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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

The siege of Harfleur in 1415 - "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, or fill the wall up with our English dead."

As mentioned elsewhere, Wednesday, November 30th was the day of the big presidential speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. We were finally going to get the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Any number of waggish types had been commenting that we should have had one of those three years ago, and this was an odd time to be getting around to coming up with a plan. Sputtering conservative Bush supporters were saying we had one all along and this was just something the treasonous liberals thrust on the administration, claiming you just trust the president - he doesn't owe anyone an explanation of anything - and wondering why the people who don't much like Bush, his policies or this war, or most of what his has either attempted or done, felt they had any right to know the plan. Why should he have to explain anything? I think the idea is having a plan made public aids and abets the enemy, or some such thing.

But he gave the speech - even if he might have been seething that he had to explain anything to anyone, and might have been wondering just who these people are who think they have a right to know such things.

Be that is it may Fred Kaplan puts the speech in perspective here -
From December 1941 to August 1945, the U.S. government mobilized an entire nation; manufactured a mighty arsenal; played a huge role in defeating the armies, air forces, and navies of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; and emerged from battle poised to shape the destiny of half the globe. By comparison, from September 2001 to December 2005, the U.S. government has advanced to the point of describing a path to victory in a country the size of California.

The problem Kaplan points out, as do may others, is that although the speech and its accompanying thirty-five page booklet of bullet points is called a "strategy for victory," neither term is defined. "Yes people want to what do we do now and when can we start to pull out - under what circumstances, with what sorts of troops remaining, to what end, for how long?"

In short, that's asking just what we are doing and why we are doing it, nine hundred and forty-seven days after the war started and after more than 2,100 of our guys have died for… well, for what? What's the general idea here? Even if some think such questions are impertinent, some don't. Yes, this is Cindy Sheehan territory. Maybe she was just disrespectful of the awesome office of the president, but the question may, possibly, have some legitimacy. Or not, depending on your point of view.

What we got? "We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission."

The mission? "When our mission of training the Iraqi security forces is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation."

And there was this variation - the mission will be complete "when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy."

And there was this variation - "I will settle for nothing less than complete victory."

Kaplan points out the obvious questions all this raises. Is our job done when the Iraqis can fight the bad guys on their own - or when the bad guys are defeated? Which is it? And how will we know when they're defeated?

Ah, the president's answer -
In World War II, victory came when the Empire of Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri. In Iraq, there will not be a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.
Three conditions, when met on some specific day in the future, mean we can call that specific day V-I day, of course. And any fool can see each of these conditions is, shall we say, all subject to interpretation. Whether any one of these conditions is met is, really, a judgment call.

In short, the war is over when we say it's over, and for now, we're "staying the course." There will be no timetables of any kind. We will not "cut and run."

You got things like - "Pulling our troops out before they achieve their purpose is not a plan for victory." But if "achieving their purpose" is something you cannot specifically measure, just what is the plan to get to that goal of "we now think things are better?" Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? Maybe.

But we know this - "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins, so long as I am your commander in chief. ... We will not abandon Iraq."

Yeah, but we won't know when leaving Iraq is not abandoning Iraq. It's all in how you see it.

So we'll keep on keeping on - "This will take time - and patience." And troop levels will be adjusted, up or down, by commanders' assessments of facts on the ground, "not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."

In short, we'll keep making it up as we go along. Heck, that worked for Indiana Jones in the first movie.

Bush is gambling most folks are comfortable with that, and gambling no really bad thing will happen before his term ends - say a barracks blowing up like the one that blew up in Beirut and took out hundreds of our guys and spooked Reagan into getting us out of Lebanon. It could go well from here on out.

You never know.

Of course the hallmark of this gang is having that positive attitude - expect the best and ridicule the worriers - we will be greeted as liberators, they will toss flowers and sweets at us, the oil there will flow freely and pay for this all, we'll be out in six months. That's how they do planning. They're visionaries, not pessimists.

And they're at it again - and counting on the American people loving the optimist and hating the sourpuss pessimist with his defeatist "realism." We're a "can do" people. Nothing is impossible. Cue Frank Sinatra singing "High Hopes" and all that.

Is this what most people would call a strategy? They're counting on most people not being able to tell the difference between a strategic plan and hoping for the best, kind like the difference between careful retirement planning with a 401(k) and savings and investments, and buying a lottery ticket twice a week. Lots of folks buy lottery tickets. That's the audience here. You never know.

Kaplan is one of those sourpuss realists who suggest a real strategic plan would deal with these four issues -
- The American occupation itself is strengthening, legitimizing, and radicalizing the insurgency. This fact - acknowledged by nearly everyone but the president - is what makes the issue of troop levels so complex: Our troops are, in one sense, fighting the insurgents and making Iraq more secure; but in another sense they're bolstering the insurgents and making Iraq less secure. The net effect - both of the continued occupation and of a withdrawal - is debatable, but the president will fail to engage the debate as long as he pretends the dilemma doesn't exist.

- The Iraqi security forces have no doubt improved in the past year, mainly because it's only been in the last year or so that realistic training measures have been put into effect, thanks mainly to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who has since been rotated out of the country. But how much they've improved, how effectively they might fight on their own as a national army, is not at all clear -especially given recent reports of death-squad tactics and the persistent growth of sectarian militias.

- The persistence of the war - long beyond the point when its planners thought it would be over - is straining the U.S. military to the breaking point, in terms of recruitment, morale, troop rotation, and the operations, maintenance, and procurement of its weapons systems. This is the main reason many military officers have called for getting out of Iraq - because "staying the course" for much longer is physically impossible. Steps can be taken to remedy this situation, but they would require momentous political decisions, and President Bush has done nothing to prepare the public for any such measures.

- Finally, the war in Iraq, even the war on terrorism (of which it has lately become a part, though it wasn't before Bush invaded), does not carry the same moral or strategic weight as the Cold War, much less World War II. In today's speech, Bush once again likened al-Qaida to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. There is no question that al Qaeda and its allies constitute a potent menace, but they do not rule a massive landmass or control a mighty industrial army; they cannot launch a blitzkrieg across Europe (or any other continent).
Details, details, details...

This is the sort of thing these guys scoff at. This is an administration of hope. They like to keep things simple. They (sometimes not well defined) hate us for our freedoms (which can be limited domestically to keep us safe), so we have to defeat them, and not appear weak, and never back down, or they come here and do bad things.

Is it more complex? Only defeatists think so.

We'll see.

So we didn't get much on what the war was all about, geopolitically and culturally and economically, and what winning means is a tad vague, but we'll somehow know it when it happens, or we'll say it happened if things seem close enough for government work. And what will it take to get to this vague "there?" Just keep doing what we're doing, optimistically. Doubters should shut up, and so should folks who want who, what, when where, how and why. That's not what we do.

Some speech.

And how was this covered? Associated Press was odd. Sometimes when you went to the Deb Riechmann story you got the headline Bush Counsels 'Patience' for Victory In Iraq, but then sometime you got Bush Maps Out Iraq War Strategy. But it was the same story. Headline writing is left to who knows who. You didn't get "Bush Repackages Previous Empty Rhetoric Hoping This Time Someone Thinks We Have A Plan for the War." But AP did run this photo here and there, and that sums things up nicely.

The AP opens with this -
President Bush, facing growing doubts about his war strategy, said Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle but that "this will take time and patience." He refused to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Bush said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is set to change, by making fewer patrols and convoys, moving out of Iraqi cities and focusing more on specialized operations aimed at high-value terrorist targets.
Well, yes, that was a note that tactics will change - fewer guys busting down doors and more bombs falling from the sky.

And AP does note there wasn't much else there -
Bush's speech did not break new ground or present a new strategy. Instead, it was intended to bring together in one place the administration's arguments for the war and explain existing strategy on a military, economic and political track. The president's address was accompanied by the release of a 35-page White House document titled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

"Americans should have a clear understanding of this strategy," Bush said. He said the document was an unclassified version of the strategy that was being pursued in Iraq.
This stuff had been classified? Why?

Well, a lot of the speech was good news. We were told the Iraqis were really stepping up to the plate. It's going real well. They may have some sort of army one day.

The facts there are in some dispute, but the president said he was sure this was so. Trust him?

Well, you could trust his wife -
Bush's wife, Laura, said earlier Wednesday she "absolutely" would like to see an acceptable resolution there. "We want our troops to be able to come home as soon as they possibly can," she said during an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" while giving a White House Christmas tour.

"It's really remarkable how far they've come," she said, "but I really feel very, very encouraged that we're going to see a very great ending when we see a really free Iraq right in the heart of the Middle East."
Feel better now?

Read the whole speech here if you'd like.

As someone put it - the new strategy is that the old strategy is working.

Fine. What did you expect?

See also In Sum, We're Screwed, with this observation -
Bush also did not acknowledge that the Iraqis themselves want us to go away. Seems to me that if the Iraqi government passes a resolution giving us, say, six months to get our butts out of their country, we have to comply. It's their country. Bush doesn't seem to have considered that possibility. I guess he figures God won't let that happen.

Bottom line, Bush really isn't listening to anybody except the voices in his head he thinks are Jesus, and he sees "staying the course" as something noble and heroic. So no graceful or dignified exit for us. Instead, we can look forward to continued waste of lives and resources until it finally winds down to some messy, inconclusive end.
See also Going for a St. Crispin's Day address, Bush channels Walter Mitty.

And note this from the US the Army War College's W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane - from their new 60-page report. US troop presence in Iraq probably cannot be sustained more than three more years. And in those three years? This -
"It appears increasingly unlikely that U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces will crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased U.S. and coalition withdrawal."

"It is no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long U.S. forces remain."

"The United States may also have to scale back its expectations for Iraq's political future," by accepting a relatively stable but undemocratic state as preferable to a civil war among Iraq's ethnic and religious factions.
And so on and so forth...

And this from Barry R. Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT who will become the director of MIT's Security Studies Program in 2006 -
... the expectation of an open-ended American presence lends internal and external political support to the insurgents and infantilizes the government and army of Iraq, producing at best a perpetual stalemate. The Bush administration's plan is to hang on and hope for a lucky break, or at least hope to make it to the end of the president's second term without an obvious catastrophe. Meanwhile the steady grind of rotations to Iraq will cause good soldiers and officers to quietly exit the Army and prospective recruits to decline entry. The American public may look up in three years and find that the option of staying the course is gone, and the conditions for departure much less controllable. Surely the steady drumbeat of American casualties combined with the gap between the political progress claimed by administration spinners and the actual state of relations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds will erode public support for any enduring commitment to Iraq. Then the strategy that both the Bush administration's mainstream supporters and its mainstream critics fear the most may be the only one available - precipitous withdrawal. The United States must try another strategy while it still has the political and military resources necessary to influence the pattern of disengagement and the aftermath.
Too late. The new strategy is the old one, but now we say it will really, really work, if you believe.

Also note this -
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday embraced a call by a prominent member of her rank-and-file to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, two weeks after she declined to endorse it.

"We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable," Pelosi said. "That is what the American people and our troops deserve."
Folks are climbing down off the fence. The utopian idealists and the pragmatic realists are forming teams. Get in the appropriate line.


The rest of Wednesday was not nearly as interesting. This decade's answer to the fifty's Joseph McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, published the first draft of his blacklist - but it was just media operations he considers "guttersnipes" and "smear merchants" - the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times and MSNBC - purveyors of "defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites." No individuals yet.

And note here O'Reilly warns America about the vast conspiracy to get rid of Christmas: "There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."

It's the ACLU and the secular Jews like George Soros, of course.

And that congressman from Pennsylvania, the decorated Marine and long-time friend of the military, who proposed a drawdown in Iraq, must have loved Hitler, as in this: "These pinheads running around going, 'Get out of Iraq now,' don't know what they're talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, 'Ah, he's not such a bad guy.' They don't get it."


See this on Philip Tetlock's new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? And see this on hedgehogs and foxes in general.

Also Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secreting paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by US information officers. The whole item is here - these stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists." The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor - and those employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives. The Times quotes a senior Pentagon official - "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."

Armstrong Williams. Enough said.

Posted by Alan at 20:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005 21:12 PST home

Monday, 28 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Done Deal - We're Out of There

Elsewhere (see Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not) there was mention of Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" where he was discussing his latest New Yorker article, Up In The Air - Where is the Iraq war headed next? - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal. This came the same day as this from the Associated Press - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal (Sunday, November 27) - and the White House was saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, and this is not "cut and run" or anything like it.

One sees that of the news stories that were forming over the previous weekend this is the one that had legs. Of course, to make the case that we should start withdrawing troops (or redeploying them, which sound much better), the administration had better be able to show that things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running that we've sort of, kind of won, or something. And that renders all that anger that recent Friday night in the House of Representatives, with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest, somewhat moot.

Note here all the right wing commentators savagely attacking that cowardly quitter Biden for what he said in the Washington Post about withdrawal, or redeployment, just a few hours before the White House said Biden was right on target, but the Bush team had thought of it first. Well, sometimes it's hard to be a loyal supporter of the flawless president. Sometimes you get blindsided by the guy. No one distributed the new talking points in time.

Fred Kaplan, over at SLATE.COM, tells us it's going to get even more upside down -
Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces - which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own - have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason - a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
Kaplan says that, assuming the forecasts about the speech are true, the White House "is as cynical about this war as its cynical critics have charged it with being."

Yes, it has been obvious that once there was an Iraqi constitution, and then an elected government, we could say we did the job and begin to get out, no matter what we said about "staying the course" until every last "insurgent" was either dead or rendered pleasant and democratic (the non-capitalized version, of course). This does, as Kaplan notes, explain what all the rush was about. We pushed the schedule - no deviation from that - so we can get out, or mostly out, before the 2006 mid-term elections here, where those who carried the water for Bush in the house and senate face voters with doubts and questions and a bit of anger. The idea is to take away the war as an issue in the elections. That's pretty obvious. Yeah, the new Iraqi constitution is still a work in progress, and perhaps it is so "deeply flawed" it is "more likely to fracture the country than to unite it." Kaplan's argument is that this doesn't matter as much to the guys who run things for us all in Washington as their staying in power.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But note this:
The political beauty of this scenario is that, even if Iraq remains mired in chaos or seems to be hurtling toward civil war, nobody in Congress is going to call for a halt, much less a reversal, of the withdrawal. The Republicans will fall in line; many of them have been nervous that the war's perpetuation, with its rising toll and dim horizons, might cost them their seats. And who among the Democrats will choose to outflank Bush on his right wing and advocate - as some were doing not so long ago - keeping the troops in Iraq for another five or 10 years or even boosting their numbers. (The question is so rhetorical, it doesn't warrant a question mark.)

In short, Bush could pull a win-win-win out of this shift. He could pre-empt the Democrats' main line of attack against his administration, stave off the prospect of (from the GOP's perspective) disastrous elections in 2006 and '08, and, as a result, bolster his presidency's otherwise dwindling authority within his own party and among the general population.
Yep, that will work - except with those who still have working bullshit detectors and see we just spent a half-trillion dollars, three years, over 2,100 good lives, have over ten-thousand wounded and maimed, for what? A key country, with the third largest oil reserves known to exist, in chaos and civil war?

Well, you say, at least Saddam Hussein no longer runs the place.

True. Fine. But is this what we wanted?

Maybe not, but that's where we are - a substantial withdrawal is at hand. Read Kaplan. Top military officers have been privately, and not so privately, warning that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two. The Army and the National Guard and Reserves are near some sort of breaking point. What Representative Murtha proposed on the 17th that angered so many people - his call for an immediate redeployment - wasn't just personal anguish and geopolitical clear thinking. Kaplan comments that was, "quite explicitly, a public assertion of the military's institutional interests - and an acknowledgment of Congress' electoral interests." Although Kaplan doesn't say it flat-out, Murtha, a friend of the top brass at the Pentagon for decades, could be just laying it out for them, as their voice in the congress. Consider it a rebellion of the generals, where they use Murtha as their voice to get things changed. They've seen the light. As Kaplan puts it - "Murtha wasn't merely advocating redeployment; he was practically announcing it."

The White House lost the generals? You could see it that way. And note Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on November 22nd said "I suspect that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are now that much longer." She said it on CNN, and then she said it on Fox News. Was she addressing the generals? Maybe so.

And it does make political sense for anyone who wants to be reelected.

Is this the right thing to do, draw down the forces? Who knows?

Will there be total disorder and possibly a civil war with casualties ten times greater than we have now? A regional war with Iran lining up with the Shiites in Iraq and the other Arab states in the region lining up with the Sunnis in Iraq? Who will line up with the Kurds, who aren't "Arabs" ethnically but are Sunni Muslims, and a century-long worry for Turkey? This could get messy.

Questions, since President Bush is going to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do? How will they keep a profile low enough to make the Iraqi government seem genuinely autonomous yet high enough to help deter or stave off internal threats? Who will keep the borders secure, a task for which the Iraqi army doesn't even pretend to have the slightest capability? What kinds of diplomatic arrangements will he make with Iraq's neighbors - who have their own conflicting interests in the country's future - to assure an international peace?

More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this? (The point is far from facetious; it's tragically clear, after all, that he didn't have a plan for how to fight the war if it extended beyond the collapse of Saddam.) Has he entertained these questions, much less devised some shrewd answers?
Well, the man does not do nuance, and doesn't like detail. He likes to make things real, real simple. He hates people telling him things are complicated or this or that might not work. He doesn't like experts - or advice, which he sees as disloyalty. He likes to go with his gut instinct. He's that kind of guy. You either trust him or you don't - and if you don't, he doesn't want to deal with you.

But what the American people in the past have loved him for - these manly traits - may no longer be useful, given the issues now. But that's too bad. He's in charge.

We're in for a bumpy ride.

Note this email from a reader at Andrew Sullivan's conservative, pro-war but unhappy-with-Bush site -
This is a President that refuses to acknowledge that there is such a thing as "the American people" and that he is accountable to them. And he shows no signs of this changing. Every significant speech is made to cherry-picked crowds at military academies. Scott McClellan's briefings have become unintentional comedy sketches. And his surrogates just buzz and strafe Sunday morning talk shows every so often to parrot the same useless talking points. Imagine how much public opinion could be shaped and how much criticism could be defused if he simply addresses the American people to tell us what 'the course' that we must supposedly 'stay' is. What IS the mission? How many Iraqi battalions being independent and battle-ready will it take before we can at least begin to draw down? When can we expect this to occur? What is he doing to draw the Sunnis more into the political process and away from the insurgents? What is he doing with neighboring nations like Iran to stop their meddling and to seek their help in securing the borders? There are countless other questions - the answers of which could be used to explain in detail our progress, our plan, and a clear direction for America in the Middle East.

But when he is silent and hiding away from his critics, it's only reasonable for people to begin to assume that he has no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. It would be sad if the hard work of people like Gen. Casey and Zalmay is all for naught because their boss was too much of a fool to explain the rather significant benefits of what they're now doing in Iraq.
Yes, that would be sad. But it's maybe not that the guy is "too much of a fool" to explain the rather significant benefits of what we're now doing in Iraq. Maybe he's just not that interested in that, and never has been and never will be - or at least not in detail. He's explained as much as he's going to explain it, as much as he understands it. One suspects he's puzzled, and a bit angry, that people want something more. It's not that there's no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. The man has said, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." You can sense his frustration - Why won't that do? - Why do people want more?

Sullivan himself -
There are times when I wonder if the president is capable of such an address. And the reason I say that is that any candid, credible discussion of where we are now would require an acknowledgment of a series of previous misjudgments and errors. I don't think Bush is psychologically capable of this. It requires nuance, self-criticism, an abandonment of Manichean rhetoric, and a political decision to unite the country rather than dividing it. All these things he has so far refused to so. Alas, I see no evidence that he has changed, or is even capable of change. And so we stagger on.
Sullivan of course seems to think a decision to change is possible, that some change of heart could have the man decide to attend to detail and all the rest.

A refusal to do this? No. The capacity is not there.

Whether the problem is intellectual - he just cannot think that carefully (lacks the horsepower for it, so to speak) - or a personality-based thing - really doesn't matter. Sullivan casually tosses in the idea of the man is, perhaps, not capable of change and this may not be a refusal at all. We elected a man a very limited ability and no curiosity - because we thought that was what was needed in these times.

Wrong. Maybe we'll do better in 2008 - if we all live that long.

James Wolcott being colorful -
The thing I'm most struck by over the last few weeks is President Bush's shrinkage in stature. He cut an insignificant figure in China even before he went into his doofus shtick, and seems to be diminishing as the dark cloud of Cheney solidifies and casts Bush in shadow. It's hard to believe he was once the chalice of Peggy Noonan's hopes; Winston Churchill in a leather jockstrap, in the humid imaginations of warbloggers. You get the impression that underneath the show of resolve and irritable resentment, he feels sorry for himself, pouty about not being appreciated. Which may explain why Laura Bush seems to have hardened into a carapace at his side, reverting to the Pat Nixon role to withstand the buffeting winds swirling around her husband and his own stormy moods.
So we have three more years of this.

Oh, and as for the doofus shtick, see the now famous photo and text here - Bush the bumbling but lovable goofball. The photo is the new icon of the whole problem.


Additional note:

The Formerly Great Writ
Goodbye, habeas corpus. Hello, executive detention.
Emily Bazelon - Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, at 4:27 PM ET - SLATE.COM

This is a discussion of a provision in the renewal of the Patriot Act that makes it much, much harder for American prisoners to challenge their convictions in federal court.

As you know, and as you are reminded, "Habeas Corpus, the Great Writ, dates from 1305 and the reign of King Edward I in England. It allows detainees to ask a court to order their warden to explain the basis for their detention. (The Latin, translated as "you have the body," refers to the warden's powers.) Detainees can petition for habeas review if they are held without trial, or if they're convicted and claim that their constitutional rights were violated at trial. Habeas is the means by which state prisoners, on rare occasion, can be heard in federal court."

The whole thing is full of the legal precedents and disputes involved, but you might note the issue now is far more than the president having the authority to decide, with no review by anyone, that any American citizen can be locked up with no rights for as long as he chooses, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. That's a given now.

As for run-of-the-mill criminal defendants, the proposed revision to the Patriot Act would take Habeas Corpus from the federal courts and give the attorney general the authority to decide such things. We'd all be subject to the unilateral power of executive detention.

You want to be safe, don't you?

Just consider the nature of the man to whom congress and our courts have given this new power.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005 22:31 PST home

Monday, 7 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Entropy: Trying to Hold it all Together and Facing Facts

Last weekend in these pages, in Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist, after the long preamble setting the political context, you'd find a discussion of the Washington Post revealing that we seem to have a gulag of "black sites" - secret prisons where we have "disappeared" people and used "enhanced interrogation" to find out if they know anything. And in Our Richelieu you'd find a discussion of all the reports that our policies regarding 1.) "extraordinary rendition" (grabbing folks anywhere in the world and sending these suspects off to places where torture can be done by cooperating governments, a sort of outsourcing), 2.) hiding the fact we have any particular person at all from any agency like the International Red Cross, or any one else who's picky, and 3.) the nature of the "enhanced interrogation" that periodically causes the death of those we detain - all this seems to be decided in the office of the Vice President. In 2002 the president signed an order directing the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture. The Vice President seems have directed everyone to do otherwise.

Ignore the kid from Texas in the expensive suit? Something like that.

See this for a discussion of the implications:

President Cheney
His office really does run national security.
Daniel Benjamin - Monday, Nov. 7, 2005 at 5:06 PM ET - SLATE.COM

Well, there is too much evidence this is so.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Returning the summit in Argentina by way of Brazil, the president in Panama said, Monday, November 7, "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them - but we will do so under the law. We do not torture."

So the kid from Texas in the expensive suit wants to clarify things? Uncle Dick must have let out a loud groan. (The president also proposed the Panama Canal be widened for bigger ships, and may have strayed from the script, given all the bad press from this secret prison and torture business.)

Other possibilities? There are these:
... we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American service members. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging.
That was Andrew Sullivan. He's not a happy camper. As in this:
If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the leeway given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the president: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?
Well, don't expect an answer. That would require some subtle chopping of logic, and that dreaded "nuance" stuff the man doesn't do.

Of course you could just take him at his word. We don't do torture. And Kevin Drum suggests calling his bluff, here -
Fine. Then shut down the black sites, tell Dick Cheney to stop lobbying against the McCain amendment, and allow the Red Cross unfettered access to prisoners in our custody. After all, if the events of the past four years had happened in any other country in the world - the abuse, the memos, the photos, the relentless opposition to independent inspections - isn't that the least it would take for any of us to believe it when that country's head of state declared "We do not torture?"
That's not going to happen. You'll just have to trust the man's word. Has he ever misled you?

This topic should have gone away, but it didn't. It seems to have legs, as they say.

Jane Mayer has a new article in the New Yorker - A Deadly Interrogation - which in its subhead asks an interesting question. Can the CIA legally kill a prisoner?

Maybe so -
Mark Swanner, a forty-six-year-old C.I.A. officer who has performed interrogations and polygraph tests for the agency, which has employed him at least since the nineteen-nineties. (He is not a covert operative.) Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner's custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. His head had been covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe; according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he asphyxiated. In a subsequent internal investigation, United States government authorities classified Jamadi's death as a "homicide," meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes. Swanner has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency.

The harsh treatment of Jamadi and other prisoners in C.I.A. custody, however, has inspired an emotional debate in Washington, raising questions about what limits should be placed on agency officials who interrogate foreign terrorist suspects outside U.S. territory.
We know the Cheney answer. Things have changed.

This is not November 21, 1943, when Winston Churchill said this in a speech - "The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

There are no limits now.

See Laura Rozen here:
If he had been supporting the very same policies he is now advocating while representing a regime like Serbia's, the big man would be in a Hague jail cell. The same support for torture. The same naked contempt for democratic processes. The same contempt for law. The same contempt for their people.
Yeah, she's ticked, but Fareed Zakaria over at Newsweek is just helpful - "I have a suggestion that might improve Bush's image abroad. ... It's simple: end the administration's disastrous experiment with officially sanctioned torture."

It's a thought.

And that leads to the hot political story of Monday, November 7, also from the Washington Post.

Dana Priest and Robin Wright report that Vice President Cheney is now starting to find himself isolated on this issue - government sponsored torture of prisoners - "Cheney's camp is a 'shrinking island,' said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House."

But the story got out. Dana Priest was responsible for the previous Post story about how we had that chain of secret prisons, and according to this, the president ordered an internal inquiry of how she found out about that stuff.

And now we have this. We learn Condoleezza Rice opposes torture, but not because its wrong. She thinks we ought to close the secret prisons and not work on new "exceptions to the law" to "get out of the detainee mess." She's a diplomat now. See sees a PR problem. Change the de facto policy allowing anything at all. And it seems there are "other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism" who are not happy with Cheney's position.

Attorney General Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers are sitting on the fence. Cheney's guys are working on them.

But the there is the problem of definitions -
Cheney's camp says the United States does not torture captives, but believes the president needs nearly unfettered power to deal with terrorists to protect Americans. To preserve the president's flexibility, any measure that might impose constraints should be resisted. That is why the administration has recoiled from embracing the language of treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Cheney's aides find vague and open-ended.
That's an interesting argument. We'd never do these evil things, but we should have the power to do these evil things. "The option to treat prisoners harshly must not be taken from interrogators."

And it's getting hot - Rice versus Cheney -
Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included "trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works" or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office -- in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.

For that reason, Rice "wanted to be in all meetings," said a senior State Department official.
Oh my, what next? Try this from Knight-Ridder -
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to President Bush's war powers, taking on a case to decide whether Osama bin Laden's Yemeni driver should face a war crimes court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In an unusual move, the justices agreed to review a federal appeals court decision by their new chief justice, John G. Roberts, who with two other federal judges had earlier upheld the president's Military Commissions in the case of Salim Hamdan v. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense.

Roberts disqualified himself, and is expected to do the same when the court hears arguments in the case, probably in March.
The fun never stops. The new chief justice knows he cannot review his own decision. This could be a four-four tie, leaving the lower court ruling stand, or not.

Cheney's world is crumbling. Expect him to lash out.

But wait! There's more!

The Italians are on our case!

Fallujah. La strage nascosta (Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre) will be shown on RAI News, November 8th at 07:35 (via HOT BIRD satellite, Sky Channel 506 and RAI-3), and rebroadcast by HOT BIRD satellite and Sky Channel 506 at 17:00 [5 pm] and over the next two days.

What's that about?

See this, an English translation from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Monday, November 7 (emphases added) -
In soldier slang they call it Willy Pete. The technical name is white phosphorus. In theory its purpose is to illumine enemy positions in the dark. In practice, it was used as a chemical weapon in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. And it was used not only against enemy combatants and guerrillas, but again innocent civilians. The Americans are responsible for a massacre using unconventional weapons, the identical charge for which Saddam Hussein stands accused. An investigation by RAI News 24, the all-news Italian satellite television channel, has pulled the veil from one of the most carefully concealed mysteries from the front in the entire US military campaign in Iraq.

A US veteran of the Iraq war told RAI New correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci this: "I received the order use caution because we had used white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military slag it is called 'Willy Pete'. Phosphorus burns the human body on contact - it even melts it right down to the bone."

RAI News 24's investigative story, Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre, will be broadcast tomorrow on RAI-3 and will contain not only eyewitness accounts by US military personnel but those from Fallujah residents. A rain of fire descended on the city. People who were exposed to those multicolored substance began to burn. We found people with bizarre wounds - their bodies burned but their clothes intact, relates Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji, a biologist and Fallujah resident.

"I gathered accounts of the use of phosphorus and napalm from a few Fallujah refugees whom I met before being kidnapped," says Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena, who was kidnapped in Fallujah last February, in a recorded interview. I wanted to get the story out, but my kidnappers would not permit it.

RAI News 24 will broadcast video and photographs taken in the Iraqi city during and after the November 2004 bombardment which prove that the US military, contrary to statements in a December 9 communiqué from the US Department of State, did not use phosphorus to illuminate enemy positions (which would have been legitimate) but instead dropped white phosphorus indiscriminately and in massive quantities on the city's neighborhoods.

In the investigative story, produced by Maurizio Torrealta, dramatic footage is shown revealing the effects of the bombardment on civilians, women and children, some of whom were surprised in their sleep.

The investigation will also broadcast documentary proof of the use in Iraq of a new napalm formula called MK77. The use of the incendiary substance on civilians is forbidden by a 1980 UN treaty. The use of chemical weapons is forbidden by a treaty that the US signed in 1997.
Oh crap. And you remember this Giuliana Sgrena, the investigative reporter here, the woman who was kidnapped. After her release on March 4, 2005, she and the two Italian intelligence officers who had helped secure her release came under fire from our guys while on their way to Baghdad International Airport. Nicola Calipari, a Major General in the Italian military intelligence service was killed, and Sgrena and one other officer were wounded - and lots of folks were ticked off. We investigated and found our soldiers did nothing at all wrong.

Did they know about her notes, or is this all made-up stuff because she's still mad about us shooting her and killing her friend.

Who knows?

Bad news is coming out of the woodwork. The administration just cannot catch a break.

Well, the administration can say she's just an unhinged, angry Italian hothead who shouldn't be trusted. I'm not sure how they'll explain the stills from the show posted at the link above. Maybe Cheney will explain this is all a bunch of lies on Fox News or the Rush Limbaugh Show.

But wait! There's more!

And that would be the local angle on how to make people keep their mouths shut about what we do, even the Episcopalians in Pasadena.

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning
All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.
Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch - Los Angeles Times - November 7, 2005
The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church ? " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.
Yeah, yeah, they never go after Falwell and Pat Robertson and all the rest, but you have to understand that Desmond Tutu was in the Pasadena pews that Sunday morning. We're talking subversion here, it seems.

The Times says its telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington and Los Angeles were not returned. Rector Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And this:
In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

The church declined the offer.
The Times gives details of what was in the sermon. No one was told how to vote, or even to vote. It seems to be a sermon full of stuff about love and not killing people and not overreacting. The church would rather not confess that was any kind of wrongdoing. It seems they're "the other kind of Christians" - no big American flags in the sanctuary, or giant portraits of Bush and Cheney, thus the trouble. These are the kind of Christians who don't like useless wars.

Ah well, on this side of town, All Saints Episcopal, just off Rodeo Drive, seems to have no position on much of anything. When I was married there in 1984 I remember smiling because in that 1979 Blake Edwards movie 10, Bo Derek was married right where I was standing. Hollywood. Should have driving out to Pasadena.

In any event, on Monday the week opened with tales of "the masters of war" trying to hold it all together. That's getting harder every day.

Posted by Alan at 19:22 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005 19:30 PST home

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Gnawing Old Bones: Iraq War Notes (True Believers)

This week a key item that got play was a brief article in USA Today by John Diamond - CIA Review Faults Prewar Plans. That was Tuesday the 11th and is a backgrounder - a review of a new CIA report which finds it "ironic" that policymakers were "receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right."

Yeah, so what else in new?

Key passages:
A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says. The report was written by a team of four former CIA analysts led by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr.

... The intelligence "also provided perceptive analysis on Iraq's links to al-Qaeda; calculated the impact of the war on oil markets; and accurately forecast the reactions of ethnic and tribal factions in Iraq."

... "In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.
The most clear-headed response to this comes from Eric Alterman here:
How many times am I going to have to read about this kind of "irony" before they come to take me away? In the first place it's a misuse of the word. But really, that's not the point. The point is the fact that hello, this is what they did! They used (and demanded) the intelligence that allowed them to justify the war as a "cakewalk" and purposely ignored everything that implied that it might not be as easy as say, insider trading on your phony blind trust. In other words, all of the effort that went into the State Department's post-invasion project was thrown away. The Council on Foreign Relations - which was so eager to play that they offered to partner with the Heritage Foundation -or AEI - when instructed to do so -was turned away when Rove told AEI to foggettaboutit. They literally sold their fans on the Chalabist notion that it would be the easiest thing in the world to transform a 1000-year-old autocracy into a democracy overnight. The "Liberal Hawks," including the whole crew at Slate and TNR, bought this bill of goods and peddled their own versions of it, and here, years later, the same crap is being shoveled out of the CIA. Enough already. These people are dishonest, OK? Ignore what they say. Watch what they do.
Always good advice, but all of this hardly matters now. So we were snookered, and all the planning for what happened after we took over another country was not just ignored, it was sneered at. Some folks knew what was going to happen, and explained it all in, one supposes, nicely bound volumes with PowerPoint presentations ready to roll, but such stuff from the CIA and the State Department and the thinks tanks was too negative. The administration went in with the right "positive" attitude. Cultural and political issues? Piffle.

Why is USA Today covering this report now, other than it was just released? It seems to be two years old.

And what's the point?

This is just piling on with the administration and the Republican Party under fire - the hurricane response generated a brief blip in the poll numbers but now this - the president's approval rating drops to thirty-nine percent and all of twenty-eight percent of us believe "the country is headed in the right direction" - and all of two percent of African-Americans give him a positive rating. That two percent item makes the front page of the Washington Post. Eight visits to the Gulf and having to hug black kids gets him this? House leader Tom DeLay is "off duty" because of those indictments for money laundering and criminal conspiracy, and has had his phone records subpoenaed, while senate leader Frist has his issues as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued subpoenas for his records regarding possible insider trading of stock in his "blind" trust. The Republican Party is a war with itself over the Harriet Miers nomination and the CIA leak investigate is coming to a head, and everyone is wondering which key players in the White House will be indicted. Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove? The Vice President's chief of staff - the Scooter? The Vice President himself? No one knows.

This USA Today item is just another nail in the coffin, or a small tack.

But the voting on the new constitution in Iraq is underway. This is a big victory for the administration.

And that has its own drama as, as the week began, Shiite and Kurd leaders pretty much got a group of influential Sunnis to drop their opposition to it, by essentially saying it was not really a constitution like they thought, but really just a kind of rough draft. A newly created panel in the next parliament can propose amendments to the constitution and change it almost entirely. As the New York Times reports - "In effect, it could give the Sunnis - who were largely shut out of the constitution-writing process - a new chance to help redraft the document after elections in December." But the daily attacks continue.

Well, it was a try.

Comment varied.

On the right, Robert Mayer sees a trend - "the constant dropping of opposition to the constitution is actually becoming a trend. Shia groups like Muqtada al-Sadr's militia and? the largest Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, have dropped their campaign to defeat the constitution and will instead be focusing completely on the December elections. As will everybody else. The Iraqis have come up with a good constitution that, despite some disagreements, can certainly be fixed up once all groups are fully represented in parliament."

It seems to some of us the motto of the whole war effort, from the first days after the World Trade Center has fallen, was "Do It Now." The whole idea of "do it right" could come later. One wonders whether the Democrats, as they try to take back the house and senate, and maybe even the White House one day, would be wise to adopt the line, "You guys say do it now, and we say do it right." That would apply to almost everything in the world of public policy and diplomacy and all the rest. It would be something you could hammer home, again and again.

Ah well. That may be too simple-minded for the multifaceted Democrats. And of course you would have to spell out what "doing it right" entails, on each issue we face. But just "doing something" hasn't gotten us that far, has it?

And there is this from Tina Brown in the Washington Post, Thursday, October 13, 2005, writing about getting it right, and strong women -
It's easy to forget that Margaret Thatcher - whose "Don't go wobbly on me, George" famously stiffened the spine of Bush One before the Persian Gulf War in 1990 - was there first, even down to a husband who was not so much invisible as comical.

England's Iron Lady celebrates her 80th birthday tonight with a guest list dominated by the adoring circle of powerful male admirers whose loyalty she rewarded with seats in the House of Lords when she was prime minister.

The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof - and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."
What? The idol of the right said THAT?

Facts? Evidence? What about positive attitude and affirmative thinking? She too seems to be of the "do it right" not "do it now" school.

Maybe she didn't really say that. Maybe she's just getting old. Maybe she's a closet realist.

As for this "great compromise" in Iraq, well, the often-quoted-here Kevin Drum says this: "Somebody really needs to explain what the Sunnis think they're getting here. It sounds like nothing more than a vague brush off to me. Just vote for the constitution now and we promise to seriously consider your objections at a later day. I'm all in favor of anything that makes a peaceful transition in Iraq more likely, but I've read half a dozen stories about this agreement and every one of them makes it sound like at least some Sunnis are ecstatic over this deal. Conversely, none of them mention that it's essentially meaningless. What am I missing?"

What he's missing is in the lyrics to that old Doobie Brothers song What a Fool Believes - "What a fool believes he sees? No wise man has the power to reason away what seems to be." Folks want to believe this is progress, and what you believe you see.

"What you believe you see" should be over the front door the White House - better that than "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here." Google Dante, of course.

And the often-quoted-here Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East expert, has a bit on this "wishing makes it so" approach to the compromise here: "This whole episode strikes me as bizarre, since Iraqis are now voting on a constitution that may be subsequently changed at will! As with the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, in which they had no idea for whom they were voting for the most part, so in the referendum they will have no idea for what they are voting. ? If the constitution is not ready to be voted on, they should have taken the 6-month extension and worked on it some more."

What's this? He's saying it - "You guys say do it now, and we say do it right."

Cue up the old joke about the motto of the dysfunctional manager - "Ready, Fire, Aim - Ready, Fire, Aim? Repeat until you hit something." Yeah, and think of those companies who have in their mission statement, "We have a bias for action." So? Many others have a bias for thinking things through, for testing, for carefulness.

Oh well, it doesn't matter. The voting continues, on whatever it is they're voting on, that has cost us so much.

Something is always better than nothing, as the saying goes. Too bad that is not always true. We'll see in a month or two how things are on the ground there. There's always a chance things will work out. That's why some of us buy lottery tickets now and then. You never know.

On the other hand, think of it in business terms. On a cost-benefit basis, tossing in a dollar for lottery ticket makes some sense. You may have only a one in fifty-three million chance of winning, but what's a dollar these days? The cost is negligible - try getting a cup of coffee for a dollar.

Now the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.

The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine. The odd are against us. But why not try? Because others don't see these costs as appropriate for the actual chances of success?

It's a matter a values, isn't it?

Well, we were told in the president's address on October 6th - where he explained what the war on terror was all about, this time, really - that the bad guys wanted to take over the world and set up an Islamic theocracy to rule us all, so we'd better keep fighting. And this week we find out he knew this was so because of a letter we intercepted, dated 9 July, that said so. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, wrote it. Conveniently, it sets out a detailed list of four sequential goals - expel the Americans from Iraq, set up an Islamic emirate in Iraq, extend the jihad "to the secular countries neighboring Iraq," then start the real stuff - "the clash with Israel" and the west. (By the by, it also says blowing up other Iraqis may be becoming a bit counterproductive, and more money is needed.)

Well, that changes the cost-benefit equation, doesn't it?

From the BBC:
US intelligence published the letter in full, saying it was intended for the alleged head of the movement in Iraq.

... According to US intelligence officials, the letter offers a remarkable insight into al-Qaeda thinking.

After leaking a short extract, the new director of US intelligence has now published it in full on his website in English and Arabic.

The Americans will not say exactly when or how they intercepted it, except that it was during operations in Iraq.
Of course the BBC item, Thursday, October 13, has this headline: Al-Qaeda disowns 'fake letter'.

They're saying, in essence, we've been punked - the administration needed a new case for the war. The WMD thing didn't work out. The Saddam-was-in-on-9/11 thing didn't work out. The "Saddam supported al-Qaeda" thing didn't work out (they hated the guy). The plans for a secular western-style democracy there that will change the world are more of joke with each passing day.

So what did they do? They pulled a rabbit out of the hat. "Look, look - these guys have plans to take over the world! We found a letter! It explains it all! Don't back down now!"

Okay, now whom do you believe?

Even if the letter is real, the bad guys saying it isn't real works just fine. The implicit questions are clear. Have these guys earned your trust? Isn't this a little too convenient?

Even if it is real, the damage is done.

The news here? Al-Qaeda sings an old Doobie Brothers song to the American public, and grins, slyly.



Who are you going to believe?

See Juan Cole here:
The Arabic text of the recently released letter alleged to be by Zawahiri (al-Qaeda's number two man) to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq raises questions for me as to its authenticity.

The very first element of the letter is the blessing on the Prophet. It says:

al-salah wa al-salam 'ala rasuli'llahi wa a-lihi wa suhubihi . . . (peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of God and his family and his companions . . .)

The phrase "salla Allahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam" (the blessings and peace of God be upon him and his family) is a Shiite form of the salutation, because of the emphasis of the Shiites on the House or descendants of the Prophet. Because of the cultural influence of Shiism in South Asia, one does find that form of the salutation in Pakistan and India among Sunni Muslims.

But before I went to Pakistan I had never, ever heard a Sunni Muslim add "wa alihi" (and his family) to the salutation. I associated it strongly with Iran and Shiism, and was taken aback to hear Sunnis say it on Pakistani television. Certainly, I never heard that form of it all the time I lived in Egypt.

... I do not believe that an Egyptian like al-Zawahiri would use this phraseology at all. But he certainly would not use it to open a letter to a Salafi. Sunni hardliners deeply object to what they see as Shiite idolatry of the imams or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, for whom they made shrines such as Ali's at Najaf and Husayn's at Karbala. In fact, hard line Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia attacked and sacked Karbala in 1803.

Adding to the salutation "the peace and blessings of God be upon him [Muhammad]" the phrase "and his family" would be an insult to Zarqawi and to the hardline Sunnis in Iraq.

Later he refers to Husain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, as al-Imam al-sibt, "the Imam, the grandson". I do not believe that a hard line Sunni such as Zawahiri would call Husain an Imam. That is Shiite terminology.

The letter then says how much Zawahiri misses meeting with Zarqawi. Zarqawi was not part of al-Qaeda when he was in Afghanistan. He had a rivalry with it. And when he went back to Jordan he did not allow the Jordanian and German chapters of his Tawhid wa Jihad group to send money to Bin Laden. If Zawahiri was going to bring up old times, he would have had to find a way to get past this troubled history, not just pretend that the two used to pal around.

My gut tells me that the letter is a forgery. Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States. Hmmm.
Should one mess around with the details of language and history, or just trust the administration?

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005 09:24 PDT home

Sunday, 28 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Who Do You Trust?
Those of us old enough to remember recall in 1968 when Pete Seeger had been invited to appear on the CBS Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. This was the second season premiere and he was to sing his anti-war song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy." The song was about a gung-ho military officer during WWII - the guy attempts to force his men to ford a strong river only to be drowned in the mucky currents. Of course it was a thinly veiled metaphor for Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam War. (It was his war by then.) CBS said no. The public got ticked off - letters and editorials and all that. CBS gave in. They allowed Seeger to appear on the Comedy Hour later in the season to perform the song. You could look it up, but some of us remember.

And some of us remember part of the lyrics:
Knee deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on
Waist deep! Neck deep! We'll be drowning before too long
We're neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the damn fools keep yelling to push on.
You get the idea. But Iraq is not Vietnam. Bush is no Lyndon Johnson.

But one wonders. The Shiites and Kurds have their proposed constitution, and it goes to the vote on October 15th. The Sunnis say they never agreed to it and they'll vote it down if they can, and one can expect a lot of violence as the vote nears. They're not happy. Campaigning may be dangerous, and voting even more so - perhaps fatal. And if the voting takes place without too many bombing and assassinations, and it passes, perhaps we get a civil war, a Sunni uprising. And if it doesn't pass we may get one too as all three bloc fight for power in the resulting vacuum. Interesting. There will be a vote on the fifteenth - we will meet the schedule (or they will meet our schedule). Meeting the schedule matters. As some have pointed out, the Hindenburg arrived in New Jersey right on time.

But are things, really, when you take away the anti-war hype, going swimmingly, or at leas relatively swimmingly - no one drowning in any muddy river at all? Remember the Truth Tour - that trip those conservative talk show hosts took to Iraq last month? They were supposed to break through the pessimism and bring us the good news. That was covered in these pages here in July. Haven't heard much.

Bill Montgomery over at Whiskey Bar does discuss reporting on whatever the truth is in Notepads on the Ground, which is a sort of "who do you trust" with what the news is.

You might want to click on it for his summary of the reporting on Vietnam - David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan (the fellow who wrote A Bright and Shining Lie), Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune saying she went over there and listened to the commanders and sat in on a lot of military briefings and we were winning that war, damn it! Fascinating stuff. Good quotes. Eerily familiar.

Who do you trust?

Well, Montgomery says things are different there. It's not like Vietnam at all:
All along, the reporters in Baghdad - the American ones, at least - have been operating in a far more restrictive environment than their Vietnam counterparts, both because of the Pentagon's rules and the complete absence of security. (As one old Vietnam foreign service hand recently noted, even at the height of the war, U.S. civilians could go just about anywhere they wanted to go in Saigon. Nobody in their right mind would say that about Baghdad.)

It's also true that the press corps in Baghdad doesn't even seem to get out as much as it used to do, back in the carefree days of mission accomplished and scattered resistance from a handful of "dead enders." With the Baghdad morgue now setting monthly records for new admissions, their wariness is understandable. No self-respecting reporter ever wants to hand their competitors a story, particularly if it involves their own death.

However, for all my complaints about the corporate media and its kneejerk cowardice when it comes to challenging official deceit - in Baghdad as well as Washington - even I have to admit the coverage on the ground in Iraq has been, for the most part, very good, and at times even excellent.

Given the conditions, the willingness of reporters ... to go out and cover the war from the front lines (such as they are) is in the best traditions of the Fourth Estate.
Maybe we are getting something like the truth. He has examples with links to some really good reporting. Check it out.

And note this:
Today, for example, I came across a collection of stories written by Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter, who's spent the past three weeks with the Marines in Anbar province (a.k.a. "the wild, wild west") - not three days in the Green Zone chatting with "white collar soldiers", like our conservative talk show tourists.

Granted, it's still an embed point of view, but Lasseter's interviews with the noncoms and junior officers he meets, and his descriptions of their interactions with the Iraqi soldiers they are shepherding and the population surrounding them, paint a vivid picture of some truly outstanding soldiers who've been sent on an impossible mission - and who are trying very hard not to lose their minds or their humanity in the process. It's tragic, powerful stuff.
An example he cites?
Officers worry about the enemy while trying to make sure their men don't crack under the pressure.

"I tell the guys not to lose their humanity over here, because it's easy to do," said Marine Capt. James Haunty, 27, of Columbus, Ohio. "I tell them not to turn into Col. Kurtz" ...

Asked for an example of the kind of pressure that could cause Marines to crack, Haunty talked about the results of a car bomb: "I've picked up pieces of a friend, a Marine. I don't ever want to see that s--- again."
That is a reality check, and these are some truly outstanding soldiers who've been sent on an impossible mission.

A passage from Lasseter on "Iraqification" -
In Hit, Strickland finally managed to get three of the Iraqi soldiers to help him with the checkpoint. The fourth remained in the shade, making hand gestures indicating that he needed a light for his cigarette. Within five minutes the other three were making frequent motions toward the sun and then in the direction of the base. "Finish?" they asked. "We finish?"

A Marine standing nearby suggested to Stickland that maybe the answer was to train Iraqis as traffic police, give them orange vests and have them do traffic stops on their own.

Strickland laughed. "Yeah, until the muj finds out the Americans gave them the vests; then they'll kill 'em," he said, referring to the insurgents by the Arabic word for "holy warrior," mujahedeen.

"When they have problems, these guys will just leave their uniforms and walk off."
There's more, but you get the idea, such stuff in not in the daily briefings, and wasn't presented to the Truth Tour folks.

There are pockets of good, and progress, but this from Lasseter is telling:
Instead of referring to the enemy derisively as "terrorists" - as they used to - Marines and soldiers now give the insurgents a measure of respect by calling them "mujahedeen," an Arabic term meaning "holy warrior" that became popular during the Afghan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet Union.
Just a little detail.

If you read nothing else about the war in Iraq this weekend - or this month - read Lasseter's stories. True, they're just anecdotal pieces of evidence - although in this kind of war anecdotal evidence is probably more valuable than the reams of statistics and self-serving progress reports spat out by the Pentagon. Lasseter also doesn't paint the troops as the kind of heroic, larger-than-life action figures that make the fighting keyboarders drool with barely suppressed homoerotic envy. But you can't read his stuff and not come away with a profound sense of respect for the men and women who are fighting this war, and a boiling anger over the way they are being sacrificed to a hopelessly lost cause.

If that's "liberal bias," then American journalism - and the American people - could use a whole lot more of it.
Maybe, but what about those fighting keyboarders drooling with barely suppressed homoerotic envy?

You might want to check out James Wolcott and Once More Into The Chickencoop.

Wolcott starts off ticked at the neoconservative thinker Rich Lowry, who had recently written this: "If only members of the military - who are overwhelmingly conservative - were considered competent to decide the nation?s posture on matters of war and peace, we would have an even more forward-leaning foreign policy. I?m comfortable letting the 82nd Airborne decide what we do about anti-American rogue states. Are opponents of the war?"

Well, yes. Wolcott sums up:
First of all, conservative or not, it is difficult to imagine that the US military leadership on its own would be as avid on invading and occupying other countries as the neoconservative architects of World War IV, of which Iraq is but one theater. Who do you think would be more likely to press for preemptive war, General Tommy Franks, who knows what the logistics, manpower, and materiel demands would be, or former undersecretary of defense Doug Feith, "the dumbest fucking man on the planet"?

... The guys and gals of the 82nd don't wake up in their barracks one morning and kibbitz amongst themselves. "What the hell, maybe it's time we took out Iraq. Let's get our gear together and requisition a transport plane, treat ourselves to a few kickass months in the Sunni triangle."

The 82nd Airborne goes where the Pentagon decides it should go, and that strategic decision is made by the civilian leadership. When the quality of the civilian leadership is corroded by arrogance, ignorance, and ideology, it is a formula for catastrophe.
And Wolcott reviews, one more time, what happened to General Shinseki, who said we might need three of four hundred thousand troops to pull this off. He got shit-canned. They don't even listen to the military on military matters.

Wolcott quotes James Fallows on how that went down:
Shinseki has been, through his career, a real by-the-book guy. So he would not go out of his way to make public disagreements that were clearly going on inside the Pentagon. But in the hearing where Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was sort of drawing him out on what he expected the troop levels to be, Shinseki finally said, based on his own past experience, that he thought it would be several hundred thousand troops. This became a real arcane term about, what did several hundred thousand mean? But let's say 300,000 and up. His real level, internally, had been in the 400,000 range.

Several days later, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, appeared before a different committee. [He] went out of his way essentially to slap Shinseki in the face, to say there had been some recent estimates that had been wildly off the mark - using the term, "wildly off the mark." Then he went on to say that it was almost impossible to imagine that it would be harder, and take more troops, to occupy Iraq than it had taken to conquer them; whereas that point, that it would be harder to occupy than conquer, was in fact the central theme the Army had been advancing before the war.
The end of the general's career, there.

Wolcott asks who was right about what was needed to do the job in Iraq, General Shinseki, "or those great military minds and neoconservative intellectuals Paul Wolfowitz and Richard 'The Army guys don't know anything' Perle? None of these guys were military, although the president has often said, "I've been to war and know what it's like." That's stretching a short time in the Texas Air National Guard, entirely stateside, just a bit, and given missed months and cutting out early too. Close enough? Well not like those fakers John Kerry and Max Cleland.

So what to make of these war folks, our self-described "war president" and all the fighting keyboarders drooling with barely suppressed homoerotic envy standing behind them and cranking out the PR? Chickenhawks?

For me, the working definition of a chickenhawk is - a chickenhawk is a cheerleader. A cheerleader for war. And not necessarily just the war in Iraq, or regional war in the Mideast, but war in general. A chickenhawk glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head, mocking those less enthusiastic military aggression as pacifists, appeasers (Michael Ledeen's pet word), even traitors. Who patronize anyone with qualms, from the Quakers to the Chuck Hagel, with edgy impatience and disdain. Who treat the destruction of human life as a stupendous flourish as long as it's the US doing the destroying - who, that is, propose "creative destruction" on a geopolitical scale as an instrument of transformation. Not to mention an opportunity to teach those desert folks in sandals a lesson upside the head.
That about sums it up and you should read how he eviscerates John Podhoretz who explained going to war in Iraq was "luscious" as it put the Democrats in such a bad place. And he lays into Jonal Goldberg for saying, "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

No wonder Colin Powell left early.

But these are the guys we want leading us, or have wanted so far.

That's why this is pure fantasy. If Bush has left us with a choice between two false arguments, his stay the course and get out now, we all know neither will work. So -
Here's what we need to do: Tap into the willingness of the American people to embrace and solve its own problems. This is going to be highly problematic for Bush because he's going to have to come clean. We need to make this our war, not his war. It has to benefit us, not his crones. Here are some suggestions. (Don't count on the Dems to do anything but sniff the polls and lay back.)

Make the transition from oil to alternative fuel mandatory within the decade. It can be done technologically (It was feasible in the late 70s when I covered the auto industry as a reporter for a major automotive magazine). We've lost four years since 9/11 and are likely to lose four more under Bush. We cannot waste another day. Tax gasoline an additional dollar a gallon to cover the R&D and regulatory implementation.

Get serious about protecting us at home. That means shifting the billions of dollars that are lining Halliburton's pockets in Iraq to building a serious border protection capability. Three million people a year enter the US illegally through the Southwest and there is no plan to stop them. It means implementing a massive information architecture that tracks visas, passports and other documents of visitors. Perhaps some of the $300 billion could have been better spent.

Consider stiffening the requirements for alien visas and work permits. Make English proficiency a mandatory requirement.

Police and punish employers of illegal workers. No new laws as are needed, only a commitment to enforce them. Deport all undocumented workers, no questions asked.

Insist on making the war on terror truly global by involving other nations. Bush's military approach does not work. London's policing made the FBI, CIA and the thousand-headed hydra called the Department of Homeland Security look like chumps. Share information. Coordinate activities. Find the terrorists and kill them.

Prepare for the inevitable. There will be civil war in Iraq no matter what anyone does.
This is from "LeftCoast" at Best of the Blogs and doesn't account for national leadership that "glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head." But the writer is right about the Democrats - don't count on them to "do anything but sniff the polls and lay back."

Tom Watson, one of those professional journalists who blogs on the side, explains that nicely:
Yet, of course, the toothless, political cowardice of the Democrats must not slip away into the night of history. Particularly in this Congress, lockstep support for national security in the "time of war" has given the Administration the social checkbook it needs to write the bills for this war. Far too many Democrats went along for the ride, bought too easily into the argument that everything is different after 9-11. They missed the fact that one thing didn't change, despite the panic of the President and his little yelping terriers: we still have some national character in this country, we can't be sold a bill of goods forever, we know when to hold 'em and to fold 'em.

And folks, it's time to fold 'em. When the argument for continuing war is to merely to honor the dead that have gone before with more dead, with more wounded, with more destruction, you know the jig is up, that the military maneuver is merely in the form of a forlorn hope, destined to die for nothing. The Iraqi civil war will rage until there is no Iraq. There never was an Iraq, except as the construct of an empire and a dictator; we had no business in the squabbles of religious tribes. And we have no business in helping to write a constitution that places the lives of women at the mercy of a medieval code of sexist, moralist, symbolist system of humiliation and punishment. Conspiring with the mullahs against women may be George W. Bush's greatest act of treason against the world's people - and it will live in infamy.

There is nothing to this but to admit failure, and save American lives. Perhaps that is not honorable. Perhaps it leaves a vacuum in the east, into which the hard-core religionists can step. To bad: it is done. And we need to be done.
See Pete Seeger, above.

Posted by Alan at 21:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005 21:30 PDT home

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