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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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Friday, 15 December 2006
Forcing Change - Dealing With the Self-Righteous
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Forcing Change - Dealing With the Self-Righteous

The news that was not news was that there would be no news. Friday, December 15, we were told she said it again -
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the United States seek the help of Syria and Iran in Iraq, saying the "compensation" required by any deal might be too high. She argued that neither country should need incentives to foster stability in Iraq.

"If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.
Nothing new here. In late summer, regarding talking to Syria about the short Israel-Hezbollah war that had devastated Lebanon, she had said then that there was no point in talking with them about the issues in the region, as "they know what they must do," slamming that door shut. We don't talk. Others know what they should do.

It's just passive-aggressive nastiness. Any man who has been married knows all about the tactic. Anyone who had a guilt-inducing Jewish or Catholic martyr-mother knows too. You can ask what you did wrong, what you're supposed to do, but your receive silence - until you do whatever it is you should, or stop doing whatever it is you shouldn't. You have to guess a lot. It's supposed to be educational, one presumes. If you finally figure out what's going on, without being told what the problem is at all, or, if you luckily do guess the problem, and actually figure out why it matters, and then do what you were too stupid to know you should have done - the "right thing" you just didn't understand - you get a pat on the head, maybe.

Sometimes you just say "screw it" and walk away. It's both insulting and frustrating, and once you get over your anger, somehow comic. Why did you even buy into it, if you did?

Those who follow "the new American diplomacy" - we don't talk - shake their heads at this official stance. For example, Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly notes that Rice's statement isn't really anything new, but he's still freshly astounded whenever he hears it again -
This is, basically, an argument for never negotiating with anyone. After all, why bother if states will simply do what they want to do regardless? (cf. President Bush's belief that Syria already "knows my position.")

Conservatives often accuse liberals of elevating negotiation into an end in itself. It's a fatuous charge, but its mirror image isn't: as a matter of principle, contemporary conservatives really do seem to have broadly rejected even the concept of negotiating with our enemies. I guess you could armchair psychoanalyze this belief forever, but I imagine it's mostly caused by a fear that they might actually succeed. Take a look at Iraq: in the end, it acquiesced to every American demand in 2002 and 2003, and that just made it harder to gain support for the invasion we wanted.

It's no wonder Bush hates the idea. He's probably afraid the same thing might happen with Syria.
Matthew Yglesias agrees that may be true - we're afraid negotiation might work and then we'd really be in a bind - but says he would press further -
Conservatives combine this with an oddly expansive view of who "our enemies" are. Iran is plausibly characterized as an enemy who liberals think we should negotiate with. Our lack of diplomatic relations dates back to the hostage crisis in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, and the Revolution was loaded with anti-American rhetoric and ideology from the get-go. It's a bona fide enemy, and we should negotiate with them.

But in what sense is Syria "our enemy" except in the sense that the Bush administration won't conduct diplomacy with the Syrian government? Syria isn't pushing for regime change in the United States. Syria isn't trying to conquer Mexico as part of a first step to restructure the politics of North America. Syria was part of our coalition during the first Gulf War. Throughout the Clinton administration there were frequent US-Syrian diplomatic talks running parallel to US-Israeli diplomatic talks aimed (unsuccessfully) at resolving the dispute over the Golan Heights and normalizing relations between Syria and Israel. After Operation Grapes of Wrath the US and Syria worked together on the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Agreement. After 9/11, Syria offered intelligence cooperation against al-Qaeda.

Syria's not an ally of the United States. But it's not our enemy in any meaningful sense. It's just a country the administration more-or-less severed diplomacy with unilaterally for no real reason.
"After 9/11, Syria offered intelligence cooperation against al-Qaeda." They did. Yep, we sent that Canadian fellow we grabbed at the Newark Airport to Syria for a year. They tortured him for us, to get him to confess he was an al Qaeda operative and to get him to tell us what the big plan was and where the top bad guys were hiding. Yes, he turned out to be just a completely innocent electrical engineer returning from vacation, just as the Canadians had warned us, and he couldn't tell us "the big plan" - he didn't know what we were talking about - and he knew no one and nothing useful at all, but that wasn't exactly the Syrians' fault. As for Operation Grapes of Wrath, that was the Israeli Defense Forces' code-name for a sixteen-day military blitz against Lebanon in 1996 in an attempt to end shelling of Northern Israel by Hezbollah. Hezbollah called it the April War. Israel names things better. Israel did a lot of airstrikes and shelling, just like last summer - and a UN installation was hit causing the death of one hundred eighteen Lebanese civilians. Hezbollah's cross-border rocket attacks targeted civilian northern Israel, which was equally nasty. But they also fought directly with Israeli and South Lebanon Army forces. The conflict was "de-escalated" on 27 April of that year with the agreement mentioned - all parties agreed to stop with the killing civilians stuff. Syria brokered it. They have been helpful.

Syria may be assisting the insurgents in Iraq now, which is what we claim. We say that's obvious, and they say they're doing no such thing. Both are probably lies. But really, we just don't like their attitude - they openly say our war is wrong-headed and destabilizing the region. That is insulting. You don't just come out and say the President of the United States made a monumentally bone-headed decision. That makes George and Dick and Donald resentful. Of course the Syrians also have to deal with wave after wave of Iraqi refuges from the chaos in Baghdad flooding Damascus and overwhelming the infrastructure there, which, in turn, seems to make them grumpy. There may be much to talk about, when you think about it. But we won't talk, until they stop doing what they say they're not doing, and maybe not even then.

So enter the freelancers -
The White House said Thursday that a Democratic senator's meeting with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was inappropriate and undermined democracy in the region, while three more senators, including a Republican, made plans to visit Damascus in defiance of President Bush.

The visits are troublesome for the Bush administration because they come in the wake of the report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which has called for the United States to engage in direct talks with Iran and Syria. Mr. Bush has steadfastly resisted such talks, and the visits by the senators could add to public pressure on the White House to change that policy.

Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, was in Damascus on Wednesday to meet with Mr. Assad; he later told reporters that he saw a "crack in the door" for the United States to cooperate with Syria on Iraq. Senators Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut; John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, all plan to visit Syria in the coming weeks.
That is rather extraordinary. The administration says no jaw-jaw in this case - we will not talk with these insulting troublemakers. And senators from both parties say "screw that" - as that makes no sense - and fly over for a chat. They just took our foreign policy out of the hands of our passive-aggressive leaders, preferring more "direct" communications. The words "lame duck" come to mind.

Kerry - "The bottom line is we have a very clear and distinct responsibility to ask questions. A lot of Americans wish a lot more questions, a lot tougher questions, had been asked before we got into the mess we're in over here."

Dodd - "Members need to go to hot spots, not just garden spots."

Specter, the "moderate" Republican, had already said in a statement on the Senate floor that he had "long advocated" negotiating with Syria - "We need to keep our friends close and our enemies closer." Not original, but a power play. When the State Department and administration won't do their job, someone has to.

And it got hot. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary - "We think it's inappropriate. The concern here, among other things, is that this does not strengthen the hand of democracy in the region."

Who knows what that means, logically? The White House says that Syria is helping to fuel the insurgency in Iraq, and is "particularly incensed" at Syria for supporting Hezbollah and for trying to destabilize the Lebanese government. You don't talk to people who do such things. One has to assume then that the Syrians are fighting the big "democracy plan" we have for the region, and we don't much care about their parochial and local or politically pragmatic motives. They're messing with George's plan. That's unforgivable. And Snow warned that these visits "may cost some people their credibility" - Nelson from Florida will be on Rove's hit list now, or something. There will be some sort of smear - Snow pretty much promised that.

Nelson contends he did the right thing, and he may have. Later he was in Lebanon with its prime minister -
"I told Prime Minister Siniora that I told Assad to keep his hands off Lebanon," the senator said. He said he approached his meetings in Syria with "realism, not optimism," and added of Mr. Assad, "I don't trust him at all."

Despite the harsh words from the White House, the Bush administration does have diplomatic ties with Syria, and Mr. Nelson said American Embassy officials have been "just ecstatic" to receive reports from his visits, "because so often they don't have access to a highly controversial leader in the country until somebody like a senator comes along."

Mr. Nelson said he had already briefed R. Nicholas Burns, the State Department's third ranking official, about his meeting with Mr. Assad.
He's just doing the job the administration won't do. It's almost a coup, when you think about it.

And even the press is getting into the act. David Ignatius of the Post is, with this column -
DAMASCUS, Syria -- What positions would Syria take if it entered a dialogue with the United States about Iraq and other Middle East issues? I put that question Thursday to Walid Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, and he offered surprisingly strong support for the recommendations made last week in the Baker-Hamilton report.
And note this assessment from Yglesias -
There's good and there's bad in David Ignatius column on diplomacy with Syria but the genuinely absurd part of the column is not-at-all something Ignatius can be blamed for.

… Note the dateline: Damascus. Note the interviewee: Syria's foreign minister. It's not that hard. I don't have the budget for a trip to Damascus, and I bet I lack the clout for an interview with the foreign minister. But the State Department can surely swing the trip. Exploring the possibility of diplomacy requires, quite simply, nothing more than for Rice or Robert Zoellick or David Welch to, you know, go to Syria and ask what's up. It's lazy, insane, or just insane laziness not to do it. But no. Top officials will meet with the Syrian opposition but not the Syrian government. Because, I guess, if we close our eyes and wish hard enough, the Syrian government will just go away and the opposition will take over?

At any rate, here's Ignatius' complete interview with the Foreign Minister, and good for him for making the trip.
Yes, the senators and press meet with the Syrian government, to see what the lay of the land is and what can be worked out, if anything, and our administration will only meet with the wild-eyed rebels, to provide them funds to somehow get their act together and overthrow the government there. We, officially, don't do diplomacy. We only do regime change. The traditionalists, who still believe in classic diplomacy - hard nosed negotiations where you say what you won't give up and what is on the table, and ask the other side to do the same, and see what can be worked out - are doing what they can. The administration would prefer the twenty-year-olds with their AK-47's to take over that Syrian joint. Dealing with them is a whole lot easier than dealing actual adults who have their own issues and ideas, and concerns you may not realize, and want to know what you think, and may or may not want to see if everyone can get at least part of what they want. Dealing with the children is easier. It's a matter of courage. The administration may just be afraid. That would make them cowards, putting us all at risk. That couldn't be, could it?

Well, at least we'll have a "new way forward" and all that. That Iraq Study Group report shook things up. At the end of the week the best rundown on that came from an item from the McClatchy newspapers (formerly of Knight-Ridder), the crew that was alone in getting things exactly right before the war.

The baseline -
The president signaled Wednesday that neither the study group's pessimistic assessment nor the bleak situation in Iraq nor the results of the midterm elections have shaken his belief that victory in Iraq is possible.

"We're not going to give up," said Bush, who plans to announce his new strategy early next year.

While some key decisions haven't been made yet, the senior officials said the emerging strategy includes:

- A shift in the primary U.S. military mission in Iraq from combat to training an expanded Iraqi army, generally in line with the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.
That sounds a lot like "as they stand up, we stand down. The new way forward will be more of the same. And victory is possible, even if no one can precisely define it in this case.

There is some additional filigree of course - "A revised Iraq political strategy aimed at forging a 'moderate center' of Shiite Muslim, Sunni Muslim Arab and Kurdish politicians that would bolster embattled Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The goal would be to marginalize radical Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents."

Isn't it pretty to think so? We just get them, as John McCain has put it, to stop this bullshit. We tell them, simply, to stop thinking about religion so much, and just stop blowing things up. And they will. It's a fine idea. Of course they'll do that. And pigs will fly.

And this - "More money to combat rampant unemployment among Iraqi youths and to advance reconstruction, much of it funneled to groups, areas and leaders who support Maliki and oppose the radicals."

That's not a bad idea. Who will be in charge of distribution? Do we send Paul Bremmer back? Will Halliburton handle this? The missing eight billion dollars, cash, from the first year or so of this war raises questions. Will someone keep any sort of books this time? There were no books before - not even an Excel spreadsheet. "We just don't know where the money went" may not fly this time. Ah, maybe they learned their lesson.

And this - "Rejection of the study group's call for an urgent, broad new diplomatic initiative in the Middle East to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reach out to Iran and Syria. Instead, the administration is considering convening a conference of Iraq and neighboring countries - excluding Iran and Syria - as part of an effort to pressure the two countries to stop interfering in Iraq."

Huh? See above, and Josh Marshall - "Okay, so it'll be us, 'Iraq,' Jordan and the Saudis holding a conference to get the Syrians and Iranians to stop messing around in Iraq. Why didn't we think of this before?"

Actually, that parallels our efforts with North Korea - we won't talk directly with North Korea but think we can get other nations, China and Japan, to talk them into what we want them to do, not go nuclear, without us having to actually face them ourselves and say things and listen to things. And how did that work out?

And as for John McCain's "send in twenty-thousand" plan - "A possible short-term surge of as many as 40,000 more American troops to try to secure Baghdad, along with a permanent increase in the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, which are badly strained by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan."

So who's got the bigger dick now? McCain gets neutered. The president calls and raises, a double-down bet. He's the man. But see John Burns in the New York Times - Military Considers Sending as Many as 35,000 More U.S. Troops to Iraq, McCain Says - "Senator John McCain said Thursday that American military commanders were discussing the possibility of adding as many as 10 more combat brigades - a maximum of about 35,000 troops…" Did I say twenty thousand? The military wants more than double that, and I agree, and it wasn't George's idea, it was their idea, not his. So my dick is bigger. And so on.

Basically the Baker-Hamilton report backfired - "Bush appears to have been emboldened by criticism of its proposals as defeatist by members of the Republican Party's conservative wing and their allies on the Internet, the radio and cable TV."

They said his daddy's man was wrong. Bill Kristol said so. So did Rush Limbaugh - "This is cut and run, surrender without the words."

So who's do you turn to, if daddy's man tells you to surrender? That's obvious - "According to a senior State Department official, the president is listening closely to a former Republican secretary of state, but it isn't Baker. Henry Kissinger, a frequent White House visitor, has been to see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a half-dozen times, he said."

Nixon. One more time. And how did that work out?

There is no forcing change in the case. The self-righteous are doing just fine, thank you.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006 22:54 PST home

Tuesday, 11 July 2006
Are Things Changing?
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Are Things Changing?

There were three big news stories on Tuesday, July 11, and two were astounding, and one just depressing. That third was the massive railway bombing in India, in what used to be Bombay but has a different name now - Mumbai. But it's still the financial center of that nation, and, depending on what source you use, 147 or 163 people died, and nearly five hundred were badly injured. Being precise about the number dead is for the sensationalists. It was more than enough. Precision is for the cable news channels wanting more eyeballs on the commercial slots they sell to advertisers - how awful, so watch more. Horror keeps people from switching to Antiques Road Show.

And what was this about - Kashmir? Or are the Muslims still ticked about splitting things up in 1947 and the Hindus getting modern India while they got Pakistan? Is that still playing out internally? Pakistan has condemned the bombings, but that is pretty much pro forma these days. All the commentary on the right over here is that this was obviously al Qaeda and they're out to kill everyone, and only George Bush can stop them, if we'd just let the man do whatever he wants that we don't want to know anything about. The commentators on air from India found that idea rather stupid, but they were polite about it - no, this is something else. But we over here need a narrative that feels both familiar and scary, so that got a bit of play. But this wasn't about America and those who despise our policies and actions. This just wasn't about us. That's hard for Americans to understand. Everything else is, isn't it? Yeah, it's not fair.

The two other big stories of the day were all about us, much to the relief of many a news anchor and media sales department.

The first was that, in a stunning reversal, which the administration said wasn't a reversal at all, the Pentagon sent out a directive ordering civilians and uniformed commanders in the field to review all practices and paperwork to ensure that they follow Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, the one they said just didn't apply to those we have held down Guantánamo way. That one outlaws violence, torture, cruel treatment, and "humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners of war. That's explained here. We would never do any of that of course, officially (only a few "bad apples" did such things), so this is just a clarification. We said we could do such things if we decided we should, and now we're saying we won't, maybe.

We'll play by the rules of the treaty we ratified and signed, as the Supreme Court ruled here (PDF format) that this was, in effect, the law - treaties are the law of the land when ratified - and the law is clear, it does apply to the guys we picked up here and there. All the stuff about these folks being a different sort of prisoners - not prisoners of war and not criminals but something entirely new and amazing, with no traditional rights - was baloney. What we ratified clearly and explicitly accounted for such "enemy combatants" - so the proposed military tribunals, where you couldn't know what you were being charged with, you couldn't see the evidence or know your accuser, and you couldn't attend much of the proceedings, where evidence obtained by torture was entirely admissible, and you could only challenge anything at all after you were convicted, were clearly lame, to be generous. The rights of prisoners of war pertained. Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions (here) had to be followed. The administration had argued in court that following such rules would make hunting down terrorists impossible. And now they say they've really been following the rules all along, and this directive is no big deal, just paperwork.

That's very puzzling, but you have to save some face. And if Common Article Three is to be followed, not only are the odd tribunals unlawful, so are the other approved techniques to get these people to say things - waterboarding, stress positions that sometime end in death, forced nakedness, the dogs, the sexual stuff and so on and so forth. Of course when they don't die, or commit suicide, what they do say is rather worthless - just anything at all to make it all stop. That this is obvious makes what's been going on even odder. Perhaps one thing said in a thousand might be important, but you just never know what. But then it is doing something. That seems to matter a lot, or did until now. And of course you feel powerful and in control.

Timothy Noah here is puzzled by the claim we've been following the rules all along, and unpack the logic this way - "1.) The United States is inherently good; 2.) Inherently good countries don't violate the Geneva conventions; 3.) Ergo, the United States can do anything it wants to suspected terrorists and it still won't be violating the Geneva conventions." And at this link he posts the actual directive ordering everyone to play be the rules (scroll down), and highlights what bullshit it contains. It's depressing.

Andrew Sullivan, the one conservative who seems to have had a little problem with torture, here, is very happy with the directive -
The United States has now apparently ended the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Gonzales nightmare of abandoning the base-line demands of the Geneva Conventions. After Hamdan, this is a great moment in a war we can now fight as honorably as the United States has fought every other war since the Geneva protocols were instituted. Much of the military, most of the CIA, almost all the JAG's, the Supreme Court and overwhelming majorities of both Senate and House disagreed with the torture policy. But the White House cabal prevailed. No longer - in the Pentagon, at least. As far as the military is concerned, America is America again. And this president's brutality has been reined in.
And he points to the New York Times quoting some of those JAG and military officers here -
"This was the concern all along of the JAG's," Admiral Guter said. "It's a matter of defending what we always thought was the rule of law and proper behavior for civilized nations."

... "We should be embracing Common Article 3 and shouting it from the rooftops," Admiral Hutson said. "They can't try to write us out of this, because that means every two-bit dictator could do the same." He said it was "unbecoming for America to have people say, 'We're going to try to work our way around this because we find it to be inconvenient.'"

"If you don't apply it when it's inconvenient," he said, "it's not a rule of law."
Yep, these guys didn't give into what Sullivan calls "the demands of foolish expediency or the cult of the president-as-monarch."

And there's what the Army captain who blew the whistle to the business at Abu Ghraib said here -
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is '"America."
Yeah, yeah, but Dick Cheney is pissed.

And other things are afoot. The fellow who made the Pentagon announcement was James Haynes, and on the same day the Senate opened nomination hearings - an appointment to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. The item is here. When he was general counsel to the president, back in November 2002, he endorsed this list of "interrogation techniques" for use by the military and CIA -
... forced nudity; forced grooming; "[u]sing detainees['] individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress"; 20-hour interrogations; stress positions (i.e. hanging from wrists from the ceiling); waterboarding (the use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation); and "scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him and/or his family."
It's a little joke. Pack the court with judges who start moving things back to where they had been. Very clever.

Andrew Sullivan is all worked up about this matter here, and links to others who are too. But the man will be approved. It's a loyalty test for the Republican senate.

And too there's this, someone pointing out the directive about following the rules is fine and dandy, except it doesn't have much to do with those we won't say we have in custody, the ghost detainees we don't report to the International Red Cross or anyone, and those in places no one knows about. Cheney and his chief-of-staff Addington, wanted to create what they call "outer space" - beyond our laws and anyone's knowledge - where all bets were off and no one would know what we're doing at all. That's still out there.

So should the president have given in here? There's a lot of anger out there at what seem to be what the Supreme Court forced him to do. Why not just let the man do whatever he wants that we don't want to know anything about?

See what one conservative says to other conservatives at "Right-Thinking from the Left Coast" here -
I'm generally not against what Bush is doing in principle, but I am totally opposed to the way he has gone about it. As I've said a thousand times before, think long term people. You might be one of the Kool Aid drinkers who thinks that George W. Bush has the light of God shooting out of his asshole, but what is going to happen the next time a liberal Democrat gets elected? What are you going to say when President Hillary decides to spy on the American people, and uses Bush as a precedent? I imagine all of these self-styled 'conservatives' are suddenly going to remember that old Constitution thing from way back.

Freedom and liberty are, at least in my mind, not negotiable, no matter which party is in power. The right in this country is split. On the one hand there are people like me who still give a shit about the concepts of limited government and individual liberty, and then there's the other side, for whom making sure queers can't marry and getting Adam and Eve into science class ranks a close second to blindly supporting anything a president does, provided he has an R after his name.
Things aren't going well on that side. As Nelson Muntz would say - "Ha, ha."

The other big story of the day on Tuesday, July 11, wasn't really a story about an event, but a realization that something else has changed. That started with the Time Magazine cover story here - we witnessing a "seismic" shift in the Bush administration's foreign policy - "the end of cowboy diplomacy" and the substitution of "patience" for "pre-emption."

The end of Cowboy Diplomacy? The New York Times said just about the same thing here, and the Washington Post and others ran similar items.

Fred Kaplan has something to say about all that here - Reports of the death of "cowboy democracy" are greatly exaggerated.

The Time item did say Bush's response to North Korea's Fourth of July missile tests "even more surprising than the tests" themselves -
Under the old Bush Doctrine, defiance by a dictator like Kim Jong Il would have merited threats of punitive U.S. action - or at least a tongue lashing. Instead, the Administration has mainly been talking up multilateralism and downplaying Pyongyang's provocation.
And the New York Times said Bush "finds himself in an unaccustomed position: urging patience."

Kaplan says this is no big deal -
Bush did denounce North Korea as a member of the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union Address; he has colorfully (and accurately) disparaged Kim Jong-il, the country's dictator, before and since. But he never issued "threats of punitive U.S. action," not even at the end of '02, when Kim crossed a truly serious "red line" by abrogating the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicking international inspectors out of his nuclear reactor, and reprocessing his once-locked fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium.

Bush took no action three and a half years ago for the same reason that he took no action after the missile test: The Joint Chiefs of Staff told him there were no good military options; they didn't know where all the nuclear targets were, and North Korea could retaliate by launching chemical rockets at South Korea and Japan.

As for "talking up multilateralism," that's not new either, and, when it comes to North Korea, it doesn't mean as much as the reporters seem to think. Yes, Bush is urging the reconvening of the "six-party talks" - a Beijing forum at which the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and the two Koreas - discuss Pyongyang's nuclear program. But the first round of those talks took place in August 2003, back when the Bush Doctrine was riding high, before Condoleezza Rice became secretary of state and supposedly pushed the president onto diplomatic avenues.

The thing is, Bush never took the six-party talks seriously. Every time they crept toward progress, Vice President Dick Cheney took care to tug at his envoy's leash. When the envoy was finally permitted to meet face to face with North Korean diplomats, he was given strict orders not to offer terms of negotiation. He could talk - just not about anything meaningful.
Same with Iran. There's nothing new, just no other options.

It comes down to this -
The Times analysis states the matter more accurately: "Mr. Bush is discovering the limits of his own pre-emption doctrine." Yes, he's bumping into its limits, not rethinking or overhauling it.

Whatever's happened to the "old doctrine," the Time story does pose a question that's on the mark: "Can the U.S. find a new one to take its place?"

This is what's really going on. Bush and his team have slowly discovered that their prescriptions for changing the world - regime change, preventive war, and spreading democracy by force if necessary - aren't working and aren't going over with the world. But they don't know what to do about it; they don't know how to go about their business differently. Bush is drifting, not changing.

Time quotes a "presidential adviser" as saying, "There's a move, even by Cheney, toward the Kissingerian approach of focusing entirely on vital interests. It's a more focused foreign policy that is driven by realism and less by ideology."

This is preposterous. Where is the shuttle diplomacy? Where are the beginnings of a regional conference to stabilize Iraq? Where is the slightest nod toward talks - serious talks - aimed at keeping Iran and North Korea from joining the club of nuclear nations? These are "vital interests." Where is the "focusing" and the "realism" to attain them? When the administration starts behaving in a way that suggests it's asked these questions, then we can start to talk about a "seismic" shift in foreign policy. Until then, there's only the rumble of hot air.
Oops. There was no story there. Or the story is that the administration looks like it's changing quite a bit, but it's just because they can't avoid the conclusion that Plan A is crap and there is no Plan B. They don't do Plan B's - that's for the weak-willed. So whatever it is they're doing looks all new. But it's just deer-in-the-headlights panic, both harmless (no new wars), and completely ineffectual.

Hey, it's an improvement. The news of the day was dismal enough as it is. Take what you can get.

Posted by Alan at 23:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006 07:03 PDT home

Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Things Imploding
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Things Imploding

Just a few brief notes, as the day was given over to systems work. Setting up the old stuff on the new computer is getting increasingly Byzantine, or baroque, or whatever adjective you'd like. Tuesday was the eight critical new patches Microsoft released for Windows, and exploring what actually was recovered from the old hard drive and dumped on the new - everything but five years of archived email, and all the addresses and mailing lists. Drat. And today it was setting up the email system again, and a bit of reconstruction - and who knew POP3 and SMTP configurations could be some complex? And that patch to get Outlook to read the old address book in Hotmail was no fun at all. And new hardware arrived, a docking station with all sorts of gizmos - including a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. It just seems wrong they're not connected to anything, and still work. No wires? That can't be right. But the docking station has good speakers, and the FM jazz station streaming live from Paris, TSF, sounds good - even the newscasts and weather reports where they talk so fast, and the silly commercials for this and that. The time differential is a little disconcerting - nine hours - and their midnight set, of Miles Davis and Toots Thielemans and French guys no one here knows, starts at three in the afternoon Hollywood time. Whatever.

The break today was running a few errands and taking a few photos up on Hollywood Boulevard. Those came out nicely, and are very odd - see five of them here.

But the day had its news, of sorts. The president, back from his five hour Baghdad visit, held a press conference and was crowing about it all, proud as punch, as they say. The narrative in the press was that everything was all better, the White House no longer on the defensive, and the left put in its place, and every Democrat holding his or her head in shame at their foolishness in doubting him. And on Rumsfeld's direct orders the press was tossed out of Guantánamo. No one will report from there now.

That last item generated a great deal of comment all over. But that's the world we live in.

Editor & Publisher broke the story here (Wednesday, June 14, 2006) -
In the aftermath of the three suicides at the notorious Guantanamo prison facility in Cuba last Saturday, reporters with the Los Angeles Times and the Miami Herald were ordered by the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to leave the island today ... The Pentagon spokesman told E&P that Rumsfeld's office was overruling any of the permissions from military at the base.
See Donald Rumsfeld, July 18, 2005, here -
I have no doubt that free and well-informed people can and will sift through the increasing volumes of information and over time develop a balanced view of our government, our Armed Forces, and our values and principles.
Bill Montgomery, looking at the two, says this - "That must be what he's afraid of."

Enough said.

On the other matter Montgomery adds this -
We can only guess whether Shrub's secret repeat visit to Iraq was dreamed up before the Abu Zarqawi Hour went off the air, as the White House claims, or whether the trip was actually thrown together on the fly in an effort to milk a little more free publicity from the final episode. Either way, the stunt revealed as much about the depleted state of the Cheney administration's bag of propaganda tricks as it did about the gang's determination to keep pouring blood and treasure into the world's largest hole in the desert.

Sending America's titular head of state to Baghdad the first time, to celebrate Thanksgiving with the troops in 2003, was a clever stroke - just the thing to distract the media from the rapidly deteriorating security situation, which only a few weeks before had sent generals and diplomats (including the current president of the World Bank) scurrying for cover in their underwear.

Of course, simply waving a shiny metal object in front of the White House press corps probably would have been just as effective, not to mention a whole lot cheaper for the taxpayers, but you still can't argue with the results: saturation coverage of the world's biggest Thanksgiving turkey - serving dinner to a bunch of grinning GIs.

But that was then and this is now, and while distracting the media is still child's play (literally) the voters have grown quite a bit more jaded after nearly three years of watching flag-wrapped coffins shipped home COD. At this point, sending Bush to do the grip-and-grin with the new Iraqi prime minister and his cabinet isn't exactly must-see TV.
No, it isn't. Montgomery goes on to discuss how the trip was just a holding action, to stop the hemorrhaging on the war front, while the battle to convince everyone the economy is great will be the main Rove strategy for winning everyone's vote in November, even if those who are doing well are the top two percent of the heap. That'll be tricky, with a lot of pointing to averages in the data, not mean values. But most people think that average and mean values are the same thing. Thank goodness Americans do so badly in math, with our students ranked twenty-eighth in the industrialized world, tied with Latvia. Average wages are rising while eighty percent of all workers have seen their actual earnings decrease a few percentage points each year for the last six years. Point to the former. Hope folks don't pay attention to the latter. It might work. Convince people they're just confused, or among the rare and unusual unlucky chumps, and everyone one else is doing just fine.

But there's no more to do about Iraq, as Montgomery explains -
... politically, it comes down to this: Ever since the war began to go south - say, in the late summer or early fall of 2003 - the Cheneyites have relied on a never-ending string of bogus "turning points" to deflect criticism and create the illusion that victory in Iraq (whatever that means) is creeping closer, despite the mounting chaos and death. But with Zarqawi's elimination, the never-ending string has, for all intents and purposes, ended.

There are no more name-brand dictators or terrorists left to catch or kill: Zarqawi's successor is so obscure nobody seems to know who he is or where he came from - it's not even written into the script yet. The elections are over, so there'll be no more purple fingers to wave in front of the cameras. The "permanent" government has been formed; all of its ministers finally named.

The turning points, in other words, have all been turned, and Iraq is still a killing field. Now that the last few macabre headlines have been squeezed out of Zarqwari's autopsy report, democracy boy and his handlers literally have nothing to look forward to - except a long, hot summer of IEDs, ethnic cleansing and more of those flag-wrapped caskets being Federal Expressed to cemeteries around the country.
So that was it? Could be.

The other issue clouding things is, of course, is the four hundred sixty folks we hold at Guantánamo Bay. We hold them there because that is not in America, so their rights are what we say they are, not what any citizen, visa holder or visitor to, say, Cleveland, could claim. So they don't fall under our laws. And we say they don't fall under the Geneva Conventions, as they are not at all prisoners of war, but somehow a new sort of fighter - "enemy combatants." So they're not criminals - you can't try them, exactly, as there's no crime involved - and they're not prisoners of war, so you don't have to treat them as such, allowing communication with the outside world and monitoring by a neutral third party like International Red Cross. You don't even have to list them, and some outside Cuba are off the books, the famous "ghost detainees."

But it's an embarrassment. The UN and even our allies are calling for us to shut down the Cuba prison. Saying there just are no rules will not do. Most American have had no problem with the "there are no rules anymore" concept, but that's shifting. The three suicides didn't help, and may be where there's been a shift in public opinion in this country. A major spokeswoman in the new Karen Hughes "public diplomacy" department did say, on the BBC World Service, that the suicides were just a publicity stunt and good PR (discussed here), the man in charge of the Guantánamo facility said the suicides were an act of war against us - but the administration is backing away from all that. They know better. People are laughing, bitterly, but laughing just the same. That's very bad politically. It's worse than being wrong. When people just laugh you lose by a massive landslide. It's the kiss of death.

How to deal with that? In the Wednesday, June 14, press conference, the president said, again, that he'd really like to shut down Guantánamo. He seems to know the jig is up. But note how he explains why the facility should be closed - because reports of torture and suicide just give people an "excuse" to criticize the United States.

A reaction here -
We don't need an excuse to criticize your administration, Mr. President. You and your helpers provide fresh cause for alarm every week. Banning the press won't shield you or your administration from warranted criticism. Guantanamo has severely damaged the credibility of the United States, and our elected representatives need to hear us object to misdeeds that tarnish our country's reputation.

As much as he'd like to, the president can't close Guantanamo, he says, because he "needs a plan for trying terror suspects if the U.S. Supreme Court rejects his military tribunals." Is the president worried that judicial activists on the Supreme Court might disagree with his assertion that "enemy combatants" have no right to judicial review of their indefinite detentions? He should worry.

You want a plan, Mr. President? You insist the detainees aren't prisoners of war, so the plan is simple: charge them with crimes and give them a criminal trial, or let them go.
Trapped. Hoist by his own petard, as here -
(pi-TAHRD) To be caught in one's own trap: "The swindler cheated himself out of most of his money, and his victims were satisfied to see him hoist by his own petard." A "petard" was an explosive device used in medieval warfare. To be hoisted, or lifted, by a petard literally means to be blown up.
It blew up. Even if the suicides were, as originally claimed, not desperation at all, as we were treating everyone there just fine, but a very clever way to make George Bush look bad and influence the November election and make the House and Senate go Democratic and make Bill Frist and all the others lose their power to influence legislation on tax cuts and such, the damage had been done. It's over.

There are many things to fix in order that the president not spend his last two years dealing with a hostile congress that might actually want some answers. This should be interesting.

Now back to the systems work.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006 06:27 PDT home

Thursday, 13 April 2006
Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Do We Get a Fair Fight This Time?

Elsewhere, in The New Master Narrative, there is a discussion of all these retired generals, the big guns, publicly calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or for the president to fire him. Four of them. Obviously this is extraordinary, and it's hard to recall anything like this. Of course Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur in April of 1951 - but that was because MacArthur was insubordinate, not just making strategic decisions on his own, but showboating as he did. MacArthur wasn't terribly subtle - he seemed to enjoy implying the president was an unqualified fool in way over his head. What did MacArthur expect to happen? So late in the month, that same April, MacArthur gave his famous retirement speech to congress (audio here) about "just fading away." And that he did.

This April, fifty-five years later, none of these generals show any sides of fading away at all. But unlike MacArthur, they don't seem to have political ambitions (MacArthur ran for president in 1952). They seem to be angry at how badly things in Iraq are going.

Do they want things to go better, or do they hope when all this is analyzed and assessed - how we took over Iraq and didn't quite manage to force the stunned Iraqis to form a secular, western-style democracy with a free-market, deregulated economy, and that was friendly to us - they won't get blamed? Or are they just angry at the waste and the death of the men they led there in good faith? Maybe it's a mix of all that.

But the note, on the four generals calling for Rumsfeld to just go away so someone who actually knew what he was doing could take over, was a note on the state of play mid-week, late Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 13th the four became six - "Two more retired generals called for Rumsfeld's resignation on Thursday. Retired Army Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld fostered an 'atmosphere of arrogance.' Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack told CNN that Rumsfeld micromanaged the war. 'We need a new secretary of defense,' he said."

Something is up. Many of course are pointing back to one of Rumsfeld's Rules, those "How to Succeed in Washington" insights that got a lot of play in early 2000 when he took his post. The one people now point to is this - "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."

That's not going to happen, as we see here -
The White House came to the aid of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday, rebuffing calls from several retired generals for his resignation and crediting him with leading the Pentagon through two wars and a transformation of the military.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing. He went on to read long quotations from the nation's top military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, praising Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism.
But what will Peter Pace say when her retires? He knows better than to say anything about his civilian boss right now. You don't trash your boss, at least publicly.

Of course no one is questioning Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism in the slightest. The problem seems to be his judgment, and his way of managing a giant organization. Perhaps Pace is being subtle, and one day will be the seventh general to say the man is useless when he's not dangerous. Or not.

There are a lot of odd dynamics here. Some might worry that having generals, even if they are retired, having some say in who the civilian boss should be, is dangerous, although this seems to be a call for just a set of minimum criteria for the job. But it's troubling. We don't want the military to run the country, do we? That's not how we do things. And, on the other hand, since the secretary of defense serves at the pleasure of the president, and does what the president wants (or what he's been told he wants), who are these generals, the workers really, to question even the details of the implementation of national policy that is set by those far above their pay grade? That's not their job. Thirdly, since the military implements the strategic decisions of the civilian leadership, for some who see the military as, obviously, the armed portion of the Republican Party, at least the neoconservative wing of the party, this is maddening. Next there will be people in the armed services, here and there, who actually vote for Democrats. As unlikely as that seemed before, there's something in the air.

What's in the air? People aren't doing what that should. In the run up to the Iraq war the administration could feed a few tidbits to their plant at the New York Times, Judy Miller, and there'd be that story about Saddam's chemical weapons, or his efforts to build a nuclear weapon or three (Miller was big mainly on the chemical thing). Cheney and Rice and Powell could then go on the Sunday talk shows and say we really, really, really had to go to war immediately - even the liberal Times was reporting on the obvious danger to us all, after all. Cool. Very clever. And the rest of the news media fell in line - the Times is the nation's most authoritative paper after all. And too, you had to report such things, or re-report them, as those who questioned some of what was said were "on the side of the terrorists" or "hated America" and all that. Investigative reporting, the examination of all the facts, was left to the foreign press, and the Knight-Ridder papers. The curious and inquisitive, who wanted to know all of what was going on, and the skeptical, and the left, ended up on the net reading The Guardian (UK) and the Philadelphia Inquirer, but you never mentioned that to your friends at work - too dangerous. And God help you if you logged onto Al Jazeera to see what they were saying about things.

But times have changed.

Now the press isn't playing along, and the planted stories are just not getting traction any longer.

Well, the evidence is meager, but there is evidence for that.

The administration seems to be beating the drum for the next war, the one where we take out Iran's nuclear sites with tactical nuclear weapons. Of course they may just be sending a "don't toy with us" massage and would never launch an unprovoked nuclear strike on a nation without nuclear weapons and still in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty they did sign, even if they do bluster a lot. But it sure feels like a repeat of the first time around, even down to the "we don't want war" and "we want a diplomatic solution" stuff. Been there, done that - got the t-shirt. Here we go again.

And the methods are the same.

Early Thursday, April 13th, if you went to Matt Drudge's site, Drudge Report, the giant headline was "Could Iran Produce A Nuclear Bomb In Just 16 Days?" Alarming, but this was the guy who broke the Monica Lewinsky story that got Clinton impeached, so he does get a scoop now and then.

Drudge's source was this, carried in Bloomberg News - Stephen Rademaker, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation (John Bolton's old job before Bolton became our UN ambassador), tells reporters in Moscow that Iran could "produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in sixteen days." All they need is 50,000 centrifuges.

Sixteen days? It must be time to use the nukes for the first time since Nagasaki. We don't want to see Tel Aviv a radioactive pile of rubble before the month is out.

So did that item get screamed across the pages of the American press?

Not exactly. Peter Baker at the Washington Post decided to look at the numbers here - Iran's big claim is that they now have a network of one hundred sixty-four centrifuges working together now, perfectly, enriching uranium to 3.5 percent. That needs to be ninety percent to be useful, and they're a tad short of equipment. Of course they do say within a year they hope to have three thousand centrifuges all humming along in harmony, and one day they may have 54,000, but in the Post Parker notes getting all 54,000 working together, perfectly synchronized, is "no small feat." So start your sixteen days when they get all that worked out.

And over at the New York Times, William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi and Joel Brinkley work on exorcizing the ghost of Judy Miller with this, saying Iran just does have the materials to build the centrifuges themselves - "It took Tehran 21 years of planning and seven years of sporadic experiments, mostly in secret, to reach its current ability to link 164 spinning centrifuges in what nuclear experts call a cascade. Now, Tehran has to achieve not only consistent results around the clock for many months and years but even higher degrees of precision and mass production. It is as if Iran, having mastered a difficult musical instrument, now faces the challenge of making thousands of them and creating a very large orchestra that always plays in tune and in unison."

You have to love the musical comparison, even if Judy Miller is probably seething.

So the press is not falling in line, at least on this one. It's details and facts this time around? Seems so.

But when you cannot use the "news" sections of the papers, you still can use the op-ed pages - there you need not deal with pesky facts. The Post editorial the same day has this - "Some in Washington cite a U.S. intelligence estimate that an Iranian bomb is 10 years away. In fact the low end of that same estimate is five years, and some independent experts say three."

No facts there. Just "be afraid, be very afraid."

The editors don't seem to read their own paper, or they know it's still not safe to seem "soft" on the bad guys by citing facts - they're worried about their circulation figures if they question this wildly popular president, or worried the White House will say bad things about them and stop giving them inside scoops? Or they still think it's 2002 or something.

They should drop by the newsroom more often and glance at the copy, and read the polling on this wildly popular president, and consider what those leaks, that great insider access, did for the reputation of their great rival, the New York Times.

But we seem to be on the path to war again, no matter what the news media do this time around. And this time we probably will use nukes, at least that was the import of the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here).

Some people are upset we'd launch a nuclear war "on speculation" and others wonder what it is with the president - all that messianic stuff and his saying he wants "to bomb Iran to secure his legacy" a legacy as the only president with the guts to stop the fundamentalist madmen for developing nuclear weapons they could use to... start a war for no good reason when they we're attacked? It seems the man is a bit dangerous. And what people say, and what the press reports with all its facts, just doesn't matter.

Here's an odd view. Matthew Yglesias thinks it's not Bush -
Rather, there's a widespread view on the American right that it's always a mistake to reach diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes. There's also a widespread view on the American right that, contra the examples of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, nuclear deterrence won't work against "crazy" leaders. At the intersection of those two opinions is the conclusion that we ought to be very, very, very, very willing to use unilateral preventative military force against countries that have nuclear weapons programs or that we merely vaguely suspect of having nuclear weapons programs. Both of those ideas are foolish and dangerously wrong, but they're also widespread - not private oddball notions of Bush's. If liberals want to push this country's foreign policy in a better direction over the next five-to-ten years, we need to attack the whole network of ideas (including a non-trivial number of ideas whose origins are inside the Democratic coalition) that gave us the Iraq War and that threaten to give us the Iran War.

Bush's poor leadership skills have made and continue to make things worse than they might otherwise be, but the basic problems here are much bigger than the man himself.
Yep, it's the whole ideology, and the Democrats too afraid to question it, for fear of losing the votes of the "we need no facts" patriots.

Digby at Hullabaloo has this -
There has been a substantial amount of brainwashing done on the American public that needs to be immediately countered. These ideas have been floated in the media as American policy for years now. It doesn't sound in the least bit jarring or inappropriate to many of the public.

... Iran is a member of the axis 'o evil. It is, therefore, already presumed to be batshit crazy and the new president has certainly helped with his holocaust denial and loony rhetoric. It will not be that difficult for Bush and his minions to transfer their earlier madman images to Iran.

The idealistic portion of the neocon fantasy has probably been discredited: creating democracy from the ground up through unilateral invasion and occupation is now seen as a non-starter by everyone but George W. Bush. But the dark side of the PNAC wet dream is alive and well. They are still convinced that there is only one way for America to maintain its hegemony (and by God it must be maintained) and that is for it to militarily dominate the world. Furthermore, they believe that they must constantly demonstrate American military might to sustain the world's belief in its overwhelming power. After out little boo-boo in Iraq, it may now be important to these people that we demonstrate our awesome, unmatched air power. Eventually a little nuke action might be necessary too. The only way to protect America from the boogeyman is to prove over and over again that we are willing and eager to use force.

We may very well have a president named John McCain after 2008, or some other Republican with a chip on his shoulder. They don't have to be card carrying neocons to buy into this notion. The Bush administration is still busily dismantling the post WWII system and Pax Americana, so far, is the only thing ready to take its place.

Democrats have a lot of good ideas, but until they develop a cogent narrative to counter the dominant neocon story, we are going to be in danger of this "madman" rhetoric rearing its ugly head every time the Republicans need a little boost in the polls or feel it's time to show some muscle and remind everyone who's in charge.
And there's Greg Saunders here -
If you're a Democrat, you might want to figure out how you're going to vote in the Iranian War Resolution of 2006. "What war resolution?" you might ask, but don't be so naive. We all know that from a marketing standpoint you don't introduce a new product in August... I mean, April. Right now we're in the viral part of the marketing campaign. Just like you can't sell floor cleaner to someone who doesn't think they have a dirty floor, you're not going to convince people to nuke Iran without making an argument that they've got it coming.

Seriously, how would Democrats respond to a use of force resolution against Iran? The obvious answer would be to oppose it on the grounds that the Bush Administration has already shown itself to be dishonest and incompetent with Iraq, but do the Democrats in D.C. have the guts to vote against a war resolution, especially when it concerns a country that, in contrast to Saddam Hussein's caginess, is openly flaunting its nuclear technology? Considering that it was a Democratic Senate that gave Bush the authorization to invade Iraq in 2002, I have my doubts about whether the current slate would be willing to risk looking weak on national security in order to do the right thing.

Things look peachy for the Democrats right now, seven months out from the midterm elections, but let's not confuse disgust with the GOP with an infatuation for Dems. Even now with all of the troubles the GOP has had, I'd be willing to bet they're a scare tactic away from regaining their strength in the polls. If the Democrats want to win in November, they need to start connecting the dots for the American people before they get put on the spot. It's not enough to wring your hands in public and hope for the best, you've got to make the case again and again that Republicans are wrong for the country and that they can't be trusted with another war. If you must, make jokes like "The Bush Administration wants to bring their Hurricane Katrina style of leadership to Iran," but do something. Please.
Why not? The press is waking up. And the polling shows this next war will be a hard sell. The public isn't buying the scare tactics this time - this will have to be really, really scary this time around.

It might be time to slow this all down.

You might check out "William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security" in the Post with his latest -
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been conducting theater campaign analysis for a full scale war with Iran since at least May 2003, responding to Pentagon directions to prepare for potential operations in the "near term."

The campaign analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," posits an Iraq-like maneuver war between U.S. and Iranian ground forces and incorporates lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the TIRANNT effort and the Marine Corps Karona invasion scenario I discussed yesterday, the military has also completed an analysis of Iran's missile force (the "BMD-I" study), the Defense Intelligence Agency has updated "threat data" for Iranian forces, and Air Force planners have modeled attacks against "real world" Iranian air defenses and targets to establish new metrics. What is more, the United States and Britain have been conducting war games and contingency planning under a Caspian Sea scenario that could also pave the way for northern operations against Iran.

... The President of the United States insists that all options are on the table while the Secretary of Defense insists it "isn't useful" to discuss American options.

... I think this sends the wrong message to Tehran. ...The United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking. It is not in our interests to have Tehran not understand this.
And there's this - on the orders of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and bypassing the State Department (pissing them off no end), the terrorist group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is being used for special ops in Iran to pave the way for a military strike.
According to all three intelligence sources, military and intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world - including US civilian and military casualties - Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran strike.

"They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all," one intelligence source said.
There's much more here, but the game is afoot. And the press may be changing sides, and the generals too, and maybe even one or two Democrats.

It's the realists versus the idealists. This time it may be a fair fight.

Posted by Alan at 22:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006 22:57 PDT home

Tuesday, 4 April 2006
Instant Oblivion, Texas Style
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Instant Oblivion, Texas Style

Thoughts for the day -

"A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand." - Bertrand Russell

"I never know how much of what I say is true." - Bette Midler

Well, he's gone. Tom Delay. How odd. The news broke Monday the 3rd, as he decided to tell Tweety Bird, which would be Chris Matthews, the hyperactive (near-manic) talk show host on MSNBC, and gave Time Magazine an exclusive interview.

Knight-Ridder follows up -
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Tuesday voluntarily relinquished his hold on the House seat that he has held for 21 years, dismantling a political career that was laced with conservative triumphs but ultimately overshadowed by scandal.

In a televised statement to constituents, the Houston-area lawmaker announced his intentions to resign as representative of the 22nd congressional district, abruptly ending his re-election campaign against Democratic challenger Nick Lampson.

"I have no regrets today and no doubts," said DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, Texas. "I am proud of the past. I am at peace with the present, and I'm excited about the future."

The resignation, which is expected to take effect in late May or early June, comes amid a burgeoning scandal around disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who had close ties to DeLay's leadership office. Two former DeLay aides have pleaded guilty to corruption charges growing out of the Abramoff investigation.

DeLay, who also remains under indictment in Travis County, Texas, on money-laundering charges, repeated previous assertions that he has committed no wrongdoing but said that he was withdrawing from his re-election bid because the contest had become "a referendum on me."
Whatever. As Jack Cafferty said to Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Situation Room - "Wolf all the tough talk was reduced to, 'I quit!' To borrow a phrase from Roberto Duran, 'No Mas.' Mr. Delay suddenly became another disgraced public servant who couldn't take the heat. He would strut around on capitol hill like a cocky little, bandy rooster, but today he slithered away from Congress..." (See the CNN video here.)

And midday Tuesday this was in the email bin -
Subject: Since you've linked to me before -

For which I'm grateful. I send along my latest on Tom DeLay:

John Dickerson
Chief Political Correspondent
Slate Magazine
His phone numbers were also appended, but you don't want to call him, do you? In any event Exterminate Thyself: Decoding Tom DeLay's Exit Interview, is just fine, if you want to read an excellent analysis of self-righteous whining. But it's over.

On the other hand, this paragraph leaps out -
Jesus is my political strategist. After he was indicted on conspiracy and money-laundering charges, DeLay smiled like a choirboy for his mug shot. The move was a political masterstroke since the picture looked better than many of his official photographs. But DeLay explains that his smile wasn't motivated by politics at all. He was wrapped in Christ. "I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint thing, and the picture. And my prayer was basically: 'Let people see Christ through me. And let me smile.' Now, when they took the shot, from my side, I thought it was the fakiest smile I'd ever given. But through the camera, it was glowing. I mean, it had the right impact." So, the impact of the picture was that people would see the humility, forgiveness and generosity of Christ? Perhaps, but DeLay explains that by "right impact," he means the picture allowed him to shove it in his opponent's kazoo. "Poor old left couldn't use [the picture] at all. They had all kind of things planned, they'd spent a lot of money. It made me feel kind of good that all those plans went down the toilet." Usually when Christ and the commode are used in back-to-back sentences, social conservatives mount a protest.
They didn't. He's their man. There was that late March thing, radio commentator Rick Scarborough convened a two-day conference in Washington on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." As noted last week, DeLay was a keynote speaker and Tony Perkins was on television saying Delay had been charged and indicted because he was too Christian for evil people who run the country and want to destroy Christianity. Many of us have no idea who these people are, but the idea is they're everywhere. Drop a line if you find any such people.

But as the Washington Post noted, this Christian Right leader Rick Scarborough said DeLay was a real martyr and "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion." (You could look it up here. The Post here notes that earlier Scarborough had told the Family Research Council last year that attacks on DeLay were actually "a huge, nationwide, concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."

You see how this is shaping up - a noble warrior has lost the battle but the war goes on.

There are histories of his rise and fall all over the press and the net, with speculation and what's next for the guy. Lobbying for the Christian Right? Being "the man behind" American conservatism pulling the strings? Who knows?

Note this from Andrew Sullivan -
Tom DeLay's resignation from elective politics, barely a year and a half after the triumphant Republican re-election campaign of 2004, is a remarkable fall from grace. It happened because the bankruptcy of contemporary Republicanism is increasingly unmissable. And it happened because of obvious corruption, sleaze and a complete lack of broad public appeal. DeLay's skills were not retail; they were back-door: the schemes and deals and handshakes that are inextricable from effective government but not pretty in daylight. DeLay took that ruthlessness too far, got exposed, and now fairly taints the GOP's broad national image. It's probably good news for the Republicans in the short term. They get some time to distance themselves from the architect of their Congressional hegemony. But he was the architect, as integral to contemporary Republicanism as Karl Rove; and the product of the same Southern/Texan Christianist movement that has turned the Republican party into a religious sect, with some business interests along for the ride.
That'll do. And although you get things like this - DeLay's Retirement Good News for House GOP - the question is, having shed this albatross, will the American public decide the Republicans have cleaned up their act and they are the party, now, of clean government?

Probably not. And too, this was the man who rode herd on the House voting a got the president's work done - the tax cuts, the Medicare prescription program in its pro-pharmaceutical form and all the other legislation. Who will be there to twist arms, to threaten, to hold out "inducements" and all the rest? The hammer is gone.

What just happened is a major political event, and why it happened and what it shows is all over the media. Not here.

What's next? Too much is going on to be concerned with this guy. The left may gloat, and the right be sad, or angry, or contemplative or anything at all. It doesn't matter.

Think about the big shot at work who leaves the company or retires. You have a nice lunch and folks say a few things, and an hour later you're back at your desk dealing with the next crisis and he's forgotten. There's work to do. And within a day or two it's as if he never existed.

Move on.

There are big things afoot.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has some finds.

See Fool Me Twice by Joseph Cirincione in Foreign Policy (registration required). It contains this - "For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran."

And the Brits are aboard, pretty much, as the Telegraph (UK) reports here -
It is believed that an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, is "inevitable" if Teheran's leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.

... A senior Foreign Office source said... "If Iran makes another strategic mistake, such as ignoring demands by the UN or future resolutions, then the thinking among the chiefs is that military action could be taken to bring an end to the crisis. The belief in some areas of Whitehall is that an attack is now all but inevitable."

When that first appeared in the Telegraph you might have dismissed it. The UK papers are full of "advocacy journalism" - solid facts but presented to make a point. And the Telegraph used to be Conrad Black's paper, the Canadian right-wing nut, buddies with Richard Perle and that crowd (see Lord Black And His Pearl from December 28, 2003), so perhaps this is just wishful thinking. But Lord Black is long gone from that British paper, sued six ways from Sunday for using his press holdings as a personal piggy bank. And who knows where the paper stands now? But Foreign Policy too?

Drum - "There's no question that the administration is already preparing the ground for an air strike on Iran, but it's likely that the real push won't come until late summer when it can be used as a cudgel in the midterm elections. Same song, new verse."

Like Tom DeLay matters now?

A new war? A chance for a regional war? A chance to further enrage the nations of the Middle East? Cool.

And the war we've got going is going so well, as Associated Press reports here late on the 4th - "BAGHDAD, Iraq - An Iraqi vice president called Tuesday for the embattled Shiite prime minister to step aside so a new government can be formed, becoming the most senior Shiite official publicly to endorse demands for a leadership change to halt the slide toward civil war."

Earlier in the Guardian (UK) there was this - "Iraq's embattled prime minister has defiantly refused to give up his claim to head the country's next government... In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Baghdad - his first since Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw pleaded with him and his rivals for an immediate agreement to prevent a slide to civil war - Ibrahim Jaafari insisted he would continue to carry out his duties."

Current US casualty count 2,343 dead, for this.

Last week Newt Gingrich had a suggestion for a simple slogan the Democrats could use to sweep to power - "Had enough?"

Maybe. The New York Times on Wednesday, April 5, prints this, an op-ed item by John Kerry -
So far, Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlines - a deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government, and a deadline to hold three elections.

Now we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get Iraq up on its own two feet.

Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.

If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will empower the new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running their own country and undermine support for the insurgency, which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who want us to leave their country. Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain.
The item carries the title, "Two Deadlines and an Exit" - straightforward, and the sort of "tough love" the Republican moralists like Bill Bennett love to chat up. Get your act together or we're outta there now. And if you do get your act together, we're out at the end of the year. Enough is enough. Grow up.

Well, it's more of a plan than the administration has ever presented, even if not in PowerPoint. The administration's plan is to win, but they cannot or will not define what winning would look like.

This? Winning is getting a stable government in place there, an elected one and something like a democracy of sorts. So get it done, and if you can't, we're not picking sides in a multi-decade civil war, just for the fun of it. Kerry took Gingrich to heart.

So the president says we'll be there until we "win" - and no one knows what that even means any longer. And Kerry says "whatever" and presents this, what some might think a competent leader might propose, something concrete and says we're not going to be jerked around any longer. And it turns the tables on the president, who now looks weak and trapped by the feuding factions who are fighting for power in Iraq, pretty much ignoring what the administration wants. Who has the brass balls now?

Well, the ridicule of Kerry will start anew, exposing him again as an opportunistic coward in Vietnam, not the jet fighter ace that Bush was in the same war. We'll see if that works again.

But with Iran to bomb if not invade and occupy, and Iraq without a government and too inward-turned and self-absorbed to care what the United States wants, or even says, the fall of Tom DeLay already seems, twenty-four hours out, a curious footnote to history.

Kerry has nothing to say about DeLay. What would be the point? There's work to do, and things to fix.

It was a science story that ran late on April fourth, as the Kerry plan hit the wires, and not a political story about Tom DeLay at all, but someone has a sense of humor over at Associated Press with this - New Dinosaur Resembles Large Turkey - "Fossils discovered in southern Utah are from a new species of birdlike dinosaur that resembled a 7-foot-tall brightly colored turkey and could run up to 25 mph..."

Hagryphus giganteus? That's the name, not Tom DeLay.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006 07:33 PDT home

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