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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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Thursday, 28 December 2006
From Beyond the Grave - No More Mister Nice Guy
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

From Beyond the Grave - No More Mister Nice Guy

Bob Woodward is a wonder - the ultimate insider journalist, keeping secrets, even from his bosses at the Washington Post where he is one of the assistant managing editors. And he knows how to promote himself - holding the identity of his famous Watergate source, Deep Throat, close all those years, creating a minor "guessing" industry that kept his own name out there. And he was the first to know who spilled the beans in the CIA leak case - it was Richard Armitage who spoke to him first, and Woodward knew it all along. And he breaks stories in the Post not when they have news value, but only as his latest book is about to be released. That has, reportedly, irritated the top folks at the Post, but what can you do with the ultimate insider? You really wouldn't fire him. He's the franchise, as they say in the sports world. You don't dump Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle - you just get a new manager.

And the Wednesday after Christmas, Woodward was at it again - being the star. Just a few days after the death of Gerald Ford, in the midst of all the nice things people were saying about the former president, Woodward dropped the bomb. He had interviewed Ford in 2004 and has that on tape, and has notes from the subsequent long one-on-one discussion with Ford that followed the interview - notes for his new book. His write-up of all that is here, and you can listen to the key parts of the interview here.

The bomb, so to speak, is that Ford disagreed with the Iraq War thing entirely - he would have never gone to war but done what the French had suggested, continued inspections, revamped the sanctions and just contained that Saddam guy, as that was working just fine - and Ford thought the "WMD justification" used to make the case for war was just a dumb idea. And even worse was the fall-back "spreading democracy through military action" justification. The guys who worked for him - Cheney and Rumsfeld - had somehow gone off some deep end or other.

Of course the deal was that Woodward had to promise not to release any of this until Ford had died, and you also have to understand Ford never did the retired and wise politician thing, never offering any opinions on much of anything at all. He did the retired Republican nobody-special golfer thing instead. He had walked away from all that political stuff, unlike Nixon and Carter and Clinton. He had nothing to say.

But it seems he did think about things, and Woodward got him to open up -
"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

… "Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."
Ah, sensible to the last… but of course that drew the wrath of the defenders of the current president. They had said all these nice things about the now quite dead Gerald Ford, and Ford stabbed them all in the back from beyond the grave. No fair! Just as you should never get involved with a widow - there's no competing with the dead husband who is progressively more of a prince and hunk and the years go by - how do you attack a dead president, especially one who most everyone saw as a sensible nice guy who calmed things down and made things better?

William "Bill" Bennett, the man who says his massive gambling habit is none your business and you have to read his Book of Virtues and shape up yourself, gives it a try -
Since "decency" seems to be the watchword of the day and the consensus modifier for Jerry Ford (a view with which I generally concur), may I nevertheless be permitted to ask this: just how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush and Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. If he felt so strongly about his words having a derogatory affect, how about telling Woodward not to run the interview until after Bush and Cheney are out of office?

The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue. The way Ford does it with Woodward, he doesn't have to defend himself... he simply drops it into Bob Woodward's tape recorder and let's the bomb go off when fully out of range, himself. This is not courage, this is not decent.
So in the end, Ford was just a coward. He wasn't a real man, a manly man.

But here's another view -
I have a problem with an embargo of this type, but I don't think this is an issue of Ford's cowardice. Rather, this simply raises once again the question of Bob Woodward's ethics. While listed in the byline of the piece Bennett describes as a "Washington Post Staff Writer," Woodward is, in fact, an assistant managing editor at the newspaper. If Woodward agreed to keep something from his paper for the purposes of a future book, then what good is he to the Post any longer? Shouldn't the paper use his salary to hire three young go-getters to find the next Watergate scandal and let Woodward write his books full time?
But at Daily Kos you'll find the real issue -
Here's the thing: Bennett's beef is that Ford's embargo means there can now be no "dialogue" regarding his views on the war.

I beg your pardon, but I think that was a problem long before Ford's comments became known. In fact, Ford's comments were embargoed precisely because it was already impossible to have an honest dialogue about opposition to the war in this country before he ever made them.

What does it say about the American political climate when a Republican ex-president - a 90+ year old man, by the way, who hasn't been moving in DC circles for years - feels intimidated in expressing his views on the biggest and most important issue of the day?

Yes, there's a tradition of ex-presidents holding their tongues. And yes, Bennett is astute enough to recognize that the terms of Ford's embargo are very pointedly not aimed at preserving that tradition. But if that wasn't the point of the embargo, then what was it? Clearly if it wasn't just outright fear, it was at least Ford's anticipation - and one that's obviously quite correct given this "administration's" track record - of the headache of harassment and smearing he'd be in for, for daring to express his doubts and opposition.

Besides, when has the lack of genuine dialogue ever stopped Gamblin' Bill (or any of the rest of his gang of bullies) from simply putting words in the mouths of their opposition - living or dead - and then stomping on that strawman?

So please, let's not bemoan the lack of dialogue now that you've beaten even our leading citizens into submission.

Have you no decency?
Some questions just answer themselves, don't they? And sometimes it is better to just play another eighteen holes of golf, rather than have the Swift Boat guys, on instructions from Karl Rove, go after you and your family. Ford wasn't "beaten into submission" as much as he was just being realistic. Who needs that grief? There's more to life than smash-mouth politics. It's too bad that Max Cleland can't play golf, for obvious reasons.

Former arch-conservative John Cole sums it up - "The reason Ford did not speak out is because all of the aforementioned blowhards would have savaged him for not keeping his opinions to himself, as former President's are 'supposed to do.' I think we can all agree that had Ford come out against the war, these same knuckleheads would have called him Jimmy Carter Ford or the like."

The best way to deal with knuckleheads is to ignore them - then get them good when their fighting back just makes them look like whining idiots.

But the knuckleheads were not that concerned with the words of the dead man. Thursday, December 28, the president - the "decider" as his calls himself - met with all sorts of folks down at the Crawford ranch for a "non-decisional" meeting on this "new way forward" in Iraq. "Non-decisional" meetings may be a Texas thing, but the nature of the meeting was given us all in the previous day's press briefing -
In terms of the decision-making process, as we've indicated before, this is a time for the President to be talking with his advisors about all the potential options, making sure that due consideration is given to the next steps, making sure that we're thinking through the new way forward in Iraq, to take into account all of the differing views.
Oh. It's not exactly fiddling while Rome burns. It's just being very, very careful - but isn't that an implicit admission not much of this was done before we invaded Iraq? Are they telling us better late than never? The adage for carpenters and woodworkers is measure twice, cut once - otherwise you mess up and waste your resources. They never heard of that old saying? Everyone has heard that. But then that's not a "bold" way of building anything.

But now we have these "non-decisional" meetings - measuring things that should have been measured four years ago - pretending that we haven't already decided to escalate this war. What other option is there?

Matthew Yglesias puts it nicely -
Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president's thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public's concerns about the war and concede that things weren't going well. At that point, simply staying the course doesn't work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation. Thus, the idea of an escalation starts getting pushed and we start reading things in the paper like "Top military officials have said that they are open to sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if there is a specific strategic mission for them." Consider the process here. It's not that the president has some policy initiative in mind whose operational requirements dictate a surge in force levels. Rather, locked in the prison of his own denial he came to the conclusion that he should back an escalation, prompting the current search for a mission.
So we can expect a "new mission" - as if we want to hear a new justification for it all. We're preventing gay marriages in Iraq? Who knows what it will be?

Josh Marshall adds this -
This is also a good example of how paradoxical or even bizarre "answers" often emerge from political problems. No actual policy or strategic imperative is driving the move to escalate the conflict in Iraq. The real causes are political and psychological.

To put it simply, the presidential is neither psychologically nor politically capable of leaving Iraq. The 2006 election made it clear the current course can't be sustained politically. Even his own party won't back it. That leaves escalation as the only alternative. All that's left is a rationale for doing so. And that's what the president is now working on.

That doesn't mean that in theory there couldn't be a good argument for escalation, only that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with why the president is in favor of escalation. Because if it did he would have called for it at some point over the last three years. And he didn't. All that's changed is that option two of three - stasis - was removed from the list of options. End of story.
So that's the big question. Why now? You escalate now because you don't want to look like a loser - better late than never. It's a legacy thing, and a matter of personal pride, or at least a matter of avoiding crushing shame. Others will simply have to die to avoid that. That may trouble the president deeply, actually, but he no doubt sees no other option.

But who really opposes adding fifty to a hundred thousand more troops for two years or more, as the current thinking seems to be running, as half-measures do more harm than good? Well, there's the public, and there's the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reports the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates has real concerns about the idea. Gates did go to Iraq and find soldiers on the ground who said they'd like reinforcements. That might mean something. On the other hand, the Associated Press kind of called Gates on that and did their own interviews -
Many of the American soldiers trying to quell sectarian killings in Baghdad don't appear to be looking for reinforcements. They say the temporary surge in troop levels some people are calling for is a bad idea.

President Bush is considering increasing the number of troops in Iraq and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units. White House advisers have indicated Bush will announce his new plan for the war before his State of the Union address Jan. 23.

In dozens of interviews with soldiers of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as they patrolled the streets of eastern Baghdad, many said the Iraqi capital is embroiled in civil warfare between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs that no number of American troops can stop.
Spc. Don Roberts told AP, "I don't know what could help at this point. ... What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

Sgt. Josh Keim, who is on his second tour in Iraq, said, "Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it. It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."

Sgt. Justin Thompson added that a troop surge is "not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni." Thompson, whose four-year contract was involuntarily extended in June, added, "This is a civil war, and we're just making things worse. We're losing. I'm not afraid to say it."

Steve Benen puts this in perspective -
Now, these are comments from one battalion, not a poll with a random sample, so it's difficult to say with any certainty that "the troops are against escalation plans."

That said, two quick points. One, kudos to the AP for going straight to the source and getting so many soldiers' perspective. Two, how, exactly, do supporters of the war dismiss the opinions of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, patrolling the streets of Baghdad? Cut-and-runners? Defeatocrats? Surrender monkeys?
Just call them tired. Gates and the Associated Press should leave them be. They've got work to do. There may be no clear mission and they're just driving around, but they do their job. And soon we'll have double the numbers, with no clear mission, just driving around.

And Gerald Ford is on the big golf course in the sky, working out the next wedge shot to the green, a little sad, but finally away from it all.

Posted by Alan at 21:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 December 2006 21:41 PST home

Thursday, 14 December 2006
On Losing: What Is Acceptable and What Is Not
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

On Losing: What Is Acceptable and What Is Not

Kevin Drum, at the Washington Monthly wonders what happened -
Question: has a hotly anticipated blue ribbon report ever fallen into irrelevance so quickly? The Baker-Hamilton report was released only a week ago, and as near as I can tell it's now a dead letter. Within days, both left and right slagged it viciously, President Bush made it clear that he didn't think much of it, and virtually no one other than David Broder had anything nice to say about it.

(I mean that literally. Has anyone stood up for the report? I can't really think of anyone who's had any sustained praise for it.)

And now? The worst fate of all: it's completely off the radar screen. Its language was so vague as to be meaningless, and within a few days its insignificance was so obvious that no one was even giving it the dignity of arguing about how misguided it was. Chattering classes-wise, it's disappeared down a black hole.

Sic transit gloria mundi.
People did have high hopes this would be a big turning point. Policy would change, or our strategy, or at least our tactics. But it turned out there were two parts to the report - an assessment of where we stand and recommendations as to what we should now do, seventy-nine of them. The first part was devastating assessment - we are not winning and cannot win, or even define what winning is, if we continue doing what we're doing. The second part was suggested actions, many of which were "it would be nice if" speculations that had little to do with what other nations might actually be willing to do, and many of which the president flat-out says he will not do (like agree to talks with Syria, much less any talks about anything with Iran). The report wasn't exactly dead on arrival - it just expired in the emergency room. No one wanted it to live. The problem is that neither the brutal assessment nor the pie-in-the-sky recommendations served anyone's interests. It was designed to please no one, and there was no "saving face" anywhere in it. We may have a big problem, but no party saw anything in it for them. Maybe it had to be that way.

So the president, who was apparently going to announce a major change in our approach in an address to the American people before Christmas, decided January would do. He doesn't want to be rushed, and he began a "listening tour" - meetings at the Pentagon, at the State Department, with retired generals, with "experts." He was looking for someone to agree with him - winning it all was the only alternative - and has been swamped with views as to how to define winning and how to get there. Of course, more and more it appears he will opt for a big bump in troop levels, to get things in Baghdad under control. But that too may just be buying time. One way or another we will leave, sooner or later.

Richard Cohen at the Post puts it bluntly -
[T]he ending is inevitable. We will get out, and the only question that remains is whether we get out with 3,000 dead or 4,000 or 5,000. At some point the American people will not countenance, and Congress will not support, a war that cannot be won. Just how many lives will be wasted in what we all know is a wasted effort is about the only question still left on the table.
And maybe that is why the Baker-Hamilton report slipped into irrelevancy so quickly. It really didn't matter much. What's done is done.

Mark Morford in the San Francisco Chronicle sees it this way -
The good news is, we're all back in harmony. All back on the same page. No more divisiveness and no more silly bickering and no more nasty and indignant red state/blue state rock throwing because we're finally all back in cozy let's-hug-it-out agreement: The "war" in Iraq is over. And what's more, we lost. Very, very badly.

Sure, you sort of sensed from the beginning that we couldn't possibly win a bogus war launched by a nasty slew of corrupt pseudo cowboys against both a bitterly contorted Islamic nation and a vague and ill-defined concept that has no center and no boundaries and that feeds on the very thing that tries to destroy it. It was sort of obvious, even if half the nation was terrifically blinded by Bush administration lies and false shrieks of impending terror.

But now it's official. Or rather, more official. Now it's pretty much agreed upon on both sides of the aisle and in every Iraq Study Group and by every top-ranking general and newly minted defense secretary-designate and in every facet of American culture save some of the gun-totin' flag-lickin' South. We lost. And what's more, we have no real clue what to do about it.
We're not supposed to lose. We cannot accept that. That's not how things are supposed to be. We are strong, and righteous, and good. And no one can question our intentions - rid the Middle East of a brutal dictator and introduce the only system of government that really works - a secular free-market democracy - and see it spread an the dominos fall (the dominos being the autorotation governments in all the nations in the region). Of course these were not precisely what we had originally said were the reasons we chose to wage this particular war. But when, in the end, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, they would do.

And who could question the second wave of reasons for what we did and what we are doing, whatever it is? Ask what we are doing and you know what you'll have thrown back in you face. So you think Saddam was a good man, do you? So tell me, why do you hate democracy so much? There's not much to say to that.

But something went wrong. Morford works on that -
It's not like we were overpowered. We weren't outmanned or outgunned or outstrategized, hence we weren't defeated in any "traditional," kick-ass, take-names, sign-the-peace-accord way.

It wasn't because our can't-lose military didn't have the latest and greatest killing tools of all time, the biggest budget, the most heroic of baffled and misled young soldiers sort of but not really willing to go off and fight and die for a cause no one could adequately explain or justify to them.

We still have the coolest, fastest planes. We still have the meanest billion-dollar technology. We still have the most imposing tanks and the most incredible weaponry and the badass night-vision goggles with the laser sights and the thermal heat-seeking readouts and the ability to track targets from 2 miles away in a dust storm.
It doesn't matter, really, as the contention here is we no longer have any idea what we're doing on the global stage, as they say. We lost this "war" before we even began. We went in "for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong planning and with all the wrong leadership who had all the wrong motives based on all the wrong greedy self-serving insular faux cowboy BS that your kids and your grandkids will be paying for until about the year 2056."

Yeah. This is a left-wing rant, but it has its moments -
Maybe you don't agree. Maybe you say, "Wait, wait, wait, it's not over at all, and we haven't lost yet. Isn't the fighting still raging? Can't we still 'win' even though we're still losing soldiers by the truckload and thousands of innocent Iraqis are being brutally slaughtered every month and isn't Dubya still standing there, brow scrunched and confounded as a monkey clinging onto a shiny razor blade, refusing to let go and free us from the deadly trap, ignoring the Iraq Study Group and trying to figure out a way to stay the course and never give in and "mission accomplished" even as every single human around him, from the top generals to crusty old James Baker to the new and shockingly honest secretary of defense, says we are royally screwed and Iraq is now a vicious and chaotic civil war and it's officially one of the worst disasters in American history?" Oh wait, you just answered your own question.

Yes, technically, the war is still on. The fighting is not over.

… But the nasty us-versus-them, good-versus-evil ideology is over. Ditto the numb sense of Bush's brutally simpleminded American "justice." Any lingering hint of anything resembling a truly valid and lucid and deeply patriotic reason for wasting a trillion dollars and thousands of lives and roughly an entire generation's worth of international respect? Gone.

What's left is one lingering, looming question: How do we accept defeat? How do we deal with the awkward, identity-mauling, ego-stomping idea that, once again, America didn't "win" a war it really had no right to launch in the first place? After all, isn't this the American slogan: "We may not always be right, but we are never wrong"?

It's still our most favorite idea, the thing our own childlike president loves to talk most about, burned into our national consciousness like a bad tattoo: We always win. We're the good guys. We're the chosen ones. We're the goddamn cavalry, flying the flag of truth, wrapped in strip malls and Ford pickups and McDonald's franchises. Right?

Wrong. If Vietnam's aftermath proved anything, it's that we are incredibly crappy losers.
There's more of this, but you get the idea. It's not exactly measured analysis. But we are crappy losers.

So we won't lose. In January the president is set to announce "The New Way Forward" - which may be the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" with a new cover, the National Strategy from November 30, 2005, the day the president explained it all at Naval Academy in Annapolis. At least the new name has been chosen, even if it sounds a bit like a name Mao would have chosen. And it will surely be a double-down. We send in fifty thousand more troops. We give it one last shot (before the next "one last shot" and the one after that). We have to try. We will not accept defeat. No desperate scenes of helicopters on the rooftops this time, ferrying our last folks out and kicking the locals off the skids.

The problem, as Glenn Greenwald points out, is the usual. The devil is in the details -
The only specific plan one ever hears from them is that we can go and kill Moqtada al-Sadr, but that is certainly something we can accomplish without more troops. Independently, is killing one of the most popular and powerful Shiite leaders really going to help stabilize Iraq and help us achieve our goals? While that would be very emotionally and psychologically fulfilling to some, doesn't that choice seem far more likely to have the opposite effect - which is almost certainly the reason we haven't done it since 2003?

The problem with fighting insurgencies, of course, is that they are blended into the population itself. They aren't sitting in a field somewhere waiting to be engaged by more brigades. The problem we've had isn't a lack of desire and attempt to kill insurgents. That's what our soldiers have been doing in Iraq for almost four years now. The problem is that you can't actually end insurgencies using military force without using extremely indiscriminate force that slaughters enormous numbers of civilians, and flattening whole neighborhoods wholesale is one of the few things we haven't done during the Bush presidency.

Isn't all this talk about "more resolve" and "doing what needs to be done" - while it is masquerading around as a strategic call for "more troops" - really about demanding that we step up the indiscriminate bombing, violence and killing, including - especially - of civilians, based on the theory, as immoral as it is misguided, that that is the real way we will "win the war" and drive "our enemies into submission"?

As bad as this war is being managed now, the only thing that's certain is that whatever "new way forward" the President is about to embrace is only going to make things much, much worse.
But then that is not losing. And that seems to be the new definition of winning. It will have to do. The president has bet everything he is on this war. And he's about to ask for one hundred twenty billion dollars - extra, supplemental, off-budget - to continue. There's no way congress can turn this down. Our kids are over there, fighting, and we cannot abandon them. And if you don't agree to fighting, you agree to losing. That's the simple-minded dialectic. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group tried to uncouple that dialectic, suggesting third or fourth or fifth alternatives. But the thing cannot be uncoupled - if you're not fighting you accept losing. Said over and over again, it is a bit hypnotic. We don't like complexity. Keep it simple.

So we must keep on fighting. If we don't, we accept losing. Heck, it worked in Vietnam.

No, wait, it didn't. Could there be a basic logical fallacy here? Not many Americans studied symbolic logic in college, and few who did enjoyed it. But sometimes the oddest of subjects is surprisingly useful. A is not necessarily the opposite of B, even if the words for each seem to imply that. You have to think these things through. The opposite of "fighting" is not necessarily "losing." Many other words could be the opposite of "fighting" - peace, cooperation, even scheming and trickery. One link is as valid as any other. You'd be a fool to not see you're being duped when you're told the "one alternative" is the only alternative.

But the president has bet everything he is on this war, and now on this limited dialectic. We're just along for the ride, and no one is going to impeach him for getting us into this mess, and for our twenty-five thousand casualties, including nearly three thousand dead, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead (depending on who is keeping count). So we bear no responsibility, or, perhaps we do -
What should we say about the political system? Does America have a collective conscience, or are we absolved, as individuals, of any responsibility as long as we can say we didn't vote for George W. Bush? I'll call the question one more time: If he as the head of our national entity committed crimes against the nation and humanity, and the crimes become known, is he allowed to ride out his term in office, or do we act to remove him? … the founders put a safeguard in the Constitution to protect against elected "despots and tyrants." The safeguard, mentioned six times, is the impeachment option.

As to the question of a collective national conscience, I received an email from a reader who I think eloquently expresses the importance of collective responsibility for Iraq, but who perhaps disagrees with me about the need to impeach.

"… Everyone focuses on Bush's refusal to accept responsibility for what he's done, and that's really important. But the same thing is necessary for the country as a whole.

"This isn't some abstract thing, or just a desire to see the nation do penance for its crimes. It affects the way we see the conflict now and our options.

"This whole mess was caused by problems over here, in this country - our own inability to understand other culture, things that are broken in our political system, problems with our own press, the ease with which such an ugly war was sold to the public as a whole, etc.

"But when we talk about what to do next, we take this patronizing attitude - the Iraqis have to learn this, or isn't it unfortunate that they didn't go through the enlightenment, or the Iraqi government has to learn that we can't do it forever, they'll have to step up and 'take responsibility.' Like a suburban dad teaching a kid how to ride a bike, we'll have to take off the training wheels.

"As far as I'm concerned, we need to do two things. We need to internalize the reality of what's happened - that our aggression caused these deaths, and that it caused the ongoing chaos.

"And we need to take our obligation to our victims seriously. Right now, that means trying to structure policies so that as few Iraqis die every day as possible. The civilian death toll has to be the dominant metric.

"A while back, I was thinking about whether or not Bush lied to get us in to this war, or if he was just spinning very hard and went right up to the line. I think he lied, but I decided that it doesn't really matter.

"When 665,000+ people have been killed, what difference does a lie make, one way or another? To put it another way, if he didn't lie, would things be better? The body count dwarfs conventional morality, and the ideas we have about right and wrong in our personal spheres don't necessarily make much sense on the level where Bush is operating.

"When this is over, Bush will probably have been responsible for more than a million deaths. Probably a lot more than a million. Does it matter if he lied, or if he's censured or impeached? If he's forced out of office six months early, and Cheney runs out the clock, will the dead come back? It would be a farce to say that justice had been done - what kind of justice can balance the books on a million deaths?

"It doesn't address the core problems - one of which is that people are still dying. The other core problem is that we are a paranoid, warlike country, and our public was willing to follow Bush down this path.

"If you listen to the populist right on talk radio now, you'll hear that they're defiant, unbowed, totally delusional, and filled with hatred. And many millions of our fellow citizens listen every day, nod their heads, and say, 'damn straight.' That's what we have to try to fix, although I have to confess I have no idea of how to do it.

"Listen to the debate about what to do now - there is absolutely no sense of shame in any of it. That's what we have to fix. Our actions have lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and we are not ashamed."
Fix that? Fat chance. And, as before, we're not supposed to lose. We cannot accept that. That's not how things are supposed to be. And we certainly don't accept shame. We, it is said, have nothing to be ashamed of, or for, or whatever preposition you'd like. That sort of thing, shame, is for the "hate America" crowd. And the Baker-Hamilton report stank of it. Logic and chauvinistic patriotism seldom meet, of course. Non-chauvinistic patriotism - we can do better - is another matter. But then that is ridiculed these days. Take that off the table, with the logic.

Still, things are as they are. And it all may be just a global clash of emotions, or so says Dominique Moïsi, a senior adviser at the French Institute of International Relations. The link here is to an article in the December 15 issue of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, a cut-down version of what will appear in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs.

The thesis is up front - "The Western world displays a culture of fear, the Arab and Muslim worlds are trapped in a culture of humiliation, and much of Asia displays a culture of hope." The rest is detail.

Some of the detail -
The United States and Europe are divided by a common culture of fear. On both sides, one encounters, in varying degrees, a fear of the other, a fear of the future and a fundamental anxiety about the loss of identity and control over one's destiny in an increasingly complex world.

In the case of Europe, there is the fear of being invaded by the poor, primarily from the south. Europeans also fear being blown up by radical Islamists or being demographically conquered by them as their continent becomes a "Eurabia." Then there is the fear of being left behind economically. Finally, there is the fear of being ruled by an outside power, even a friendly one (such as the United States) or a faceless one (such as the European Commission).

Some of the same sense of loss of control is present in the United States. Demographic fears are mitigated, but they are clearly present. Americans do not fear economic decay the way Europeans do (although they worry about outsourcing). Yet they, too, are thinking of decline - in their bodies, with the plague of obesity; in their budgets, with the huge deficits; and in their spirit, with the loss of appetite for foreign adventures and a growing questioning of national purpose. And of course after 9/11, Americans are obsessed with security.

Whereas Europeans try to protect themselves from the world through a combination of escapism and appeasement, Americans try to do so by dealing with the problem at its source abroad. But behind the Bush administration's forceful and optimistic rhetoric lies the somber reality that the U.S. response to 9/11 has made the United States more unpopular than ever. The U.S. intervention in Iraq, for example, has generated more problems than it has solved.

The Muslim world, meanwhile, has been obsessed with decay for centuries. When Europe was in its Middle Ages, Islam was at its apogee, but when the Western Renaissance started, Islam began its inexorable fall.
And so it goes. It's a new way of looking at things. It may be useful.

There's far more detail. It's an interesting read, but the conclusion is key -
Given the global clash of emotions, the first priority for the West must be to recognize the nature of the threat that the Muslim world's culture of humiliation poses to Europe and the United States. Neither appeasement nor force alone will suffice. The war that is unfolding is one that the culture of humiliation cannot win, but it is a war nonetheless and one that the West can lose by continuing to be divided or by betraying its liberal values and its respect for law and the individual. The challenge is not figuring out how to play moderate Islam against the forces of radicalism. It is figuring out how to encourage a sufficient sense of hope and progress in Muslim societies so that despair and anger do not send the masses into the radicals' arms.

In that regard, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears more than ever as a microcosm of what the world is becoming. Israel is the West, surrounded by the culture of humiliation and dreaming of escape from a dangerous region and of re-entry into a culture of hope. But it must find a solution to the Palestinian problem first, or else the escape will not be possible. So, too, Europe and America seek to permanently banish their fears but will be able to do so only by finding a way to help the Muslim world solve its problems.
So maybe the opposite of "fighting" is not necessarily "losing," nor is it peace, cooperation or even scheming and trickery. Maybe it's helping (if you can do that without being a patronizing asshole with an agenda) - unless "helping" is really "losing." It gets confusing when absolutely everything else is "losing."

Logic traps can be really irritating. But sometimes losing can be winning. Refusing to be goaded into a fight, and then applying logic, and then humor and compassion, and thus gaining a grudging ally, if not a friend, we are told is really losing. And we bought into that for five years? What were we thinking? What are we still thinking?

Posted by Alan at 22:55 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006 07:09 PST home

Monday, 13 November 2006
The Issue of Bullies
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
The Issue of Bullies
With all the news floating around, all urgent (maybe), you can miss things. Veterans Day this year, November 11, fell on a Saturday, and no one listens to the president's weekly radio address - not on a Saturday morning. No one much listens to commercial radio at all, perhaps, what with that iPod feeding your ear, or satellite radio feeding you Howard Stern or all Elvis, all the time, commercial free. There's pop rock and the talk shows - Rush and the right-wingers, Air America on the left - and the medical and self-help shows. Who the heck is listening to the president, or to the Democrat of the week with the counter-spin? The whole business is sort of an early fifties thing - from the days when you could hear Jack Benny or Jack Webb weekly for a dose of comedy or Dragnet (before television).

So Veterans Day no one much noticed when the president said this - "One freedom that defines our way of life is the freedom to choose our leaders at the ballot box. We saw that freedom earlier this week, when millions of Americans went to the polls to cast their votes for a new Congress. Whatever your opinion of the outcome, all Americans can take pride in the example our democracy sets for the world by holding elections even in a time of war."

Yeah, yeah - more meaningless nice words - we're a wonderful nation and all that. But, but… just what was he implying?

Someone was troubled -
That was really a scary comment. Did they actually think of canceling the election because of Iraq?

Why would he say such an inflammatory thing if the thought never crossed his mind?
And this -
We should be "proud" that the federal government didn't cancel our elections? That the Bush administration didn't use the war as an excuse to interrupt the democratic process?
Well, some on the right, mightily disappointed in the results of the election, were being provided comfort. The implied message was that, yes, he could have declared marshal law and canceled the elections - and declared himself president-for-life or some such thing - but that would have been wrong.

No doubt there are those who are angry that he didn't - seeing him now as a wimp like his father. What's the point of having power if you don't use it? He got rid of habeas corpus and can lock up whomever he wants without charges forever, no one has successfully challenged him on bypassing warrants and all the laws to wiretap anyone he chooses, he signs bills into law and adds signing statements reserving the right to ignore those laws when he chooses, he systematically calls those who question his policies, or any of his decisions, traitors who might as well join the worldwide jihad and fly a 757 into any nearby big building - and he wouldn't take this step? Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned it at all. There's no pleasing some people.

Those would be the authoritarian bullies. But then, they've had their day. Joan Walsh in Salon says that's what the election was about, and they lost. Her take on things is that the results of the midterms was clear - it was "the repudiation of the culture of bullying and intimidation perfected by Republican leaders, especially since 9/11."

She trots out her examples.

George Allen -
Everyone knows he stepped in "Macaca," but the debate about the word's racial meaning threatened to obscure the basic message: Allen was caught on YouTube doing what comes naturally, bullying somebody, somebody who just happened to be the lone brown-skinned man at his campaign event. Sure the racism mattered, a lot, but it was the bullying no one could deny. And when Salon, just a few weeks later, revealed the senator's habitual use of the N-word in college, one factor cited by witnesses who came forward was seeing Allen, the bully of old, captured on that video.
And there was the incumbent senator from Pennsylvania, the number three Republican in Congress, who got toss from his seat -
In the last year Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tried to transform himself into a good Catholic conservative motivated by love, not hate, but Santorum sealed his defeat in 2003 in an interview where he equated homosexuality with bigamy, polygamy, incest and most famously "man on dog" sex. In the furor that followed, Republican leaders from Sen. Bill Frist to President Bush defended Santorum, head of the Republican Conference, who held onto his leadership post despite the storm. "The president believes that the senator is an inclusive man," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. "The president has confidence in Senator Santorum and thinks he's doing a good job as senator - including in his leadership post." Pennsylvanians obviously disagreed.
Well, maybe, but there were lots of issues there - using state money to educate his kids in Maryland, the general flakiness (Iran is really not The Eye of Mordor) and a sense that he didn't care a whit for what happen in native Penn Hills or in Scranton. But Walsh may be partially right.

Then she lays into Donald Rumsfeld -
Given his unconscionable botching of the Iraq war, it may seem a small thing to accuse Rumsfeld of mere bullying. But his complete control over war planning and execution - as well as over the president's perspective on them - stemmed largely from his capacity to belittle and intimidate everyone from Condoleezza Rice to generals to the Pentagon press corps. So many images from Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" have stayed with me - Rummy "snowflaking" the Pentagon with his orders on little white Post-its, micromanaging every aspect of the Defense Department, is one of my favorites. But one of the most damaging sections depicted his work to make sure Bush didn't pick Adm. Vern Clark, the outspoken chief of naval operations, as his first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2001. "Clark was the one officer who might survive Rumsfeld and preserve some sense of dignity and independence for the uniformed military," Woodward explained, and Rummy preferred the more pliable Air Force Gen. Richard Myers. Rumsfeld got his way, on that choice and countless others - at least until last Tuesday.
Well, he's gone now. Rush Limbaugh isn't, so we get this -
Here's hoping soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the bloviating radio host flowers and candy, because he cost Jim Talent his Missouri Senate seat - and the Republicans their Senate majority - by mocking Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms. (Thanks for having that camera in the studio, Rush - your monstrous ego was your party's undoing.) Now Limbaugh is claiming he feels "liberated" by the Republicans' losses, because he no longer has to "carry water" for inept GOP leaders. That's just good comedy. From Vice President Dick Cheney to President Bush to beleaguered Denny Hastert after the Foley scandal, Republicans in trouble made it a point to head to Rush's studio and cry on his man-bosom about Democratic perfidy. Let's hope the nation is soon "liberated" from Limbaugh's abuse.
No irony intended, but fat chance. He's the one success on commercial radio - his audience is massive. He'll be mocking the handicapped, crippled, sick and unlucky for years to come. His career depends on it - and he's found a broad swath of Americans who, too cowardly or weak to be bullies themselves, get their jollies letting him say what they will not. They feel deep grudges and seethe with resentment - life is so unfair - so Rush will be around for them for a long time to come. He'll find someone to mock for all of them.

Walsh says the defeat of George Allen is the most significant thing in all this, "as last spring he was considered a front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008. Allen was cut from the same cloth as Bush, two transplants to the South - Allen from Southern California to Virginia, Bush from Connecticut to Texas - who embraced certain Southern stereotypes, from cowboy boots to nicknames to a faux-down-home suspicion of book learnin', but not much Southern dignity or decency."

So we have two peas in a pod, but she doubts the president will learn much from what happened. She doesn't explain that, but everyone knows the explanation anyway. Bullies don't learn. They just get meaner. There's no alternative. Any other way of dealing with life would shatter their carefully constructed sense of self. To keep that - to keep one's very self - you redouble your efforts to be what you know you are, to hold onto your identity. It's an existential thing.

Really? Of course, as, after the elections removing his power base, the president reintroduced the nomination of John Bolton to be our ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton was not approved before and appointed to the post when the senate was in recess, and has to leave in January unless they actually confirm him. That didn't work the first time, and it is certain to not work this time. But as the new congress won't convene until January 20, so the president wants this lame duck senate to confirm him. They say they won't. He insists they do. There is no chance at all they will. What's up with that? It's that sense of self thing. The president has no alternative.

Similarly he wants this lame duck congress to approve the Arlen Specter compromise on wiretapping anyone and everyone the president chooses without warrants. The bill gives the president the right to do that, with the caveat that, if he chooses, he can decide to tell a few select senators and congressmen when he has done such a thing - but informing them is entirely optional. That bill is dead too. But the pressure from the White House to pass the thing is increasing. The pressure is a statement of "being," really. It has little to do with what the law is and could be. It's an existential thing too.

And there's this -
Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, the Bush administration said Monday, opening a new legal front in the fight over the rights of detainees.

In court documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Justice Department defended the military's authority to arrest people oversees and detain them indefinitely without access to courts.
That's not going to fly. The courts don't appoint kings. The law matters. But it does make a statement, an identity statement. This is who we are!

In a more scholarly vein, Austin W. Bramwell in The American Conservative move the whole thing away from the less than scholarly president - there are not the president's ideas alone (if at all, they are on the instinctual level) - and suggests the whole bully thing is integral to reactive conservatism and got hooked to the whole neoconservative movement -
After 9/11, neoconservatives championed any war that we waged in reaction. In this, they were acting opportunistically but not hypocritically: in their view, 9/11 is what happens when the United States suffers any challenges to its authority. The rest of the movement knew only that it wanted a ruthless response. Neoconservatism just happened to provide a convenient ideological infrastructure with which to justify metonymic revenge against some Muslim Arab or other. Before 9/11, the movement was praising modesty in foreign affairs; after 9/11, it did not so much embrace neoconservatism as blunder into it by accident...

What they need is analysis: the skeptical tradition extending from Machiavelli to Hobbes, Hamilton, and Burnham that seeks to understand the world as it is rather than as we might like it to be.
Yeah, but bullies don't do analysis. And they don't use words like metonymic - "a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated." They just knew someone had to be hit hard, and it hardly mattered who that was - Iraq would do. Metonymic, my ass.

Bramwell decides that the "conservative movement" is now dead, much like Walsh. As if.

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the lastes issue of Foreign Policy, offers a letter My Fellow Neoconservatives. All is not lost. We can still find our inner bully.

First, don't abandon George Bush -
All policies are perfect on paper, none in execution. All politicians are, well, politicians. Bush has embraced so much of what we believe that it would be silly to begrudge his deviations. He has recognized the terrorist campaign against the United States that had mushroomed over 30 years for what it is - a war that must be fought with the same determination, sacrifice, and perseverance that we demonstrated during the Cold War. And he has perceived that the only way to win this war in the end is to transform the political culture of the Middle East from one of absolutism and violence to one of tolerance and compromise.

The administration made its share of mistakes, and so did we. We were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation. Did we fail to appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories? Did we underestimate the human and societal damage wreaked by decades of totalitarian rule in Iraq? Could things have unfolded differently had our occupation force been large enough to provide security?
Are we idiots led by an idiot? Ask the question the right way, Joshua.

And he adds don't abandon Rumsfeld, even though he's gone -
One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources, just as our execrable intelligence in Iraq seems traceable, at least in part, to the reliance on machines rather than humans. Our forte is political ideas, not physics or mechanics. We may have seized on a technological fix to spare ourselves the hard slog of fighting for higher defense budgets. Let's now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough and sufficiently well provisioned - however "redundant" - to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake.
Right. When things don't work, do more of the same.

And there's more - subvert Middle East governments, combat anti-Americanism but finding Europeans who understand the persuasiveness of military force, and the key -
Prepare to Bomb Iran. Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.

The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.
Good luck with that.

And as a kicker, he has one last suggestion -
Recruit Joe Lieberman for 2008. Twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world. In 2008, we will have a lot on the line. The policies that we have championed will remain unfinished. The war on terror will still have a long way to go. The Democrats have already shown that they are incurably addicted to appeasement, while the "realists" among the GOP are hoping to undo the legacy of George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani both look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously and with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and our country needs. As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman? Lieberman says he's still a Democrat. But there is no place for him in that party. Like every one of us, he is a refugee. He's already endured the rigors of running for the White House. In 2008, he deserves another chance - this time with a worthier running mate than Al Gore.
Okay, run Joe. And tell the American people it will be no more realism - that not what the country needs - just all innovation, all the time.

The bullies don't realize they were voted out for a reason. Maybe Bush should have called off the elections last week. This is madness, and it's only partially contained. Not all of us want to connect to our inner bully. It seems a few thousand more than half of us don't. It's an existential thing. It only seems political.

Maybe it's time to face the truth. All this never was political, and there's no political solution to be found. When people flight to maintain their identities, what compromise is possible?

Now THAT is a depressing thought.

Posted by Alan at 21:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006 21:33 PST home

Sunday, 22 October 2006
Notes on Leadership as Pathology
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Notes on Leadership as Pathology
As things fall apart for those in power, the president and his party, people do muse on the issue of leadership. Just what is it?

Iraq is a train wreck, our elective war there perhaps the most counterproductive decision the nation has ever made. No one wants us to lose and withdraw from Iraq in shame, but no good alternatives seem available. And the nation might have hung on and agreed with the president's "stay the course" approach - even if now he says he just never said those words at all - but for what we all saw in the administration's absurd response to Hurricane Katrina more that a year ago.

That seems to have been a turning point. Other things then appeared in relief - the attempt to get his less than prepossessing personal attorney a seat on the Supreme Court that had even his own party in revolt, a look back at the Terri Schiavo business where he cut short a vacation to sign legislation to keep the body of one brain-dead woman functioning against the wishes of her husband and what appeared to be her own wishes, and was shot down in every court where the matter was considered. There was stumping the country for changes in the Social Security program, for changing it from an insurance program with defined benefits to a federal program offering investment advice. No one wanted that, yet he persisted. And he claims this is leadership. He didn't care if more than half the country despised him for his actions and positions - leaders are visionaries, or something.

Over in the UK Tony Blair has the same problem -

Over the course of little more than a week, we have learned that civilian casualties so far in the Iraq war may be more than 600,000; that Britain's Chief of the General Staff believes the conflict could break the army apart; that a federal solution to the growing chaos involving the effective dismemberment of the country is being openly discussed in America; that the US Iraq Study Group, headed by Republican grandee James Baker, is recommending that the US military withdraws to bases outside Iraq and seeks Iranian and Syrian help; and that Britain is now the number one al-Qaeda target, partly, it seems clear, as a consequence of events in Iraq.

There should be at least one universal response to this in Britain. Why is Tony Blair still Prime Minister after leading his country into such a disastrous war? Any large company would by now have got rid of a managing director guilty of a mistake on that scale. Any institution you care to name would have done the same. Why is Blair immune from the normal requirements of high office?

Why, instead of being allowed by the cabinet to establish six new policy committees designed to entrench his legacy, has he not been impeached and thrown out of office? Even if his Iraq policy was formed in good faith, the scale of the error surely requires us to ask him and all those concerned with this disaster to leave.
It seems someone - Henry Porter in the case - is most unhappy, but there they have a mechanism for taking care of such things. A vote of no confidence would force new elections - but that won't happen. Barely enough people are mesmerized by Blair's sincerity and consistency (or resolve, if you will), and his stunning articulateness, that, even if he was wrong, is wrong, and will be wrong the future on so many critical issues, at least he is a leader.

So it is with President Bush - save for the stunning articulateness. We only get the stunning gaffs. But two out of three isn't bad. We think Bush, as disastrous as his decisions have been, is still a leader.

Frank Rich of the New York Times, of all people, seems to hold this view, in spite of how much he hates what has happened here. On Sunday, October 22, he writes this -
Call him arrogant or misguided or foolish, this president has been a leader. He had a controversial agenda - enacting big tax cuts, privatizing Social Security, waging "pre-emptive" war, packing the courts with judges who support his elisions of constitutional rights - and he didn't fudge it. He didn't care if half the country despised him along the way.
No, he didn't. But is that leadership

Richard Einhorn doesn't think so -
Say whatever you want about George W. Bush, but he is a leader only in the same way that the 9/11 hijackers were brave.

When the term is used in modern American political discourse, "leader" does not have the standard generalized meaning of "a person in authority" regardless of whether they are good or bad. When Americans use the term "leader" in reference to their own politics, they are not talking about Kim Jong Il or Vladimir Lenin. Americans are invoking the imagery of great American political and cultural leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Coltrane.

First and foremost, a leader persuades others, by proposing sensible ideas in an honest and convincing rhetorical voice.

A leader is NOT someone who doesn't care "if half the country despised him along the way." A leader is NOT someone who hides a tyrannical agenda under the skirts of priests and behind cheesy bromides like "compassionate conservatism." A leader is NOT someone who does exactly as s/he pleases.

Bush does not persuade, he does what he wants, and if anybody stands in the way, he ignores or blackmails them. His ideas are not sensible, but nuts. He is thoroughly dishonest and his inability to articulate even the simplest ideas is a national embarrassment.

In addition, a leader recognizes when a given course of action, especially one that he himself endorsed, is failing. A leader takes responsibility for failures as well as successes. Bush, of course, is notorious both for following his delusions until they lead into total fiasco and for simply refusing to recognize that he ever made a single mistake.

In American public discourse, rightly or wrongly, words like "leader" and "brave" are typically descriptive of people with positive virtues. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader. Idi Amin was not. The students in Tiananmen Square were brave, the man who assassinated Rabin was not.

By drawing a direct comparison between Bush and the 9/11 hijackers, am I saying that Bush is a religious fanatic in the grip of dangerous narcissistic delusions of grandeur and who has no regard for the death of innocents?

You bet I am. And that is not what Americans mean by a leader, Mr. Rich.
Note - you can click on the link and find out how the late John Coltrane got on the leader list, remembering of course that Einhorn is also a noted composer. But this all is curious.

What to make of it? What do we expect our leaders to be?

The widely read Duncan Black ("Atrios") here argues that eagerness to support military adventure is often confused with gravitas. If you don't want to go to war, you're just not a serious leader. One "Winston Smith" here denounces Duncan Black as a weak fool, and a bad writer, and a few other things - sometimes war is necessary and the only alternative we have. No one really wants war, but what are you going to do?

Professor Mark Kleiman of UCLA tries to sort it all out -
Atrios is complaining that eagerness to support military adventure is often confused with gravitas. That complaint has considerable merit. Conservatives have convinced many voters that aversion to warfare as a means of policy displays cowardice: real men, they say, are hawks. Atrios is right to say that a preference for violence reflects a character disorder, though he's mostly wrong to call it sociopathy; it has much more to do with sadism and narcissism.

Winston is right to say that no sane person actually prefers warfare to other means of achieving the same ends, if those ends are in fact achievable without warfare. But he's wrong, I think, to say that the relevant kind of insanity is rare enough to ignore. And the political process tends to select for that kind of insanity.
Now there's a thought - the political process tends to self-select pretty awful people. Those that survive and rise are quite mad. Cool.

Kleiman turns to Machiavelli -
Good people, he [Machiavelli] points out, don't like to hurt others; they prefer generosity to stinginess and mercy to cruelty. But stinginess and cruelty are necessary elements of statecraft, because a public policy of immoderate generosity and mercy boomerangs: generosity winds up by taking money from many to give it to few, and mercy winds up cruelly exposing victims to the violence of undeterred domestic predators and foreign aggressors.

So for good people - generous, merciful, compassionate people - to rule successfully from the viewpoint of those they rule, they need to learn to be able not to be good: to restrain their impulses toward generosity and mercy when it is necessary to be stingy and cruel. When it's necessary to bomb Serbia, killing lots of innocent Serbs, to stop the Serbian government from committing genocide, good rulers go ahead and order the bombing, without enthusiasm but not without resolution. They try to minimize the amount of blood they shed (as Sheldon Wolin says, they economize on the use of violence) but they don't shrink from inflicting some violence to avoid more violence. They aim at the Aristotelian mean.
They do, but it can destroy them -
It's easier for people with a cruel streak to use cruelty than it is for compassionate people to use cruelty, even in a good cause. (As Miss Hardcastle, the head of the secret police, says in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the people who volunteer to do that sort of job are mostly the ones who get a kick out of it.)

So good, compassionate people - liberals - naturally tend to use too little violence. Everyone more or less knows that; the fact that John Wayne is a standing joke among liberals is not lost on our fellow-citizens. So there's a reasonable and natural tendency to want your rulers not to be too good. And that's how a tendency that everyone will admit is pathological gets to be valued in office-seekers, while a tendency that everyone will agree is sane gets to be viewed with distrust. Currently, that's the basic political tactic of the American right: convince the public that liberals are too nice to be entrusted with the national security (and too generous to trust with the public purse). They did it to Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry.
So we want pathological leaders, not sane ones, as we know they get the job done. That explains a great deal. Maybe Frank Rich was right.

But let's assume you think that having a pathological nut case running the most powerful nation on earth isn't a fine idea, given the state of things now. What would you want?

Here's want Kleiman would have -
I'd try to find liberal leaders (e.g., Wesley Clark) who have fully absorbed both halves of the Machiavellian lesson, and who are willing but not eager to suppress their goodness when its suppression is a public necessity.

And I'd have those leaders appeal to the true andreia of the John Wayne character against the defective andreia of the Clint Eastwood character. Defending yourself and others against real threats is manly. Picking fights just for the hell of it is juvenile. Bullies are cowards. Only perverts like hurting people. Torture is for girly-men. Real Americans are above all that.
Andreia, by the way, is the ancient Greek word for manliness and represented the virtue of the warrior - bravery or courage. You can tell Kleiman, using this word, teaches at a major university - UCLA - and one that is just a few miles west of Hollywood, thus references to the celluloid warriors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

So, of Bush's leadership, are we dealing with a pervert, coward and "girly-man?" That's possible.

Steve Gilliard suggests a different pathology -
George Bush has never explained Iraq in terms which a logical person could understand. Iraq has been an emotional appeal from the first day going after Saddam was raised. It was never about any actual threat, but an emotional desire to prove we could dominate anyone who opposed us.

For Bush, who has failed at every task ever put before him, from work, to the military to school, this was going to be his vindication. He so desperately wanted to be a hero and Iraq was going to solve all of his issues. He would defeat an enemy, prove himself worthy and gain the respect from his family he so desperately wanted.

Which is why he chose men his father kept at arms length. Bush never wanted advice, he wanted confirmation of his beliefs. His narrow world view, shaped by the dust dry plains of Midland as much as any movie, this idea that a man didn't need or want questions, he just did.

Which is how he approached the American people, not with facts, but an emotional appeal. He's out there, he's guilty, let's get him first. That was the goal, get them first, show them who is boss, Those who don't get that are weak, even if they are in uniform. We will show the world they better not fuck with us again. Iraq will be first, and the rest will bend to our will. We will show them what a superpower does.

This was never a logical argument, it was never a reasoned one, it was pure emotion, which the anti-war movement never got. Iraq was a challenge to us, our manhood, our power and anyone in the way just didn't care.

It wasn't anything to do with concrete facts. It wasn't just fear, but emasculation which Bush sold and that worked on women like a charm. People wanted to believe that the US could run down Iraq and then all manner of miracle would follow, not because of what people wanted but because people feared the US. It wasn't democracy, but control, to finally make Iraq like Israel, a Westernish country loyal to the US. It wasn't anything about what the Iraqis wanted, although the exiles fed into those delusions, which fell into their own delusions, that Iraq was just waiting for their leadership.
So this is why so many people believed in Bush for so long - it was all emotional, and only now reality is messing that up. The Iraq War psychological payback for 9/11 and all that - even if he was the wrong guy who had pretty much left us alone. He'd do.

But nothing worked out and now all we have is the sad pathology we as a nation selected (if Kleiman is right) -
Bush is a bully and a coward at heart. Iraq was chosen because Iraq would be easy, and then the rest of the Middle East would follow. It was the easy way to solve our problems, not our real problems, but our emotional pain, the unresolved conflict over being attacked. And Bush would resolve his lifelong lack of success.

Bush will not leave Iraq, not because he thinks we can win, or he thinks it's part of the war on terror. But because he cannot face another failure. Which is why Scowcroft and Baker have had no influence on him. They are his father's men, veterans, despite their politics, realists. Bush is not and never has been. When he wasn't hiding from his failure with booze and coke, he hid from it with Jesus. Now he has Henry Kissinger whispering in his ear, telling him what he wants to hear. He doesn't want advice, he wants support and only support. Those who do not support him, are diminished, then banished.

This is a man who has never honestly looked himself in the face and said I have failed. He has always been protected from failure.

Which is why Rumsfeld keeps his job. To admit he was incompetent, and some days he seems positively addled, would reflect poorly on Bush.

When people look to understand Iraq, they look at the facts and see failure, but that isn't what Bush sees. He sees one more chance for personal glory and he will not quit until he is forced to.
Gilliard argues many Republicans have no idea that they have bought into this odd psychodrama. The man "seeks redemption as desperately as he drank - and his redemption is in Iraq." He's just dragging us all along with him, and now people want out. It's too late for that. This is not the UK - there isn't any "no confidence" vote. The midterm election may hobble him, should the Democrats gain the House or Senate, or both. But that won't change much. Now he can use the veto he never used before. He'll just dig in - they call it "hunkering down." Maybe thing will slowly begin to change after mid-January 2009 as someone else is sworn in. Or maybe not. Perhaps the system does self-select nasty people.

Until then? This -
As bad as Saddam was, you could walk the streets without being kidnapped by criminals or having your daughters raped on the way to school. We have created a charnel house in Iraq because of Bush and his refusal to listen to advice he didn't want to hear.

Phased withdrawal is bullshit. Once you start withdrawing troops from Iraq, the demand to do it quicker will mount. Because Iraq is a house of cards, once it goes, it goes quickly. Anyone who would serve in an occupation government isn't strong enough to lead a real government and Maliki is doomed to join Kerensky as the leader of a failed state.

Iraq is only now become fact, not emotion, and we have to find a way out of it. George Bush's psychodrama is going to end badly.
Ah, but will it end? Is there any way out?

The administration is talking about creating a "blueprint" for making progress in Iraq, and it goes like this -
Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

... A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said that Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he added, "If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment" of the American strategy in Iraq.

... "We're trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming," a senior Bush administration official said. "We can't be there forever."
But when the New York Times reported all this on Sunday, October 22, the White House was all over the media saying this was not a "timetable" thing - timetables are evil, they encourage the enemy to hang on and wait us out, and we'll never set timetables. We'll set milestones - it's a different thing entirely.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is exasperated -
Take your pick: (a) They're serious about this. (b) They're trying to put together a plan - any plan - in order to prevent James Baker's forthcoming recommendations from becoming the default "sensible" middle course accepted by everyone in the DC punditocracy. (c) It's meaningless except as political theater. Bush just wants the country to think he's busily working on something, and this is the something.

I actually don't know which of the three it is. Maybe all of them to some degree. But while we're on the subject, note that this is all coming in the same week that the former head of the British armed forces gave his considered opinion about how we're doing in our various wars: "I don't believe we have a clear strategy in either Afghanistan or Iraq. I sense we've lost the ability to think strategically." He was talking about Britain, but obviously his remarks were aimed at the United States as well. After all, we're the ones primarily setting the strategy.

I wonder how long it will take America to recover from George Bush's uniquely blinkered and self-righteous brand of ineptitude. In the past five years he's demonstrated to the world that we don't know how to win a modern guerrilla war. He's demonstrated that we don't understand even the basics of waging a propaganda war. He's demonstrated that other countries don't need to pay any attention to our threats. He's demonstrated that we're good at talking tough and sending troops into battle, but otherwise clueless about using the levers of statecraft in the service of our own interests. If he had set out to willfully and deliberately expose our weaknesses to the world and undermine our strengths, he couldn't have done more to cripple America's power and influence in the world. Beneath the bluster, he's done more to weaken our national security than any president since World War II.

So how long will it take - after George Bush has left office - for our power and influence on the world stage to return to the level it was at in 2001? When I'm in a good mood, I figure five years. Realistically, ten years is probably more like it. And when I'm in a bad mood? Don't ask. It's really all very depressing.
Of course it is. There's no way out, and (c) is most likely - it's meaningless except as political theater, the administration wanting the country to think they're busily working on something, and this is the something. One thing sounds as good as another. Consider it an appeal to the emotions. That's what leadership comes down to these days - not doing much of anything, but creating the right attitude in the general population, one that keeps you in office.

And they know all of it is show. Take the case of Alberto Fernandez, our director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the state department -a special appointment by Condoleezza Rice herself, a long and distinguished career, and dead-flat fluent in Arabic. Sunday, October 22, we get this -
A senior U.S. State Department diplomat told Arab satellite network Al Jazeera that there is a strong possibility history will show the United States displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity" in its handling of the Iraq war.

Alberto Fernandez, director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs, made his comments on Saturday to the Qatar-based network.

"History will decide what role the United States played," he told Al Jazeera in Arabic, based on CNN translations. "And God willing, we tried to do our best in Iraq."

"But I think there is a big possibility ... for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq," the diplomat told Al Jazeera.

… "I can only assume his remarks must have been mistranslated. Those comments obviously don't reflect our policy," a senior Bush administration official said.

Fernandez told CNN that he was "not dissing U.S. policy."

"I know what the policy is and what the red lines are, and nothing I said hasn't been said before by senior officials."
In short, everyone knows we've been extraordinarily arrogant and quite stupid in myriad ways. What Fernandez is saying is that it hardly matters. Leadership is doing what we do, whatever it is, and often it is nearly insane. But it's leadership. History, which will judge all this, is for later. Leadership is for now. It was a big shrug. What are you going to do? We did what we did.

What it comes down to, what Frank Rich was reflecting, is that we now seem to define leadership as "doing" - and it hardly matters if what's being done is stupid, or if it doesn't work, or even if it does the opposite what the leader says it will do (like make us all safer). And even if this "doing" is generated from some very odd pathology, it's still doing something. So we go along, as it's emotionally satisfying to do so.

Things have to get really bad for people to withdraw support from a leader who is "doing things." We may be there. We can live with the pathologies - we've done so before (Nixon and others of your choice). But now it's what has actually been done. Breaking everything is not leadership, even if it is doing something.

Posted by Alan at 20:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006 07:23 PDT home

Monday, 16 October 2006
In Defense of the Incomprehensible and Puerile
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
In Defense of the Incomprehensible and Puerile
America must look strange to those elsewhere, although in the last six years it has become our default position that we really don't care what anyone else in the world thinks of us. We do what's right, as we see it, and we do it for the good of everyone in the world, and someday they'll understand that and thank us. Or maybe they won't. It hardly matters. We really don't care what they think. We think we're noble. That sustains us though all the distain. After all, we single-handedly saved the world in two world wars, and now they think we're foolish, or worse. Or they remember history differently, as if they had something to do with winning those wars. That's our problem with the French, of course. As for all the others, they just don't see the good we unselfishly do for them. It's so petty of them. And it's kind of sad, actually.

This is hardly worth documenting with references. Listen to what the president, vice president, and secretary of defense have said in the first six years of the administration, and remember what Donald Rumsfeld said about "old Europe" - those fusty and now calcified nations that just don't "get it." The message is that these fools understand nothing. Recently the world offshore didn't even understand that prolonging the massive civilian bombing in the Israel-Hezbollah thirty-day war was a very good thing - the birth pangs of a new Middle East, as Condoleezza Rice famously put it. The hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who lost everything just didn't "get it" either. They foolishly cling to the idea that stability is good, when our president carefully and repeated explained that it is not - the old status quo produced grumpy people who turned into terrorists, and we needed a new and better world to be born, and of course that birth is bound be a bit messy, but everyone should want this new and better world. Still they bitched about all the dead people.

So, from the outside, it seems America is hard to understand - or it's easy to understand and the rest of the world is just amazingly dense and unjustifiably resentful. Or so the thinking goes.

The rest of the world finds us puzzling? Maybe so.

The view from offshore of the House page scandal, the Mark Foley business, might provide an example. Monday, October 16, Gary Younge wrote about it here in The Guardian (UK), and we have a contemporary Brit invoking a long-dead French fellow -
"All the domestic controversies of the Americans at first appear to a stranger to be incomprehensible or puerile," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic 19th-century treatise, Democracy in America. "And he is at a loss whether to pity a people who take such arrant trifles in good earnest or to envy that happiness which enables a community to discuss them."

And so it is that, as the extent of the carnage in Iraq becomes evident and North Korea goes nuclear, America's political class obsesses over a single Congressman's predilection for teenage boys.
But that is what we do, as odd as it seems. And Younge seems to think this is unbalanced, as it is what had galvanized the Democrats -
They know how to make electoral capital out of a gay man propositioning American teenagers (as of yet there is no suggestion that he actually molested any of them). But when it came to American soldiers forcing Iraqi prisoners to masturbate for the camera, their ability to focus minds on inappropriate sexual behavior and abuse of power somehow eluded them.

Now, with three weeks to go before the mid-term elections, the Democrats are flipping the traditional script. "Anybody who had a personal vulnerability before this is totally [at risk] with the spotlight on scandal," a Democratic aide told the Washington Post. "Frankly, it is a tough environment out there if you have a problem with the bottle or the zipper."
Whatever works - and the bottle and zipper do.

And as puerile as it seems, he does note that last week in New Jersey, the Democrat candidate Linda Stender accused her Republican opponent, Mike Ferguson, of preying on young women in a DC nightclub. And in Pennsylvania, Chris Carney has accused his Republican opponent of "repeatedly choking" and "attempting to strangle" his young mistress. Younge doesn't mention that the Republican in the latter case is running ads where he says, yes, he was unfaithful to his frumpy wife for years, and he is so very ashamed of that, but he never, ever beat his nubile young mistress senseless, nor did he ever try to choke her to death - so you really should vote for him, as he's telling it like it is, revealing himself, warts and all, this making himself one of the few truly honest men in politics. You speak to your constituents' concerns, you see. And he may win reelection.

The rest of the stuff is just too dry, like this -
Federal agents raided the home of the daughter of U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R., Pa.) and his longtime friend Charlie Sexton this morning. The agents departed Karen Weldon's three-story brick home on Queen Street in Philadelphia with arms loaded with boxes. A government car pulled into the alley to the back door of the house and loaded boxes into it. Three agents standing in an alley declined to identify themselves.

"I can confirm that we conducted a number of searches regarding an ongoing investigation," said FBI agent Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman in Philadelphia. "Details regarding those investigation cannot be provided because the accompanying affidavit is sealed."
But the story is becoming clear. His daughter had no experience in anything, and she set up a lobbying firm, and her father got her two or three million dollars in contracts. Some shady Russians, and Slobodan Milosevic, signed up for her to wield her influence, and daddy did what he could for them in the House. It was sweet, and illegal - but it's dry stuff.

All such corruption stories are dry, like this -
Lester Crawford, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who resigned suddenly in September 2005, was indicted in U.S. court for making false statements related to his investments and conflict of interest. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor announced the indictment in a court filing today in Washington.
First of all, no one follows who the FDA commissioners are, and although he just up and quit after two months on the job, that was hardly headline news. No one noticed. He will plead guilty for issuing rulings highly favorable to two companies where he held very large blocks of stock options - PepsiCo and Sysco. We're talking, in the one case, a purveyor of junk food and high-fructose soft drinks, and in the other. of the biggest supplier of food and cocktail napkins to American restaurants. Where's the sex? No one will ask the president about that appointment. Appointing Michael Brown to FEMA meant many thousands died and a major American city was ruined forever. Appointing Lester Crawford meant more kids got fat, and he got rich. It's a minor thing.

Still, Younge points out, there's trouble in the air -
"This is without question the worst political situation for the GOP since the Watergate disaster in 1974," wrote the veteran analyst Charles Cook in his political report on Friday. "I think a 30-seat gain today for Democrats is more likely to occur than a 15-seat gain, the minimum that would tip the majority. The chances of that number going higher are also strong, unless something occurs that fundamentally changes the dynamic of this election. This is what Republican strategists' nightmares look like."
The question is how the opposition Democrats will play their hand.

Younge suggests they will stupidly play to what really doesn't matter, and about which folks really don't care much -
For if America's political class are pushing de Tocqueville's "puerile trifles", the electorate is clearly far more interested in substance. With wages stagnant, health costs rising and the military death toll in Iraq this month hovering close to a two-year high, voters want serious answers to serious questions. The Pew survey showed that the six issues of most concern to the electorate were Iraq, terrorism, the economy, healthcare, immigration and energy policy.

Last week, the Democrat minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, addressed some of these concerns. She pledged that in the first 100 hours of a Democrat majority she will increase the minimum wage, reduce interest rates on student loans, expand federal funding for stem-cell research, and require the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of prescription drugs for Medicare.

This is great as far as it goes. It provides an answer to those who claim there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. But it also confirms the accusation that, given the challenges facing American society, this difference is inadequate. For one of the reasons the Democrats are so eager to talk about the Foley scandal is because they have little substantive to say on the matters on the American public's mind.

Pelosi might have added to her to-do list closing down Guantánamo Bay, setting a date for troop withdrawal from Iraq, raising taxes on the top earners to help curb the deficit, and putting a stop to warrantless wiretapping. But the truth is that Democrats have no consistent or coherent position on Iraq, terrorism or anything else much. The last few months have told the tale of Republican demise, not a Democrat revival. So while November 7 promises the possibility of electoral change, the prospect of real political change seems remote. The Democrats are standing for office, but little else.
Yeah, but the big stuff is hard. Maybe it's too hard.

And the biggest issue, the war after the Iraq War, has no easy answer. The Democrats have no plan of their own for victory. How could they? It's not even possible - "A commission formed to assess the Iraq war and recommend a new course has ruled out the prospect of victory for America, according to draft policy options shared with The New York Sun by commission officials."

So the honest Republicans are running on a curiously unbeatable platform - yeah, we screwed up, and maybe it is the biggest screw up in American history, so bad there's no good fix of any kind, so unless the Democrats come up with one, and there is no way they can, people should vote for us again, because the Democrats can't do anything about what's happened after all, as they've always been useless.

And the issues with Iraq are really complex, unlike who was covering up the gay congressman preying in sixteen-year-old male pages and why, and whether that congressman really beat his mistress or not. Tom Engelhardt explains here.

The president describes the enemy this way - "The violence is being caused by a combination of terrorists, elements of former regime criminals, and sectarian militias." But the emphasis keeps changing. Early on it with the middle group, the "bitter-enders" - they missed Saddam Hussein. Then it was the terrorists. Now it's the religious sects. One can get confused, and now he says it's all three. You need a scorecard.

Add to that there may be a coup in the works - that's mentioned here (Washington Post columnist David Ignatius) and a week earlier here (Robert Dreyfuss). Insiders are talking about the possibility of a new five-man "ruling commission," a "government of national salvation" that would "suspend parliament, declare martial law and call back some officers of the old Iraqi army." So reboot the system, as it were.

And Engelhardt reviews recent talk of a political accommodation with the insurgents. We stop fighting them?

And there's this -
Of course, all of this has brought to the surface a lot of hopeful "withdrawal" talk in the media (and the online world), in part because the Baker group seems to have been floating "phased withdrawal" rumors. Before you think about genuine withdrawal possibilities though, note the announcement by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker last week that he was now planning for the possibility of maintaining present force levels in Iraq (140,000+ troops) through 2010; that Casey at that press briefing left the door wide open to ask the President for even more troops after the election; and that the build-up on the ground of permanent bases (not called that) and our vast, nearly billion-dollar embassy in the heart of Baghdad is ongoing.
So who knows what we're doing? Sex is easier.

And there are the inherent paradoxes in the kind of war we walked into. Engelhardt points to Michael Schwartz analyzing this, an article by four military experts published in the quasi-official Military Review, entitled "The Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency."

What would they be?

Paradox 1: The More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You Are
Paradox 2: The More Force You Use, the Less Effective You Are
Paradox 3: The More Successful Counterinsurgency Is, the Less Force That Can Be Used and the More Risk That Must Be Accepted
Paradox 4: Sometimes Doing Nothing Is the Best Reaction
Paradox 5: The Best Weapons for Counterinsurgency Do Not Shoot
Paradox 6: The Host Nation Doing Something Tolerably Is Sometimes Better Than Our Doing It Well
Paradox 7: If a Tactic Works This Week, It Will Not Work Next Week; If It Works in This Province, It Will Not Work in the Next
Paradox 8: Tactical Success Guarantees Nothing
Paradox 9: Most of the Important Decisions Are Not Made by Generals

Michael Schwartz is Professor of Sociology and Faculty Director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University, and his books include Radical Protest and Social Structure, and Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda (edited, with Clarence Lo) - so his discussion of each paradox is detailed, and quotes extensively from the source document (PDF format). Read it carefully and you'll see it makes sense.

The only problem is, of course, for all the common sense here, the analysis of these paradoxes of fighting an insurgency doesn't meet the Alexis de Tocqueville "incomprehensible and puerile" test. Not only are the concepts not exactly simple, they're certainly not sexy and titillating. They're only self-evident, and you realize that when you carefully think them through. It may be too much work.

No "Neanderthal" voter will think them through, having long ago bought into the president's "we will accept nothing less than total victory" line, as that's easy enough to work with. As they say on the infomercial about the countertop thing that will roast a chicken for you - "Set it… and forget it!" The enemy may be ambiguous, but we can kill them all and let God sort them out, as General Sherman once said. This is too tricky. The nasty congressman who likes young boys, and who knew he did and when, is easier to get all upset about. This is not lost on the Democrats. To get elected you use they tools provided you.

A secondary problem about all this - what is circulating as the new thinking in the military - is that the president, and more importantly the vastly more influential vice president and the secretary of defense, don't see these paradoxes at all. On the policy and strategy levels they are committed to the exact opposite of what the military knows it has to do, on the tactical level. And that goes a long way to explaining "the revolt of the retired generals." It's a matter of who "gets it."

And it's way too hard for a population busy with other matters to deal with the idea that even the military is saying the top guys have the basic concept all wrong. And too, the media will give the population busy with other matters… other matters. They do need to sell advertising time, and keep the ratings up. Sexy and puerile will do nicely, thank you.

Alexis de Tocqueville said he was "at a loss whether to pity a people who take such arrant trifles in good earnest or to envy that happiness which enables a community to discuss them." He was onto something there.

No one from the outside really understands America.

Posted by Alan at 22:32 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006 06:57 PDT home

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