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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about talking with Iran and Syria?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 November 2006
The Big Event That Wasn't
Topic: Perspective
The Big Event That Wasn't
Here's a fine video of Miles Davis in 1958 playing his famous piece "So What?" from the seminal Kind of Blue album. That album, and this piece, defined cool back then. Click on the link and it will open in a separate window, so you can have it playing in the background for what follows.

The Sunday before the midterm elections in the United States - Sunday, November 5 - we got the news - "Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced Sunday to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single town, as the ousted leader, trembling and defiant, shouted 'God is great!'"

So he shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great!) and "Long live the Muslim nation!" (Ashat al-ummah!) The Middle East scholar Juan Cole points out that as a secular Arab nationalist, Saddam at one point kept out of the Iraqi constitution any mention of Islam, but since the Gulf War "he has mugged for the camera with such slogans." They may have some resonances in Sunni Arab regions, though, as well as in the Muslim world more generally. And Saddam's defense team said that the court was constituted under an American military occupation and therefore could not be impartial, and that the verdict made a mockery of justice.

This may be trouble, but the White House says this is a great triumph. And it comes at just they right time, or so they think.

Tim Grieve, at the time, thought not -
A five-judge tribunal in Baghdad today declared Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging.

Do you feel better about the war now? More confident about the president's "strategy for victory" in Iraq? Are you more likely to vote for a Republican on Tuesday?
One would guess not. Of course there will be those who feel now the man who caused the 9/11 attacks will finally be hanged, but they know he didn't. That may be a case of "close enough for government work." It "something," when we've been getting a who lot of nothing

The sentencing was supposed to have happened back on October 18, but the tribunal last month rescheduled it for the Sunday that fell just two days before the 2006 midterm elections in the United States. A spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal insists here that it's just a coincidence - the timing belonged "100 percent" to the tribunal, and that the judges who serve on it care "nothing about American midterm elections." Maybe so, and Karl Rove is just one lucky guy.

Of course Vice President Cheney has repeatedly said all the turmoil over there is for one reason only - the terrorists in Iraq are focused on November 7, as he says they want to make things look bad so his boss loses face and the nation turns away from the Republican Party. They're very clever - killing each other by the hundreds and knocking off our troops, all to help the Democrats. Has he ever been wrong?

Saddam's lawyers have accused the court and the Bush administration of conspiring to time the verdict and sentence to coincide with the elections, but those who weren't assassinated are probably just in a bad mood. Others have pointed out some odd things - curious events in Iraq that looked timed to political problems over here. Many have noticed such things - including an odd delay on insurgent strongholds in 2004 until right after the presidential election so that Americans wouldn't read of significant casualties before they voted. Or maybe things just fell out that way. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow keeps saying that the administration isn't doing that now, and never did such things.

One senses they're all exasperated with how suspicious and untrusting the American people have become. It doesn't seem to occur to them that finding no WMD and then all the confirmation that Saddam Hussein had no ties at all to al Qaeda made some think them somewhere between tragically gullible or nastily manipulative. That "Mission Accomplished" banner didn't help either, followed by all the turning points - we killed Saddam's two awful sons and displayed their mutilated and decomposing bodies for days, and invited the world press to take lots of pictures, and things didn't get better; we pulled Saddam from his hole in the ground and published photos of a medic inspecting his teeth and other slyly humiliating shots, and things didn't get better; we killed any number of "Number Two" bad guys in Iraq, and finally the Number One, and things didn't get better (the bad guys seem to have a deep bench). Saying this death sentence is a big deal and will change everything is fine. The administration can say what it likes. So can used car salesmen.

Is Miles Davis still playing in the background?

And there's an additional problem. The man just doesn't matter any more. As Tim Grieve notes, he's old news -
Sixty-four percent of Americans now say they "oppose" the war in Iraq. Fifty-six percent believe the United States "made a mistake" when it invaded Iraq in the first place. Saddam Hussein may loom large in the minds of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but those poll numbers suggest to us that Americans aren't all that focused on him anymore. Americans know now - or at least they ought to - that Saddam wasn't much of a threat to them before the war; sentenced or not sentenced, he's certainly no threat to them now. This isn't a scary new tape from Osama bin Laden, let alone news that a terrorist leader has been captured or a deadly plot foiled. It's a mopping up of an old mess, one handled so badly that it has created a much bigger one in its wake.
But you have to let them crow about it, and shrug. Whether the man is hung or not is of some interest, in an historical way, but he's an old problem and doesn't matter much now. What's happened since needs attention, not this.

And the whole thing puts Iraq back on the front page - when the Republicans are talking up the economy and ranting about the evils of women being able to choose to have and abortion, and the pure evil of stem cell research, and how gay folks want to ruin everyone's marriage and destroy America, and how the Democrats want to raise the taxes of the extremely rich and ruin everything, and… and all the rest. In-your-face crowing about this triumph can get people refocused on the war - thinking about the almost twenty-nine hundred troops we've lost, and the half-trillion dollars we've spent, and how we've quite purposefully thrown away the respect of most of the world, and wonder whether this one guy choking on the end of a rope, eyes bulging until his neck breaks or he chokes to death, was worth it.

We're told he was worth it all.

On the other hand, Max Hastings in The Guardian (UK), the day after the sentencing, suggests Bush and Blair have forfeited the moral authority to hang Saddam -
There can be no doubt about the moral justice of yesterday's Baghdad tribunal judgment on Saddam Hussein. He was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, chiefly Kurds and Shias, and arguably for many more killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

Yet it is quite another matter whether it is right or politically prudent to execute him, after the shambles of a trial that he has undergone. Washington was always determined that Saddam should die - but at the hands of his own people rather than those of Americans. George Bush's handling of this issue restores one's respect for Pontius Pilate. The president has achieved the almost impossible feat of generating some sympathy for Saddam, at least in Muslim societies.

The Iraqi judicial system is incapable of conducting a plausible hearing. Instead it staged a farce: judges changed, defense lawyers murdered, interminable rambling orations from prosecutors and defendants. Bush should have got some old Soviets to advise the locals about how to run a proper show trial.
So the verdict is just, but everything stinks about the process.

Actually, Hastings argues that the biggest American mistake was to capture Saddam in the first place -
In the House of Commons in 1944, the foreign secretary was asked what instructions had been given to British troops on what to do if they encountered Hitler. Amid laughter, Anthony Eden said: "I am quite satisfied to leave the decision to the British soldier concerned."

Among the allied leaders, only Stalin wanted Hitler alive, for the pleasure of hanging him. Everybody else was appalled by the prospective perils and complexities of trying and executing a head of state in partnership with the Russians. Hitler's suicide came as a relief.

Almost everyone involved in the Nuremberg trials of his subordinates felt uncomfortably conscious that they were administering victors' justice. The proceedings proved valuable, however, in placing on record for all time some of the monstrous crimes of the Nazis. Also, in 1946 the Nuremberg judges possessed a critical advantage. Even if the wartime allies did not represent absolute good - how could any such partnership that included the Soviets? - few people doubted their overwhelming moral superiority over the Nazis.

By contrast, the moral authority of the Iraq coalition led by the US has been blown to rags since 2003. President Bush's achievement has been to convert an almost impregnable American position in the world after 9/11 into a grievously damaged one today. It is believed that more Iraqis have died since the US invasion than were killed by Saddam Hussein. Most have fallen victim to fellow countrymen rather than to American fire. Yet this seems irrelevant, since Washington chose to assume responsibility for the country. The dead have perished on Bush's watch.
So we have no standing? That seems to be the idea.

But there are pragmatic arguments for executing the guy - the nut jobs who worked for him, some of whom are behind the Sunni insurgency, could be hoping one day their old leader will regain power and restore Sunni dominance over there. Offing him might help there.

But if our job is actually "to promote the restoration of order," then we might want to think this thing through carefully.

Sure, lots of folks there want him dead, and we're all about "empowering" the Iraqi people to do what they want. But it's not that simple -
Real power in Iraq today rests in the hands of the Americans or those of local factions on the ground. The so-called national government and its institutions are almost impotent, because they face such physical and political difficulties in exercising their functions.

The verdict on Saddam is just. Yet everything stinks about the process by which it has been reached. Sentence on the condemned tyrant will probably be carried out before the trial of his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali. It is widely expected that the execution will be rushed so that Saddam cannot give evidence at Majeed's trial about collusion between Washington and the former tyranny, which could grievously embarrass the US.

Once again it matters less whether this is true than that so many people around the world believe it to be so. It is dismaying to be obliged to acknowledge that Americans, British, Ba'athists, militiamen, national government representatives and insurgent suicide bombers in Iraq are all today perceived as coexisting on the same moral plane.

Rationally, we know that Bush and Blair want virtuous things for the country: democracy and personal freedom. Yet so incompetent has been the fulfillment of their policies on the ground that the leaders of Britain and the US now possess no more credible mandate than that of Iraq's local mass murderers.

To justify hanging Saddam, Bush and Blair needed moral ascendancy, which they have forfeited. His execution will appear to be merely another dirty deed in the endless succession that have taken place in Iraq since 2003, backed by our bayonets.
Yep, people will only remember the president's record in Texas, ordering far more executions than any governor in history, and laughing about it. He may get his jollies when Saddam swings, and that may have been the whole point of the war in his own world. But there is a wider world. And it's complicated.

As for the election, Paul Krugman the day before the voting says this -
President Bush isn't on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office.

There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times, which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that "this is not about the midterm elections." But the editorial's authors surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won't fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he won't change strategy in Iraq; he won't change course at all, unless Congress forces him to.

At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush's character. To put it bluntly, he's an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood - and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself "pleased with the progress we're making" in Iraq.

In other words, he's the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.
Yeah, well, maybe so - but don't you want to make him happy? Saddam will swing, and the president will grin, even if to the rest of us it's a big "so what?" We already gave him the lives of nearly three thousand of our sons and daughters, and let him spend our money like a drunken sailor, and let him nearly destroy the military and our reputation as a fair and just nation, and gave him the right to lock up anyone he'd like and throw away key - no charges, no trial, no nothing. Why not let him swoon in orgasmic delight at the hanging of a guy he's always hated? What difference does it make now?

You know nothing is going to change. See the White House transcript of Vice President Cheney's interview with ABC's "This Week" - the election is quite irrelevant -
George Stephanopoulos: So will the vote on Tuesday have any effect on the president's Iraq policy?
Cheney: I think it will have some effect, perhaps, in the Congress, but the president has made clear what his objective is, it's victory in Iraq. And full speed ahead on that basis, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

Stephanopoulos: So even those Republican candidates calling for a change of course are not going to get that on Wednesday?

Cheney: No, you can't make ... national security policy on the basis of that. These are people running for Congress. They're entitled to their own views, on both sides of the aisle. But I think there's no question but what when we get into the global war on terror, when we get into the measures that are needed to go on offense and take the fight to the enemy, if you will, that the support that we've had and continue to have is primarily on the Republican side, and I think the Democrats have come up weak on it.
So that's that. Nothing will change.

The Monday, November 6, joint editorial in the Army Times, the Air Force Times, and the Navy Times is here -
Time for Rumsfeld to go

"So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the "hard bruising" truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington. One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake.

It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go.
And it doesn't matter. So what? He stays, and Saddam will hang. And we'd better like it all, because there's nothing else.

And was Rumsfeld's war plan so wrong, really. Maybe it was -
A series of secret U.S. war games in 1999 showed that an invasion and post-war administration of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, nearly three times the number there now.

And even then, the games showed, the country still had a chance of dissolving into chaos.

In the simulation, called Desert Crossing, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence participants concluded the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.

"The conventional wisdom is the U.S. mistake in Iraq was not enough troops," said Thomas Blanton, the archive's director. "But the Desert Crossing war game in 1999 suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground."
So General Shinseiki didn't pull that "300,000" number out of his ass that congressional hearing - he was lowballing the actual figures, as he must have known from this study. And Rumsfeld and the rest forced him into early retirement. They were pissed off. At least Shinseiki didn't tell congress the other part - that there was no way to win this thing. The joke's on us. But Saddam will hang.

And it least Afghanistan was a success. No one argued about that war.

And now this - Ronald E. Neuman, our ambassador in Kabul is saying we are facing "stark choices." Averting failure there will take "multiple years" and "multiple billions."

Failure? But we did that one right, didn't we? That's why it's called the "forgotten war" - bitterly by our troops there and with relief by news editors.

But it seems President Hamid Karzai - who is called the "mayor of Kabul" for a reason - continues to have little if any authority or control beyond the capital. And the CIA says increasing numbers of Afghans view his government as corrupt, failing to deliver promised reconstruction and too weak to protect the country from rising Taliban attacks.

So it's not just Iraq that has become a "cause célèbre for jihadists" - Afghanistan is contributing to the mess. You've got you're sharp increase in suicide attacks and roadside bombings over the last few years, and over the last few months you have your tactics that have "migrated from Iraq." Until now "there's not been a tradition of suicide bombers" in Afghanistan, one official says, and suggests that such tactics arrived by way of the Internet and people traveling between the countries. "Psychologically," the official says, "this has had a major impact."

Great. The one thing we might have done right, and the one thing where we had the world's support, has been lost because of the other thing we did.

But Saddam will hang. The president has says the verdict and his death sentence is a milestone. But milestones are becoming tiresome. What do they really mark? Or as Miles Davis would have it - so what?

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 November 2006 07:36 PST home

Thursday, 2 November 2006
Other Matters - Not Directly Pertaining to the Midterm Elections
Topic: Perspective
Other Matters - Not Directly Pertaining to the Midterm Elections
The Thursday before the elections in the United States one would be hard pressed to find a whole lot of news that wasn't about the upcoming elections. Tuesday, November 7, might be a landmark day, changing a whole lot about how the country is run, or it might turn out to be a confirmation of more of the same. No one knows and everyone was talking - cheap buzz to fill the empty hours on cable news.

But there were some other things that a few had on their minds. Of course much of it looped back to the elections one way or another. Still, a shift in the national dialog was nice - or maybe it was a pause.

Out here in the Los Angeles Times, Timothy Garton Ash once again made the argument the words matter - calling what we're up to the War on Terror was a mistake - "Apart from anything else, to use this language dignified the terrorists with the status of belligerents when they should have been treated as criminals. In a backhanded way, the coinage was itself a kind of glorification of terrorism."

So we carelessly glorified them when we just should have called them thugs, done some clever international police work with our allies, found the remaining nasty guys, tried them and locked them up forever or executed them. They weren't worth a war, and everyone would know that. But then the ongoing situation is a bit too momentous to say this is just a criminal matter - that we're going after mass murderers and this isn't war. But then the word "war" is a problem -
Political words have consequences - especially big ones like this, when used by the most powerful state on earth - and one could plausibly suggest that much blood has flowed as a result of that choice of words. You might retort that the blood would have flowed anyway, even if the Bush administration had chosen a different guiding metaphor, and that claim can never be disproved. But it's clearly the case that when, after September 11 2001, the Bush administration said "war," they meant war in the familiar sense of trained, armed persons being commanded to go and kill other persons, overtly or covertly. In 2002 I asked a very senior administration official how this war on terror might end. He replied: "With the elimination of the terrorists." Yes, from the outset they did acknowledge that this was no longer war in the classic sense of two uniformed armies of rival states meeting on a field of battle. Yet the decision to make Iraq a central theatre of the war on terror was, among other things, a kind of desperate reaching back to a more conventional kind of warfare that the mightiest army in the history of the world could clearly and swiftly win. Or so they thought.
Well, it didn't work out. Call Interpol? Find another word? Ash asks for suggestions. He can't think of the right word.

The Ash item had originally appeared the The Guardian (UK), and why the Times picked it up - other than they're cutting full-time staff left and right and buying a single gracefully written column is cheaper than hiring a first-rate staff writer - may have something to do with an effort to help readers step back look at larger issues. It's not all careless and tin-eared John Kerry all the time, or shouldn't be.

The question is of interest too. Everyone wants to rethink what we're up to - save for the president and Dick Cheney, and Barney the Scottish terrier (see Woodward on that). Maybe the central metaphor for the whole business was wrong.

Robert Farley thinks so -
Referring to anti-terror operations as "war" fulfilled some emotional needs (and laid the framework for the Bush administration's accumulation of executive power) but it hamstrung the actual fight against terrorism. The elimination of terrorism is simply not a plausible foreign policy goal. It's not logically impossible (thinking of terrorism as a social institution somewhat akin to dueling or slavery is helpful in this regard) but it's practically impossible, meaning that any war fought to defeat terrorism will invariably fail to achieve its end. There will be no final moment in which terrorism surrenders upon the deck of a Zumwalt class destroyer, for example.

The legal framing doesn't suffer from such problems. Although the "war" metaphor may occasionally be deployed in reference to street and organized crime, there is no expectation that crime will ever be defeated, just that it will be controlled and limited to tolerable levels. Perhaps most importantly, mafia bosses rarely make "peace" with the government in the sense that most wars end in some form of treaty. Still, Ash observes that the legal framework doesn't really get at everything we're trying to do, since some operations against terror will lie outside a conventional legal formulation. Ash proposes "struggle" which is a word that I've been trying to avoid while writing this post, mostly because it seems imprecise. But I think Ash is right that both progressives in general and the successors of the Bush regime need to think about an alternative rhetorical framework to the "War on Terror."
And if the elections sweep the opposition into real power, they'd better think fast -
America is now seen as a threat to world peace by its closest neighbours and allies, according to an international survey of public opinion published today that reveals just how far the country's reputation has fallen among former supporters since the invasion of Iraq.

Carried out as US voters prepare to go to the polls next week in an election dominated by the war, the research also shows that British voters see George Bush as a greater danger to world peace than either the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, or the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both countries were once cited by the US president as part of an "axis of evil" but it is Mr Bush who now alarms voters in countries with traditionally strong links to the US.

The survey has been carried out by the Guardian in Britain and leading newspapers in Israel (Haaretz), Canada (La Presse and Toronto Star) and Mexico (Reforma), using professional local opinion polling in each country.

It exposes high levels of distrust. In Britain, 69% of those questioned say they believe US policy has made the world less safe since 2001, with only 7% thinking action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased global security.

The finding is mirrored in America's immediate northern and southern neighbours, Canada and Mexico, with 62% of Canadians and 57% of Mexicans saying the world has become more dangerous because of US policy.
It may be far too late for an alternative rhetorical framework. We've had more than three years of an actual war, an calling it something else so we can do something else - maybe something that actually works to make us and the world safer - and if we called it the Petunia of Peace or Colombo, Kojak and Sam Spade Save the Day, no one trusts us to make things better.

And as Time Magazine notes, we sometimes do things to prove them right -
As if the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal weren't bad enough for America's image in the Middle East, now it may appear to much of the world that one of the men implicated in the scandal is returning to the scene of the crime.

The U.S. military tells TIME that one of the soldiers convicted for his role in Abu Ghraib, having served his sentence, has just been sent back to serve in Iraq.

Sgt. Santos Cardona, 32, a military policeman from Fullerton, Calif., served in 2003 and 2004 at Abu Ghraib as a military dog handler. After pictures of Cardona using the animal to threaten Iraqis were made public, he was convicted in May of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault, the equivalent of a felony in the U.S. civilian justice system. The prosecution demanded prison time, but a military judge instead imposed a fine and reduction in rank. Though Cardona was not put behind bars, he was also required to serve 90 days of hard labor at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

… According to a close friend with whom Cardona spoke just before his departure, the soldier is fearful that he remains a marked man, forever linked to the horrors of Abu Ghraib - he appears in at least one al-Qaeda propaganda video depicting the abuse - and that he and comrades serving with him in Iraq could become targets for terrorists. To make matters worse, his 23rd MP Company has been selected to train Iraqi police, which have been the target of frequent assassination attempts and, according to US intelligence are heavily infiltrated by insurgents.

But Cardona's physical well-being is not the only issue of concern connected to his transfer. According to former senior U.S. military officers and others interviewed by TIME, sending a convicted abuser back to Iraq to train local police sends the wrong signal at a time when the U.S. is trying to bolster the beleaguered government in Baghdad, where the horrors of Abu Ghraib are far from forgotten. "If news of this deployment is accurate, it represents appallingly bad judgment," says retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded a division in the first Gulf War. "The symbolic message perceived in Iraq will likely be that the U.S. is simply insensitive to the abuse of their prisoners."

Retired Major General John Batiste was likewise surprised at the decision to send a soldier convicted of abuse at Abu Ghraib back to Iraq. His only comment: "You just have to wonder how far up the chain of command this decision was made."
Well, we could be sending a message. It doesn't seem to be a nice one. We know this guy, and the message tells the Iraqis what to expect in their future. Or maybe, with resources thin, someone just wasn't thinking. Either alternative is depressing.

Along with telling the world that they should shut up and George Bush alone will decide just what torture is and isn't, not the international rules, this too show our steely resolve and manly refusal to care what anyone thinks, or something like that. Luckily with the election and all - at the president railing at John Kerry and pounding this podium or that denouncing gay marriage - this small item got buried. But then someone outside the United States, who doesn't much care if Lars and Spanky down on Elm Street tie the knot, may come this in Time. Time Magazine will be accused of making us look bad. And what about second chances for felons and all that? Ah, maybe no one will notice.

There are lots of things folks don't notice with all the shouting and sneering before the election. They might not notice this - the Bureau of Labor Statistics is saying that productivity growth in the last quarter was zero. Nothing, nada, a goose egg - whatever you like.

Does this matter? Ezra Klein notes, the central economic mystery of the last decade or so is how the economy's robust productivity growth has not translated into commensurately large wage increases, and now "the inexplicably bad good times" may be ending. As he delicately puts it - "This country is so screwed."

The he links to the Princeton economist Paul Krugman carefully explaining all the quite logical reasons why we're about to topple into a massive recession.

And Klein adds this - "I was at that conference and, later on, there was a panel asking how we can prevent the next recession. The four economists on the stage displayed a comforting unanimity in their responses: We can't."

Kevin Drum here -
Now, this is not the first time productivity has leveled out for a quarter. … But two things make this slowdown noteworthy. First, it follows weak Q2 productivity growth, which means we've had six straight months of poor performance. Second, remember my wonky post yesterday about possible mismeasurement of the increase in auto production? If that turns out to be a genuine error, it means this quarter's productivity growth is overstated. We might have actually seen a drop in productivity.

I dunno. It looks to me like the housing market is collapsing, and that's the bubble that's been keeping the economy alive ever since the tech bubble burst. Is there another bubble to take over from housing? I sure don't see one on the horizon. At the same time, middle-class incomes - the engine of economic growth - have fallen over the past few years, and there's a limit to how much families can make up for that by piling on ever more debt. I suspect we've just about hit that limit - and since the one constant of the financial industry is that it overreacts to both good news and bad, it's likely that they'll add to the economic misery by reining in credit even more than the fundamentals justify.

But at least they have a shiny new bankruptcy bill to help them through the hard times. I hope everyone who voted for that legislation is proud of themselves this time next year.
This is wonky stuff, of course. And it sure looks like hard times are coming. So it's out of the news cycle.

First, it's not about nasty election ploys and clever gotcha moments, and second, it's hard to follow because you have to think about it all and not just react viscerally, and third, of course, is that the economic collapse hasn't happen yet, no matter how certain it is. All news programmers know the American audience has the attention span of a gnat, and if you're going to hold onto you demographic, and sell those advertising spots at a good rate, a story about losing your job and you house next March will have folks clicking over to reruns of "Bonanza." The item isn't immediate. Just as all of us don't do "deferred gratification," we certainly don't do deferred crises. Maybe after the election it will get a little play - if there are heart-wrenching stories of folks losing everything that make for good video. CNN will send in the emotionally sensitive and quite dashing Anderson Cooper to do a few of his "I'm outraged" stories. As for now, forget this item.

And after all it's not about sex.

The big story, other than election coverage, of Thursday, November 2, was.

Denver Post: Haggard Steps Down Amid Gay Affair Inquiry - "Ted Haggard, one of the most prominent evangelical pastors in the nation, resigned today as president of the National Association of Evangelicals amid allegations that he carried on a three-year sexual relationship with a male prostitute."

KUSA-TV (Denver): Man Claims 3-Year Sexual Relationship With Pastor - "A gay man and admitted male escort claims he has had an ongoing sexual relationship with a well-known Evangelical pastor from Colorado Springs." (Additional video here.)

It goes national with the AP here -
The leader of the influential National Association of Evangelicals, a vocal opponent of the drive for same-sex marriage, resigned Thursday after being accused of paying for sex with a man.

The Rev. Ted Haggard also stepped aside as head of his 14,000-member New Life Church while a church panel investigates, saying he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations."
He we go again. He's now seeking "spiritual guidance."

So this basics - Reverend Ted Haggard, pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is the target of accusations by Mike Jones, a male "escort," that the pastor has been a sexual client of Jones's for the last three years. And this - "Haggard belongs to the elite group of right-wing religious leaders party to regular Monday-morning conference calls with President Bush, according to reporter Jeff Sharlet, writing last year in Harper's. As a supporter of the ballot measure for a gay marriage ban, which Colorado voters will decide next week, Haggard's travails have a political taint."

Oops. Maybe it's not about sex entirely, or religion, but about how the two meet in the political world. It's a Colorado thing - there are two gay-rights measures on the state's November ballot, one that would grant same-sex couples the right to a civil union, and another that would write a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution. And there are the Monday phone calls with the White House. Amazing.

But who is this fellow? Tim Grieve at SALON asks about that -
We asked for an explanation from Salon's Lauren Sandler, the author of "Righteous: Dispatches From the Evangelical Youth Movement." Here's what she tells us: "Ted Haggard may not just be the most important evangelical you've never heard of, but the most important evangelical, period.

"Joel Osteen may have the largest church in the nation. His Lakewood congregation packs the 60,000-seat Astrodome to bask in his blinding smile and equally blinding promise of the great financial wealth that only faith in Jesus can deliver. But his minions are a paltry bunch compared with the 30 million members of Haggard's National Association of Evangelicals.

"Rick Warren may be the bestselling evangelical scribe since the Bible's original autographs. His 'Purpose-Driven Life' has sold more copies than any other nonfiction book in history, that is, if you don't consider the Bible nonfiction. But he's hardly got the ear of the president, with whom he doesn't always see eye to eye (or tooth for tooth).

"And even James Dobson, long heralded as the most influential evangelical in the world, lacks the pull with the evangelical movement he once did. Dobson never takes off his suit jacket, even at his desk, while Haggard can't stand the feel of anything but denim against his skin. Dobson has been seen by many evangelicals as stepping too far into the 'corrupt' dark side of Washington since he launched his PAC, while Haggard manages his influence carefully without the tarnish of politics ever marring his flawless gleam. It's Haggard who is the bionic hero of the young cadets and airmen he ministers to in his own megachurch, just down the road from Dobson's Focus on the Family. In Colorado Springs - known alternately as the Vatican and the Washington of the evangelical world - it is Haggard who is king, the crony and the conscience of his youthful parishioners as well as his president.

"Which is why it matters so that Haggard seems to have fallen. The Mark Foley scandal inspired plenty of people to question their devotion to the Republican Party. But Foley is a politician; most evangelicals would already suspect him of thinly cloaking his identity in a three-piece, pinstriped superego. Haggard, on the other hand, has always represented the real deal. He's the one John Wayne would have tapped for his posse. He's the one who represents most how deeply political this evangelical population can be, while always disdaining the notion of politics, always cleaving toward the ranch rather than the Hill.

"If that makes it sound like Haggard and Bush are peas in a pod, well, they are. Haggard participates - or at least he did - in weekly White House conference calls, and he and the president like to joke that the only thing they disagree on is what truck to drive.

"Haggard has been preaching against homosexuality with his typical charismatic fire-and-brimstone fervor ever since he founded New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Probably even before then. And if he's right that there is a special place in hell for gay fornicators and drug abusers - not to mention for liars and charlatans - I guess he knows where he's headed."
Okay, the man who preaches the Gospel of Wealth - get with Jesus and you get really rich - and who meets with the president weekly, and the two of them joke about how they think alike - has resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and from his church, until all this is straightened out. It's most curious.

This was a break from the election news - offering sex and the fallen preacher. It's classic. But we're additionally talking gay sex - which drives Republicans crazy. And then it tied back to the political directly - the Colorado proposals, the connection to the president, and this rising star no one knew was out there. The story has everything. And before the elections the accuser goes on the radio sow where this all started and will take a lie-detector test - to prove the paying him for nasty sex for three years, and doing meth now and then.

Ah, maybe none of it is true. One must wait to see how this pans out. Maybe we'll find out that the accuser was paid by the Democrats to drop this bomb after the Kerry story wouldn't go away. But it's too indirect an attack for that, and no one believes the Democrats are that organized anyway.

But it did bury this story - "A Republican congressman accused of abusing his ex-mistress agreed to pay her about $500,000 in a settlement last year that contained a powerful incentive for her to keep quiet until after Election Day, a person familiar with the terms of the deal told The Associated Press." That's only half as interesting. There the congressman is running on a curious platform - "Yes, I cheated in my wife, but I didn't choke and beat my young mistress." The president had flown to Pennsylvania to campaign for the guy - something about values and character and admitting one's mistakes and learning from them. The irony was thick and deep that day, or something was. But the Colorado story was juicier. You got the president of the National Association of Evangelicals resigning and all that.

Perhaps the Republicans made a bad bargain when they decided the evangelicals were necessary to them. They're nothing but trouble.

Even some arch-conservatives are making the break. Over at the National Review, one of them, John Derbyshire, and ex-pat Brit, comes out of the closet (in a different way), and says he's not going to play along. He's tired of the readers sending him messages - that he's not religious enough, that he needs to find Jesus again as he seems to have missed him the first time, and how can he support the president and the administration if he has no religious fervor of Jesus, and so on.

He simply simply confesses -
Kierkegaard said something like: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards." Well, I disagree on the first. I understand less about life now (I am 61) than I did, or thought I did, 30 years ago. I can remember being profoundly shocked, around age 25, reading James Boswell's London Diaries, the bit where Bozzy encounters a very old aristocrat and asks him whether, looking back on life, he can discern any pattern or purpose to it. No, says the old boy, it has all been "a chaos of nothing." I'm not quite ready to agree with that, but it doesn't shock me any more, not at all. Perhaps the old nobleman was right.

... It's counterintuitive, but often the case, that you get less religious as you get older. Well, perhaps it's not really counterintuitive: Other passions fade, why shouldn't religious feeling? Anyway, once the end of the show is in sight on the horizon, you get resigned to a lot of things you struggled against before, especially things to do with your own personality. You stop giving a damn about lots of things you used to care about. ("At 20," goes the old quip, "I was obsessed with what people were thinking about me. At 40, I'd stopped being obsessed with what people were thinking about me. At 60, I finally realized that nobody had ever been thinking about me at all!") You also just have more time to think; and religion, like sex, works best if not thought about too much.
And there's a bit of question and answer -
Q. Do you think religion is a good thing, or a bad thing, for a society?

A. ... My actual answer is that the question doesn't make much sense, as a question. Religious feeling just is, there in human nature, unremovably and inescapably. That's the point of Chesterton's famous, and true, remark, or quasi-remark. It's there, and decent societies have to incorporate it somehow, to the general advantage. That's all. You might as well ask: Is sex a good thing, socially speaking? Depends whether society is good at accommodating it. Pretty much all societies are — we've had lots of practice with that. Really formally organized religion is less than 3,000 years old, though. There wasn't any need for it until really big human settlements — civilizations — came up. We haven't all got it right yet.

Religion is first and foremost a social phenomenon. That religious module in our brains is a sub-module of the social one, or is very closely allied to it. To deny it expression is just as foolish, just as counter-productive, as to deny expression to any other fundamental social feature of human nature — sexuality, or aggression, or the power urge, or cheating.

The trick, if you want a reasonably happy and stable society, is to corral human nature into useful, non-socially-destructive styles of expression: sexuality into marriage, or at least some kind of formal and constrained bonding; aggression into sport or military training; the power urge into consensual politics; cheating into conjuring, drama, and games like poker. (I don't mean you should cheat at poker, only that you need some powers of deception to play poker well.) Any aspect of human nature can get out of hand, as we see with these Muslim fanatics that are making such nuisances of themselves nowadays. That doesn't mean the aspect is bad, just that some society has done a bad job of corralling it.

So I guess my answer is something like: If a society accommodates the people's religious impulses well, it's a good thing, and if not, not.

Q. Do you think an individual human life has any purpose?

A. From a cold biological point of view, every living creature has the purpose of bringing forth a new generation, and of living long enough to do so. However, this question is usually asked by religious people with some such subtext as: Do you believe you are here to please (or obey, or glorify) God? Or to make yourself worthy of Christ's sacrifice? Or the equivalent things in other religions - to help bring all of humanity into the House of Islam, to escape from the Wheel of Reincarnation, to live in harmony with the Tao, and so on? I guess it is obvious from my previous answers that, no, I don't believe any of those things.
That's just a sample. We'll see what he says about Colorado. The divorce over there on the right side of things has begun.

And what this all comes down to is that there's lots more going on than the elections. They'll be over soon enough, one way or the other. There is other news.

Posted by Alan at 22:47 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006 22:49 PST home

Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Levels of Seriousness - Political Halloween
Topic: Perspective
Levels of Seriousness - Political Halloween
Okay, Tuesday, October 31, was Halloween, and here above Sunset we were all hiding. Down the hill they had the annual Halloween parade and party - most of West Hollywood closed, the streets blocked, and the crazies were out. West Hollywood is famous for such things, but dropping in once is enough. And streets are closed out here all the time. Coming up it's the Twentieth Century Fox folks with the new Bruce Willis film, "Live Free or Die Hard." That will be a pain, "shooting on the 105 Freeway and surrounding areas for three weekends in November. The movie involves explosions and pyrotechnics. The eastbound 105 will be completely closed on the first three weekends in November. Imperial Highway will be shut down most days, November 2-19." The first one of those shut down a lot of Century City on many a Sunday.

You get used to a certain level of craziness out here, and sometimes it spills out into the wider world - and sometimes it has very little to do with the movies. Out in Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl and Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (lots of intense and brilliant people working on the latest close-up photos just in from the surface of Mars), you'll find Pasadena City College - a rather fine commuter school with its left-wing radio station (KPCC) and a great student jazz band and whatnot. That's where the national crazy Halloween story started, the day before Halloween. John Kerry, the man who got the most votes for president in the 2004 election, was visiting. He was campaigning with California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides - another Democrat who can't win for losing (no one can touch Arnold Schwarzenegger as he's one heroic movie star) - and messed up big time. He told the student crowd at Pasadena City College - "You know, education - if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

What? As Tim Grieve notes here, this blew open on Halloween with the White House saying Kerry insulted the troops and John Kerry insisting, "No, I insulted Bush."

It's all how you read the words. Kerry spokesman David Wade insisted the senator was referring to George W. Bush - "a president not exactly known for his intellectual curiosity or academic successes" - but no one on the right was buying that. The Republican National Committee said that Kerry, who volunteered for Vietnam after graduating from Yale, was belittling our troops now serving in Iraq. John McCain said Kerry's comments were "insensitive" and "ill-considered." White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said on Halloween that Kerry "not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who have given their lives in this." And Snow said that Democratic candidates like Jim Webb and Tammy Duckworth should be asked whether they're in accord with Kerry's "absolute insult."

It seems Kerry was trying to say if Bush had actually been any kind of student and made a minimal effort at being smart, instead of mocking those who try either, we wouldn't be in the Iraq mess. But the man has a tin ear and just can't tell a joke - he messed up - bad timing, bad delivery. That's death out here. He'll never make it in Hollywood, especially if he cannot get it working in Pasadena. This town is unforgiving

And the Republicans needed an issue. Blaming the North Korea nuclear test and the 9/11 attacks - and the sluggish economy and most everything else - on Bill Clinton was getting thin. Flogging a president who has been out of office for six years for what's happening now was starting to look silly. Best to switch to the fellow who lost six years ago and has been fighting obscurity ever since. Normally he'd be ignored. But this was just a gift. That he's not running for anything and shunned by his own party didn't really matter. When you need a new scapegoat sometime you just get lucky. This would do.

There was damage control - a statement followed by a press conference -
If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq . It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it. These Republicans are afraid to debate veterans who live and breathe the concerns of our troops, not the empty slogans of an Administration that sent our brave troops to war without body armor.

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they're afraid to debate real men. And this time it won't work because we're going to stay in their face with the truth and deny them even a sliver of light for their distortions. No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut and run policy in Afghanistan and a stand still and lose strategy in Iraq.
That's all beside the point. The man tried to make a pointed joke and screwed it up. Unforgivable. You don't give a fifth-rate performance to a rough audience.

The most widely-read fellow on the left, Kos, has this to say -
Man, there are times when this stuff is more ridiculous than anything a fiction writer or satirist could ever dream up.

So John Kerry mangles a sentence in a public appearance, and the right-wing smear machine and its traditional media enablers are apoplectic. I mean, John Kerry is a, um, junior senator not running for reelection! And he's, um, a war hero who hates the troops! And um, we hate him because he's John Kerry!

Trust me, I haven't been shy to pile on Kerry when warranted, but what a load of bullshit this is. And showing that he has learned from his Swiftboating days, Kerry hit back hard…

Kerry has nothing to apologize for. The people who have turned their backs on the troops do. And even though this ridiculousness will lead the evening news, fact is, we should embrace the opportunity to remind Americans how Republicans rally to the "troops" defense only when it suits their own cynical political ends.
Too late - the damage is done. Now everyone will accept that the war is going well, we're winning decisively, and no mistakes were made about anything at all.

Maybe that'll happen. One commenter at the Kos site notes on MSNBC's Hardball show, host Chris Matthews said flat out that reading the full transcript of the Pasadena thing it's clear that Kerry was insulting the president, not the troops. A big time Republican, Dick Armey, was on at the time and essentially agreed and they both laughed about how funny it was that the White House and the whole Republican party was feigning mock outrage. As the Brit kids say in the Harry Potter books - brilliant.

Kos -
If Republicans want to debate who supports the troops more, let's have that debate. I'd love to talk about nothing else than Iraq for the next week.

And for the rest of you who think this is the end of the world - stop being afraid of your own shadow. Just stop it. Fight or get out of the kitchen. It will get hotter than even this.
Of course it will get hotter. And Halloween day it got hotter -
A Democratic activist who verbally confronted U.S. Sen. George Allen at a campaign rally in Charlottesville yesterday was shoved, put into a headlock and thrown against a window by three men wearing Allen stickers, according to a widely disseminated video of the incident.
The CNN video of that is here, another here, and a series of stills here.

The fellow is a political writer - and an ex-Marine. He wasn't heckling. He waited until after the speech and asked nasty questions. As you see he wasn't violent or even raising his voice. Allen's goons took him down. He was disrespectful. Senator Allen said such things happen - no big deal.

This may have been staged, or pre-planned. It does send a message to voters - George Bush may be too much of a wimp when it comes to the press, so elect me and Helen Thomas and David Gregory will get bounced around real good if they ask uppity questions. It kind of reaches out to the authoritarian-minded Americans who are sick of people complaining and making trouble. It's a bit of a message.

Mike Stark, the fellow who was roughed up, doesn't get it -
My name is Mike Stark. I am a law student at the University of Virginia, a marine, and a citizen journalist. Earlier today at a public event, I was attempting to ask Senator Allen a question about his sealed divorce record and his arrest in the 1970s, both of which are in the public domain. His people assaulted me, put me in a headlock, and wrestled me to the ground. Video footage is available here, from an NBC affiliate.

I demand that Senator Allen fire the staffers who beat up a constituent attempting to use his constitutional right to petition his government. I also want to know why Senator Allen would want his staffers to assault someone asking questions about matters of public record in the heat of a political campaign. Why are his divorce records sealed? Why was he arrested in the 1970s? And why did his campaign batter me when I asked him about these questions.

George Allen defends his support of the Iraq war by saying that our troops are defending the ideals America stands for. Indeed, he says our troops are defending our very freedom. What kind of country is it when a Senator's constituent is assaulted for asking difficult and uncomfortable questions? What freedoms do we have left? Maybe we need to bring the troops home so that they can fight for freedom at George Allen's campaign events. Demanding accountability should not be an offense worthy of assault.

I will be pressing charges against George Allen and his surrogates later today. George Allen, at any time, could have stopped the fray. All he had to do was say, "This is not how my campaign is run. Take your hands off that man." He could have ignored my questions. Instead he and his thugs chose violence. I spent four years in the Marine Corps. I'll be damned if I'll let my country be taken from me by thugs that are afraid of taking responsibility for themselves.

It just isn't the America I know and love. Somebody needs to take a stand against those that would bully and intimidate their fellow citizens. That stand begins right here, right now.
Yeah, yeah - well, times are changing. The price you pay for asking questions is going up. Anyone in Austria in 1938 would know that. This fellow doesn't get it.

Here and there a few people will be outraged by this incident, and a bit more widely some others may feel somehow uncomfortable about it. The political calculation seems to be that most of America is pretty fed up with politics and the election news from all over, and this will appeal to them. People should just shut up and not make trouble. George Allen's stock just rose.

But there is calm, reasoned questioning. It's just useless -
Sen. Hillary Clinton delivered what they call a "major policy address" at the Council on Foreign Relations this afternoon, and it proved that, against an administration of misplaced conviction and shallow ideology, clichés are wisdom and conventional thinking can be profound.

Few of Sen. Clinton's pronouncements would stun a classroom of freshman poli-sci majors. That U.S. foreign policy needs "bipartisan consensus" and "nonpartisan competence"; that, in an "increasingly interdependent world," we must remain "internationalists" and "realists"; that "patient diplomacy, backed up by American strength, informed by American values," is just the ticket. Who could dispute such truisms?

The stunning thing is that the president of the United States and his top advisers do dispute them in their rhetoric and their policies. Hence their blithe disregard of expertise (military, economic, and otherwise), their harrumphing unilateralism, their exaggerated assumptions about American power, their dismissal of negotiations as a game for weaklings (and negotiations with bad guys as appeasement).
But she said it so nicely no one wanted to beat her up.

That's from Fred Kaplan who spends some time pointing out banal truisms now seem radical, but then, "when President Bush reduces the sectarian complexities of Iraq to a struggle between the forces of terror and the ordinary people who just want a decent life, he seems utterly incurious about the composition of those people or what they might consider a decent life - and genuinely unaware of the connection between their society's upheaval and the war that he brought on."

So in that context what Clinton proposes makes the administration very, very, angry. She's suggesting what seems kind of obvious -
1) Press the Iraqi government to get serious about internal reconciliation, and present real consequences for their failure to do so. One possible approach, she said, might be to establish an oil trust, the revenue of which would be equitably shared by all Iraqis, thus placating Sunni discontent and demonstrating that America has no ambitions for their oil. 2) Convene an international conference of all parties in the region, including Iran and Syria. 3) Begin a "phased re-deployment" of U.S. troops, leaving behind only enough for support and training Iraq's own military.
And that makes her one of the "cut and run" people who want the terrorists to win, of course. At least it's a policy. It would be nice to have one.

What else? More troops in Afghanistan, and direct talks with Tehran, if just to find out who's really running things over there. As Kaplan notes on the latter - "President Bush declines, leaving such things to the British, French, and Germans, saying that the Iranians know what we want if they want to strike up a conversation." On North Korea, said she was real happy that that the North Koreans agreed on Halloween morning, after extensive diplomatic pressure from China, to return to the six-party talks in Beijing. But she complained that the Bush administration "has spent six years dangling neither sticks nor carrots in its dealings with the admittedly horrid Kim Jong-il."

Kaplan says of all this (and there are a few other items) -
In certain Democratic circles, the cry has gone out for presidential candidates and party honchos to articulate grand ideas, especially in foreign policy - bright new strategies for the 21st century and the post-post-Cold War world. But if there's one lesson of the George W. Bush era (and it is an era - has any six-year span ever seemed longer?), it's that grand ideas are the ones that most often get you in trouble. There are plenty of good ideas - sound ideas out there in the realms of history, shrewd analysis, and common sense. It might be enough simply to call for candidates who are smart, skeptical, and rooted in reality.
So forget John Kerry's screw up, and George Allen's demonstration of how things should really work in America. These are all minor matters. We need some big, obvious fixes, even if banal and a tad boring.

Why? Consider what Lieutenant General William E. Odom (retired) - a senior fellow at the wildly conservative Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University - had to say on Halloween -
Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq; creating democracy there; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; making Israel more secure; not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain; and others.

But reality can no longer be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq. All of these things and more became unavoidable the day that U.S. forces invaded.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.

The administration could recognize that a rapid withdrawal is the only way to overcome our strategic paralysis, though that appears unlikely, notwithstanding election-eve changes in White House rhetoric. Congress could force a stock-taking. Failing this, the public will sooner or later see through all of the White House's double talk and compel a radical policy change. The price for delay, however, will be more lives lost in vain - the only thing worse than the lives already lost in vain.
And he makes the case for getting out in three months. And he argues as Clinton did - the same points, generally.

That's because things like this are going on (a summary of the Halloween Iraq news from Mark Kleiman at UCLA -
It's over.

The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy for Iraq is now obviously a dead letter.

In a showdown between the U.S. Army and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Prime Minister of Iraq sided with Moqtada, and we are obeying his orders and backing down. PM al-Maliki thinks the presence of U.S. forces in Iraqi cities is fueling violence, and he'd like to see them withdrawn to bases in the countryside.

Let's review the bidding:

1. The Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr's private militia - the same outfit that we fought house-to-house in Najaf - kidnapped an Iraqi-born U.S. soldier a week ago.

2. Moqtada is a minister Moqtada's nominee is health minister in the Iraqi government, and his party is one of the three that make up the ruling coalition.

3. In response, our troops invested Sadr City, the huge Shi'a slum where Moqtada has his power base, looking for the kidnapped soldier and for one of Moqtada's lieutenants, suspected of organizing the snatch. They set up roadblocks that made travel difficult both within Sadr City and between that area and the rest of Baghdad.

That's the situation as of the weekend.


4. Moqtada complained, and threatened unspecified but drastic consequences. The Mahdi Army cordoned off Sadr City, completely isolating it.

5. Without any advance warning to the U.S., al-Maliki ordered that the roadblocks be taken down.

6. The roadblocks are coming down.

Of course when the head of a sovereign government gives orders about U.S. military actions in his country, we have no option but to comply. But why should our troops keep dying to prop up a government that won't stop its own political allies from kidnapping them?

Nor, it turns out, does that government want to be propped up the way we're currently trying to do it: Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq's population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

Duhhhhh ... right. But of course Bush's friends call any Democrat who says that a coward, if not a traitor.

And note also al-Maliki's proposed solution: The speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.

And of course if we were to do that, we wouldn't need 150,000 troops in Iraq.
And all that is just numbering the sequential events in this news item. They told us to back off, and what can we do?

Here's one idea from Gary Kamiya, apologize -
Americans are feeling many emotions about Iraq these days. There's anger. There's sadness. There's despair, and vindication, and fear. But largely forgotten is the quietest, but most necessary, emotion of all: shame.

When we chose to invade Iraq, we made ourselves morally responsible for the consequences. This was not a debt we wanted to think about. And until the last few weeks, it was possible to repress it, by clinging to the hope that things would somehow turn out OK. That hope has now been dashed. Whether we stay or leave, Iraq is not going to be OK. And all we can do is watch as the deadly consequences of our folly, our rashness, our stupid self-righteousness, our inexcusable imperial hubris are visited on thousands of men, women and children - only a minuscule fraction of them those "terrorists" we were supposedly attacking.

We have turned Iraq into hell. In Iraq today, death can come from anywhere, for any reason or no reason. You can be killed because you belonged to the wrong sect, because you were seen talking to an American, because someone wants your car, because you wore shorts, because you were selling ice, because you drove too close to a U.S. checkpoint, because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is an old Arab proverb: "Better a thousand days of tyranny than one day of anarchy." It is not an inspiring sentiment, but perhaps there is a reason for it.

… This is the shadow we now live under because of Iraq. We did it. We can't undo it. And we will never be able to make up for what we've done.

Our guilt would be somewhat mitigated, or at least easier to deal with, if there had been any real reason for this war. All wars are terrible, but some are justifiable. This was not. It was a frivolous war, perhaps the most abstract, pulled-out-of-thin-air war ever launched by a world power. It was dreamed up by hollow men who had never experienced war themselves, who made the decision as if playing a board game, and were supported by people who convinced themselves that the world was a board game.

To be sure, some war supporters had good intentions. But that does not exonerate them. If you start a war for no reason, you have to be right about the outcome. You don't have the option of being wrong.

The war supporters' good intentions were to get rid of Saddam Hussein, one of the great monsters of our time, and improve the miserable lives of the Iraqi people. These were laudable sentiments. I was bitterly opposed to the war, but I allowed myself to celebrate the moment when he fell. I thought it was inhumane and dogmatic not to celebrate the downfall of such a dreadful dictator, even though I feared what would happen next. But it turns out that I was wrong to celebrate.

… Whether you agreed with the war or not, once it started America incurred a moral responsibility to the Iraqis.

… What can we do about this? We have no vocabulary for it, no moral compass. What do you do when you have incurred a debt so great it can never be repaid?

In 1997, after a Jordanian soldier killed seven Israeli schoolgirls who were visiting a nature reserve, the late King Hussein knelt, weeping, before each of the girls' parents as a sign of his sorrow, his responsibility and his shame.

America owes the Iraqi people the same gesture.

Protest marches mean little now. Anger can be expressed on Nov. 7. But we need to express our shame.
Ah, we never do such things. But the thought kind of puts the Kerry thing in perspective. It really doesn't matter much.

Posted by Alan at 22:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006 08:17 PST home

Friday, 27 October 2006
A Diversion - An International Dialog Regarding Walls and Canadians and More
Topic: Perspective
A Diversion - An International Dialog Regarding Walls and Canadians and More
Friday, October 27, 2006 - the site's email group has at it.

Apologies - I haven't read postings in more than a few days, so the two comments here are totally from left field - or redundancy dundancy, dept of redundancy dept dept...

ITEM ONE Yesterdays BIG signing on THE WALL - and I can't help but wonder - except for the very obvious (literal)... HOW is our wall different than the Berlin Wall? Haven't we spent my ENTIRE lifetime diametrically opposed to governments - on several continents - who made practice and policy of building walls? And wasn't the most recent removal of a national wall the crowning symbol of the largest larger-than-life Republican of the 20th Century? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THIS COUNTRY? Election Day couldn't be closer!

ITEM TWO A real quickie - top of today's Wall Street Journal - top (center of 3) banner above the mast - nice color shot (biz news isn't drab anymore!) of Dub-ya draped in blue star fields behind each shoulder - his white shirt and red tie gloriously framing his most serious scowl of concern... with the large print quote... "If We Leave, They Will Follow Us Here?" I can only ask - "AND whose fault is THAT?"

Have a good Friday.
And you're in marketing?

As the camera slowly pans along the wall following the Minutemen, sort of like following Sara Hughes across the ice our wall, will have sponsors - Halliburton - Bechtel - General Dynamics - Lockheed.

Sure, they aren't as familiar as Pepsi and STP - but they are probably a better return on your investment
They aren't as familiar as Pepsi and STP but they are probably a better return on your investment?

Depends on how you define return - and if you factor in all the long term costs of your short term profiteering... eh? I may be in marketing, but I'm also into healthy economics!
But that wall business - my guess is the difference between the Berlin Wall and the Mexico wall is the Mexico wall is to keep people out of here and the Berlin wall was to keep people from getting out of East Germany. Western Germany didn't put up the wall to keep people from fleeing into West Germany, but the Russians put up the wall so they wouldn't lose their valued citizens desperate to leave. That's the way I remember it.
And that's what I mean by... besides the obvious... The REAL issue centers on governments that construct Walls... for ANY reason! List a good one - please!
A good one? The Vietnam War memorial in DC comes to mind.
I honor you sir with a GOOD reply! The noblest of causes...
The REAL issue centers on governments that construct Walls... for ANY reason? Like to keep Canadian bears out of the good old USA? What they got under all that fur, eh?
Canadian Bears - danger!
Rhymes with Canadian Beer? - Danger!
People who want better lives in the SW? - Danger!
Oh I forgot... that's how all of the shoulder fired weapons we sell get back in the country!

Let's see... When did France last build a wall?

Stop those Canadian Bears!
Yeah - but they play great hockey.
So THAT explains why I haven't seen any Canadian bears around Atlanta recently! Now I'm REALLY pissed! (Just another reason to vote Democratic on November 7th!)

And when did France last build a wall? That's right! The Maginot Line! To keep out the Nazis? (How'd that work out, by the way?)
It did keep out the Canadian bears.
Stop the walls!
Stop the bears!
Rhyme with beer!
We're either writing a new anthem... or fulfilling Arlo Guthrie's old line… Why three? Three's a whole damned conspiracy!

Rhymes with tree...

I like the anthem option!
Wave your freak flag high!

And all this on the 50th anniversary of the release of Alan Ginsberg's Howl. I too have seen "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness." The other minds were destroyed by Canadian beer and Wal-Mart. Now back to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
Bears, bears, bears
Comin' over the Wall
Beers, beers, beers
Up on the dang Wall
Lookit them bears
Drank that damn beer!
Up on the wall, wall, wall
Phooey! Shit! Akkah-cak!
Them beers, beers, beers
Ain't no good a-tall
Bears, bears, bears
Goin' back
Over the Wall
Them bears
Ain't coming here a-tall

Sy Louis Stevenson (d. 1857)
Do you think there is a reason none has ever heard of this guy?
"Canadian bear in search of beer about to be deported by starlight after crossing Wall on account of illegally lit French cigarette, banned in the United States because they don't contain any fire-retarding chemicals."

Actually this is not quite true. Canadians bears know perfectly well how to search for Canadian beers in Canada, where there are also nubile lady bears to guzzle with.

It is true that French cigarettes, the stinky ones, do not have fire-retarding chemicals in them. It makes them easier to smoke!
Canadian bear in search of beer about to be deported by starlight after crossing Wall on account of illegally lit French cigarette, banned in the United States because they don't contain any fire-retarding chemicals - cartoon by Ric Erikson, MetropoleParis












Illustration, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

How times change. When I was on a canoe vacation in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, in 1958 and again in 1968, I was told we were not allowed to bring in American cigarettes because they used paper that was not flame retardant, as was required in the woods. We were, on the other hand, allowed to buy Canadian rolling papers that were soaked in the stuff, assuming we were willing to roll our own. It didn't matter so much to me, since I was not smoking on either of those trips.
What were we talking about?

Posted by Alan at 21:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006 21:18 PDT home

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