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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Reality, Such As It Is
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Reality, Such As It Is

The week starting with Monday, December 4, we all knew something was up. Rumsfeld was gone from Defense and that Monday John Bolton was gone from the UN, or going soon. Our ambassador, appointed while the Senate, which would not confirm him, was in recess, had to resign. There would be no "for real" confirmation. The votes weren't there, and it wasn't just the Democrats. Key Republicans decided the man who would tell them all up there they were no more than fools and crooks and scum, had to move on. That hadn't worked out, as predicted. This made the president angry, but it hardly mattered. There was the reality of the thing. The day the congress ends its term, Bolton's term ends, and that's that. Those are the rules. It's in the constitution.

The next day there were the committee hearings for Robert Gates, the man nominated to replace Rumsfeld at Defense. Gates had been (and is) characterized as someone completely unlike anyone else in the cabinet - a realist, not a wild-eyed idealist with dreams of changing the world. Gates had served for twenty-six years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under the first President Bush as Director of Central Intelligence. He worked his way up and knows the nitty-gritty of how things really work. It's not like he was an alcoholic who had never succeeded at anything and suddenly, when he turned forty, found Jesus and stopped drinking, and then decided - even though uninterested in ideas and detail and foreign affairs in the slightest - to tell the world how things really should be, and that "realism" was overrated. He comes from the father's circle of key people - that world of compromise and realism and prudence. The son's circle is one unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves" no one had dared before. It was an odd appointment, made, presumably, rather grudgingly. The unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves" of the outgoing defense secretary hadn't worked out that well.

The committee voted unanimously to move the nomination to the full Senate and they voted, the following day, to confirm him. The vote was 95 to 2 and over in the blink of an eye. The president said the usual - "I am confident that his leadership and capabilities will help our country meet its current military challenges and prepare for emerging threats of the 21st century." You could sense the resentment.

The details - three senators didn't vote, the Democrats Joseph Biden and Evan Bayh, and the Republican Elizabeth Dole. The two who voted no were standing by the president against his father, Rick Santorum and Jim Bunning. Gates had said it was time to be realistic about the Iraq war. We weren't winning. We should work from that fact. And maybe we should at least talk with the folks in Iran. Santorum, about to leave office as the voters in Pennsylvania had decided he was quite mad, or at least too strange for their tastes, decided to mock the idea of "engaging dictators" and spoke for an hour on the floor of the Senate of the evils of "radical Islamic fascism." And when it came to reaching out to Iran to discuss the security of Iraq, Santorum said of Gates' thought - "I think he is in error."

Bunning, who was a pretty good pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back when but has since periodically gone off topic and worried people a bit, did his thing - "Gates has repeatedly criticized our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without providing any viable solutions to the problems our troops currently face. We need a secretary of defense to think forward with solutions and not backward on history we cannot change." Make of that what you will.

But the folks who think that considering history and actual facts is often useful won the day. As a final irony, the White House said Gates would be sworn in December 18 - he had commitments he had to fulfill at Texas A&M University, where he is the president. Our president likes to mock folks with degrees and "book learnin'." His favorite line is something like "look at so and so with the PhD - I was a C-minus student and I'm president and they're not, so there." Now he's got a university president on his hands, talking reality of all things.

How extraordinary this all is was is summed up by Fred Kaplan in Enter the Grown-Up, concerning the committee hearings before the full vote. Here Kaplan says the "most eyebrow-raising moment - of many such moments" that day was when Senator Robert Byrd asked Gates if he favored attacking Iran. It has been widely reported that such an attack is in the works, and most in Gates' position would duck the question - avoiding "hypotheticals" and all that. And Gates just said no. That was it. This should make for some interesting planning meetings in the White House. Cheney may need a new pacemaker.

Actually it was more than no - "We have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable." He went on with how the Iranians couldn't retaliate with a direct attack on the United States but they could close off the Persian Gulf to oil exports, send much more aid to anti-American insurgents in Iraq, and step up terrorist attacks worldwide. He suggested we look at this realistically.

Byrd asked if we should attack Syria, as is reported to also be in the works. "The Syrians' capacity to do harm to us is far more limited," but an attack on Syria "would give rise to a significantly greater anti-Americanism" and "increasingly complicate our relationship with every country in the region." You just don't want to do that.

So much for unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves." What was this man doing there, getting nominated? When he was asked if invading Iraq was a good idea in retrospect, Kaplan notes he paused, then said, "That's a judgment the historians are going to have to make."

This is all very odd, as Kaplan notes -
It is impossible to imagine any of George W. Bush's previous Cabinet appointees, or any of his sitting Cabinet officers, making such stark - and, at least implicitly, critical - statements in an open Senate hearing.

In short, Gates may well be that entity that Washington has not seen for many years: a truly independent secretary of defense.

"I don't owe anybody anything," Gates told Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, when asked whether he'd be loyal to truth or to power.

… At one point during the questioning, Gates noted that 2,889 Americans had died in Iraq "as of yesterday morning" - a sharp contrast (and, no doubt, an intentional one) to the time when then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the Senate Committee on Armed Services and did not know how many of his fellow citizens had been killed in the war that he helped put in motion.
And as for what the man says he's learned over the years, he offered this - all agencies have to work together to get anything done, and consulting with Congress is really important, as is treating people's views with respect, as is respecting the professionals - listening to military commanders when you're planning a war, for example. He practically said the administration had been stupidly goofy for six years, but he said it nicely.

Kaplan concludes -
… the main question, at this point, isn't about Gates; it's about Bush. For the past six years, there has been a tendency to blame this administration's colossal mistakes on Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney, but several former officials have told me that, on many occasions, Bush really has been "the decider." Soon, Rumsfeld will be gone. Cheney will be isolated. We may find out what George W. Bush really thinks.
That would be interesting. And something is up with this. It may be realism.

The Middle East scholar Juan Cole, looking back on the man's CIA history with Iran-Contra and all the rest, is generally pleased -
The US now has a secretary of defense who knows that we are not winning in Iraq, who wants to do something about it, and who doesn't think nuking Iran is just a dandy idea. Although his involvement in Iran-Contra dogged Robert Gates in the build-up to the confirmation hearings, it did not emerge as a big issue. It may be that by now having a SecDef who once was involved in selling US weapons to Khomeini and who therefore has a potential back channel to leaders in Tehran, is not seen as such a bad thing. Let's see if Gates can finally redeem university presidents who enter high federal office, after Woodrow Wilson gave them a bad name.
Damn, everyone likes to pick on Woodrow Wilson. But Wilson ran Princeton. Texas A&M is a different kettle of fish, of course. We'll see how the token realist from Texas, not the grim aesthete-theorist from New Jersey, works out in the "we make our own reality" administration.

Of course the Gates confirmation was overshadowed by the release, the same day, of the Iraq Study Group Report, "The Way Forward -A New Approach." This was a big deal, and Vintage simultaneously released the thing in paperback, should you want your very own copy. There was no hiding anything.

And it wasn't nice - the administration's war policies have failed in almost every way, it warned of diminishing chances to change course before "crisis turns to chaos" with "dire implications" for terrorism, war in the Middle East and higher oil prices around the world. In short, it was time to get real - there is no guarantee of success and the consequences of failure are just awful, and things are just bleak. In their own words - "Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out."

And have a nice day. And by the way, we really should begin a "diplomatic offensive" by the end of the month and engage even Iran and Syria in an effort "to quell sectarian violence and shore up the fragile Iraqi government." That would be in the next three weeks. The group's many recommendations did not endorse the current White House strategy of "staying the course" with no substantial changes in what we do in Iraq, and didn't call for a quick pullout or a firm timetable for withdrawal. But something had to be done, and soon - just not those two extremes.

The Iraq panel's leaders said in their press conference that they tried to avoid "politically charged language" such as "victory" on the one hand or "civil war" on the other. But things were clear - James Baker, the former secretary of state and Bush family adviser (fixer) who co-chaired the commission said it all - "We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable." The co-chair, Lee Hamilton, said the commission actually agreed with the administration's goal of a stable Iraq able to govern, protect and sustain itself but it was time for new approaches - "No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos. Yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted."

So they tossed some ideas over the transom and the president said something carefully vague - "It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion." Not that he'll do anything at all.

He does have seventy-nine recommendations on the table now - reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress and that sort of thing. The report said that Iraqi leaders have simply failed to deliver better security or any sort of political compromises on the ground. The four-month joint military campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad is basically hopeless - "Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end." So force something. But do nothing rash - no "precipitous pullback" or, on the other hand, no open-ended commitment to a large deployment. So what do you do? Talk to Iran an Syria, and while you're at it, end the sixty-year-long mess with the Israelis and the Palestinians, in your spare time. And stop combat operations as you phase in massive training and support for what neutral honest military and police you can find there, if any.

But the response was already obvious. The president called the report "a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq" and said he would take the recommendations very seriously and act "in a timely fashion." But then he said that Congress wouldn't agree with every proposal, and neither would he. And White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president continues to insist that Iran verifiably suspend uranium enrichment before we engage in direct talks.

The about face may or may not happen, as is obvious. Baker was asked if he thought the president would accept any of this. His reply - "You know, I've worked for four presidents, and I never put presidents I worked for on the couch." In short, go ask a psychiatrist. That's what it has come down to.

And in a minor note the co-chair Lee Hamilton added a tidbit - "America's ability to resolve the crisis in Iraq "is narrowing" and the costs could rise to more than one trillion dollars. That's a big psychiatrist's bill. Returning to reality can be expensive.

But John Dickerson says that is what this is about, with his summary of what the report says. And the message is simple -
1. Cut the crap. You won't find this as one of the numbered messages, but it was surely the leitmotif of the day. The president has been increasingly, if grudgingly, candid about the difficulties in Iraq, but Bush and other officials still offer meaningless euphemisms about the "pace of progress" and completing "the mission." The commissioners were breathtakingly blunt about this. "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," said Lee Hamilton, echoing language in the report. Later, Hamilton referred to Iraq's "slide towards chaos." His co-chairman, James Baker, equated the current "nightmare of brutal violence" to the nightmare of Saddam's regime. There was no guarantee, Baker said, that events wouldn't get even worse in the coming days, nullifying the commission's recommendations immediately. The brightest assessment heard was that all was not yet lost.

2. You can be tough and talk. The president and vice president have often depicted diplomatic engagement as weakness. As a general matter, they prefer action to talk and believe negotiating with countries like Syria, Iran, and North Korea rewards their leaders' naughty behavior. That's why the president and other administration officials have resisted engagement with Iran and Syria as a way to help stabilize Iraq. Baker, the veteran diplomat, scoffed at this resistance. "We're not talking about talking to be talking," he said, characterizing the group's recommendations about the two rogue countries. "We're talking about tough diplomacy." Later, he circled back to the idea, adding a broad lesson for the Bush administration in the art of diplomacy. "For 40 years we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the Earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends."

3. Bipartisanship has to mean something. The commissioners repeatedly stressed that without bipartisanship of the kind they were able to achieve in their deliberations, Iraq policy - whatever its next iteration - would fail. (As if to emphasize this, the group eschewed the left-to-right seating of custom; Democrats and Republicans sat on both sides of the chairmen). Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, provided the most amusing moment of the morning when he offered a characteristically quirky view of excessive partisanship. "You know, you see people in this who are hundred percenters in America," he said. "A hundred percenter is a person you don't want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and BO. And they seethe. They're not seekers. They're not seekers, they're seethers." Simpson wasn't trying to attack the administration. He was attacking extremists on both sides. But the kind of black-and-white division he described applies to the Bush team's campaign strategy on the issue of Iraq. The president accused all Democrats of wanting to cut and run from Iraq, though his administration was mulling policies nearly identical to the ones Democrats were proposing. Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, and Tony Snow went further, suggesting that Democrats were fundamentally unequipped to deal with issues of national security. "100 percenters" could have been the inscription on the back of their campaign jackets.
But as to the third point, Dickerson notes that bipartisanship, as the Bush-Rove-Cheney team understands it, means surrender by the Democrats - you agree with them in the end, or you get labeled as aiding and abetting the enemy. Baker called on former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to answer a question about whether Bush would listen to the commission - "I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we're divided." What did Johnson say about the triumph of hope over experience? This will go nowhere.

Maybe it was not supposed to go anywhere. Jonathan Steele explores that in The Guardian (UK), where he says Baker has other purposes -
The first purpose was to provide an alibi for the president ahead of last month's congressional elections. Critics of his disastrous strategy in Iraq could be told that Bush was listening to the American people and understood their concerns. That was why he had set up a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate all options. Nothing was taboo. The tactic did not work, and Bush and his Republican party took a heavy beating. It was not Baker's fault so much as a sign that voters felt they had to send a message to Baker as well as Bush. A majority of Americans, as well as Iraqis, want US troops to leave.

The second purpose of the study group was to co-opt the Democrats, to get them behind Bush's war. Having a bipartisan panel with an equal number of members from both parties was intended to make it hard for Democrats to reject its report. Baker, after all, was the man who masterminded the maneuverings in 2000 over whether Florida should have a full recount. His job was to get Al Gore and the rest of the Democrats to swallow their anger and fall into line behind the argument that there was no time and that the better strategy was to take the dispute to the Supreme Court - where Bush's side had a clear judicial majority.

Now the plan is to lock the Democrats into agreeing with the main thrust of Bush's Iraq policy over the next two years, with the aim of preventing it from provoking a major divide during the 2008 campaign for the White House. It is not a difficult task. The main Democratic contenders, starting with Hillary Clinton, are weak fence-sitters who show no desire to challenge Bush directly. None are as clear-sighted as John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman who started calling for a US troop withdrawal a year ago. Nor, unless he or she is yet to emerge, is there a Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy figure with the authority to rally voters against a failed president, as there was when Lyndon Johnson was mired in Vietnam.

The third purpose in appointing Baker's panel is the most extraordinary. The country's political elite wants to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind a strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight.
That may be a bit cynical, but it rings true.

Fred Kaplan (again) suggests the group just chickened out - "James Baker, the canniest of operators, has now met his Waterloo." There are no solutions to this problem. The report's outline of a new "diplomatic offensive" is "so disjointed that even a willing president would be left puzzled by what precisely to do, and George W. Bush seems far from willing."

This is a close reading of the text. It’s a "scheme for a new military strategy contains so many loopholes that a president could cite its language to justify doing anything (or nothing)." And it is a depressing read.

The part on Iran and Syria is devastating -
They call unequivocally for the United States to hold talks with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

But they don't address the question of why Iran and Syria should want to talk with us. More to the point, the authors sidestep the question: What might we have to give Iran and Syria in exchange for talking with us - in exchange (still more to the point) for getting us out of this mess? Baker is no naïf. When he was secretary of state under Bush's father, he had lots of diplomatic dealings with these countries. He knows that dealings involve deals; we have to give up something to get them to do what we want. But he doesn't want to say this, because he knows that the current President Bush doesn't want to give up anything. If this Bush actually follows Baker's advice and opens up talks with Iran, he'll find this out soon enough - and then he'll back out.

… The report's authors try to make a case that Iran and Syria will want to cooperate. They write in the executive summary, "No country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq." Yet the key phrase here is "in the long term." In the short term, Iran and Syria are benefiting quite nicely from an Iraq that's mired at least somewhat in chaos.

… Will Bush drop his avowed desire for "regime change" in Tehran in exchange for Tehran's help in stabilizing Iraq? That's the big question. Every time it's come up so far, Bush has firmly said no. Will he make a fundamental shift now? Doubtful. And what is Tehran's view of a stable Iraq? Is it the same as Washington's view? Again, doubtful - which is one reason Bush probably won't make a shift. Maybe some compromise can be worked out, but what conditions will be set for starting, much less completing, negotiations?

The authors recommend the creation of an Iraq International Support Group, consisting of all the Gulf States, Iraq's neighbors, Egypt, the European Union, and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This might be a good idea, but the report musters no reasons why these countries should cooperate. The report calls on the United States to "energize countries to support national political reconciliation." It's unclear what this means.

… It's a mess. Not even Jim Baker really knows what to do about it.
And so it is. It's all for nothing. At least that's what James Joyner at Outside the Beltway says - "Both sides will use the Report to seek political cover for what they want to do but I suspect they will continue to bludgeon their opponents over the war."

And Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post says you have to consider the players in the game -
President Bush this morning formally accepted a copy of the Iraq Study Group's blistering report, vowed to seriously consider its dramatic recommendations and spoke hopefully about finding common ground for the good of the country.

Sounds great. But does he mean it?

We'll know for sure once words turn into action. But in the meantime, it strikes me that as long as Vice President Cheney and political guru Karl Rove remain Bush's closest advisers, then the answer is probably not.

Cheney and his loyalists are largely responsible for the deception, delusion and incompetence that brought us to where we are today in Iraq. Rove intentionally turned the war into the most ferocious and divisive of partisan issues. Neither man has shown any sign of remorse.

Since his electoral comeuppance on Nov. 7, Bush has alternated between conciliatory language and fighting words when it comes to changing course in Iraq.

The nomination of Bob Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary was one indication that Bush might indeed adopt a more measured and realistic strategy in Iraq. Gates's stunning candor about the current situation at confirmation hearings yesterday bolstered that view.

But until or unless Bush turns away from Cheney and Rove - the two men who have been his most intimate and trusted counselors - it's hard to imagine that his episodes of chastened, bipartisan talk on Iraq will amount to anything more than lip service.
Christy Harden Smith carries that forward -
That President Bush has to be told that diplomacy by him and by his Secretary of State is important as a crucial element of our nation's interaction with the rest of the world? Well…it is embarrassing, and that James Baker has apparently spelled it out in direct language in the ISG document says a LOT about how much resistance they are expecting from President Bush on this aspect of his job, doesn't it?

… Something that Amb. Joseph Wilson said earlier in the week when he was chatting with everyone resonates this morning, "I have a lot of respect for Jim Baker. He is tough enough, experienced enough and savvy enough to pull a rabbit out of the hat if there is one in there. The problem is we are so far down the road on the way to chaos that there may not be any way to stop this until all sides are exhausted. The question is not whether the situation has become a civil war but rather whether it has degenerated from a civil war to out and out anarchy and a failed state."

And that, in essence, is the dilemma that everyone faces when evaluating the chaos in Iraq, as it threatens to spill over into the greater Middle East. How does one stop a runaway train filled with explosives before it hits the next stop along the tracks? And the next?

The best time to listen to the diplomats is before a shot is ever fired. But in the Bush Administration, Colin Powell's and the state department's experienced hands admonitions against this ill-planned, ill-conceived war were brushed aside in favor of the neocon dreams of conquering heroes and candy-strewn streets paved with oil. The time for the grown-ups and the realists would have been best prior to any American soldiers setting foot on the ground in Iraq.

But, alas, that was not to be.

There are a number of things that we all ought to learn from this. First, and foremost, is that the United States ought never again commit resources and troops without serious questions being asked on the front end of such a commitment.

That adequate oversight was not performed by the Congress, that the press acted as cheerleaders rather than as the skeptical cynics one would hope for in the run-up to this catastrophe, that individual Americans were doing the same - ought not be in question at this point. But our men and women in uniform, the American public, and the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire in the current conflagration that passes for Iraq deserve far better than this from all of us. And that lesson not only needs to be learned, but it needs to be taken to heart.

The second is that any planning that is done going into a conflict needs to take into account the worst case scenario, and not just limit itself to whatever President Rose-Colored Glasses wants to hear.

And, to that end, the public ought to hear about those worst case scenarios as well. Oversight hearings would help from Congress. I am more than aware that the rubber stamp Republican Congress has functioned more like a Parliamentary unit of the Bush White House than the independent branch of government that our Founding Fathers envisioned for us.

It is well past time for Congress to reclaim its Constitutional mantle of being both a check and a balance on the overreach of Presidential power. And we will be watching the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress come January to be certain that they do just that.

How long do all of us have to pay the price for this mess in Iraq? Because, in all honesty, it is a heavy, heavy price.

No one should be satisfied if all we get out of this report and the ensuing pomp and circumstances is simply a bunch of shuffling around and no real change of priorities and actions. The status quo is not good enough (and that is such an understatement). President Bush needs to face some difficult truths and be honest not just with the public but with himself. Now.
We will see about that. But it just does help anyone connect with reality when the data is bad -
The Bush administration routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings, the Iraq Study Group report said Wednesday.

... On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq." The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis.

"The standard for recording attacks acts [as] a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said. "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count."
That needs attention. Facts matters now, or are starting to matter now.

But then, this all may be beside the point, or so Senator Russ Feingold suggests -
Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group report does too little to change the flawed mind-set that led to the misguided war in Iraq. Maybe there are still people in Washington who need a study group to tell them that the policy in Iraq isn’t working, but the American people are way ahead of this report.

While the report has regenerated a few good ideas, it doesn’t adequately put Iraq in the context of a broader national security strategy. We need an Iraq policy that is guided by our top national security priority - defeating the terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11 and its allies. We can’t continue to just look at Iraq in isolation. Unless we set a serious timetable for redeploying our troops from Iraq, we will be unable to effectively address these global threats. In the end, this report is a regrettable example of "official Washington" missing the point.
But then, looking at it another way, Bill "The Book of Virtues" Bennett thinks no one should ever tell the president or his people what to do, not ever - "In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority. Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible." Pot speaking to kettle, as they say.

But then, Bush could turn out to be French, as one if Andrew Sullivan's readers notes regarding Charles de Gaulle -
A lot of pundits are comparing our crossroads in Iraq with LBJ and Vietnam. However, I think that when looking at whether GWB is capable of dramatically altering the plan, a more interesting parallel is de Gaulle and Algeria. The General had declared "Algeria is France", yet only a few years later he oversaw a bitter and divisive withdrawal.

Unfortunately, I just don't think this President is capable of admitting such a mistake and changing course dramatically. I hope you're right and maybe Gates can somehow be heard by key Administration members (Bush, Cheney, Hadley). No matter what we do, it will be painful and messy.
But then de Gaulle was a hero, eventually, even if those army officers tried to assassinate him. Sullivan notes the parallel to torture too. Heck, the Pentagon did screen The Battle of Algiers for everyone in the building more than three years ago (also discussed here). Fascinating.

Algeria 1957. Vietnam 1968. Take your pick -
There is something of an upshot to the commission, however. Even though it doesn't really propose ending the war, it will shift the Iraq debate in favor of the modalities of extrication. Welcome to 1968: everyone knows the war must end and victory is unachievable, but the will to actually withdraw in full remains unpalatable to the political class. Bush will have a very hard time recommitting the country to a chimerical "victory" in Iraq. But in the name of "responsibility," thousands more will die, for years and years, as the situation deteriorates further. Someone, at sometime, will finally have to say "enough," and get the United States out.
Add too twenty-four American dead in the four days leading up to the report, including ten on the day of the report. It seems like old times. And we didn't get out of Vietnam until 1974.

And as for our guys on the ground, that's just sad, as we hear from Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, stationed in Ramadi. The group is, according to the article, "still reeling" from learning two months ago that its tour will be extended until February.

Their view -
Spc. Eisenhower Atuatasi, 26, of Westminster, Calif.: "There's no way we're leaving in two years no matter what any recommendation says."

Staff Sgt. Rony Theodore, 33, of Brooklyn, N.Y.: "All of us want to change what we're doing because we're not doing very much."

Sgt. Christopher Wiacik, 28, of Livonia, Michigan: "It's just a study group. It's not really going to affect the president. I don't see any major changes happening until presidential elections start. I think both sides will promise to get troops out and give timelines then, but not before. We're just sitting around not making any progress. It's annoying. You're not motivated to help anybody. I don't want to live my life like this."

Spc. Richard Johnson, 20, of Bridgeport, Conn.: "It's like holding a child's hand. How long can you hold onto his hand before he does something on his own? How much longer do we have to get shot at or blown up?"

First Lieutenant Gerard Dow, 32, of Chicago, Ill.: "In Iraq, we try to win the hearts and minds of population. They want Americans out of here. They blame us for all their problems. They look at us as the terrorists and then they turn around and help the terrorists who are trying to kill us.... U.S. soldiers are dying trying to help people who don't want their help."
Yep, old times.

But then, things can change - "The United States has offered a detailed package of economic and energy assistance in exchange for North Korea’s giving up nuclear weapons and technology, American officials said Tuesday."

Those last six years? Just kidding. Some reality can sometimes help.

Posted by Alan at 23:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006 07:46 PST home

Sunday, 15 October 2006
Attending to Seemingly Useless Information
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Attending to Seemingly Useless Information
There were two Friday the 13ths this year - January and October. But this isn't that bad - Friday, September 13th, 2019, is the next year to contain a full moon on a Friday the 13th. That'll be a bad day for sure.

Any Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, except in Greece and Spain, where Tuesday the 13th is the bad day. It's more the thirteen thing - Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the thirteenth guest to the Last Supper and all that. The day of the week matters less, though you will find fundamentalist Christians who carefully worked out that it was on a Friday the 13th that Cain killed his brother Abel, and on a Friday the 13th Eve chatted with that sneaky snake and completely ruined things for all of us forever. So it wasn't any Tuesday, you see. It was a Friday, and the 13th. And women always ruin things. Cosi fan tutti and all.

Of course thirteen is just a bad number, one that screws things up. There are twelve months in a year, twelve signs of the zodiac, and twelve gods of Olympus, twelve labors of Hercules, twelve tribes of Israel, and twelve apostles of Jesus. So thirteen just seems… strange. And people still avoid the number these days - more than eighty percent of high-rises just don't have a 13th floor. Most airports don't have a Gate Thirteen. Hospitals and hotels pretty much don't have a "Room 13" anywhere. If you visit Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is always 12 and a half. In France you once could find yourself one of those quatorziens (fourteeners) - available as a fourteenth guest to keep your dinner party from some unlucky fate, like deadly dull conversation or fistfights. That still may be a custom there. Who knows? But if you find yourself worried about Friday the 13th you can always try the standard folk remedies to make sure bad luck doesn't get you - climb to the top of a mountain or skyscraper and burn all the socks you own that have holes in them, or stand on your head and eat a piece of gristle.

As they say, you could it look up. All of it falls under the heading of "useless information."

But what information is useless? On this month's Friday the 13th the Washington Post published this column by Jeffery Smith - headline "Bush Confounded by the 'Unacceptable'" and subhead "President Wields Word More Freely as His Frustration Rises and His Influence Ebbs."

This is just a curious word count thing - or, as Smith contends, it means President Bush finds the world around him increasingly "unacceptable." Given that's the same world the rest of us live in, this could be a problem. The man is very unhappy. Who knows what he's going to do about it?

The gist of it is this -
[A] survey of transcripts from Bush's public remarks over the past seven years shows the president's worsening political predicament has actually stoked, rather than diminished, his desire to proclaim what he cannot abide. Some presidential scholars and psychologists describe the trend as a signpost of Bush's rising frustration with his declining influence.

In the first nine months of this year, Bush declared more than twice as many events or outcomes "unacceptable" or "not acceptable" as he did in all of 2005, and nearly four times as many as he did in 2004. He is, in fact, at a presidential career high in denouncing events he considers intolerable. They number 37 so far this year, as opposed to five in 2003, 18 in 2002 and 14 in 2001.
And there are the usual suspects - the unacceptable includes rising health costs, immigrants who live outside the law, North Korea's claimed nuclear test, genocide in Sudan and Iran's nuclear ambitions and all the rest, and now with things going in the weeds with North Korea and Iraq, and congress not getting much of anything done on any domestic initiatives, and all those polls with his approval ratings in the thirties all the time, he saying things are unacceptable more than ever. But it's his thing. Back in January he was telling a bunch of elementary school kids in Maryland that their recent scores on math and reading proficiency tests were "unacceptable." Now we're all the little kids - the whole world is the little kids who are just not doing the right thing.

Smith quotes Stanley A. Renshon, a political scientist a CYNU, saying all this is in keeping with the president's apparent self-image as a Jeremiah, "railing against the tides" and saying what "people ought to be doing something about." Of course that's not the same as doing anything about anything, but it sounds serious and important. The president is supposed to be the world's Jeremiah? That's not in the job description, but it's what we got.

And Smith charts the widening targets here -
As a presidential candidate and in his early presidency, Bush was more apt to denounce domestic events. His assertions that school performance and achievement gaps between white and black students were unacceptable account for almost a third of his usages of that term since 2000.

Bush's targets expanded from 2003 to 2005 to include nine condemnations of "unacceptable" actions by Iraq and Iran, as well as the Social Security system and the administration's own response to the Katrina hurricane. This year, he has hurled the term "unacceptable" at actions by Iraqi insurgents and police, at supporters of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and at a U.S. law making the degrading treatment of detainees a war crime.
You see the frustration metastasizing. Steven Kull, a political psychologist who directs the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes explains - some folks deal with failures "by intensifying an authoritarian posture and insisting that their preferences are equivalent to a moral imperative." Then they explode, of course, in some sort of tantrum. They can be a bit dangerous.

And there's this -
Moisés Naím, the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, said there is a relationship between "how strident and extreme" the language of many leaders is and how limited their options are. For Bush, Naím said, "this comes at a time when the world is convinced he is weaker than ever."

Many foreigners think the United States is losing Iraq and are no longer in awe of U.S. military might, Naím said, and at home, Bush is so weak that Republican candidates are wary of appearing with him. "The world has noticed," Naím said. "What is happening is that a lot that was deemed unacceptable [by Bush] now has become normal and tolerable."
And what has become normal and tolerable is now unacceptable. And he's ticked off. Watch out.

And there's that other thing -
Bush's proclamations are not the only rhetorical evidence of his mounting frustrations. One of his favorite verbal tics has long been to instruct audiences bluntly to "listen" to what he is about to say, as in "Listen, America is respected" (Aug. 30) or "Listen, this economy is good" (May 24). This year, he made that request more often than he did in a comparable portion of 2005, a sign that he hasn't given up hope it might work.
But grabbing people by the lapels and shouting at them to listen to you isn't the most effective rhetorical strategy. It's hardly a way to make friends and influence people. And the more you do it, hoping it finally works, the less it works. It's kind of obvious.

Kevin Drum puts it nicely here -
This is a symptom of what I find so mysterious about Bush's popularity: his speaking style always strikes me as irritated and angry, as if he's nearly ready to jump out of his skin in frustration that his audience just doesn't get it. Even though he keeps explaining it! And explaining it again! And again! What's wrong with you people?!?

This feeling is almost palpable, and it's the reason I don't understand why his supporters continue to find him attractive. Especially over the past couple of years, he seems increasingly angry, defensive, frustrated, and completely unable to understand why he can't control events around him. Conservatives recognize how feeble and embarrassing this looks when Bush pulls this schtick over something that even they understand is dumb (Kathryn Jean Lopez on the Harriet Miers nomination: "I hate this groaning-when-the-president speaks reflex I've had all week on this issue") but they don't seem to understand that to growing numbers of people he sounds this way all the time.

Listen, George: Being hectored just isn't a good way to people's hearts, and repeating the same words over and over isn't a good way to influence actual events in the world. Is it any wonder your approval ratings are stuck in the 30s?
Yep, and Jeremiah was a bore, and really tiresome. So was Hector.

But the president is a "hard-liner" and that's supposed to a good thing in this world full of wimps and defeatists, and with North Korea tests a nuclear weapon. But is he, really?

See this from DK over at Talking Points Memo -
Just yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, no less a Bush critic than Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, asserted that Bush's hardline on North Korea has failed.

I have no doubt that there are genuine hardliners within the administration who urged covert and overt military action against North Korea early in the President's first term, and certainly in response to the breakdown of the Agreed Framework. Every Republican administration is going to have its share of Curtis LeMays.

But those true hardliners have not prevailed in the internal administration struggle over whether the U.S. should lead with the carrot or with the stick. What has emerged as U.S. "policy" is inertia. No carrot. No stick. No nothing, unless cheap rhetoric about what is "unacceptable" counts for something.

There are quite reputable people in foreign policy circles, like former Defense Secretary William Perry, who have advocated much tougher measures against North Korea than Bush has adopted. Perry, for instance, proposed publicly earlier this year that the U.S. hit the DPRK's new ICBM with a U.S. cruise missile while it was still on the launch pad, before a test flight could be conducted.

The sad truth is that we have virtually no good options for putting the North Korean nuclear genie back in the bottle, and I am quite convinced that our military options at the moment range from bad to worse (and that the current Administration would be unable to competently execute any military option).

But in the same way that it is a mistake to conclude that the Clinton Administration offer of a carrot was a failure, it is a mistake to conclude that the stick has failed, too. Both may be needed in the future.

All that we can say with any certainty is that paralysis has failed to achieve our objective of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. And paralysis, if I may say, is unacceptable.
But the president talks a good game. He just imagines he's on the sidelines, when he isn't. Refusing to play and just screaming at those on the field isn't an option here.

And maybe the word count thing wasn't useless information after all. The man is stuck on the stunningly ineffective "Listen, that's unacceptable." It probably didn't even work with the elementary school kids. They almost certainly looked as appropriately shamefaced as they could manage (kids all know how to do that), then went home and played videogames, or did whatever they decided they wanted to do. The same thing happens with adults, minus the feigned shame. They just shrug. Whatever, George.

But the man can do some damage. And he doesn't like how things are - they are not at all the way he knows they are supposed to be. Reality is a problem. It needs to be fixed, of course.

Or it doesn't need to be fixed, as in this from US News and World Report, also, curiously, from Friday the 13th -
Some Republican strategists are increasingly upset with what they consider the overconfidence of President Bush and his senior advisers about the midterm elections November 7 – a concern aggravated by the president's news conference this week.

"They aren't even planning for if they lose," says a GOP insider who informally counsels the West Wing. If Democrats win control of the House, as many analysts expect, Republicans predict that Bush's final two years in office will be marked by multiple congressional investigations and gridlock.

"The Bush White House has had no relationship with Congress," said a Bush ally. "Beyond the Democrats, wait till they see how the Republicans – the ones that survive – treat them if they lose next month." GOP insiders are upset by Bush's seeming inability to come up with new ideas or fresh approaches. There is even a heightened sensitivity to the way Bush talks about advisers who served his father.
This is very curious. There's no Plan B - no contingency planning. You just assume the best-case scenario, and ridicule as defeatist anyone who thinks there ought to be something in place if you're not greeted as liberators and showered with candy and flowers, so to speak. It's much like Iraq. It's that "reality is what we say it is" thing again. Or maybe all the new voting machines have indeed been rigged the right way, and Karl Rove knows it, and so does the president. Which it is - delusional denial of reality or some evil conspiracy to steal the election - doesn't matter much, really. Neither is very comforting.

And what's this "heightened sensitivity to the way Bush talks about advisers who served his father?"

Something is up with that, as Thomas DeFrank explains here, regarding the events at the recent christening of the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush, where the father (41) was with his son (43), and the rivalry was on full display -
For five years, the 41s have bit their collective tongues as, they complain, the 43s ignored their counsel. But as the war in Iraq has worsened and public support for the current administration has tanked, loyalists of the elder Bush have found it impossible to suppress their disillusionment - particularly their belief that many of 43's policies are a stick in the eye of his father.

… "Forty-three has now repudiated everything 41 stands for, and still he won't say a word," a key member of the elder Bush alumni said. "Personally, I think he's dying inside."

… "Everyone knew how Rumsfeld acts," another key 41 assistant said. "Everyone knew 43 didn't have an attention span. Everyone knew Condi [Rice] wouldn't be able to stand up to Cheney and Rumsfeld. We told them all of this, and we were told we don't know what we're doing."
So we seem to be caught in the middle of a battle between a father and a son, regarding which has a better grasp of reality. Lucky us. The president says, again and again, that we will accept nothing less than total victory in Iraq, and the Iraq Study Group, headed by his father's secretary of state, James A. Baker III, says that's not an option and best we can hope for is something else entirely, and the president refers to him as "Jimmy" Baker in the October 11 press conference, as if he's one of those ill-disciplined Maryland elementary school kids who hasn't been doing his homework. We're caught in the middle, and lots of people die. This is not good. It's almost… unacceptable.

Well, what's acceptable and unacceptable can get tricky.

There was an odd thing on the Sunday, October 15 talk shows. Two days after Friday the 13th, the pseudo-moderate conservative columnist David Brooks had this to say on MSNBC, on "The Chris Matthews Show," and he has great access to the White House -
Matthews: David, do you believe the President is looking for an out from his doctrinaire policy of staying the course?

Brooks: Not really, no I don't. I think they're looking at policy options. One of those options is trying to replace the current government which seems to be doing nothing. The second option is some sort of federation which – Joe Biden has suggested as separating Iraq. A third option and by far the least likely is going in with more troops. So there are all different three options… We have much less control over Iraq than we did two or three years ago…
Okay, we have less and less control there every day, but we will stay the course to total victory, and establish a legitimate elected democracy there, even if we have to toss out the guys they elected and replace them with the right guys, guys we know will slap folks around and get everyone to settle down. What? In establishing democracy, democracy is unacceptable?

It seems reality really is what you say it is. You have to pay careful attention to what this man says. It's not "useless information." And it may be time to climb to the top of a mountain or skyscraper and burn all the socks you own that have holes in them, or stand on your head and eat a piece of gristle.

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006 07:13 PDT home

Thursday, 12 October 2006
Explaining Things
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Explaining Things
It's kind of like the 1951 season of I Love Lucy. Ricky Ricardo: "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do."

But it wasn't 1951 out here in Hollywood - it was Wednesday, October 11, 2006, in DC, and it was a presidential press conference everyone knew was coming. Sunday evening the North Koreans has announced they had tested a nuclear weapon, and maybe they had. The president had vowed that would never happen and he had said he knew how to keep it from happening, as no one before him had a clue. But somehow they did it. And the war after the Iraq War was spinning out of control, our casualties mounting, the Iraq forces useless or corrupt, some dispute about how many Iraqi civilians had died so far - thirty thousand or twenty times that number - and no political settlement among the sectarian parties and their respective death squads at all possible, as far as anyone could tell. The House scandal still raged, with it becoming clear the Speaker of the House had either ignored all the warnings that a gay house member had been messing with the sixteen-year old pages for years, so he could keep that seat Republican, or the Speaker was dumb as a post - with other House members scrambling to say they knew and had known and did say something and someone else had dropped the ball, so it wasn't their fault. And the polls were showing the evangelical Christian right was rapidly bailing on the Republicans, and the majority of the country on the war - not buying the latest central rationale at all, that we were fighting them there so we would not have to fight them here, as it goes now.

There was certainly "some 'splainin' to do."

The official transcript of the press conference is here, but it doesn't capture the president practically shouting at the reporters, or his curt dismissal of the civilian casualty study. It was cleaned up considerable, for clarity. And the event was discussed for several days.

It was even discussed out here in this silly town, in the Los Angeles Times, where you got this the next day - the lead editorial suggesting the man was insulting our intelligence -
At his news conference Wednesday, President Bush expressed not once but three times his view that if the U.S. does not defeat the terrorists "over there" in Iraq, it will have to fight them here in the United States. This crude formulation is tiresome and insulting to Americans' intelligence.

"I firmly believe that the American people understand that this is different from other wars because in this war, if we were to leave early, before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here," Bush said. This conjures up improbable images of Shiite death squads and Sunni insurgents stuffing bomb-making manuals into their backpacks and booking flights to LAX while U.S. troops march out of Baghdad.

There are good reasons not to withdraw from Iraq hastily. But Bush's assertion about a good offense being the best defense undermines his own credibility.

… Bush is right to say that Al Qaeda would crow at an American "defeat" in Iraq. Indeed, anti-American elements around the world would surely take great satisfaction in any U.S. humiliation. But his equation of withdrawal with defeat, of leaving the Iraqis to manage their own affairs with handing a victory to terrorists, is simplistic in the extreme. Sooner or later, the U.S. military will leave Iraq. A sober and thoughtful national debate could illuminate how best to accomplish that.

The deliberate repetition of a shameless canard just before an election does not contribute to this thoughtful debate. Indeed, Bush's formulation could lead to a false sense of complacency. Fighting the terrorists "over there" does not necessarily make us safer "over here." This is not to say that there is no relation at all between Iraq's fate and the threat of terrorism to the U.S. But the relationship is not as simplistic as the president describes it. Pretending these two issues are part of the same problem trivializes them both.
Of course this is not exactly a brave editorial stance to take - it's a bit mainstream now. Still such thing need be said, just to remind people there are other ways to look at things.

But the bulk of the news conference concerned North Korea, not Iraq. And here we were asked to look at things a new way. Perhaps the policy toward North Korea's nuclear development work - don't talk directly with them and make a lot of threats - had no worked, but it was a really good policy, and what happened wasn't the fault of the policy. It was classic "not my fault" as explained in the Washington Post here -
President Bush asserted yesterday that the administration's strategy on North Korea is superior to the one pursued by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, because Clinton reached a bilateral agreement that failed, while the current administration is trying to end North Korea's nuclear programs through multi-nation talks.

Robert L. Gallucci, the chief negotiator of the accord and now dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, said it is a "ludicrous thing" to say that the Clinton agreement failed. For eight years, the Agreed Framework kept North Korea's five-megawatt plutonium reactor frozen and under international inspection, while North Korea did not build planned 50- and 200-megawatt reactors. If those reactors had been built and running, he said, North Korea would now have enough plutonium for more than 100 nuclear weapons.

By Gallucci's account, North Korea may have produced a small amount of plutonium for one or two weapons before Clinton came into office - during the administration of Bush's father - but "no more material was created on his watch." When Clinton left office, officials saw signs that North Korea may have been attempting to create a clandestine uranium enrichment program, but nothing was definitive.

Such a program would violate the Agreed Framework. When the Bush administration decided it had conclusive proof of that enrichment in July 2002, it confronted North Korea and terminated fuel oil deliveries promised under the Agreed Framework. In response, North Korea evicted the inspectors, restarted the reactor and retrieved weapons-grade plutonium from 8,000 fuel rods that had been kept in a cooling pond. Intelligence analysts now think that, before Monday's apparent nuclear test, North Korea had enough plutonium for as many as a dozen weapons.
But he really did say this - "One has a stronger hand when there's more people playing your same cards." That was the better policy. He won't be appearing on Celebrity Poker anytime soon.

And you could say Bush "basically played into Kim's hands, substituting empty tough talk, no agreement and unfettered nuclear programs by North Korea for a somewhat flawed agreement which impeded North Korean proliferation efforts for eight years." But that would be unkind.

Former Defense Secretary William Perry was unkind -
The Agreed Framework did not end North Korea's aspirations for nuclear weapons, but it did result in a major delay. For more than eight years, under the Agreed Framework, the spent fuel was kept in a storage pond under international supervision.

… While this test is the culmination of North Korea's long-held aspiration to become a nuclear power, it also demonstrates the total failure of the Bush administration's policy toward that country. For almost six years this policy has been a strange combination of harsh rhetoric and inaction.
But it is supposed to work better than just putting things off for eight years

Digby at Hullabaloo offers an interesting comment -
That is just one very bizarre aspect of their black and white thinking that leads to such things as their ridiculous posturing on North Korea in which no interim agreement (like that achieved by Clinton with the Agreed Framework) is countenanced because they will only accept a permanent solution. I suppose one could say that this might be a useful way to run a kindergarten, but real violence in the real world is something that should always be punted if at all possible. This is not because of a general moral revulsion toward violence, although that should certainly be a factor. Nor is it simply that to delay would save lives "in the short term." It's because we cannot tell the future. Kim Jong Il could die from a heart attack. A short term cease fire in Lebanon could have given everyone a chance to catch their breath and perhaps recognize that escalating the war was indefensible. Anything can happen. A break from violence creates a possibility that it won't start up again. A crazy dictator delaying the development of a nuclear bomb opens up the possibility that he won't develop one.

I realize that Bush and his pals think that their "enemies" are nihilistic at best and animals at worst. But they are humans and humans are always subject to change from within or without. The idea that it is "useless" to put off something like a war or a nuclear showdown until tomorrow when you can have one today (or put off a ceasefire 'til tomorrow when you can have one today) is beyond stupid or irresponsible. It's sick.
Maybe so, but we are told again and again stability in and of itself is dangerous, really. It's never permanent, and these guys go for permanent fixes, even when you get neither a temporary nor a permanent fix. It seems to be the principle of the thing. It must have something to do with "thinking big." Too bad it doesn't work.

But what happened, or didn't, in North Korea may be a good thing, as Mark Kleiman suggests here -
I had a conversation with two foreign policy heavyweights, both of whom had opposed the invasion of Iraq, just after the North Korean test. They agreed that, if the U.S. weren't so completely tied down in Iraq, the Bush Administration might well be moving toward a military confrontation with the North Koreans, which they thought would likely have catastrophic consequences. As it is, the project is almost transparently impossible, and the generals and admirals are undoubtedly more willing to speak up than they were three years ago.

It suddenly struck me that those of us who supported the War in Iraq have finally found our alibi! By keeping the Bush Administration tied down in Iraq, we helped prevent war in Korea. Think of it as the "flypaper strategy."

Convincing? Maybe not. (After all, if we weren't tied down in Iraq, the North Koreans might have been deterred from testing their bomb.) But that's our story, and we're sticking to it.
It's a joke, folks - maybe. It is, if anything, an odd sort of silver lining.

And everyone needs a joke. At the news conference the president did his quip and jab at the reporters and what they were wearing that day, and in the Post Dana Milbank comments -
It was about the only fun Bush had all morning. North Korea is exploding, Iraq is imploding, and congressional Republicans are self-destructing. Reporters weren't about to let the president forget about that, even if he looked natty in his gray suit and dark-blue tie.
In fact, one reporter, ignoring the natty gray suit and dark-blue tie asked a killer question - "Do you ever feel like the walls are closing in on you?"

Not nice. No wonder the man seemed angry and a tad incoherent. Think cornered animal, or something.

And people noticed, like Michael O'Hare here -
This morning's press conference was one of the scariest public events of the last few years. Bush appears to be crumbling before our eyes; I can't believe they let him out in the condition he displayed. His responses were rambling and unfocused, stringing together irrelevant bromides and half-thoughts, the discourse of someone not getting any sleep. His response styles were even more alarming, bouncing from whining about all the hard decisions he has to make; to a sort of sneering impatient condescension, with which he explained simple falsehoods as though to children and as though they were obviously true; to the recital of incompletely rehearsed talking points, cut up into phrases and reassembled at random; to his familiar fake-macho pronouncing style. There was a round of joking about reporters' clothes that just made him appear clueless about the importance of the North Korean bomb and the collapse of his party's electoral prospects, completely tin-eared in the context of the event. One response after another headlined a simple unexplained and unembroidered refusal to hear facts, from poll results to the new estimates of Iraqi deaths. And the word unacceptable apparently means "if it continues, I will say it's unacceptable, but louder, so watch out!"

Bush has always been a man who knows a few simple things, to assert if not to act on coherently, and who is not in the business of increasing this stock. Now those are one-by-one turning out to be silly, bad guidance, or just vacuous, and his handlers are coming up empty giving him lines and tricks to get through the week. The man is not only in desperate straits but, what is new for him, beginning to recognize it. It was a really chilling spectacle; we're all in a bad situation here. It's not good for anyone that the president becomes a humiliating occasion for ridicule, a midget drum major prancing on the sidelines, beating out a rhythm no-one else is keeping, while the band breaks up into chaos on the field.
Remove the marching band metaphor and you get Josh Marshall here -
Just listening to this press conference, I'm really surprised his handlers had him hold this sort of appearance. His statement was a long meandering catalog of his policies - a bit confused, with various defenses, none that great. Just in terms of effective communication, I would have thought they would have had him hit a few basic points - international threats, make tax cuts permanent, etc. But my gut tells me anybody on the fence at this point would not feel reassured or heartened by what the president is saying.

On North Korea, needless to say, he fibbed about the basic issue, elided the key points. We'll see if the press teases out what he ignored and misstated. He let the Agreed Framework lapse. The excuse is alleged (and probably true) uranium enrichment research, which wouldn't have come to fruition for many, many years. The result was ramping back plutonium production which has now already created a bomb. The president's boast is that his failed negotiations have more participants around the table.

Wow, indeed. And most the startling thing was what he said about the new study that civilian Iraqi casualties were far higher than anyone had guessed, which would be this - "I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to - you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate." It's seems we're testing their limit for such tolerance, and they're handling it fine - pretty much. We're asked to be amazed at how much death these odd foreign folks can tolerate. He finds it very curious. Who'd have guessed? And we're told they can take it. They're funny that way. And then someone blows up another of our Hummers.

And looking at the video, and not reading the transcript, one senses that the president's performances are becoming more incoherent and more hostile -
… as if he's at war with the world and the facts that come with it.

He has difficulty completing a sentence without interrupting it himself. He speaks in bursts, blurting out short sentences. He stammers, struggling to get words out, or repeating syllables, although this doesn't show up in the transcript."
Examples -

"And my point - and then I - as I mentioned in my opening statement, we, once again, had North Korea at the table - this time with other parties at the table l and they agreed once again…"

"And I appreciate Jimmy Baker willingness to - he and Lee Hamilton are putting this - have got a group they put together that I think was Congressman Wolf's suggestion - or passing the law."

"Terry. I mean - you're not Terry. You're Steve."

In this comment we're told to watch the video where "he shouts at reporters asking about the level of violence and waning support for his policies." It is a bit painful to watch - "Bush looks like a guy ready to jump out of his own skin at times."

But will people let it slide? Maybe they will, but here the Middle East scholar Juan Cole wonders if, as Iraqi civilian casualties climb, the we makes plans to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq until 2010, will the public in either country permit it?

That's an interesting question, which presumes anyone has any choice in the matter at all. But let us assume they do. What are the facts at hand?

There's that new study published in the Lancet - done by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and published on Wednesday, This one estimates that "excess deaths from political violence" after our 2003 invasion fall somewhere between 420,000 and 790,000. The president a year ago said he'd heard some estimated the number of Iraqis killed since his invasion at 30,000, and dismissed these new findings as "not credible." Other public health researchers in the field, however, said there was nothing wrong with the methodology, and this might be so. United Nations estimates of three thousand deaths every month from political violence, and the Pentagon gives much lower figures, not counting certain events, like suicide bombings and mortar fire. It all depends on how you're counting. But Cole notes there is some agreement - "More Iraqis than ever before are killing one another in the midnight 'war of the corpses' that leaves the capital and some other cities littered with cadavers in the morning." The argument about the actual figures may be pointless. None of it is good.

And there was that Reuters report - Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker said Wednesday that as he projected the needs of the armed services, he had to plan on there being 141,000 of our troops in Iraq through 2010. He was very careful to say that he was making no predictions about what might happen in Iraq, and that keeping fifteen full combat brigades there for so long "was not a foregone conclusion." But he had to plan for that. It was just the prudent thing to do, given the circumstances.

We do have to fight them there so we don't fight them here, but Cole differs. Other matters are more important -
The U.S. military in Iraq is trying to hold the country together by main force, as though it were putting tape on a patient who had been eviscerated. But every day the country loses more of its structural integrity, as sectarian killings pile up and car bombs and assassinations by Sunni Arabs provoke vicious reprisals by Shiites or Kurds, depending on their original target.

Over the past week, Shiite-Sunni tension escalated further. The assassination on Monday of the brother of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni fundamentalist, was widely seen as a blow against the process of sectarian reconciliation promoted by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sunni Arabs, already chafing under U.S. patrols and search-and-seizure missions, were further angered on Wednesday when a quorum of 140 members of the Iraqi Parliament passed a law allowing the formation of provincial confederacies, a move the Sunni Arabs had opposed. The law is a step toward a unified Shiite megaprovince in the south. The willingness of Shiite politician and cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite bloc in Parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, to pass the law in the absence of the Sunni Arab delegates telegraphed the contempt in which Sunnis are held by the new national elite.

Politically speaking, with the bloodshed mounting, can the U.S. military stay in Iraq at its present levels for an additional four years? More than half the American public now considers the invasion a mistake. And some 80 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave - some 120 parliamentarians signed a motion to that effect. What will happen if crowds come out in the tens of thousands across Iraq to demonstrate against further American occupation? At what point will Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual guide of the Iraqi Shiites, issue a decree or fatwa demanding an American departure?

The car bombings and other violence in Iraq are often blamed on the United States by angry Iraqi mobs. They view the growing sectarian violence as the result of an American attempt to divide and rule. Given what polls in Iraq are telling us about the unpopularity of U.S. troops in the country, given what public health experts are telling us about the inability of those troops to stem the growing tide of sectarian killings, and given the waning support for the whole Iraq enterprise among the American public, the rationale for keeping so many ground troops in Iraq has come increasingly into question. Whether they will remain in such numbers until 2010 is no longer a military decision. It is a political decision that will jointly be made by the United States and Iraq.
Nothing is easy here. We've stirred up a hornets nest. It was supposed to be easy - install Paul Wolfowitz's college buddy from the University of Chicago to create a pro-Western, pro-Israel Arab democracy and come on home. It turned out to be more complicated. There is certainly "some 'splainin' to do."

And now Brits want to bail. Britain's new Chief of the General Staff says it's time to leave Iraq, embarrassing Tony Blair no end, and he's not even retired, like our disgruntled generals. He's the equivalent of our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and we get this -
"Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003, effectively kicked the door in." Sir Richard Dannatt added that any initial tolerance "has largely turned to intolerance. That is a fact."

Sir Richard, who took on his role in August, also said planning for what happened after the initial successful war military offensive was "poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning."
Tony cannot keep his guys in line. Everything seems to be going in the weeds. Explaining it all away is going to be hard.

And the third element in the news, the evangelical Christian right rapidly bailing on the Republicans, is going to call for some really fine tap-dancing. Lucille Ball could do that when asked. Politicians should be able to do the equivalent, and the times are calling for that on this front too.

The devout folks won't read Steve Paulson's new interview with Richard Dawkins - The Flying Spaghetti Monster - "Why are we here on earth? To Richard Dawkins, that's a remarkably stupid question. In a heated interview, the famous biologist insists that religion is evil and God might as well be a children's fantasy."

They don't care about such things. (See this in these pages from August 2005 on this monster, with an illustration.)

They might care more about the new book by David Kuo, the man who worked as second in command in the president's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, documenting that Bush administration officials pretty much shined on the faithful for political gain, and behind their back called them "ridiculous," and "out of control" and just plain "goofy."

This has been covered on MSNBC, on the Keith Olbermann show "Countdown" of course. The producer, Jonathan Larsen, explains here, and you can watch the Olbermann segments if you wish, Wednesday, October 11 here and Thursday, October 12 here.

Andrew Sullivan here -
The use and abuse of religion is at the core of the corruption of the current Republican party. I know I've been saying this for a while now, but here's someone who knows it from the inside. David Kuo worked for the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives from 2001 to 2003. Like John DiIulio, he realized eventually that it was all about politics and using the faith of evangelicals to maintain the political power of Republicans.
Jonathan Larsen -
More seriously, Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly 'nonpartisan' events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.

According to Kuo, "Ken loved the idea and gave us our marching orders." Among those marching orders, Kuo says, was Mehlman's mandate to conceal the true nature of the events.

Kuo quotes Mehlman as saying, "... [I]t can't come from the campaigns. That would make it look too political. It needs to come from the congressional offices. We'll take care of that by having our guys call the office [of faith-based initiatives] to request the visit."
Sullivan -
Memo to faithful evangelicals: you get entangled with Caesar and you'll regret it. Conflate politics with religion and you do mortal damage to both.
Digby says that's wrong. The whole thing us about money and power -
The glue that holds it together is the business of evangelism. Those followers who give their money to these churches and organizations that sell Republicanism as a religious brand might as well spend their money at WalMart. They're buying the same thing. It's tribal identity but it isn't religious and it isn't moral.

It's time everybody recognized that so we can deal with it honestly. These so-called religious leaders (and it's not just the national leadership, it's the whole hierarchy) are not dupes. Sure Rove and the rest call them nuts. But the leadership and the party know they are essential to each others' continued status, even if they spar over who's their daddy. The truth is that they are all elites who have the same goals - power.

The big losers are the followers who are being sold a cheap bill of goods by both the Christian Right leadership and the Republican Party. Maybe some day they'll wise up but it's a tall order. It means they have to lose faith in both their church and their party and I wonder how many of them have that in them. It would be a terrible disillusionment.

There's a vacuum to be filled in the evangelical leadership by preachers and leaders who eschew worldly, political power for its own sake. It remains to be seen if anyone steps up to claim it - and whether the sincere believers are not just "red team members" but true Christians who will reject the Elmer Gantrys who have been playing them for fools.
And this won't help - Karl Rove personally threatened Mark Foley, the congressman who likes sixteen-year-old teenage boys so much, when he tried to retire last year. He wanted out. They needed the seat. He stayed in.

But the Republicans want and need their religious base. And the religious base wants in on politics, which leads to this question, Damon Linker debating Ross Douthat on the matter -
Why is it not enough that the United States be a good and decent country among good and decent countries? Why is it not enough for you and other pious Christians to enjoy the freedom to worship and pray and proselytize in peace? Why, despite your own better judgment, do you so steadfastly resist seeking your salvation outside of politics? Why do you insist on identifying the fate of your soul with the fate of your country?

You may well be right that, at least at this moment in our nation's history, you have more of our fellow citizens on your side of this dispute than I have on mine. But that is precisely the problem - for American religion no less than America's politics.
They don't see it as a problem, and anyway, they hate them gay folks. And their guys in Washington, up until now, were on their side. Now it's all confused.

And the gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan sees the confusion -
The creepy predations of the closet-case Mark Foley may have some silver lining. They may force into the open a simple fact, reiterated by Tucker Carlson. Most Washington Republicans have no problems with openly gay people. Many of them have sons and daughters who are gay, including the epitome of conservative Republicanism, Dick Cheney. Dennis Hastert has gay staff. Rick Santorum had an openly gay staffer. They have no problems with gay people. And yet their party platform is vehemently opposed to treating gay people as equal citizens or as full members of their own families. This cognitive dissonance is only kept afloat by the closet, and the lies, euphemisms, and avoidance mechanisms that keep Republicans from facing this issue honestly. Maybe the revelation that Republican Capitol Hill is full of gay people may finally force them into a reckoning. The GOP has to respect gay people and grant us full equality, or they have to join the forces that regard us as anathema to stable society, a threat to the family and all potential child molesters. They cannot continue to have it both ways.

I know no better illustration of the contortions of the right than Jon Stewart's recent interview with Bill Bennett. I've always had civil relations with Bennett; and he has never shown any personal animus. But when I read his writing, it is filled with fear and loathing of gay people as an alleged threat to the very families we love and belong to. So which is it, Bill? The same goes with someone like Pat Buchanan, who has always treated me with great affection and respect. And yet, in print, he regards my commitment and love for my fiancé as a danger to civilization. At some point, these people are going to have to decide. And now is as good a time as any.
Yep, there's some 'splainin' to do" - on so many fronts.

Posted by Alan at 22:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006 06:32 PDT home

Friday, 29 September 2006
A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter

It all started when Reality Takes a Holiday was first posted on the web log, Monday, September 25 - the first of a few posts discussing the leaks about the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate ("Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States") that was all over the news. But the item was mostly about who controls what we think of as reality, ranging into a discussion of what the retired generals were saying about Rumsfeld and all that. There seems to be a great deal of difference as to what the basic facts are in these matters. And the public gets whipsawed back and forth.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said this - "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Well, some say he said that, but who knows? Still, that's the issue now. We've stopped arguing about our opinions. Now we are about who has the facts right. In fact (no irony intended), there's a political website edited by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, called Same Facts, and that has the Moynihan quote right up there in the masthead. The mission there seems to be to get the basic facts straight in the ongoing national dialog, but it's an uphill battle. We live in the age of spin, what Stephen Colbert has coined "truthiness" - the quality by which a person claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts. You see, Colbert sought to critique the tendency to rely upon "truthiness" and its use as an appeal to emotion and tool of rhetoric in contemporary socio-political discourse. He particularly applied it to President Bush's modus operandi in nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and in deciding to invade Iraq as well as the rationale behind Wikipedia.

But of course that definition itself is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit, on the presumption that one can build a really amazing body of facts about everything if everyone joins in. But that hasn't worked out that very well, even if folks really do want to know what's what in this world. People pop things into Wikipedia that just aren't facts, but seem plausible. Someone says this or that is a fact, but everyone has an agenda, or they might be confused, or they might be flat-out wrong.

So, given that National Intelligence Estimate, is it a fact that the Iraq war has had the opposite effect of its stated purpose, and of the rationale now presented to us for "staying the course" - the idea of changing nothing and simply fighting on? All sixteen of our national intelligence agencies say so - the war has created a whole lot more terrorists (something about dismantling and then occupying a Middle East country for four years, for reasons that all turned out to be false, making the locals, and others, angry), and created a practical terrorist training ground where there was none before, where all sorts of better and better roadside bombs can be perfected and all that.

But the president says this is not so - "You do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism." His gut tells him so - everyone else is naïve, and buying into the enemy's propaganda (which doesn't say much about his own CIA and all).

See Michael O'Hare at Same Facts -
If you fight floods by constraining the river with levees, you create floods.

If you fight infection with shotgun dispersion of antibiotics, you create more, worse, infections by resistant bugs.

If you fight forest fires by putting out every fire, you create really big fires.

If you fight crime in poor minority neighborhoods by sending white cops in to break heads, you create crime.

If you fight misbehavior in children by beating them with a belt, you create misbehavior.

If you fight AIDS by attacking the CIA for inventing it, you get more AIDS.

If you fight impiety and unbelief by berating the congregation for being so small, you create more impiety.

I think the president may be mistaken.
But he says he's not mistaken at all. The intelligence agencies all have their so-called "facts," but he is appealing to what's under those facts - the gut feeling that this is a war, and you fight wars by, well, fighting.

What should you believe? What are the facts here?

In September 2001 we were attacked by an organization of fundamentalist religious madmen, if you will, who had been given refuge in Afghanistan. Three thousand people died. Everyone called it an act of war, and it was just like Pearl Harbor, or worse. So we went to war, and we're still at war, and you win wars by fighting. That's what the president knows, viscerally - in his viscera of course, and that would be his gut.

But then note Richard Reeves here -
Actually, 9/11 was mass murder, and it should have been treated as mainly a challenge for the police and intelligence services. Interpreting the 9/11 attacks as an act of war demanding military reprisal has only helped up the ante of violence throughout the world.

In other words, declaring "War on Terror" was a mistake. A big one. Hurt and angry, we overreacted to 9/11. Leaving aside, for the moment, the invasion of Iraq, which history, in 2031 or 2131, is likely to judge as one of the stupidest presidential decisions of all time, we would have been wiser to treat 9/11 as a crime rather than an attack.
So it is a "fact" that those attacks were an act of war, or were they a crime, mass murder of the worst sort? It depends on how you see things. We may have started with the wrong "fact" - although seeing things as "war" was more than understandable at the time.

Reeves -
I did not think at the time that declaring undeclared war in 2001 was a mistake. That day in September, I was just another guy trying to get into Manhattan to find my family. It was impossible. If someone had asked me then, as I sat in fifty-mile-long line of stopped cars, I might have been for using nuclear weapons to retaliate. But the history of the past five years has persuaded me that we should have concentrated our power and money, whatever it took, to find the people who did it and treat them as common criminals of the worst kind.

Instead, we fell into a well-laid trap: We declared war on Islam. We did exactly what the terrorists wanted. Osama bin Laden and his ilk were dedicated to re-starting the Crusades, hoping to provoke a running war between the evangelical modernity of the West and the more zealous faith of many, millions, of Muslims. And they did it, helped by our righteous anger.

I don't just mean that we are losing in Iraq. Personally, I don't think it matters whether we leave that sad country today or in ten years. We have been defeated there by our own arrogance and ignorance.
But we do have this war, so that's moot. Now what? And what is the public to believe?

Staring with the presumption, perhaps foolish, that we are not spectators in all this but actually actors - we vote and elect people to do for us what we think they should - we have here a prescription for paralysis. No one can agree on the basic facts of the matter at hand, so what can you really do about anything?

The Dialog

Okay, the facts are in dispute and people - left and right - feel both angry and powerless.

And in reaction to the "Reality Takes A Holiday" item, one reader sent this comment along -
I found myself mentally composing an Op Ed piece about citizen impotence, and realized I didn't know enough about the two concepts that kept ringing around in my head: impeachment and no-confidence motions. Since I am at my desk at work, and supposed to be working, I resorted to Wikipedia to get a quick glimpse at their definitions.

Regarding no-confidence, I got a single sentence that confirmed what I suspected: "In presidential systems, the legislature may occasionally pass motions of no confidence, as was done against United States Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1950s, but these motions are of symbolic effect only."

Then, I continued in Wikipedia to impeachment, and was struck by the last sentence excerpted and copied here -
In the constitutions of several countries, impeachment is the first of two stages in a specific process for a legislative body to remove a government official without that official's agreement.

Impeachment occurs rarely enough for many in a country to misunderstand its nature. A typical misconception is to confuse it with involuntary removal from office; in fact it is only the legal statement of charges, paralleling an indictment in criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict. George W. Bush must be impeached per a decree from God.
Of course, being Wikipedia, someone could edit it out soon, but as of ten minutes ago, it was there.

It's gone now, but Wikipedia is like that. People mess with the facts. They add their own "facts." That's one of the dangers of relying on Wikipedia.

But that was worth sharing with the Just Above Sunset community - the online salon, as it were - the small email forum where a lots of ideas get batted about.

Of course one friend from Canada had to chime in - "Dangers? Looks spot-on to me!"

Then there was this from our high school student in New Jersey - "At school when ever we do research papers the teacher always warns us against Wikipedia. Anyone could add information to that site. It's kind of depressing so many people rely on a source made up of information from totally unreliable sources."

Another reader -

Condi and Karl do the writing.

But then I just came across an editorial - "Insulting Bush Helps Our Enemies" - and I think to myself, Gosh, am I to blame for endangering America? Over my first cup of coffee, it strikes me that if the headline's true, well then his handlers "shudda taut about it" before they PUT HIM in HARM's WAY!

Now we're the guilty ones... hah!
To which Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this -
"Insulting Bush Helps Our Enemies"

I do not believe that news headlines should take political sides, even though I do happen to agree with both assertions found in this headline:

(a) Yes, Bush certainly is insulting, and
(b) Yes, he certainly does help our enemies.
Then from the New Jersey high school -
I agree that headlines ought to not take political stances, but I think it is unrealistic to expect a newspaper to be totally neutral because everyone has their own opinion. Also headlines that display a strong opinion are more likely to sell then those that are neutral due to the fact that those which are displaying an opinion usually have more exciting headlines.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, to central New Jersey -
I should mention I was being at least partly tongue-in-cheek when I said that I don't think headlines should take sides; I am ashamed to confess that I was mostly just using that line to set up the joke.

True, people have opinions, but I tend to be more trusting of news outlets that don't. The argument that objectivity, being impossible, should not even be strived for is usually put forth these days by "truth relativists," most of them cynical conservatives who don't believe in anything they hear anyway.

And the "whatever sells" argument, which has become all the rage in recent years when "serving the public interest" has taken a back seat to "enhancing shareholder value," doesn't work for someone like me who started in the news business forty years ago, back when informing the public was more important than "beating the street."

In fact, I'm not so rigid as to deny a newspaper the right to decide however it wants to tell its readers what's going on in the world, or even how to sell itself, but I will say that I certainly wouldn't buy, nor do I subscribe to, any newspaper that would sink so low as to try to get me to agree with it by the way it reports the news.

Not that I believe there ought to be a law against subjective news reportage; I just don't personally find it credible, and I try whenever possible to avoid wasting my time by reading or listening to it.
From the New Jersey high school -
I should try being less cynical when looking at news sources. One day in my IPLE class (Institute for Political and Legal Education) we talked about how the media and other news sources affect people and how its role has changed over time - it was pretty interesting.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
You're probably not really cynical per se. Maybe skeptical? I think of skepticism as cynicism's non-sociopathic cousin. Witness your healthy skepticism of Wikipedia. I myself went in a month or so back and edited their article on CNN, correcting what they said were the network's original bureaus. I was right, of course - I was there in 1980, helping to get them up and feeding video to Atlanta - but still can't help being suspicious of a medium that anyone out here can edit, almost with impunity.

Yep, news sources certainly have changed since this "new media" wave hit our shores. I like the quote I heard recently from an editor at (I think it was) the Sacramento Bee, who said something to the effect that, "Sure, we're still the gatekeepers, but apparently somebody went and knocked down the walls, and everyone's running right around us."
That prompted a question from New Jersey - "I'm trying to figure out what caused the change in the media - was it sudden or gradual - and why did it happen?"

At this point the high-respected professor of marketing from a highly respected graduate school of business in upstate New York laid it all out -
Why the change in media?

Follow the money!

Public ownership of media corporations and a general financially-based cynicism that grew in the 1990's especially, as too many Wall Streeters became heroes of the Quarterly earnings machinery, resulted in a distortion where corporations began to believe (or operate as if they believed) that earnings was the Mission of a corporation - which it ISN'T. This from a business school prof, mind you. Profit SHOULD be a Strategic Measure of success and NOT the purpose of the firm. The Purpose of a firm USED to be seen as fulfilling a consumer (aka social) need. IF a business doesn't fulfill a need it doesn't profit, and thus doesn't survive. So profits should be a metric or indicator but not a PURPOSE.

MBA students - and we've trained too many with too little context for Liberal Arts Decision Making - have been led to believe that maximizing profits in the short run is equivalent to maximizing profit in the long run. But privately held companies, that don't NEED to pay out larger and larger profits every three months, are inclined NOT take cash out of the system in excessive amounts. When the key decision-maker is also the primary beneficiary (stockholder, stakeholder) then appropriate short-term sacrifices are made when long-term gains require serious investment. Quarterly payouts take a backseat to smart long-term maneuvering in the marketplace, and to even greater profits in the long run.

The fallacy - in my humble opinion - of where the financial logic breaks down is in financial modeling. The models themselves (Capital Asset Pricing Model, Derivatives models, etc) are elegant and SHOULD actually fulfill the short term long term promise. HOWEVER - and here you can blame the accountants - LOL - the models DON'T work perfectly in reality because people (those accountants) CAN'T PREDICT THE FUTURE ACCURATELY. If people could foresee the future and put in highly accurate future data, then the financial models would indeed work perfectly and Wall Street would be vindicated. But we don't know the future. And the human condition within businesses means that we will ALWAYS forecast to the rosy scenario - we don't tell our boss the dirty downside - we forecast in ways that exaggerate the upside - for how else would we SELL OUR PROJECTS to decision makers? If we could foresee the unforeseen consequences of our current actions (which invariably are more costly than we can estimate BEFORE those new problems arise) we'd have perfect financial scenarios and short run would actually equal long-run best interests. (See the work of Peter Senge for interesting concepts about unforeseen consequences!)

This is a very convoluted way to say that in the 1990's greed took over America in ways that had been held in check in earlier times. We've always had greed but it hasn't been this institutionalized since... the 1880's maybe, before modern labor law was enacted to protect the worker. Here I might rely on others with deeper historical resources. But I'll guess industrial revolution was the last instance of unchecked greed at level equivalent to today. Needless to say, as money becomes king, content (in media in this case) takes back seat, and we get publishers who as a rule forsake balanced journalism in the name of increasing market share among greedy readers - more interested in shock value than newsworthiness of their news. I mean look at the OJ phenomenon and everything that has come since.

Greed has replaced human sensitivity as a social dynamic - and we can then begin to argue that the style of media itself continues to reinforce cynical world views. It's a vicious cycle. There's an interesting corollary in Wal-Mart playing upon our collective greed to support its lower price - always lower price - strategy (which often is NOT the case - they aren't ALWAYS the lowest retail price in town for all goods they sell, but they OWN that position in your head - the Power of Advertising!) And the way they can continually meet your demand for lower prices is to pay workers relative wages that are unsustainable - the old joke that as more and more people work for Wal-Mart, more and more can't afford to shop anywhere else, and at some point can't even to afford to shop at Wal-Mart. No joke. It's THEIR cost model! Where do all the profits go, you ask? To every investment fund that owns Wal-Mart stock. Venture a guess at how many Wal-Mart employees are invested in stocks! Does Wal-Mart have a retirement fund for employees? It doesn't have adequate health care coverage!

So we lose the middle class in America - day by day. The middle class that automation (and Henry Ford) built. The suburbs, the public school systems, the telephone and highway infrastructures of America - ALL affordable because of a huge middle class with disposable income - extra wealth beyond the bare necessities, and able to pay taxes. America's secret as a success story IS the middle class. The life and freedoms and luxuries we enjoy in the US are all here on the backs of the middle class. And it's going away - and going away by design as more and more money gets pushed upwards to fewer and fewer of the haves. It's not your grandfather's America anymore. Or your father's. Or your father's media. Or your father's politics.

Is it too late? Like global warming, is there a tipping point beyond which we're moving where the sins of our constant (quarterly) consumption can no longer be rectified even if we try? I trust not. I trust we're in a deep pendulum swing. And your generation will have grown up in this world of constant change - indeed accelerating change - with skills and attributes that will allow you collectively to snatch us from this path to some new direction - and with new sense of destiny and accomplishment.

And if not - well then we hand the baton to China. We've a run for a couple hundred years. Next...

Here's to picking up the challenge. All you need is a dream... and the determination not to let 'em get you down (Didn't Bono write a song like that? Kinda). You'll be in good company. I've got a daughter determined to contribute in a better way. Here's to pendulum swings!
Now THERE'S a dose of reality.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
With the possible exception of that stuff on financial modeling (which I didn't understand), I by and large agree with this take.

It's not that newspapers make a better profit margin than they did thirty years ago or so. In fact, I think margins for the owners have always been good and haven't changed much. What has changed are the owners themselves, along with new attitudes of what must be done to maintain those profits. Newspapers used to be largely owned by families and closely held companies controlled by those families, but I'm pretty sure they've mostly been taken over public corporations.

Please, nobody stop me from telling this story if they've already heard me say it, but when I went to work for Ted Turner in 1980, he owned about 87% of his company; by the time I left in 1985, he had given up voting control to his major backers, Time-Warner and TCI, and it was downhill for CNN ever since. Unlike in the days when that crazy drunken sailor was making all the decisions, huge mutual funds and pension funds now call the shots, and the reason I know these people care less about CNN showing us the world as they do about showing shareholders the money is this: All of my own money is in mutual funds, and if my fund doesn't perform, I find another one.

So it's the schmoe-on-the-street like me who really doesn't care about the way companies do business as much as how much money they can get out of whatever it is the companies do. In fact, corporate ownership has become at least one area where I think too much democracy can be a bad thing.
The marketing man -
That's very interesting twist of the screw! Irony into which to sink your teeth! And a solid argument against privatizing social security!
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Hmm. Maybe so, although probably not the best one I can think of.

To me, to "privatize" a "public" program means to "abolish" it. Do we really want to do that, we should ask ourselves (but often don't)? No, wait, someone suggests, we're not really "abolishing" the program, we're just "personalizing" it, giving Americans the chance to realizing a higher return on it! It's part of the "ownership society" thing, in which we do for ourselves instead of expecting government to do for us!

But the problem with what I'm sure Bush and his minion think of as an innovative and neat idea is that it takes both the "social" and the "security" out of "Social Security," which citizens seemed to sense, and which I hope is why the effort died.
Our high-school friend really started something here (and had better not tell his teachers). On the other hand, in his next paper he can quote the unpublished observations of a noted marketing expert, and one of the founders of CNN. Things have changed for this generation.

And the topics here didn't really drift. We're all just trying to get the facts straight. That's what we're supposed to do - be informed citizens.

If only it weren't so tricky.



On media and following the money, the local story out here is the Los Angeles Times, as the AP, on Friday, September 29, explains here -
Barely three months after the demise of Knight Ridder Inc., the same pressures that forced the storied newspaper publisher out of existence are shaking the foundations of another media empire.

But as Tribune Co. considers a potentially drastic makeover amid impatience on Wall Street, declining circulation and other issues, the third-largest U.S. newspaper company isn't necessarily facing a wholesale dismantlement or sell-off within the next few months.

The pressure on Tribune to act is intense, though. Tribune signaled a week ago its intent to make big changes, and CEO Dennis FitzSimons says all options are on the table.

While an outright sale of the company, as happened with Knight Ridder, may not be likely, several partial breakup scenarios are starting to emerge, ones the company will have to consider before investors force action.

The Los Angeles Times and other prize jewels all will be studied for what selling them would do to the company's stock, tax bills and future, even though FitzSimons insists the Times isn't for sale.

Tribune underscored its commitment to a significant overhaul on Thursday, saying it has hired Merrill Lynch and Citigroup as financial advisers and retained Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as legal counsel for its independent board committee reviewing strategic options.
But out here, ever since the Tribune folks took over the Los Angeles Times. they been on the cost cutting thing - whole swaths of folks are gone, and the current editors are standing up to the parent company. They just don't want to fire any more reporters to improve the bottom line. What's the point? And the founders of the paper, the Chandler family, holding the biggest block of Tribune stock, doesn't want the newspaper turned into an empty shell. The Chandlers sold Times-Mirror, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, to Tribune in 2000 and have three board seats.

The situation -
The Chicago Tribune last week cited unidentified sources as saying the company's preferred solution is to spin off many of its two dozen TV stations, sell several smaller papers among its eleven dailies and take the rest of the company private in a leveraged buyout.

That outcome, however, hinges on lots of buyers stepping forward with big checks at a time when the newspaper industry is under siege from Internet competition for its readers and advertising dollars. Other questions also hang over local television stations.

Tribune insisted until recently that such marquee assets as the Cubs or its Tribune Tower headquarters building were untouchable, as were businesses in its three major markets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. But many think that has changed as the stock continues to languish.

So far, the only reported inquiries into Tribune properties to have surfaced publicly in the last week are for smaller Tribune papers: The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. and three Connecticut dailies - The Hartford Court, the Advocate of Stamford and the Greenwich Time.

Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen have voiced interest in the Los Angeles Times, but no formal offer is said to have been made. A spokeswoman for Geffen's office declined comment and Burkle and Broad did not return phone calls.
It's not like the paper is worthless. These guys will take a steady twenty percent return and the chance to do the Citizen Kane thing. Or is that Ted Turner? In any event, there'd be no corporate owners demanding double-digit year-to-year growth. You'd just being putting out a reasonably good newspaper, respected around the world, and making reasonable money, no matter what the Chicago Cubs lose or how things are going in Allentown or Hartford.

We'll see how this plays out.

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006 22:31 PDT home

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

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

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

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

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

So who is wrong here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the hits just keep on coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other than that, things are going fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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