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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 27 September 2006
Watching the Barometer
Topic: Election Notes
Watching the Barometer
A note on the political weather - when the barometer starts dropping fast there's a storm coming. There's an area of extreme low pressure out there somewhere, sucking everything in and swirling into trouble. Get the dog and two cats in the house, shove the lawn furniture in the garage and go room to room and shut the windows. You're not going anywhere.

It was something like that the week everyone was talking about the National Intelligence Estimate from April, a finding that the Iraq war is making things worse and that caused a great deal of tap-dancing at the White House. They've been saying the opposite and sitting on the report since April - all sixteen intelligence agencies agree they're wrong. And then Wednesday, September 27, the House passed the compromise bill on detainees in this effort and sent it along to the Senate for those folks to vote on in two more days, before everyone goes home to campaign for the November elections. That stirred things up.

The question is whether the president should be given the legal authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions and define, on his own at any given time, what is and is not torture, no matter what anyone else thinks or what any previously enacted law or agreed to international law stipulates, and be given the right to declare anyone anywhere, even a US citizen, an "enemy combatant" who can be locked up forever without charges and with no right to argue a mistake has been made, on the president's decision alone. And should any decision on such matters back to 1997 be exempt from legal review - no matter what has been done no charges can be filed in any venue? That's part of it. That was the year of the War Crimes act that made any breech of the Geneva Conventions a felony.

It's an interesting bill. Part of it is, of course, a challenge to patriotism. Do you trust the president? Has he, in your mind, ever made a bad decision? And even if you think he has, are you willing to say to the world, in these perilous times, that the man has messed up on the job, thereby emboldening our enemies as they'll then think we're in disarray. Give him the power. Part of it too is a test of whether you're serious about keeping America safe. Are you so rule-bound and living in the abstract that you're not willing do say that torture is actually a very good thing that will save lives? And then, do you think those who the president on his own decides are terrorists deserve to be treated like everyone else, and allowed to defend themselves and argue a mistake has been made? Yeah, yeah, the guy who used to be his Secretary of Education did say the National Teachers Association, the union, was a terrorist organization, and all unions really were nothing more than terrorist organizations, but he's gone now. The president would be more careful and thoughtful. And there are real bad guys in this case. Do they deserve fair treatment? That's part of it. And part of it is, of course, a bit of geopolitical strategy. Shouldn't we say to the world, and particularly to the bad guys, that if anyone thinks they can get the best of us by assuming we'll play be the rules we've always claimed are so very important, they're in for a nasty surprise? Shouldn't we showing them we're willing to do anything we feel we must, no matter what they thought our country stood for, and they're in trouble if they assume otherwise?

All of it, all the parts, is positioning for the storm - shoving the lawn furniture in the garage and going room to room and shutting the windows. The storm is the upcoming elections, where the president's party could lose the House and Senate and we get a Republican Katrina, with the bloated bodies of the Republican dead floating in the toxic water and rotting in the streets, metaphorically speaking of course. It's timeto take a stand, and make the other side look foolish.

The problem really is, of course, what now to do in Iraq. The polls show well more than half of us now think Iraq has and had nothing to do with the War on Terror and think we should get out. But we can't. That's not a good alternative. And staying is making things worse. It's a problem.

So the Republicans are in trouble. The definitive word is the war has made things worse, and made us less safe. It's time to look strong, if nothing else. This preventative war was the mother of all bad decisions.

And that led to the curious column from David Ignatius's in the Wednesday, September 27th Washington Post, where he said this -
Many Democrats act as if that's the end of the discussion: A mismanaged occupation has created a breeding ground for terrorists, so we should withdraw and let the Iraqis sort out the mess.... But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next.... Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse.

... The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war - with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril. If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party.
What? The Democrats become the janitorial service, cleaning up after the frat party? Why?

Kevin Drum has a good response here -
I agree that allowing Iraq to spiral into civil war would be a disaster, but it's telling that Ignatius doesn't propose any solutions himself aside from a vague allusion to the possibility of federalism and partitioning - an idea that's been floating around liberal foreign policy circles for the past couple of years but has gone nowhere because it has no traction either among Republicans or among Iraqis themselves.

Look: A "debate" is fine, but only if there's something to debate. Should we privatize Social Security? Let's debate. Should we debate about how to fix Iraq? We could, but only if there were some plausible solutions to argue about. Unfortunately, there aren't. We don't have enough troops in Iraq to keep order and the troops we do have aren't trained properly anyway. Nobody appears to have any serious desire to change that. Politically, the sectarian split in Iraq is embedded deeply in their history and culture and is mostly beyond our ability to affect, especially after three years of mismanagement. Globally, we have virtually no influence left with either local power brokers like Iran or with our European allies.

Various luminaries in the liberal foreign policy community have been proposing Iraq policies right and left for over three years now. First, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows? But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.
No, it doesn't, but it's an election year.

But the real key here is that there really is no way out. You might be realistic.

One way of looking at this - no possible alternatives - is to conclude the war is lost. Not the War on Terror - that's so vague and without any possible way to assess what victory would look like, or defeat - so that's just bullshit posturing, but it's not lost. Iraq is. And, if so, then you see the dust-up with Bill Clinton on Fox News - where they tried to sandbag him, asking him why he caused 9/11 and he actually fought back - is just the first of many fifties flashbacks. Think of the whole McCarthy thing back then and one of the things that kicked it off - Who Lost China? Here we go again. That's the big storm, the bigger one that comes after the November 7th hurricane. We spent half a trillion dollars (so far), lost almost three thousand troops, damned near wrecked the Army, threw away the good will of any nation that would be our ally, and stirred up a world of new terrorism - to, at best, establish a Shi'a theocracy (if they ever get organized) aligned with our enemy Iran, if things work out well and nothing else at all goes wrong? This will be some storm.

And here Matthew Yglesias shows us how silly the first squalls seem to be -
… what's the deal with "Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point." That's a serious charge. Does Ignatius have evidence for it? No. Does he cite any examples? No. Does he name any names? No. I find it extremely frustrating that you're allowed to toss off this kind of liberal-bashing without providing any backing.

This matters not because I doubt Ignatius could find someone or other who "seems" like he's "eager" for America to lose. It matters because "extreme war critic" is such a vague phrase. For years, perfectly mainstream war critics - Howard Dean, Tony Zinni, Richard Clarke, Dick Durbin, Zbigniew Brzezinski - were portrayed as "extreme" and they still are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternate Saturdays. On the other hand, when I was in college there were these members of the Spartacist Youth League (or something) who would sit on the corner calling for the violent overthrow of the US government ranting and raving about North Korea's inalienable right to nuclear weapons and the need to unify the peninsula under Pyongyang's beneficent rule. No doubt those "extreme war critics" really do want to see America lose. But is Ignatius talking about crazy people who shout on street corners - in which case his observation is silly - or is he talking about meaningful participants in American politics, in which case it's false? Well, I think, he's talking about the former, but talking as if he's talking about the latter.
And the Post item was just the first squall. This is going to get nasty.

And here's a sudden fall in the barometer, as it were - the Post just reviewing new data. Wednesday, September 27, 2006, three different polling firms say that by a wide margin Iraqis want American troops to leave -
In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

... Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year.

... The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal.

The numbers - 65, 71, 80 percent - are rather dismal. To be fair, one of the polls suggests that Sunnis are a little less likely than Shiites to want us to cut out. Of course - we cut out and they're a bit outnumbered. But the poll our own State Department did said there's a stronger desire for our withdrawal in mixed areas than in the predominantly Shiite areas. The sentiment here is kind of universal. So how do you stay the course and "win" when three-quarters of the population wants you to leave?

The mercury is dropping in the barometer. On the other hand, at least the House passed a ban on our building permanent bases there. See this, with Joe Biden saying, "I have no illusions that this provision will somehow dramatically change the dynamic of events on the ground in Iraq, but this is a message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and regularly and with the stamp of the Congress."

No one in the slums of Baghdad cares any longer. Too little, too late.

Ah, but we never learn. Check out this -

In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that US international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime.

... It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a US government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.

... Three US government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld.

... She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.
Yes, there was Cheney's Iraq Study Group in the White House before we went to Baghdad - with Scooter Libby and honorary member Judith Miller of the New York Times - working on the public case for war, and the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon gathering the "real" proof of WMD stuff and the ties to al Qaeda because the CIA and all the rest were useless. This time the White House group is led by Cheney's daughter (not the gay one), and the Pentagon arm seems to be getting organized and active - Rumsfeld found them office space. Here we go again. Maybe this time they'll get it all right.

They're not paying attention to the weather. Storm warnings. How did Dylan put it? "You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing."

Maybe they like storms.

Posted by Alan at 23:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006 09:52 PDT home

Tuesday, 26 September 2006
Short Term, Long Term
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Short Term, Long Term
"They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just the same…" Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker has it right. Tuesday, September 26, was a big news day, the kind of day that buries stories like this -
The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - part of the Commerce Department - in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.
What you don't know won't hurt you? Our government likes to keep us in the dark. It keeps us from being too uppity.

And the same day there was this, a press release and video of senate floor speech delivered Monday, September 25, by Senator James Inhofe, the chairman of Senate Environment And Public Works Committee - a challenge to the press to tell the truth about global warming, that it's a complete hoax and Al Gore is both a fool and a loser, and a lair.

So is, then, British scientist James Lovelock with his warning that catastrophic global climate change is both imminent and unstoppable with this -
Within the next decade or two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.

"There's no realization of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing," Lovelock says. "Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take the world 1,000 years to recover."
That's cheery, and Bill Montgomery comments here -
It would be easy to view this as just another kooky end-of-the-world theory, if it weren't for the history of some of Lovelock's other kooky theories - like the time in the late '70s when he hypothesized that chlorofluorocarbons wafted high into the stratosphere would eat great big holes in the ozone layer, exposing first the polar regions and then the rest of the earth's surface to increasingly harmful ultraviolet radiation. What a nut.

As far as I can tell, Lovelock's latest crackpot (or should I say "crockpot"?) idea is still the minority opinion among climatologists, most of whom seem to believe we have perhaps 70-100 years before the seriously disastrous greenhouse effects kick in --although Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist, has suggested that unless major cuts in Co2 emissions are made within the next decade, the process will become every bit as irreversible as Lovelock claims it already is.

But the evidence that the human species is in a whole heap of trouble keeps piling up, like the research work in Amazonia (referenced in the Lovelock article) that suggests the world's largest rain forest is extremely sensitive to drought, and that many of its tree species probably can't survive more than three years of it. (Most of eastern Amazonia is currently in the second year of the worst drought on record.) If trees start to die en masse, the ground will be exposed to direct sunlight, which will dry out the soil, which will cause the understory to die, which will, within a very short period of time, create either an African-style savanna or a moon-like desert, depending on the amount of aluminum silicate in the soil.

If Amazonia dies, the enormous carbon reserves currently trapped in its biomass will be released - adding, perhaps, to the enormous quantities of methane being untrapped in the arctic as the permafrost melts and vast, prehistoric peat bogs start to decay at an accelerated rate.

This, in turn, could accelerate the melting of the north polar ice cap, allowing darker water and rock to absorb more of the sunlight that snow and ice reflect back into space, warming the permafrost even more, releasing more methane, heating the earth even more, causing cause more tropical rain forests to dry up and/or burn, releasing more Co2.

We're talking, in other words, about a cascade effect, in which various natural processes all feed into each other in a series of massive positive feedback loops, quickly driving the global mean temperature higher - much more quickly and far higher than most existing ecosystems can tolerate or adapt to.

Voila! A couple of decades of that and we'll have the biggest mass extinction in the history of the planet. Human, meet Mastodon. Mastodon, Human. Charmed, I'm sure.

… Actually, if Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis" is correct, and the planet really does act like one big self-regulating organism, then what's coming won't be the end of life on earth, but rather the fever that kills the germs (think of the human race as a particularly nasty yeast infection) and restores the patient to her former health.

I hope Mother Earth will forgive me if I don't send her a get-well-soon card.

Ah, but that's all so long term. No one thinks like that. This year's hurricane season has been benign so far and next year's won't be here until, well, next year. In the meanwhile there are bills to be paid and things to do - and housing prices have fallen for the first time in a decade and a whole lot of homeowners may lose everything and the economy crash, and although the cost of healthcare is starting to drop it's still increasing at twice the rate of inflation, the number of uninsured is edging upward toward fifty million, and the elderly who signed up for the federal prescription drug plan - Medicare Plan B - are now hitting the "doughnut hole" (see this - "The coverage gap was one of the most contentious elements of the 2003 legislation that created the new benefit. It ends federal payments for a person's drug purchases once an annual spending limit is reached, resuming them only after the beneficiary has spent thousands of dollars out of pocket."). And America's "big three" automakers are tanking - cutting folks loose and closing plants, and the GM brass are in Paris talking with Renault-Nissan about an alliance to save their butts. There's a lot to worry about, and it's pretty immediate.

And there are the wars we've gotten ourselves into. The first, Afghanistan, seemed reasonable to most people - remove the government the sponsored the bad guys, and go get the head bad guy, Osama bin Laden. The second, Iraq, was a bit questionable to some. The idea that Iraq was somehow involved in the attacks of 11 September 2001 was floated, along with the "immediate threat" thing - the WMD and nukes and all. There's no need to rehearse how the whole world said maybe we should look into all that before doing anything rash, and we petty much said, no, we're really scared and must do something immediately. All that looks like a scam now. Of course it does. But we wanted to change things in the Middle East, and the scam worked.

But all that has turned to dust - much of Afghanistan is has reverted to the Taliban and only the record poppy crop is keeping the country afloat (they are now producing one third more heroin than world demand) and the nominal government controls Kabul and little else. Iraq is in what seem to be a vicious religious-political civil war, we're at our highest troop levels ever, another Stryker brigade (4,000 strong) has been told their tour has been extended and they're not coming home, the Iraqi troops we've trained appear to be useless, and the nominal government there controls their offices in the Baghdad Green Zone and little else, when they're not visiting Iran next door and making nice. After three and a half years we're trying to keep the folks there from killing each other, and not take sides, while propping up a feckless Shi'a government friendly with the nation we consider our most serious enemy at the moment. Other than that, thing are going fine.

So global warming wasn't on people's minds. The immediate news story, Tuesday, September 26, was the assessment of it all, the April National Intelligence Estimate that no one was supposed to see, like the global warming paper.

As discussed in far too much detail elsewhere, the conclusions of that were leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post - all sixteen of our intelligence agencies concluded the two wars, and Iraq one in particular, were actually making things far worse and all of us less safe. Of course that directly contradicted the rationale for the wars in the first place - we had to fight to make us safe. The administration said this National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) didn't really say that, exactly. That was met with skepticism, and calls for the administration to release the damn thing and prove it.

The big story the day was that the administration did just that. That may have been a mistake.

The workmanlike Associated Press account is here, and it is a good enough summary -

The war in Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for Islamic extremists, breeding deep resentment of the US that probably will get worse before it gets better, federal intelligence analysts conclude in a report at odds with President Bush's portrayal of a world growing safer.

In the bleak report, declassified and released Tuesday on Bush's orders, the nation's most veteran analysts conclude that despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaeda, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in numbers and in geographic reach.

Bush and his top advisers have said the formerly classified assessment of global terrorism supported their arguments that the world is safer because of the war. But more than three pages of stark judgments warning about the spread of terrorism contrasted with the administration's glass-half-full declarations.

"If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide," the document says. "The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups."
Yeah, well, the whole thing can be found here in PDF format, except it's not the whole thing, just the "key judgments."

They are bad enough -
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
  • The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
  • ... Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement:....(2) the Iraq "jihad;"....
Al-Qa'ida, now merged with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.

... We judge that most jihadist groups - both well-known and newly formed -will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.
Fine, but as Kevin Drum points out -
In one sense, this answers the questions about what exactly the intelligence community meant by its assertion that the war was "fueling terrorism." However, because only the NIE's key judgments were declassified, these are still nothing but assertions. Without seeing the context, analysis, and dissenting opinions that shaped them, there's nothing to assess. You either accept the intelligence community's expertise or you don't.
That's not helpful, but it is sensible.

But the almost all the assessments in the thing were bad news. The positive notes were in "conditional terms" - they depended on everything going just right. More responsive political systems in Muslim nations could erode support for jihadist extremists. You never know. It could happen.

The AP notes that at the news conference about all this the president said critics who believe the Iraq war has worsened terrorism were really naive and badly mistaken - al Qaeda and all the other groups that have found inspiration to attack for more than a decade had always been there and always would be there - "My judgment is, if we weren't in Iraq, they'd find some other excuse, because they have ambitions."

Yes, they do. But we screwed up, as in these conclusions -
  • The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qaida in Iraq might lead the terror group's veteran foreign fighters to refocus their efforts outside that country.
  • While Iran and Syria are the most active state sponsors of terror, many other countries will be unable to prevent their resources from being exploited by terrorists.
  • The underlying factors that are fueling the spread of the extremist Muslim movement outweigh its vulnerabilities. These factors are entrenched grievances and a slow pace of reform in home countries, rising anti-US sentiment and the Iraq war.
  • Groups "of all stripes" will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, train, recruit and obtain support.
This is supposed to show the report isn't that very dismal? Huh?

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in town for talks, told CNN that in his new book he says that he had opposed the invasion of Iraq because he was thinking that it would only encourage extremists and leave the world less safe, and when asked if that were really true said this - "I stand by it, absolutely; it has made the world a more dangerous place."

That's our ally. Geez.

Of course what's buried here is this -
The report notes that "victory" in Iraq would be a blow to the jihadists, and that failure (especially if it led to the establishment of an al-Qaeda sanctuary or if veteran foreign jihadists dispersed out of Iraq to engage in terrorism in other parts of the world) would also be very bad. Thus, the report highlights the essential dilemma Iraq poses for the war on terror: staying fuels the al-Qaeda-inspired movement, creating a net increase in the terrorist threat; while leaving Iraq in chaos would also worsen the threat. The Democrats tend to focus on the first part of the dilemma; the administration focuses on the second part. They are both right (and wrong) - and the debate would be greatly served by focusing on the dilemma itself.
Of course it would, but just what is the third alternative?

Suggestions are welcome.

But wait! There's more!

Out here in Hollywood, the Just Above Sunset staff car, the Mini Cooper S, has a great stereo system. It's a very powerful Harman-Kardon thing, great for blasting French techno-thump on long drives down the coast. And the congresswoman from the South Bay out here is Jane Harman. Same family. Some of us call her the "cool sounds" woman.

And there's this -
There's a second damning Iraq report floating around the intelligence community.

At least, that's according to Rep. Jane Harman (CA), the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. At an event this morning, Harman disclosed the existence of a classified intelligence community report that gives a grim assessment of the situation in Iraq, and called for it to be shared with the American public - before the November elections.

The report has not been shared with Congress, although sources say a draft version may have circulated earlier this summer. It is a separate report from the one revealed by major news outlets Sunday, which is said to conclude that the war in Iraq has made the US less secure from terrorist threats.

"This morning at the National Press Club, Jane Harman did say that there is an [National Intelligence Estimate] on Iraq," her spokesman, Ari Goldberg, confirmed. Golberg said he had not read the report, but believes it may be grim. Sources at the event say the document is not officially an NIE, although it was prepared by the National Intelligence Council, an community-wide intelligence body whose primary function is to prepare NIEs.

Dr. Lawrence Korb, a former senior Defense Department official now with the liberal-progressive Center for American Progress, hasn't seen the report but has discussed it with those who have. "It's a very bleak picture of what's going on in Iraq," he said.
So she wants the White House to "share" the classified version of the report with Congress, and release a declassified version of the thing to the public, before to the November elections.

It seems Democratic sources in congress have confirmed they've been talking about this thing for some time - they've been concerned the release was being "intentionally slowed" by the administration. In late July they had formally requested that the intelligence community write a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq - there hadn't been one in over two years. Now they'll take the draft, if that's all there is after more than two years.

This raises the immediate question - do people really have the right to know what's actually going on, so they can make an informed decision about who to vote for? In Connecticut do you vote for "stay the course - everything is fine" Joe Lieberman, or for "let's rethink this" Ned Lamont? It's that sort of thing. But maybe we shouldn't know.

It was a big news day, with immediate questions, unless you're Britney Spears - "Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens."

It seem that John McCain has turned into Britney Spears, which is the other long term story of the day, not getting much play, given the dust-up on the now declassified report on the war.

This has to do with what the Washington Post reported here - the administration spent the weekend working out further details of the torture and detention powers granted them in the McCain-Warner-Graham "compromise" on what was allowed and who decides.

Glenn Greenwald explains here (with links in the original to the news items and documents) -
Bilal Hussein is an Associated Press photographer and Iraqi citizen who has been imprisoned by the US military in Iraq for more than five months, with no charges of any kind. Prior to that, he was repeatedly accused by right-wing blogs of being in cahoots with Iraqi insurgents based on the content of his photojournalism -- accusations often based on allegations that proved to be completely fabricated and fictitious. The US military now claims that Hussein has been lending "support" to the Iraqi insurgents, whereas Hussein maintains that his only association with them is to report on their activities as a journalist. But Hussein has no ability to contest the accusations against him or prove his innocence because the military is simply detaining him indefinitely and refusing even to charge him.

Under the military commission legislation blessed by our Guardians of Liberty in the Senate - such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham - the US military could move Hussein to Guantánamo tomorrow and keep him there for the rest of his life, and he would have absolutely no recourse of any kind. It does not need to bring him before a military commission (the military only has to do that if it wants to execute someone) and as long as it doesn't, he is blocked from seeking an order from a US federal court to release him on the ground that he is completely innocent. As part of his permanent imprisonment, the military could even subject him to torture and he would have no legal recourse whatsoever to contest his detention or his treatment. As Johns Hopkins professor Hilary Bok points out, even the use of the most extreme torture techniques that are criminalized will be immune from any real challenge, since only the government (rather than detainees) will be able to enforce such prohibitions.

Put another way, this bill would give the Bush administration the power to imprison people for their entire lives, literally, without so much as charging them with any wrongdoing or giving them any forum in which to contest the accusations against them. It thus vests in the administration the singularly most tyrannical power that exists - namely, the power unilaterally to decree someone guilty of a crime and to condemn the accused to eternal imprisonment without having even to charge him with a crime, let alone defend the validity of those accusations. Just to look at one ramification, does one even need to debate whether this newly vested power of indefinite imprisonment would affect the willingness of foreign journalists to report on the activities of the Bush administration? Do Americans really want our government to have this power?

The changes that the administration reportedly secured over the weekend for this "compromise" legislation make an already dangerous bill much worse. Specifically, the changes expand the definition of who can be declared an "enemy combatant" (and therefore permanently detained and tortured) from someone who has "engaged in hostilities against the United States" (meaning actually participated in war on a battlefield) to someone who has merely "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States."

Expanding the definition in that way would authorize, as Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies points out, the administration's "seizure and indefinite detention of people far from the battlefield." The administration would be able to abduct anyone, anywhere in the world, whom George W. Bush secretly decrees has "supported" hostilities against the United States. And then they could imprison any such persons at Guantánamo - even torture them - forever, without ever having to prove anything to any tribunal or commission. (The Post story also asserts that the newly worded legislation "does not rule out the possibility of designating a US citizen as an unlawful combatant," although the Supreme Court ruled [in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld] that there are constitutional limits on the government's ability to detain US citizens without due process.)

The tyrannical nature of these powers is not merely theoretical. The Bush administration has already imprisoned two American citizens - Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi - and held them in solitary confinement in a military prison while claiming the power to do so indefinitely and without ever having to bring charges. And now, it is about to obtain (with the acquiescence, if not outright support, of Senate Democrats) the express statutory power to detain people permanently (while subjecting them, for good measure, to torture) without providing any venue to contest the validity of their detention. And as Democrats sit meekly by, the detention authority the administration is about to obtain continues - literally each day - to expand, and now includes some of the most dangerous and unchecked powers a government can have.
Greenwald is no Britney Spears. But then, all this is rather long-term and abstract, not immediate. The power unilaterally to decree someone guilty of a crime and to condemn the accused to eternal imprisonment without having even to charge him with a crime, let alone defend the validity of those accusations, is rather abstract. No one can imagine it ever happening to them. And if it happens to someone else, maybe they deserve it. You never know. Why not give the president such powers? We all have other things to think about.

Well, one Democrat spoke out - Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont with this -
Today we are belatedly addressing the single most consequential provision of this much-discussed bill, a provision that can be found buried on page 81 of the proposed bill. This provision would perpetuate the indefinite detention of hundreds of individuals against whom the government has brought no charges and presented no evidence, without any recourse to justice whatsoever. That is un-American, and it is contrary to American interests.

Going forward, the bill departs even more radically from our most fundamental values. It would permit the president to detain indefinitely - even for life - any alien, whether in the United States or abroad, whether a foreign resident or a lawful permanent resident, without any meaningful opportunity for the alien to challenge his detention. The administration would not even need to assert, much less prove, that the alien was an enemy combatant; it would suffice that the alien was "awaiting [a] determination" on that issue. In other words, the bill would tell the millions of legal immigrants living in America, participating in American families, working for American businesses, and paying American taxes, that our government may at any minute pick them up and detain them indefinitely without charge, and without any access to the courts or even to military tribunals, unless and until the government determines that they are not enemy combatants.
Well that is what it says, but as you recall, when Vice President told a senator, on the floor of the senate, to "go fuck himself," the words were directed at Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

See also Michael Ratner, the human-rights lawyer and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, here -
Now, within the next few days, it is conceivable that Congress will abolish the writ of habeas corpus for any non-citizen who is detained outside the country. Stripping away the political nitpicking, linguistic compromises, calculated deal-making and cynical maneuvering of last week's "compromise" in Congress, two questions remain at the center of legislation about the rights of prisoners in Guantánamo.

The first, about torture and the Geneva Conventions, is straightforward: Are we human beings?

The second, about habeas corpus, is, do we believe in the rule of law?

I've spent my life defending victims of torture, and I firmly believe that to be human means recognizing that torture, whether committed by Nazis, Stalinists, Islamic fundamentalists or Americans, is never justified. Inexcusably, the compromise forged by the Bush administration and Republican senators now blurs the line on Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture" and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." It's morally corrupt to attempt to parse exactly what kinds of cruelty, which degree of mutilation, and what depth of degradation are okay: This cannot be an area where "compromise" is acceptable.

But it's also crucial to understand that this legislation places our very belief in the rule of law at risk. The contempt for the law shown by recent developments disturbs me enormously, and shows how far our national values have been hijacked by the extreme right and its partisan agenda.
The rest explains his work, but you get the idea.

See also Rogue State: Lawbreaker and Torturer - That's America, Loud and Proud, which isn't nearly as inflammatory as its title. It's just legal analysis. It's a bit depressing.

Here's a mixed reaction -
I'm trying to look on the bright side. The bill allows this president to continue torturing detainees (and possibly innocent ones). But it doesn't actually authorize the torture methods. And it doesn't formally breach Geneva. So "the program" continues in the shadows of Bush's shadow government. The truly disturbing part is that the only criterion for detaining anyone without charges - citizen or non-citizen, at home or anywhere in the world - is the president's discretion. If Rumsfeld decides you're an enemy combatant, you can be whisked away into a black hole, tortured, or have to prove your innocence in a military commission while he insists on your guilt. The "battlefield" is everywhere; and the war is endless. This is not, to put it mildly, what the founding fathers had in mind. It is one of the darkest hours for Western liberty in a very long time. And most conservatives are cheering. Watching habeas corpus go down the plughole is not something I ever thought I would have to contemplate. Well done, Osama. You won this one big time.
But it's still so abstract - something that happens to others.

And the conservatives and Christian evangelicals are all for this, which prompted this letter to Andrew Sullivan at his Time Magazine site -
As a Presbyterian pastor, I continue to be stunned by the unthinking support of many evangelicals for a policy that permits torture. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the so-called "Traditional Values Coalition" decided that torture was among the traditional values that they feel compelled to support.

When Jesus was put on trial and handed over to Pontius Pilate, he rejected violence and said, "My kingdom is not of this world." He was then tortured and brutally murdered (three hours in a "stress position" on the cross, as one of your readers aptly noted). "Caesar", of course, went on to torture and brutally murder innocent Christians who were "threats to the state." Now, 2,000 years later, in their worldly lust for power, Christians are hopping into bed with Caesar and signing off on anything Caesar wants, especially if Caesar takes care of the Christian "base".

In my Presbyterian tradition, we are called to stand outside the halls of power and speak truth to those in power, no matter what party is in control. We are not called to become that power ourselves; Jesus' kingdom is not of this world; his values are not Caesar's values.

Last year on Good Friday, my church had our traditional worship service at which we read the story of Jesus' torture and execution. To make the story more than just a past event, we read three contemporary accounts of innocent individuals who had been tortured. If we were going to shed tears for our innocent Lord Jesus, we also needed to shed tears for other innocent victims of torture. One story we read was about Christians in China - "threats to the state" - including a mother who was brutally interrogated while hearing the cries of her son being tortured in the next room. Interestingly enough, the Christian Right would join me in expressing outrage against innocent Christians.

Another story was of a man who described these conditions:
"I saw a cell almost the size of a grave. 3 feet wide, 6 feet deep, and 7 feet high. The cell had no light in it; it only had two thin mattresses (two thin blankets) on the ground ... I was kept in that dark and filthy cell for about 10 months. The worst beating happened on the third day ... they were asking the same set of questions and they would beat me 3-4 times. They would sometimes take me to another room where I could hear other people being tortured ... at the end of the day I could not take the pain anymore and I falsely confessed of having been to Afghanistan."
We read that story last Good Friday. The man's name? Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, who was arrested at JFK airport in New York. He was then deported by the American government via Jordan to Syria, where he was detained in the cell described above. Just last week Arar and his claims of innocence were completely vindicated by the Canadian government. The Traditional Values Coalition would probably respond: an unfortunate mistake, but torture is still a necessary policy.

And What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus wept.
Does this man hate America and also misunderstand the Gospel? Maybe so. Presbyterians are wimps.

Sullivan himself here -
Whatever else this is, it is not a constitutional democracy. It is a thinly-veiled military dictatorship, subject to only one control: the will of the Great Decider. And the war that justifies this astonishing attack on American liberty is permanent, without end. And check the vagueness of the language: "purposefully supported" hostilities. Could that mean mere expression of support for terror? Remember that many completely innocent people have already been incarcerated for years without trial or any chance for a fair hearing on the basis of false rumors or smears or even bounty hunters. Or could it be construed, in the rhetoric of Hannity and O'Reilly, as merely criticizing the Great Decider and thereby being on the side of the terrorists?

All I know is that al Qaeda is winning battles every week now. And they are winning them because their aim of gutting Western liberty is shared by the president of the United States. The fact that we are finding this latest, chilling stuff out now - while this horrifying bill is being rushed into law to help rescue some midterms - is beyond belief. It must be stopped, filibustered, prevented. And anyone who cares about basic constitutional freedom - conservatives above all - should be in the forefront of stopping it.
That's very shrill, and Senate Majority Leader Frist has moved to vote to Friday - just before everyone goes home for a month to campaign for reelection. Conservatives above all, indeed.

It will pass. It's just too abstract to worry about. Politics is the immediate. The Spears girl caught the zeitgeist just right.

There's just been too much news.

Posted by Alan at 23:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 27 September 2006 06:37 PDT home

In the Old Country
Topic: Our Man in Paris
Our Man in Paris - In the Old Country
Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. Here's his latest letter from Paris - in the manner of the 'Letter from Paris' the late Janet Flanner used to write for the New Yorker. Ric is just back in Paris after a month in New York, oddly enough. Over here we're all arguing about the war - and just what is the reality of the situation. There? He explains.
In the Old Country

Paris, Tuesday, September 26 - While reality is biting all and sundry in the New World - lunging at the restraining chains, white fangs bared, barely held in check by helmeted agents in sinister black suits - here in the Old Country we are fiddling as usual. Today in Brussels, hochburg of Eurodom, our Euro leaders announced that Romania and Bulgaria will be invited to join the European Union on Monday, January 1, 2007. The addition of these two Balkan lands, a couple of the poorest in Europe, will bring the membership total to 27 countries. EU head José Barroso said tonight on TV-news that we can't go on adding crazy countries forever. Institutional reform is more necessary than ever, especially if Europe intends to cut down the babble and take over the world.

With an estimated population of 461 million, the European Union has scant need of 22 million Romanians and 8 million Bulgarians, including their minorities of Turks, Hungarians and Gypsies. However an EU total population of 490 million will be nothing to sneeze at, especially when voting for the annual European Song Contest.

Per capita income in the EU is about $28,000, three times the current rate in both Romania and Bulgaria. Contrast this with the United States with a population of 300 million and a per capita income of $41,400, the world's third highest, just before Ireland, right after Luxembourg and Norway.

Some political leaders in France are not dancing in the streets tonight. But it could be worse. Both right-wing leaders Jean-Marie Le Pen and Phillippe de Villiers are violently opposed to Turkish membership in the EU, which has, geographically at least, just inched closer.

France's busy interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, could not be reached for comment on the EU's enlargement. He is thought to be sulking because of Ségolène Royal's visit to Senegal, which was reported on all of tonight's TV-news programs. No country, no matter what its GDP, is too distant for the candidates for president to visit.

In other news yesterday's Le Parisien carried poll results indicating that French voters do not want any major 'rupture' with current policies, with the way France is run. The usual 1004 citizens who were questioned said they would prefer gentle 'reforms' rather than major upheavals. Only about a quarter of the French were inclined to see France dumped on its head and when it came to Sarkozy's own party, the figure was only 21 percent.

Another recent poll claimed that 42 percent of all 'men on the street' polled are habitual liars. The other 58 percent had no opinion.

Movie Message

Coming to cinemas throughout France tomorrow, 'Les Indigènes,' is a film with a message for society that has been heard before the public gets to see it. Crowned with glory at Cannes earlier this year, the story traces the path of soldiers recruited - conscripted! - into the French army in Africa in World War Two, as they battle to liberate France from the occupying Nazis.

In real life the surviving veterans, Algerians, Moroccans, Senegalese, have been receiving pittances as military pensions, and many are living in total poverty. Pre-release publicity has tripped the consciousness of the French and President Jacques Chirac announced that the pensions would be brought closer into line with French military pensions. He is not, not officially, running for re-election.

- Ric

Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 16:41 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 16:44 PDT home

Monday, 25 September 2006
Reality Takes a Holiday
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Reality Takes a Holiday
"People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest." - Hermann Hesse
"In politics, absurdity is not a handicap." - Napoleon Bonaparte

It just keeps getting better. As mentioned at the weekly site here, Saturday, September 23, the New York Times dropped a political bombshell - sources had leaked to them the results of the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate ("Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States"), and the same sources had informed the Washington Post of what was in the April estimate, the first full one since before we dropped into Baghdad and changed things. (For reference, the Times item is here.) The less than useful information for the administration was that the "sources" were saying a key conclusion of the estimate was "that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse." The NIE, as it's called, a secret document, wasn't entirely secret any longer, and suddenly a problem for the administration.

That would be because of what you see in this video clip from August 21st - the president forcefully saying this - "You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of 'we're going to stir up the hornet's nest' theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East."

Now the president's timeline seems somewhat irrelevant - things actually were bad back in September 2001, of course, but what does that have to do with right now?

Be the rationale remains. The war is making us safer, curbing terrorism and all that. We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here. That's the whole point. Whoever says that's not so is just wrong.

So who is wrong here?

Josh Marshall explains here -
An NIE isn't some random government white paper. It represents the consensus judgment of the entire US intelligence community, with input from all the different agencies, from CIA and DIA to INR and FBI and all the others. [See this.] In other words, this is the collaborative judgment of the people actually fighting the War on Terror.

For the last six weeks and, in fact, the last six months, the White House and the president have been engaged in a coordinated campaign to convince the public that despite the setbacks and mistakes, the war in Iraq is a critical component of fighting the War on Terror. Making that argument is their plan for the next six weeks until the election. All the while, they've been sitting on a report that says that's flat wrong, a lie and that precisely the opposite is the case.

That's a cover-up in every meaningful sense of the word, a calculated effort to hide information from and deceive the public. And it's actually a replay of what happened in late 2002, when the White House kept the Iraq WMD NIE's doubts about Iraqi weapons programs away from the public. [See this.]

The president has made very clear he wants the next six weeks to be about Iraq and the War on Terror. By all means, let's do it. But first the president has to come clean about what he's keeping hidden from the public - the fact that the people he has fighting the War on Terror are telling him that what he's telling the public about Iraq and the War on Terror flat isn't true.

Late word from the White House is that the Times report is "not representative of the complete document." Well, then, by all means, let's get a look at the whole thing so the public can get the big picture and find out who's telling the truth.
And then Marshall at his site Talking Points Memo urged all his readers, and he has many, to call their senators and representatives and suggest that if the White House was saying the estimate was saying something other than what it seemed, they should call on the White House to release the damned thing and prove it. If you visit the site you see all sorts of them did, even the very careful Hillary Clinton. The kicker was Senator Pat Roberts, who has carefully blocked anything that might make the president look bad - his committee report on the manipulation of pre-war intelligence is more than two years late - jumped on board. Release it.

This is very odd. People seem to want to know what going on, and even the Bush people seem to have noticed that. "No one has the right to know such assessments" may not fly here.

And as noted here, by our own government's count, there were 208 terrorist attacks in 2003, and two years later, in 2005, there were over 11,000 similar terror attacks. That's a fifty-fold increase (see CNN here).

Like people wouldn't wonder about that? They might not want to know why that's so? The writer in this case, "Alex" at Martini Republic, notes that the conclusion is obvious - "Invade a Muslim country on a shallow pretext, occupy it for a few years, torture some prisoners in that country's most notorious prison while taking pictures, and voila! You have terrorism times fifty."

And he notes what those who follow such things remember - in September, 2004, we were told that Iraq strategy was succeeding at the same time an earlier NIE concluded that Iraq was pretty much starting to disintegrate - there were "trend lines that would point to a civil war." That was when the president publicly dismissed that particular intelligence estimate - they "were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like." He said it was only "an estimate." And that's the same thing as "a guess," or so he said. It was interesting, but not important. Then there was the one is 2005, estimating "that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists" and the CIA was especially concerned about the how many of the bad guys were learning up-to-the-minute bomb-making skills, what with all the new variations those of those IED things. The CIA may be, if you believe what's said on the far right, a leftist anti-American organization out to ruin the president (that actually has been suggested), but they did point out the obvious - the bad guys are getting a lot of practice, and practical experience. As early as 2004 they were noting what was happing in Iraq was creating "perfect conditions" for training terrorists. Of course that's why the Vice President hates the CIA so much and with Rumsfeld set up his own intelligence gathering organizations - the old Office for Special Plans for the Iraq War and the new one for Iran. He doesn't like defeatists. It's a matter of having the right attitude - forcefully maintaining what you know must be true. That's what "real men" do.

All this was covered in these pages, and everywhere on the left, before, but with the implicit assumption that there was not much to be done about this "courageous" refusal to be hobbled by reality. The American people did not at all want to hear that the effort of three years, the more than twenty-seven hundred dead troops, the twenty-thousand maimed and brain-damaged, the half a trillion dollars spent (off-budget), the loss of almost all our allies in the world and the scorn of all other nations, was a rather large mistake. We're an idealistic people, and hopeful. And now there's this. Those who remain idealistic - this is all making us safer and better - are becoming and even more dwindling minority.

Of course the president is now saying you have to take the long view of these matters. On CNN there was this exchange with Wolf Blitzer -
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about Iraq. Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war - if not already a civil war. We see these horrible bodies showing up, tortured, mutilation. The Shi'a and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see - you see it on TV, and that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there's also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people… Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is - my point is, there's a strong will for democracy.

So it's all just "a comma" - a hundred years from now all this will seem insignificant. Now THAT is an idealist.

For a reaction to that watch another CNN fellow, Jack Cafferty on the topic of "sometimes politicians say the dumbest things" (Windows Media here or QuickTime here) - "I wonder how the families of the 2,700 soldiers lost in Iraq feel about their sacrifices being reduced to a portion of a 'comma' according to the Commander-in-Chief?" And he says more.

There's obvious too much reality going around these days, and the White House is running out ways to reframe it. Now it's just a comma? That's new.

And the hits just keep on coming.

Monday, September 25, the Los Angeles Times landed with a thump at the front door here in Hollywood and on this front page there was this - the Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker, is refusing to submit a budget because the money allocated to support the army is ridiculously inadequate to maintain its current force structure, or to replace or repair the equipment lost or damaged in Iraq. He's defying the Secretary of Defense, and for those of you who don't have a serving Army officer in the family and a former father-in-law who was an assistant secretary of defense, you might note the odd politics here. Schoomaker was Rumsfeld's hand-picked choice for the job - brought out of retirement and shoved in there, bypassing all the career officers about the rank of Leutentent General in line for the position. The resentment was intense, but Rumsfeld got his way. Schoomaker is a special-ops guy. The regular Army career officers were being told, rather bluntly, that traditional force structures were a thing of the past. Rumsfeld was remaking things and they were dinosaurs who ought to face facts and just fade away. This didn't exactly boost morale, but it was pretty direct. No one whined, publicly. There was, no doubt, a lot of private seething.

But Schoomaker is no fool, and he's no wimp -

The Army's top officer withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding.

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

… Schoomaker failed to submit the budget plan by an Aug. 15 deadline. The protest followed a series of cuts in the service's funding requests by both the White House and Congress over the last four months.

… Schoomaker first raised alarms with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in June after he received new Army budget outlines from Rumsfeld's office. Those outlines called for an Army budget of about $114 billion, a $2-billion cut from previous guidelines. The cuts would grow to $7 billion a year after six years, the senior Army official said.

After Schoomaker confronted Rumsfeld with the Army's own estimates for maintaining the current size and commitments - and the steps that would have to be taken to meet the lower figure, which included cutting four combat brigades and an entire division headquarters unit - Rumsfeld agreed to set up a task force to investigate Army funding.
This is hardball. The message is clear - if this is my budget I'll make the Army fit it, cutting four combat brigades and a division headquarters. Is that what you want? It's that reality thing again -
The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

"This is unusual, but hell, we're in unusual times," said a senior Pentagon official involved in the budget discussions.

… According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels."
You cannot fight World War III on the cheap. Reality matters. If we're facing the gravest threat to civilization since Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and that's the reality you assert, then get real.

Kevin Drum has an interesting take on it here -
Army budgeting, like pretty much all federal budgeting, is an arcane science that one is well advised to approach carefully. To the extent that Schoomaker is just playing hardball because expensive new weapons systems have turned out to be more expensive than anticipated (surprise!), this is little more than an age-old wrestling match playing out between adversaries who are both well versed in bureaucratic warfare.

However, the bigger part of the problem is that the Bush administration, in its usual political approach to policy issues, has decided to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars almost entirely via emergency appropriations. This makes life easier for Bush, who gets to imply that these expenses are temporary without actually having to defend that belief, but the problem is that these wars also have a significant effect on day-to-day Army affairs. Unfortunately, the day-to-day Army isn't getting any money to deal with them.

This will be an interesting fight to watch. It might play out entirely in the shadows, but eventually I suspect it's going to have to become more public.
That won't be pretty. But it's reality, even if Americans don't like it.

Put it all together. Alex at Martini Republic - "In one fell swoop - or rather one misguided experiment in nation building - Bush has managed to fuel Islamic radicalism, and bring dissent in the Army to a boiling point."

Other than that, things are going fine.

Except the Senate Democrats decided to have a hearing on Monday, September 25, previewed here -
Retired military officers on Monday are expected to bluntly accuse Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of bungling the war in Iraq, saying US troops were sent to fight without the best equipment and that critical facts were hidden from the public.

"I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq," retired Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste said in remarks prepared for a hearing by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

A second witness, retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, is expected to assess Rumsfeld as "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically…"

"Mr. Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making," said his testimony prepared for the hearing, to be held six weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which the war is a central issue.

The conflict, now in its fourth year, has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 American troops and cost more than $300 billion.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the committee chairman, told reporters last week that he hoped the hearing would shed light on the planning and conduct of the war. He said majority Republicans had failed to conduct hearings on the issue, adding, "if they won't we will."
So they did, with Major General John R. S. Batiste, who commanded the entire First Infantry (Big Red) over there, and who retired last year "on principle," had this to say -
Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare.

Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of US Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build "his plan," which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today.

Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and capability required to impose security, crush a budding insurgency, and set the conditions for the rule of law in Iraq. We were undermanned from the beginning, lost an early opportunity to secure the country, and have yet to regain the initiative. To compensate for the shortage of troops, commanders are routinely forced to manage shortages and shift coalition and Iraqi security forces from one contentious area to another in places like Baghdad, An Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah, and many others. This shifting of forces is generally successful in the short term, but the minute a mission is complete and troops are redeployed back to the region where they came from, insurgents reoccupy the vacuum and the cycle repeats itself. Troops returning to familiar territory find themselves fighting to reoccupy ground which was once secure. We are all witnessing this in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province today. I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus. This is no way to fight a counterinsurgency. Secretary Rumsfeld's plan did not set our military up for success.
But it wasn't all complaints. There was a reality-based six-point plan -
Our country has yet to mobilize for a protracted, long war. I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld failed to address the full range of requirements for this effort, and the result is one percent of the population shouldering the burdens, continued hemorrhaging of our national treasure in terms of blood and dollars, an Army and Marine Corps that will require tens of billions of dollars to reset after we withdraw from Iraq, the majority of our National Guard brigades no longer combat-ready, a Veterans Administration which is underfunded by over $3 billion, and America arguably less safe now than it was on September 11, 2001.

If we had seriously laid out and considered the full range of requirements for the war in Iraq, we would likely have taken a different course of action that would have maintained a clear focus on our main effort in Afghanistan, not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents.

What do we do now?

We are where we are, plagued by the mistakes of the past. Thankfully, we are Americans and with the right leadership, we can do anything.

First, the American people need to take charge through their elected officials. Secretary Rumsfeld and the Administration are fighting a war in secret that threatens our democratic values. This needs to stop right now, today.

Second, we must replace Secretary Rumsfeld and his entire inner circle. We deserve leaders whose judgment and instinct we can all trust.

Third, we must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge, which must include conveying the "what, why, and how long" to every American, rationing to finance the totality of what we are doing, and gearing up our industrial base in a serious manner. Mortgaging our future at the rate of $1.5 billion a week and financing our great Army and Marine Corps with supplemental legislation must stop. Americans will rally behind this important cause when the rationale is properly laid out.

Fourth, we must rethink our Iraq strategy. "More of the same" is not a strategy, nor is it working. This new strategy must include serious consideration of federalizing the country, other forms of Iraqi national conscription and incentives to modify behavior, and a clear focus on training and equipping the Iraqi security forces as "America's main effort."

Fifth, we must fix our inter-agency process to completely engage and synchronize all elements of America's national power. Unity of effort is fundamental and we need one person in charge in Iraq who pulls the levers with all US Government agencies responding with 110 percent effort.

Finally, we need to get serious about mending our relationships with allies and getting closer to our friends and enemies. America can not go this alone. All of this is possible, but we need leadership and responsible congressional oversight to pull this off.
Oops - we have another idealist on our hands. Real leadership, truth telling and responsible congressional oversight? Expecting that is as mad as, say, invading a Muslim country on a shallow pretext, occupying it for a few years, torturing some prisoners in that country's most notorious prison while taking pictures, kidnapping folks and holding them in secret prisons, committing what seems like torture to the rest of the world then redefining it to say it's not and letting the gleeful guys with the electrodes off the hook - and expecting praise and respect. The general expects a lot that reality might not be able to provide. As he says, we are where we are.

Reality - can't live with it, can't live without it.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 10:49 PDT home

Sunday, 24 September 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
No commentary today. Production of the weekly ran late. So it was lots of black coffee and plowing through the Sunday Los Angeles Times, run a few errands, and then walk down the hill for a little photo adventure. You can read about that, and consider five photographs, here. But the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 39 for the week of September 24, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week it's six extended essays on current events - in detail and in depth and explained below - and seven pages of startling Southern California photography, Hollywood to Venice Beach and back to Los Angeles' Thai Town (and the weekly botanicals, and a link to the shots the Washington Post liked) - AND guest photography from Bill Hitzel, for car nuts, seven pages of the best of Watkins Glen - there's a lot here.

And there are the weekly diversions - quotes on insults and diplomacy (for Hugo Chavez), and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

What people do when they’re unhappy with their government - there's The Hungarian Option and there's The Thai Solution.

Voices - 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.

Decorum - Maybe New Yorkers are just direct. Your 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.

Torture Codified - Because They Think We Are Weak
Quick Hits - Notes on Late-Breaking News

Guest Photography - Watkins Glen ______________________________

As noted last week, Just Above Sunset sent photographer Bill Hitzel on assignment, in a manner of speaking. He's back from the Zippo US Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. We were able to obtain a press pass for him - full access to the pits and everything. All the photographs arrived this week. The comments are minimal here. The photographs speak for themselves. For those of us who are car nuts, this is heaven. Southern California Photography ______________________________

Walls - Intense Brickwork
Intense Eccentricity - The Oddest Building in Venice Beach
Trompe-l'œil - Additional Venice Beach Murals, the Surreal Ones
Beach Studies - Every Picture Tells a Story
Thai Town - Given Current Events, It Was Time to Visit Ours
Hollywood Reflections - Shooting Odd Things through Glass
Botanicals - Real and Better Than Real

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week: Insults, Diplomacy, and Visiting Foreign Lands (for Hugo Chavez)
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual: More from Our Friend in Texas

Posted by Alan at 21:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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