40?

Terrorism is scary. More so if you live in a major city like New York. But life's hard. And compared to nuclear holocaust it's really pretty much a walk in the park, isn't it?
Duncan Black adds this -
I'm a bit younger than Josh, but I'm just old enough to remember. It was real. The sense that it could all go horribly bad suddenly and the world could be destroyed was pervasive. Even aside from the nukes the Soviet Union had a very real conventional military. The possibility of a massive conventional war against a well-armed adversary was also very real. What do you think all those troops are doing in Germany?

The Right truly has thrown its lot in with dishonest idiots. I guess it's all they have left.
But Richard Einhorn suggests they both miss the point of the Yoo item, with this -
If facts mattered, and they haven't for a very long time, this would be among the very stupidest things printed in a major newspaper in the last five years. And that is saying a lot, believe you me.

… I remember the '70's very well thank you very much, and while the USSR was a threat, and so was the Middle East - I well remember the gas lines - the most serious threat of all to the security of the United States was the imperial presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Many of us who do recall how dangerous he was, including Krugman himself, now agree that Nixon was a piker compared to Bush.

But there's something more important here than proving Yoo wrong, which any high school kid with access to a stack of history books, or the Internets could do in five minutes.

Yoo knows he's lying here and he doesn't give a damn what you or I think. Why? Because he knows the New York Times has anointed him worthy of space on their editorial page and all that matters is that they print what he writes. It's the same con as "Intelligent Design" creationism: you gain mainstream cred merely by being included in the debate. And Yoo's little stunt is all of a piece with the far-right contempt for normal American citizens, not to mention reality. The kind of mentality that would assert there were no serious national security threats during the '70's is the same mentality that plants a male hooker among the White House press corps to fluff the press secretary (and at least once, Bush) when the questions get too tough.

The extent of sheer contempt for the people of America these people show never fails to take my breath away. They truly hate Americans, and American values. And these monarchy-loving assholes, these total losers who are literally smirking at the presumed ignorance of the people they dare to lead - these are populists?

And what did Paul Krugman say?

He said this -

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration - more fundamental than any particular policy - has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president's power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it's a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of US policy, they're asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

… Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.
And Yoo told him everyone was wrong about the constitution - he could do whatever he wants. That pushed the right button. Things have changed.

We'll let this slide. We are not Hungarians. We don't take to the streets. Think about what happened in 1956 in Budapest - we were asked to help and we didn't. Taking to the streets won't do.

But sometimes things can make you a bit grumpy, like this featured on the fornt page of the Washington Post , Sunday, September 17 - an item adapted from the new book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

It's what we've all heard about the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the only government Iraq had after we took out Saddam Hussein, but it's just all gathered in one place, with this key passage -
… many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

By the time Bremer departed, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and reconstituted by the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.

To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.

O'Beirne, a former Army officer who is married to prominent conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne, did not respond to requests for comment. He and his staff were exempted from most employment regulations because they used an obscure provision in federal law to hire most CPA personnel as temporary political appointees.
The next day in the Los Angeles Times Jonathan Chait says here conduct of the occupation "was almost criminally negligent." He's being kind.

The opening of the Chandrasekaran item says it all -
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans - restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What they needed to be was a member of the Republican Party.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance - but had applied for a White House job - was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people.

The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated - and ultimately hobbled - by administration ideologues.
One of the best comments out there on this is from Digby at Hullabaloo with this -
The Republicans are telling us that they should be re-elected because the Democrats aren't serious about national security and only they can be trusted to keep the terrorists from killing us in our beds.

But the way the administration went about creating the CPA illustrates everything you need to know about the childlike sciolism [look it up] of these so-called grown-ups. They insisted on invading a well-contained country of 25 million people, ripped its society to shreds, and then put a bunch of low level cronies and inexperienced school kids in charge of creating a Club for Growth wet dream in the desert. And they spent billions and billions of dollars failing to do anything but lay the groundwork for civil war. I don't know if it's possible to screw up on a grander scale than that.

Here's the question for the American people.

Let's, for the sake of argument, say that you don't like Democrats. You have the vague feeling in the pit of your stomach that they just don't have the cojones to do "what needs to be done." You can't get over the feeling that they aren't serious enough.

But if you are a thoughtful person of any political persuasion who is concerned about national security or the economy, you simply cannot read that story above and have even the slightest faith that such people can be trusted to continue to run the government with no oversight.

The question is not whether the Democrats have a better plan to correct these grievous errors or whether they are hard enough to deal with hard issues. The question is how anyone could think Democrats could possibly be worse than an administration that ordered the US government to eschew all expertise and give billions of taxpayer dollars to inexperienced Republican functionaries to rebuild a foreign country from the ground up? Considering the stakes in all this, I don't see how anyone can think it's a good idea to let these people continue unchecked. They screw up everything they touch and they never, ever, learn from their mistakes.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone who isn't a purely faith-based voter can read this story in the Washington Post and come away believing that the Republicans are capable of running any government, much less the government of the most powerful country in the world. They are like children playing Risk and Monopoly.

If anyone thinks that political considerations will keep people like this from making more huge, irrevocable, catastrophic strategic blunders are kidding themselves. They are capable of anything. That's not hyperbole. Read the article and then bookmark it. We're going to need it to send to journalists and members of the press over the next few weeks to remind them about GOP "seriousness."
Well, Digby may be angry, but American are a forgiving people. And the almost eight billion dollars in our tax money the CPA could never account for? They were just kids and they meant well. We are not Hungarians, after all.

Note that Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has an interesting question -
Chandrasekaran's article is an excerpt from his new book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an account of the "stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone" that's hitting bookshelves this week. It follows in the footsteps of Blind Into Baghadad, Fiasco, Cobra II, The Assassins' Gate, and a seemingly unending parade of other books about the still (to me) mind-boggling brew of incompetence and messianic ideology the Bush administration brought to the project it supposedly considered the main front on the war on terror.

So I'll once again ask a question that I asked of George Packer last year: is there anyone outside of the administration itself who's written a book-length defense of the occupation of Iraq? David Frum, say, or Charles Krauthammer or Ralph Peters?

Maybe that's too much to ask. How about merely a book suggesting that all the other critiques are too harsh, and things aren't quite as disastrous as they seem. Anyone?
Nope, nothing there. When you know you're right, and your base knows you're right, you don't write books. What's the point? There's not a thing to defend, after all.

Keith Olbermann of course is the closest thing we have to someone fomenting a Hungarian-style uprising against what's going on. For a clear pushback, you can watch what he says on MSNBC on Monday, September 18, here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime). It's eight minutes on last week's press conference in the Rose Garden, previously covered in these pages here. If you don't want to stream the video, or can't, and see him directly say to the president that the president owe us all and an apology, here's the transcript (without the visuals a clips) -
Finally tonight, a Special Comment about the Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

The President of the United States owes this country an apology. It will not be offered, of course. He does not realize I'ts necessity.

There are now none around him who would tell him - or could. The last of them, it appears, was the very man whose letter provoked the President into the conduct, for which the apology is essential. An apology is this President's only hope of regaining the slightest measure of confidence, of what has been, for nearly two years, a clear majority of his people.

Not "confidence" in his policies nor in his designs, nor even in something as narrowly focused as which vision of torture shall prevail - his, or that of the man who has sent him into apoplexy, Colin Powell. In a larger sense, the President needs to regain our confidence, that he has some basic understanding of what this country represents - of what it must maintain if we are to defeat not only terrorists, but if we are also to defeat what is ever more increasingly apparent, as an attempt to redefine the way we live here, and what we mean, when we say the word "freedom."

Because it is evident now that, if not its architect, this President intends to be the contractor, for this narrowing of the definition of freedom. The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics. The former Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but - within - it contained one particularly chilling phrase. Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy? BUSH: If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic. It's just - I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

Of course it's acceptable to think that there's "any kind of comparison." And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary. Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or in Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists. Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.

What all of us will agree on is that we have the right - we have the duty - to think about the comparison. And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think - and say - what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right. All of us agree about that. Except, it seems, this President.

With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right. That Colin Powell cannot be right. And then there was that one, most awful phrase. In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

"It's unacceptable to think…" he said.

It is never unacceptable to think. And when a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path - one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.

That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think. Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth. It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he, alone, has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights. This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President.

If Mr. Powell's letter - cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive - can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague?

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government."

Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Bush. They were the words of Thomas Jefferson. He put them in the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Bush, what would you say to something that antithetical to the status quo just now? Would you call it "unacceptable" for Jefferson to think such things, or to write them?

Between your confidence in your infallibility, sir, and your demonizing of dissent, and now these rages better suited to a thwarted three-year old, you have left the unnerving sense of a White House coming unglued - a chilling suspicion that perhaps we have not seen the peak of the anger, that we can no longer forecast what next will be said to, or about, anyone… who disagrees. Or what will next be done to them.

On this newscast last Friday night, Constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the "detainees" transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured. Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions might not be about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them. That, certainly, could explain Mr. Bush's fury.

That, at this point, is speculative. But at least it provides an alternative possibility as to why the President's words were at such variance from the entire history of this country. For, there needs to be some other explanation, Mr. Bush, than that you truly believe we should live in a United States of America in which a thought is unacceptable.

There needs to be a delegation of responsible leaders - Republicans or otherwise - who can sit you down as Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott once sat Richard Nixon down - and explain the reality of the situation you have created.

There needs to be an apology from the President of the United States.

And more than one.

But, Mr. Bush, the others - for warnings unheeded five years ago, for war unjustified four years ago, for battle unprepared three years ago - they are not weighted with the urgency and necessity of this one. We must know that, to you, thought with which you disagree - and even voice with which you disagree - and even action with which you disagree - are still sacrosanct to you.

The philosopher Voltaire once insisted to another author, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Since the nation's birth, Mr. Bush, we have misquoted and even embellished that statement, but we have served ourselves well, by subscribing to its essence.

Oddly, there are other words of Voltaire's that are more pertinent still, just now. "Think for yourselves," he wrote, "and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think - and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.

Anything else, Mr. Bush, is truly unacceptable.
Ah, but Keith Olbermann is on the third-string cable new network, and has less than a twentieth of the audience that Bill O'Reilly has. And O'Reilly, on air at the same time, is very pro-torture. When O'Reilly has an expert guest on who points out just torture doesn't work - you never get good information and you make life-long enemies of those you haven't yet captured or tortured - he's given up arguing and just looks disappointed and depressed. And O'Reilly just isn't going to quote anyone from The Enlightenment, like Voltaire. He knows his audience.

Olbermann can do his ever more effective Edward R. Murrow thing. His audience is small. It won't make any difference. We aren't Hungarians.

And we'll accept the next war, the one with Iran. Now it's not just Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker - William Arkin in the Post is reporting it's on (here). According to the latest Time Magazine the plans are finalized and units are on notice. And the reporters who used to be Knight-Ridder - now McClatchy - here tell us there's the new the Iranian directorate at the Pentagon - getting the real information on the building of nuclear weapons there - bypassing the CIA and other agencies again, relying on Iranian exiles in America who want their old Iran back. That worked so well the first time with Iraq of course. And here we're told we are already on the ground there, conducting operations -

1.) "The evidence is overwhelming, from both the Iranians, Americans, and from Congressional sources."

2.) "The plan has gone to the White House. That's not normal planning. When the plan goes to the White House, that means we've gone to a different state."

3.) "I would say - and this may shock some - I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way."

That's from Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College and who famously found more than fifty instances of demonstrably false stories planted in the press in the run up to the war, back in 2003. Maybe he's wrong.

See Fred Kaplan here -
Are we about to attack Iran? That's the impression conveyed by Time magazine's latest cover story. A "prepare to deploy" order has been sent out to US Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships. The chief of naval operations, the nation's top admiral, has ordered a fresh look at contingency plans for blockading Iran's oil ports.

Michael Duffy, who wrote the story, tempers his scoop with prudent caveats. The order called on the crews to be ready to deploy by Oct. 1, not to go ahead and actually deploy. And, as he notes, "The US military routinely makes plans for scores of scenarios, the vast majority of which will never be put into practice." As one Pentagon official tells him, "Planners always plan."

And yet, Duffy writes, the two orders, coupled with the mounting tension over Iran's nuclear program, "would seem to suggest that a much discussed - but until now largely theoretical - prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran."

… I have no idea who Duffy's sources are, but there are at least two possibilities: The Bush administration really is gearing up for war, and some dissenting officers want to sound the alarm and rouse opposition. Or the administration wants to make the Iranians think an attack is brewing in order to pressure them into a diplomatic solution.

… There is a danger to playing this game. Once you switch on a plan to mobilize for war, it's hard to switch it off - or, at the very least, it's easy to let it keep flowing.

This leads to a third possibility: that the Bush administration is trying to pressure the Iranians and really preparing to attack. The two are not mutually exclusive, especially since various factions within the administration are split on the issue. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems genuinely to be doing what secretaries of state tend to do - seek a diplomatic solution. Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be doing what he tends to do - heighten the confrontation.

Faced with internecine conflicts of this sort, President Bush has a striking tendency to avoid making a decision and to let the factions fight it out. It's possible, in other words, that the administration is playing both approaches - mobilizing as a tool of diplomatic pressure and mobilizing as an act of impending warfare - not as a coordinated strategy but as parallel actions, each of which will follow its inexorable course.

Once the weapons are in place, the airstrikes wouldn't follow automatically; the president would have to give the order. But if the attack is ready to go, and if the Iranians are still thumbing their noses, would this president call it off and start over? It's best not to face the situation to begin with. An attack, however tempting, would be a huge mistake, for several reasons.

The Iranians learned their lesson from Israel's 1983 lightning strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor. They've dispersed their nuclear facilities and buried some of them deep underground. According to the Time story, Pentagon officials have identified 1,500 "aim points" - that is, 1,500 distinct targets - in Iran's nuclear complex. Hitting them all, or even most of them, would require hundreds, if not thousands, of sorties. Mistakes would be made; casualties would be unavoidable, perhaps considerable.

More than that, the Iranian people - who, by all accounts, hate their government and like much about the United States - would regard the attack as an act of terror, a violation of sovereignty, a far more destructive replay of the nightmare of 1953, when the CIA helped overthrow the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the shah. Even if the attack somehow unseated the present regime, the new one might be no less anti-American, no less intent on acquiring nuclear weapons - an ambition that the attack would set back by only a few years in any case.

And, of course, there are the possible side effects: the confirmation, in the eyes of the Muslim world, that the United States is hell-bent on a crusade; the consequent surge in Islamist terrorism and subduing of Muslim moderates; and the further alienation of U.S. allies throughout the Western world.

… There are all sorts of logic, including the logic that leads to war. Bush and Ahmadinejad, who share a boastful confidence in their sense of destiny, seem on a collision course in the logic of highway chicken - the game where two drivers speed their cars toward each other, head-on, late at night. The winner is the one who doesn't veer off the road. If both drivers get nervous and veer off, it's a tie. If they both keep driving straight on, pedal to the metal, certain of victory, opposed on moral principle to backing down, the outcome is mutual catastrophe. And in this case, we're all sitting in those cars.
Maybe it's time to get out of the car and get all Hungarian. Who need any revealing tape recording? Paprika Power!

Posted by Alan at 22:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006 23:07 PDT home

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