Friday, October 29, 2004

Round Two

Blogger Praktike is keeping tabs on the back and forth public debate between neoconservative thinkers Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer, which I have cited frequently in this space.

His critique of Krauthammer's most recent argument is well worth the read, as are the other articles he cites.

If It Were Only This Easy Everywhere

I have a little confession to make. It is easier for me to perform my civic duty than probably 99.9% of Americans. The reason being: my particular election day polling station happens to be in the lobby of the apartment building I call home. All I have to do is stop off at the station on my way to work, flash my ID, sign the book, step into the booth, flip the switches and pull the lever. It's that easy. Better still, from this position of comfort, I can sanctimoniously lecture other Americans, for whom voting might represent much more of a disruption from their otherwise busy day, about the virtues of casting a ballot on election day.

In an effort to capitalize on the inconvenience factor, apparently, certain Republican operatives have circulated plans to create "snarls" at polling stations by frequently challenging credentials of potential voters in certain Democratic-friendly neighborhoods in swing states in order to increase the size of lines. They are banking on the fact that voters will be too busy, or discouraged, to wait around long enough to cast their ballot. Call it disenfranchisement by delay. Which reminds me how ludicrous it is that the world's greatest democracy does not consider election day to be worthy of consideration for a national holiday - which would allow voters the luxury of taking time out to vote without interfering with their livelihoods.

So, I got a little jolt of excitement as I returned home from the office yesterday to see those two metal encased booths closed tight in my lobby, like presents waiting to be opened by an eager child on Christmas morning. I openly admit that I am a bit obsessed with all things political, and not everyone would have this reaction to the presence of voting booths - but humor me. I also felt a sense of security because these two machines represent "old reliable" to me, especially in light of Florida 2000, and all the recent "glitches" that the dubiously effective electronic voting machines have been experiencing, as reported by
Mick Arran and others. I am confident that when I take the time to pull the lever on Tuesday morning on my way to the subway, my vote will count. Not every American can share such assuredness or convenience. If it were only this easy everywhere.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Strength Is In The Results

In a recent post, I briefly discussed the phenomenon that Americans tend to view violence as a manifestation of strength. This of course is almost the opposite of what is true - violence is the act of a desperate, threatened and frightened being, believing that no other recourse exists. It is also one of the least effective means of achieving the desired outcome. Violence begets violence, a cycle of revenge, and a poisonous atmosphere not conducive to the resolution of conflicts. As an example, compare the approaches of leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King with the recently infirmed Yasser Arafat. It is hard to argue with the comparative results.

In foreign policy terms, this concept is translated into the belief that being "strong" on issues of national security means possessing a hawkish willingness to use the military over "weaker" diplomatic options. Again, this interpretation is misguided and exclusionary of the vast amount of evidence detailing the enormous successes of diplomacy. Despite all the public bluster and macho image, the "strongest" thing that Reagan ever did was agree to engage Mikhail Gorbachev in a paradigm shifting series of summits that culminated in the end of the Cold War.

Building on the success of this approach with the former Soviet Union, American foreign policy has made great strides with other erstwhile enemies like China, Vietnam and many of the nations of Easter Europe. By opening diplomatic ties, and establishing an economic and cultural exchange, we have helped to spur the democratic progress in countries that were previously entrenched in Communist totalitarianism.

Ironically, as I
have argued before, we have taken the obsolete belligerent posture with Cuba, and have thus strengthened the hand of the intractable Castro. Instead of weakening his control over thought and ideas through economic and cultural relations, we have consolidated his grip on power by cutting off the Cuban people from our sphere of influence. Our policy vis a vis Cuba has more to do with the desires of a single issue voting bloc in Florida than on the accepted wisdom of the strategy of engagement.

There are obviously scenarios that call for military action, but such situations are not laudable for the strength they afford the actors. Military might is an example of a breakdown in diplomacy, a failure of better means, and the loss of options. The dearth of viable alternatives is a weakness, not a strength, because wars almost always have unintended consequences that spiral out of the control of the primary actors. Lack of choice and lack of control are the realities, strength is the illusion.

Iraq is the perfect example of the limitations, risks and weakness of elective warfare. Far from securing our objectives through this display of strength, we have hindered our progress on almost every front. Instead of dealing a blow to al-Qaeda, we have improved their position, influence, recruitment, popularity and appeal. Instead of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East, we have undermined the reformers and moderates, while strengthening the hand of the fundamentalists and zealots. We ourselves have lost much respect and esteem.

Recent revelations about looting at nuclear facilities and weapons depots bring home the realization that dangerous materials that were under seal prior to the invasion, are now dispersed to unknown locations and could end up in the hands of terrorists in an unfortunate twist of irony.

Contrary to the claims by certain Bush supporters, our involvement in Iraq has not served as a deterrent or warning to other regimes - in fact it has exposed the limitations of our manpower, economic capacity, and ability to control and pacify a target country. Instead of retreating in fear, Iran is emboldened by the knowledge that we could never attack them at this juncture. In essence, we squandered the perception of our strength fostered by the lightning quick toppling of the Taliban accomplished through minimal ground presence and use of resources. Now we look like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians.

Finally, despite the claims by
certain right-leaning bloggers, Iraq did not help us regain "the geopolitical momentum," nor is a policy of shaking things up in as volatile a region as the Middle East a wise approach. War has a way of triggering events beyond what is intended, and attempting to stir the pot in such a manner is ill advised if not foolhardy.

Given this track record of over-eager hawkishness, it is understandable why
many are not as sanguine as Gregory Djerejian about the future makeup of a potential second term George Bush foreign policy apparatus. Middle East expert Ronald Bruce St John made the following observations of current Bush policy in terms of pursuing diplomatic solutions to problems:

The Bush administration does not appear to have learned any lessons from the Iraq imbroglio. The White House is now busy pursuing the same bellicose policies in Iran and Syria that led to the invasion of Iraq. While some commentators argue that the results of the Iraq War invalidate the preemptive strike strategy, this may prove to be more a reflection of wishful thinking than of Bush administration practice...

The Bush administration's current policy toward Iran, like its policy toward Syria, mixes condemnation, threat, and intimidation. The overall aim of the policy is isolation, not engagement.
As I pointed out above, the lessons of the past half a century lean strongly in favor of engagement over isolation, negotiation over brinksmanship. Communism is undermined by the exchange of commerce, ideas and ideology. Similarly, sensitive foreign policy aims should be pursued vigorously in such a manner, saving the more war-like tactics for the last resort.

The recent breakthrough signified by Libya's agreement to abandon its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction is the quintessential example of the success of the diplomatic approach of negotiation and engagement over military action. Under the pressure of sanctions, Libya has inched closer to the world community over the past 15 years, including, among other things, renouncing terrorism and accepting the role of its operatives in the Pan Am 103 bombing.

The prolonged negotiations which eventually led Libya in December 2003 to renounce unconventional weapons of its own "free will" offer a more productive model for dialogue with Iran and Syria than the "take no prisoner" approach being pursued by the Bush administration. Talks with Libya began in mid-1999 at a time when the United States was indicating it sought policy change but not regime change in Libya. In this initial stage, the involved parties agreed to tone down the rhetoric and begin a meaningful dialogue in pursuit of a step-by-step process.

These early negotiations with Libya were based from the outset on an explicit quid pro quo as Ambassador Martin Indyk, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who opened talks with Libya in mid-1999, later indicated in a Washington Post op-ed article. The talks aimed at Libya satisfying all of its obligations under applicable UN resolutions and were predicated on two conditions: Libyan agreement both to keep the negotiations quiet and to cease lobbying to have the UN sanctions permanently lifted. The Clinton administration elected not to pursue the unconventional weapons question at this time because its priority remained resolution of the Pan Am flight 103 issue.

As the prolonged negotiations with Libya suggest, the United States needs to engage Iran and Syria on a broad range of interrelated issues, taking one step at a time. Narrow contact on the highly charged nuclear issue in the case of Iran or Syria's occupation of Lebanon, tied to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and Israel-Syria peace talks, is unlikely to work. On the contrary, Washington needs to engage Teheran on a basket of related issues, like Iranian fears of regime destabilization, a regional security architecture that includes Iran and its neighbors, and Iranian support for radical groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. In turn, U.S. talks with Syria need to expand to include border and water issues with Israel and support for militant Palestinian groups as well as alleged unconventional weapons programs, support in stabilizing Iraq, and ongoing cooperation in the war on terrorism.
But the Bush administration seems bent on using the rhetoric of isolation to support the stature of disengagement. Far from a change in strategy from the handling of Iraq, the Bush administration seems intent to travel the same path, as evidenced by statements made by senior officials as recently as two months ago.

In a Hudson Institute speech on August 17, 2004, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton said "Iran's actions and statements do not bode well for the success of a negotiated approach to dealing with this issue." He then quoted National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice who had remarked two weeks earlier on Fox News: "The Iranians have been trouble for a very long time. And it's one reason that this regime has to be isolated in its bad behavior, not quote-unquote 'engaged'." Not surprisingly, the Bush administration's approach sparked a strong reaction from Iran, prompting more bellicose rhetoric all around.[emphasis added]
As St John points out, the issues entangled with Iran and Syria are not insignificant, nor do they require light treatment. Military options might be required at a certain point in time, but only after an exhaustive attempt to explore other options. That effort is lacking.

This is not to suggest that many of the policies of both Iran and Syria are not cause for concern. Damascus needs to withdraw from Lebanon, cooperate in the stabilization of Iraq, support the war on terrorism, abandon alleged unconventional weapons programs, and cease its support for militant Palestinian groups. Syria should also be encouraged to pursue much needed domestic economic and political reforms.

Teheran needs to cooperate in the stabilization of Iraq, support the war on terrorism, and abandon any unconventional weapons programs. Most especially, any Iranian efforts to build a nuclear weapon must be stopped. Consequently, its recent announcement that it intends to process 37 metric tons of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride is a special concern. Uranium hexafluoride, when spun in centrifuges, produces enriched uranium which can be used both to generate power and to make nuclear warheads. This issue of enrichment is a highly sensitive one for an international community seeking to determine if Iran is using its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, as Teheran insists, or building nuclear weapons, as the United States maintains.

There is general agreement on the need for policy change in Damascus and Teheran. The contentious issue is how best to encourage and foster the desired change. Reminiscent of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has been strong on rhetoric but absent a comprehensive, coherent plan to shape future events in either Iran or Syria. The United States has also failed, once again, to secure the full coordination and support of interested allies, like France, Germany, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.
Just like the invasion of Iraq itself, our current policy posture with respect to Iran and Syria is having the opposite effect of what is intended. Far from bringing these two nations closer to meeting our demands, we are increasing the resistance. This is not an encouraging sign in light of the many assurances these days that the Bush team has realized the error of their ways and are on the verge of a major transformation in worldview.

The Bush administration seems intent on polishing its macho image in the final weeks before the November presidential elections. Occasional reports of a lack of policy consensus within the administration on either Iran or Syria, which might suggest future room for engagement, lack credible foundation. White House policies toward both Iran and Syria, reflecting a failure to learn from the Iraqi experience, remain closely tied to Israeli interests in the region, specifically its policy of not allowing any Middle East neighbor to challenge its nuclear monopoly.

Where a process of engagement with Tripoli led to its renouncing unconventional weapons and rejoining the international community with no loss of life, Washington's belligerent policy of isolation is provoking the opposite reaction in Damascus and Teheran. Both states have hunkered down under the verbal onslaught from the White House and shown little inclination or ability to cooperate on Washington's terms. Unfortunately, if such pre-election antics prove a reliable guide, meaningful dialogue with either Damascus or Teheran would also appear unlikely in a second Bush administration. That brings us to the frightening prospect of a return to the Bush Doctrine and its preemptive strike strategy if President Bush is reelected.

Strength truly lies in the results of one's policies, not their tendency to include violence and warfare. This is one lesson that the Bush team does not seem to get.

A Curious Defense

The Bush campaign, and the right-wing punditry, has been scrambling to perform some last minute damage control over the debacle of the missing 380 tons of high grade explosives from the infamous Al Qaqaa weapons cache in Iraq. The underlying logic of the defensive maneuvers is curious to me because I believe that it, in itself, admits the weaknesses of the Bush presidency.

When the story
first broke, there was speculation that the site had been looted in the aftermath of the invasion. Since then, the exact timeline of when the materials disappeared from the site has become a vaguer issue. Today's New York Times reported:

The last time that international inspectors saw the explosives was in early March 2003, days before the American-led invasion. It is possible, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency say, that Saddam Hussein's forces may have tried to move the material out of the 10 huge bunkers at the Al Qaqaa facility where it was stored to save it if the facility was bombed.
President Bush was quick to seize on this uncertainty in a campaign appearance yesterday:

"One of [Kerry's] top foreign policy advisors admits he doesn't know the facts," Mr. Bush said. "He said, 'I don't know the truth.'
Bush is right to some degree. No one can be certain when the explosives disappeared, but that fact alone condemns Bush's leadership as commander in chief, and Donald Rumsfeld's as Secretary of Defense. The reason Bush can claim this uncertainty is precisely because he failed to send troops to secure the site immediately after the invasion. This should have been done with all haste, considering what was known about the Al Qaqaa facility. If he had sent troops to secure the site, as any competent commander concerned with so dangerous an arsenal would have, then we would know when the materials disappeared. We could say definitively that they were spirited out before our arrival, or we would have the material under lock and key today. Because Bush failed to direct his forces to this site, he can now plead ignorance as his defense. That is not exculpatory.

The Bush campaign and the right-wing punditry is also trying, speciously, to claim that troops were sent to secure the site, pointing out that a brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, with an embedded NBC reporter present, went to Al Qaqaa soon after the fighting began. Unfortunately, that was little more than a pit stop on the way to Baghdad, and the commander of those troops was not briefed or instructed as to the significance of Al Qaqaa.

The commander of the troops that went into the Al Qaqaa facility on the way to Baghdad in early April, Col. Joseph Anderson, of the Second Brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, has said he was never told the site was considered sensitive, or that international inspectors had visited it before the war began.
That he was never told of the known contents of the bunkers at Al Qaqaa is, as Andrew Sullivan and Gregory Djerejian put it, "criminal negligence" of the highest order. Unfortunately, under Bush's leadership, this is not the only sensitive facility in Iraq to be left unguarded post-invasion. There was also the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center that was picked clean by looters who carried off radioactive material that could wind up as the basis for a dirty bomb. The pattern is the same: the facility had been contained and monitored by international inspectors for years, the Bush administration (and all interested parties) were well aware of the contents of the site and the dangers they posed, yet inexplicably, the site was left unguarded.

Considering that this war was justified on the grounds that Saddam could pass dangerous materials on to terrorists, I think that protecting these sites from looting should have been the absolute top priority. The reasons for the failure probably lie in Donald Rumsfeld's folly. His insistence on using the minimum amount of troops necessary, against the advice of the Army War College, State Department, and even the Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki, amongst a chorus of other voices, has had far reaching and devastating ramifications. The failure of his leadership in this regard, and that of the President's, his boss, is evident in the chaotic and unraveling situation in Iraq.

Which brings me to the second part of Bush's countermeasures. In typical Bush fashion, he refuses to take any responsibility for his actions, and in the process accuses Kerry of the very crime he is guilty of. Bush had this to say about Kerry's remarks concerning the missing explosives:

"The senator is denigrating the actions of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts."

"You might remember that - he kept repeating that in the debates," Mr. Bush said at the Hancock County Fairgrounds in Findlay, Ohio. "Well, this is unjustified criticism of our military commanders in the field. This is the kind of, worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking."
Think about that statement for a moment. Bush is attributing the decision to leave those sites unguarded to the military, the men and women in uniform. Bush is blaming the military again for his mistakes, and then claiming it is Kerry who is committing such heresy. Kerry is saying no such thing. He, rightly, blames Bush's leadership and that of his closest advisors. Bush, once again, points his finger at the military as if he has no part in their operation - a victim of circumstances.

Rmember, this is the same man who boasted about being a "war time president." This is the same man who claims that his leadership in war is what qualifies him for being president, and makes his opponent and unacceptable option. Well Mr. President, aren't you the commander in chief? Doesn't the buck stop with you? Are you only a war time president for photo ops, or are you really an engaged commander? At the very least, don't you think Donald Rumsfeld should lose his job for yet another example of failure? It wasn't a strategic decision by commanders in the field to leave these sites unguarded, it was a failure of senior leadership in the administration make this a priority, and to inform the commanders, like Col. Joseph Anderson, that Al Qaqaa was an important site that needed to be guarded.

[Update: Josh Marshall is diligently running down the many different versions of events surrounding the Al Qaqaa saga emanating from the White House and the right-wing punditry. He's getting quite a workout considering that they are floating a new rendition daily - if not more frequently. One such recent twist is the abandonment of the story of the NBC accompanied visit of the 101st Airborne that I cited above. I guess Col. Joseph Anderson's statement made that narrative a non-starter. Now they are floating a story about an even earlier visit by American troops, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division appearance at Al Qaqaa on April 3rd (the NBC visit was on the 10th of April). Unfortunately for the Bush administration, the commander of that force is, again, on record contradicting the White House's claims:

Col. Dave Perkins, then the commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said the immediate concern when his troops reached the Al Qaqaa site on April 3, 2003, was to defeat a couple of hundred Iraqi troops who were firing from the compound as the Americans surged toward Baghdad...

Perkins said the key concern at the time was whether there were any weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons, and that a white powdery substance found at the site proved to be a WMD false alarm.
Perkins' account is consistent with news accounts written at the time. Quoting Josh Marshall, himself quoting from the Washington Post article:

In the first of yesterday's discoveries, the 3rd Infantry Division entered the vast Qa Qaa chemical and explosives production plant and came across thousands of vials of white powder, packed three to a box. The engineers also found stocks of atropine and pralidoxime, also known as 2-PAM chloride, which can be used to treat exposure to nerve agents but is also used to treat poisoning by organic phosphorus pesticides. Alongside those materials were documents written in Arabic that, as interpreted at the scene, appeared to include discussions of chemical warfare.

This morning, however, investigators said initial tests indicated the white powder was not a component of a chemical weapon. "On first analysis it does not appear to be a chemical that could be used in a chemical weapons attack," Col. John Peabody, commander of the division's engineering brigade, told a Reuters reporter with his unit.
And what was the white powder? Here's what the Associated Press was told the same day ...

A senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the powder was believed to be explosives. The finding would be consistent with the plant's stated production capabilities in the field of basic raw materials for explosives and propellants.
RDX and HMX are white powders.
So, to recap, we have a military unit at Al Qaqaa on April 3rd, who were primarily concerned with fighting Iraqi soldiers and looking for WMDs, who then conducted a test for biological and chemical weapons and found none. They did find a white powder believed to be explosives, and we know that RDX and HMX are white powders. Is this the best the White House could come up with? This is starting to look bad. This story actually makes it look like at least some quantity of the explosives were in fact at the site post-invasion, giving credence to the looting theory. Marshall provides further support for the looting theory, as well as a refutation of another White House argument. In response to the claim that the looting would have required a convoy of trucks, and that these could not have been using the roads after the invasion, Marshall quotes David Kay:

I must say, I find it hard to believe that a convoy of 40 to 60 trucks left that facility prior to or during the war, and we didn't spot it on satellite or UAV. That is, because it is the main road to Baghdad from the south, was a road that was constantly under surveillance. I also don't find it hard to believe that looters could carry it off in the dead of night or during the day and not use the road network.[italics added]
I think the Bush administration is starting to overreach on this one. This could get interesting.]

[Update II: Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom links to a site with some pictures from Al Qaqaa taken by embedded journalists with the 101st Airborne. While certainly not conclusive evidence that the explosives were there after the fall of Saddam, it doesn't exactly look good either.]

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Academic Freedom Fighters, Part II

A few weeks back I called attention to a movement taking place on college campuses nationwide that amounts to a form of neo-McCarthyism against professors and faculty. The movement, spearheaded by conservative pundit and think tank veteran David Horowitz, is based largely on the Orwellian sounding Academic Bill of Rights and Student Bill of Rights. These innocuous sounding manifestos are not just theoretical mandates, they form the backbone of legislation that is being introduced in most state legislatures across the country at this very moment, in addition to the US House of Representatives - and they are anything but harmless.

The main thrust of the legislation is to mandate hiring practices at universities that result in an even split of Democrats and Republicans, as well as some other measures that serve to stifle discussion in the classroom that students could perceive as advocating a certain partisan view. The details of how the legislation operates is much more nefarious - especially when you consider the evidence that Horowitz used/created in order to justify such measures in the first place.

Apart from the legislative efforts, Horowitz has been encouraging students to take matters into their own hands, providing instructions for spotting "liberal" professors and targeting them for elimination.

Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom provides students with a manual that gives an example of a poster asking, "Is Your Professor Using the Classroom as a Political Soapbox?" The manual also provides "advice on how to create Web sites, get publicity, file complaints, and spot abuses of academic freedom, such as using university funds to hold one-sided, partisan conferences, and inviting speakers to campus from one side of the political spectrum."
The long term effects of Horwotiz's campaign will be catastrophic if not curbed. The real danger is that excellence in academic and scholarly pursuits would be subsumed to partisan beliefs. We would sacrifice much in terms of rewarding achievement and individual prowess in order to create this bizarre sense of balance, by obliging this modern day witch hunt. America would soon lose its position of dominance in the realm of higher education because our standards for scholarship will have shifted from a measurement of competence to an assessment of political affiliation. We would no longer attract the best and the brightest from around the world, both among students and teachers, because our system would be so saddled with illogical and backwards permutations.

I will not provide a full accounting of the background of this movement, or the parameters of the problems we face, in this post because I have done so already in
my prior piece. What I do want to do, is call attention to two examples of Horowitz's brainchild in action that have recently come to my attention.

Two of the campaign's first victims are Ball State's Professor Alves and David Gibbs, an Associate professor of History and Sociology at the University of Arizona, who last spring taught a course entitled "What is Politics?"

On the Ball State University campus, posters "announcing that history professor Abel Alves was 'WANTED'" was put up by Amanda Carpenter, a senior, who said she put up the posters in order to attract attention to her website, the Muncie, Indiana Star Press reported. The professor's "alleged offenses include indoctrinating freshmen with liberal books, such as Fast Food Nation, and guest lectures by the Humane Society."
The use of the "wanted" poster connotes some type of criminality on the part of the professor, but in truth, the attention that professors like Abel Alves have received has been criminal in nature. It is not unusual for a professor so targeted to receive death threats and threats of violence, in addition to coordinated campaigns aimed at depriving the professor of his or her livelihood. The next example is of Associate Professor David Gibbs:

On September 27, David Gibbs told Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now! that his largely freshmen class "focuses on propaganda and deception," and he "emphasize[s] incidents of the government lying and things like that." When he taught the class last spring, "the Independent Women's Forum... put into the local student newspaper, an advertisement that basically argued that there's a kind of left wing domination of the universities and students should fight that with the strong implication they should monitor their professors and report them, at least that's how I read it."

When Gibbs received student evaluations, "a student who said I'm anti-American communist who hates America and is trying to brainwash young people into thinking that America sucks," said that "I should be investigated by the FBI, and the FBI has been contacted."

Later on, "another student on a web log during the summer said he took my class and also said that he didn't like my politics and suggests that students shouldn't take my class but should drop by and try to disrupt it. There have been a number of instances like that which I hadn't had before."

Although Gibbs said that he wasn't sure or worried about whether the FBI was contacted, he acknowledged that he thought it was "indicative of a larger national trend, which is conservative activist groups with lots of money and connections to the Republican Party trying to encourage and even to some extent orchestrate students and local conservative groups like those at the University of Arizona to go and basically harass faculty if they don't like their politics."
Other examples abound, and in many instances, the threats and intimidation tactics extend to the professor's spouse and extended family. This represents a pernicious strain of political thought and action that has been slowly gaining momentum on the political right in this country, and it is beyond disturbing. While Horowitz himself has publicly condemned such extreme actions, he notes, "When you deal with students, you're dealing with students." He seems to acknowledge that students are prone take these ideas too far, but that hasn't caused him any pause for concern. He knows what he is doing when he instructs students how to take matters into their own hands, and he is well aware of what his movement is seeking to achieve. Victory at all costs always trumps the means. But victory for Horowitz and his minions means defeat for America's standing in the world, as well as the degradation of our educational backbone that supports so many other aspects of our society.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Slim Came Out Of The Shade

Now I'm not the biggest Eminem fan in the world. To be honest, I think he is pretty overrated, and I have stated as much before. That being said, he is starting to win me over. He has just released a scathing rant against George Bush that shocked me by its forcefulness entitled Mosh. At one point in the song, Eminem actually refers to Bush as a "weapon of mass destruction." Obviously, his irreverence is in full force.

Juan Cole had this to say about the politicization of Slim Shady:

I don't know what Marshall Mathers's politics are. But I do know that they could be of consequence for the youth vote, and his loud pleas for everyone to vote may also have an impact at the margins (this election is about the margins).

That he is issuing a song, Mosh, which directly attacks Bush on the Iraq war may be a sign of the times:

Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell/
We gonna let him know/
Stomp, push, shove, mush, fuck Bush!/
Until they bring our troops home...

Let the president answer on higher anarchy/
Strap him with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war/
Let him impress daddy that way...No more blood for oil.
In a forthcoming Rolling Stone interview, Mathers says:

"[Bush] has been painted to be this hero, and he's got our troops over there dying for no reason...I think he started a mess...He jumped the gun, and he fucked up so bad he doesn't know what to do right now...We got young people over there dyin', kids in their teens, early twenties that should have futures ahead of them. And for what? It seems like a Vietnam 2. Bin Laden attacked us, and we attacked Saddam. Explain why that is. Give us some answers."
What's more, the imagery in the video is almost as strident as the lyrical content. You can watch the video and hear the song here (note: it takes a while to download because of the richness of the media). This represents yet one more reason why the youth vote will turn out for Kerry.

Amidst a listing of empirical evidence, Publius at Legal Fiction indulges in a little faith-based analysis of why he believes Kerry will prevail one week from today:

But the real reason I'm increasingly confident has nothing to do with the polls or Electoral College calculations. If you'll allow me to step outside the reality-based community for a moment, I want to share with you my "hunch." And I learned it from my father.

My father has been a local elected official (Republican, though) in my hometown for over thirty years. Perhaps I'm biased, but I consider him a political genius at reading people and assessing the mood of the man on the street. And he once taught me an important political lesson - an angry man always votes. He explained, "It doesn't matter if it's raining or snowing. If they're pissed off at you, they'll always go vote against you." I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. Just look at 1994, or the 1998 secular backlash in the midterm elections. Angry people turn out.
I share his hunch. It sure looks like Marshall Mathers is angry, and if there really are a million Slim Shadys just like him....

[Hat tip to reader D-Wall]

Krauthammer, Safire, Brzezinski and Michigan

It strikes me as deeply disingenuous to hear the Bush/Cheney campaign accusing Kerry of running on a message of fear. I would say I am surprised by this line of attack, except nothing in the political realm surprises me these days, especially the willingness of Karl Rove to accuse his adversaries of manifesting his own campaign's deepest pathologies. According to Rove, Kerry's warnings about the very real goals of the conservative leadership to undermine Social Security and Medicare are nothing but rank scaremongering. If you don't believe Kerry is on to something, read this.

Regardless, even if Rove is to be believed (a concept that should give most objective readers a pause), does the Bush/Cheney campaign really have standing to level such a charge? This is the campaign that is almost exclusively fear-based. If you vote for Kerry, al-Qaeda will attack us again, Vice President Cheney famously warned the American people. Al-Qaeda wants Kerry to win, echoed Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, despite evidence suggesting the opposite is true. In the most recent GOP TV ad, the viewer is served a healthy dose of fear in the form of a menacing wolfpack (a metaphor for terrorists) nipping at the borders of America, just waiting for Kerry to win in November.

And that's just the terrorism angle. They have also spared no scare-tactic on the domestic front. Kerry will tax us all into poverty, the line goes. He will ruin health care by creating a buy in system similar to the one that the members of Congress currently enjoy (funny, don't remember any of them refusing their plan on those grounds). His repeal of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans will lead to a loss of jobs and cause the economy to falter (funny, seemed like Bush's policies were accomplishing that). And the list goes on.

In Friday's column in the Washington Post,
Charles Krauthammer touched on a new fear nerve: Israel. Here is the relevant excerpt from Krauthammer's latest edition of doom and gloom foreboding:
[Kerry] really does want to end America's isolation. And he has an idea how to do it. For understandable reasons, however, he will not explain how on the eve of an election.

Think about it: What do the Europeans and the Arab states endlessly rail about in the Middle East? What (outside of Iraq) is the area of most friction with U.S. policy? What single issue most isolates America from the overwhelming majority of countries at the United Nations?

The answer is obvious: Israel.

In what currency, therefore, would we pay the rest of the world in exchange for their support in places such as Iraq? The answer is obvious: giving in to them on Israel.
Krauthammer is suggesting that Kerry intends to present Israel's head on a platter to European and Arab nations in order to mend fences with our erstwhile allies and garner broader support for the continuing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This claim by Krauthammer is beyond ridiculous, but just to clue you in on the level of hysteria on his part, here is how he parses Sandy Berger's recent comments on a return to the peace process:
Do not be fooled by the euphemism "peace process." We know what "peace process" meant during the eight years Berger served in the Clinton White House...
I don't remember the Clinton peace process being a sell out of Israel. The effort failed but it was a noble one, and one that, if successful, would have gone a great distance in assuring the safety, security, and longevity of the state of Israel. To me, the term "peace process," especially as used in the Clinton White House, is a good thing. I won't waste any more time on Krauthammer's column, but if you want to read further, Publius at Legal Fiction has a pretty thorough take-down of the Washington Post's resident neoconservative.

At first I dismissed Krauthammer's rant as an isolated incident of last minute scaremongering in order to rile up certain segments of the Jewish American vote. But then, via
Praktike's Place, I noticed that this meme was being repeated elsewhere.

New York Times columnist
William Safire broached the neo-con/paleo-con divide by penning his own cautionary tale for Jewish American voters. Here is Safire's take:
You have to give credit to Arab-Americans, and to the overlapping category of American Muslims, for knowing what side they are on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and for voting for those they believe would address their concerns.

Four years ago, they voted almost two to one for George W. Bush, thinking he would act like his father. Today, according to the Zogby poll, American Muslim voters are going 10 to 1 in the opposite political direction - for John Kerry over Bush. Not only do they see Bush's Patriot Act as discriminatory, most of these Americans dislike the president's unwavering support of Israel - including his backing of Ariel Sharon's security fence and the diplomatic isolation of Yasir Arafat....

Kerry can legitimately point to dozens of pro-Israel votes. But the essence of his foreign policy - to rely on alliances with France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. to combat terror and enforce the peace - requires accommodation with the central demand of these Arab-influenced entities to lean heavily on Israel to make the very concessions Kerry now says he's against. No Kerry heat on Israel, no grand new global alliance.
In yet another display of coordination amongst the notoriously well disciplined right wing punditry and political class, more voices joined the choir seeking to use Kerry's support amongst Muslim and Arab Americans as a means to scare Jewish American voters, and again, to cast doubt on Kerry's intentions vis a vis Israel. This item was picked up in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks is also rallying Jews for Bush - noting that Kerry has the support of Arab and Muslim groups.

"You can judge political candidates by who their friends are," he said.
Do not think me crazy when I say that this latest round of attacks on Kerry is actually a cause for optimism for Kerry supporters. It signifies the fact that the Bush/Cheney campaign has all but abandoned its efforts to court Muslim and Arab American voters, a crucial voting bloc in many swing states which Bush carried, as Safire pointed out, by nearly a 2 to 1 margin in 2000. If they are really leaning toward Kerry, even by less than the 10 to 1 mark that Safire claims, this represents a very significant gain for Kerry in some of the most important states in this election. Arab/Muslim Americans make up a substantial minority first and foremost in Michigan, but also in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio. They very well could spell the margin of victory for Kerry in at least three of those states.

The Bush/Cheney rhetoric of fear on this issue is also an attempt by the Bush team to shore up support in states like Florida and New Jersey that have large Jewish American minorities. This shift in strategy could mean that Bush/Cheney views Florida as their best chance for victory, considering the changing dynamic in places like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Again, it is an encouraging sign to see Bush/Cheney putting all of their eggs in one basket, especially because the chances of Bush/Cheney making serious inroads into the Jewish American vote are slim.

As the Haaretz article notes:
While publicly optimistic, administration officials are realistic about what they can achieve. In spite of outreach efforts, 69 percent of Jews are still expected to vote for Kerry and only 24 percent for Bush, according to an American Jewish Committee survey. This would compare with near 20 percent for Bush in 2000, but Republicans say they still hope to win more than 30 percent of the Jewish vote.
Safire himself laments:
Four years ago, candidate Bush received 20 percent of the "Jewish vote," about halfway between the low point for a Republican candidate (5 percent for Goldwater) and the high point (39 percent for Reagan). Today, it appears that Bush is getting only slightly more than the 20 percent of last time...

Despite the fact that this president has firmly backed Israel's vigorous self-defense - and time and again vetoed or denounced lopsided U.N. votes to ostracize Israel - 8 out of 10 Jewish American voters will still vote as a bloc to oust him.

...most Jewish Americans quite properly base their vote on issues like social justice, civil liberty, economic fairness and not primarily on what may be good for Israel. That's been especially true when democratic Israel, like the U.S., has had a close hawk-dove split.
But Safire pleads with Jewish Americans to put aside those other issues, and vote solely on the basis of Israel. The problem is, he conflates Israel's best interests with those of Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party. The two are not always one and the same, and in my opinion, Likud's policies have done more to make Israel less safe in the long run than before Likud took power. Jewish American voters who place the interests of Israel in a position of prominence in their voting calculus, should lean toward a candidate who understands this reality.

Exploring this concept further, I think that Krauthammer and Safire's columns are cause for optimism beyond presidential campaign watchers. If they're right, that Kerry stands a chance at making significant progress in resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict using the Clintonian model, then I think the world would benefit enormously. Mind you, I am not suggesting anything like Krauthammer's "abandonment" of Israel, and neither would Kerry. No American president would ever consider such a course of action, and with good cause.

That being said, nowhere is it written that all American presidents have to agree with every Israeli policy or action, regardless of whether it is Labor or Likud, peace overture or heavy-handed military strikes and dubiously termed "security fences." Maybe Safire and Krauthammer are right, that Kerry is paying lip service to Sharon and Likud in order to win the election, and once elected he would urge the parties to rein in their most belligerent elements and return to the negotiation table. What an opportunity that would present. Far from an abandonment of Israel, forging a lasting peace through negotiation, not militaristic and punitive solutions, is the only hope for a peaceful and fruitful Israel. Unwavering support for Likud does not always further this goal.

Like it or not, victory in the struggle to win the soul of the Muslim world from the extremists and fundamentalists like al-Qaeda and the Wahhabists, must include a dignified peace in Israel/Palestine. There is no other way. Contrary to the Bush team's most fantastical pipe dreams (spread in part by Ahmed Chalabi), the road to peace in Israel does not run through Baghdad, the road to peace in Baghdad runs through Jerusalem.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser in the Carter administration, offers the following insights in a column appearing in yesterday's
New York Times:
Both candidates have become prisoners of a worldview that fundamentally misdiagnoses the central challenge of our time. President Bush's "global war on terror" is a politically expedient slogan without real substance, serving to distort rather than define. It obscures the central fact that a civil war within Islam is pitting zealous fanatics against increasingly intimidated moderates. The undiscriminating American rhetoric and actions increase the likelihood that the moderates will eventually unite with the jihadists in outraged anger and unite the world of Islam in a head-on collision with America.
Brzezinski lays out the plan that has so raised the ire of Krauthammer and Safire:
In fact, in the Islamic world at large as well as in Europe, Mr. Bush's policy is becoming conflated in the public mind with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy in Gaza and the West Bank. Fueled by anti-American resentments, that policy is widely caricatured as a crude reliance on power, semicolonial in its attitude, and driven by prejudice toward the Islamic world. The likely effect is that staying on course under Mr. Bush will remain a largely solitary American adventure...

To get the Europeans to act, any new administration will have to confront them with strategic options. The Europeans need to be convinced that the United States recognizes that the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance (as opposed to a polarizing Holy Alliance) that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region's three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
In opposition to the admonitions of Krauthammer and Safire, Brzezinski offers an alternate interpretation, that is nothing like foresaking Israel. It looks more like a sensible first step in tackling what has been a problem that has stubbornly resisted resolution for over half a century:
While each issue is distinct and immensely complex, each affects the others. The three must be tackled simultaneously, and they can be tackled effectively only if America and Europe cooperate and engage the more moderate Muslim states.

A grand American-European strategy would have three major prongs. The first would be a joint statement by the United States and the European Union outlining the basic principles of a formula for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, with the details left to negotiations between the parties. Its key elements should include no right of return; no automatic acceptance of the 1967 lines but equivalent territorial compensation for any changes; suburban settlements on the edges of the 1967 lines incorporated into Israel, but those more than a few miles inside the West Bank vacated to make room for the resettlement of some of the Palestinian refugees; a united Jerusalem serving as the capitals of the two states; and a demilitarized Palestinian state with some international peacekeeping presence.
Nothing in that prescription for peace spells doom for Israel. I, like Safire, hope that Jewish Americans consider the safety, stability and security of Israel, in addition to the progressive social issues Safire enumerated, when they cast their ballots one week from today. If they do, I think they will understand that unconditional support for every action and policy of Ariel Sharon is not the best way to achieve those ends, and the results make Israel, America, and the rest of the world a more dangerous place.

[Update: Richard Cohen in the Washington Post offers some interesting insights that supports some of my position:

"No doubt George Bush is a true friend of Israel. But so was Bill Clinton and so would be John Kerry. This is an American political reality -- a reflection of sturdy Democratic and Republican positions, plus a national affinity for a fellow democracy. The issue is not who cares more for Israel but who can be effective in reducing the violence and bring about a peaceful solution. So far, that's not been George Bush."]

Monday, October 25, 2004

Tough On Terror? [Redux]

In Part III of a three-part series on the comparative foreign policy outlook of each presidential candidate, I made the case that the image of John Kerry as "weak" on national security is a case built more on propaganda than on fact, especially when viewed in comparison to president Bush's dubious record in this arena. Yes, Bush did choose to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, but this should not be confused with "strength" nor should its opposition be viewed as "weakness," although it should be noted that Kerry did not oppose the invasion per se, just the time and manner under which it was carried out.

That is a common flaw in our own human nature: the perception that violence is the equivalent of strength, while diplomatic and measured solutions are weaker - for example, in foreign policy jargon, the former is called "hard power" while the latter is termed "soft." What is more important than "hardness" or "softness" is effectiveness. Strong or not, the invasion of Iraq has been anything but effective vis a vis the effort to stave off the appeal and support for radical anti-American jihadist ideology - not to mention recent revelations
that nuclear facilities and dangerous explosives were left unguarded to looters after the invasion. In another sense, President Reagan was not "weak" because he never invaded the Soviet Union - and, similarly, such a military action should not have been considered "strong" had he or any of his predecessors decided on that foolish course of action. That is because wars are messy things, with myriad unintended, and often deliterious, consequences. They destabilize regions, breed more violence, and often sow the seeds for future conflicts. What's so right about that kind of might?

Bush supporters persist in their contention that Kerry does not understand the post-9/11 world (whatever that is supposed to mean), that he is too weak to wage an effective war on terror, and that his instincts are too frequently in opposition to the use of military force. His votes authorizing such force in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq do nothing to assuage those fears because military force is "strong" (apparently Afghanistan wasn't "strong" enough).

In that context, I wonder what Bush's supporters would say about a leader who nixed three different Pentagon plans to launch strikes on known terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before the invasion of Iraq. Would that be considered "strong" or "weak?" Would such a decision indicate a firm grasp of the new post-9/11 world or a weak caving to political concerns?

A story which
first broke in March, that I first covered in May, has been given new life by a recent article appearing in, of all sources, the not-so-liberal Wall Street Journal.

Fred Kaplan, writing for, provided the following synopsis of the three missed opportunities, and what were the immediate motivations for drafting the plans:

As far back as June 2002, U.S. intelligence reported that Zarqawi had set up a weapons lab at Kirma in northern Iraq that was capable of producing ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon drew up an attack plan involving cruise missiles and smart bombs. The White House turned it down. In October 2002, intelligence reported that Zarqawi was preparing to use his bio-weapons in Europe. The Pentagon drew up another attack plan. The White House again demurred. In January 2003, police in London arrested terrorist suspects connected to the camp. The Pentagon devised another attack plan. Again, the White House killed the plan, not Zarqawi.
Journalist and blogger Laura Rozen ponders why this story has resurfaced, quoting from the Wall Street Journal article:
Why is this story coming out now? Because the fearmongerer in chief Cheney ordered a review of Zarqawi that points out how criminally incompetent his White House has been:

Questions about whether the U.S. missed an opportunity to take out Mr. Zarqawi have been enhanced recently by a CIA report on Mr. Zarqawi, commissioned by Vice President Dick Cheney. Individuals who have been briefed on the report's contents say it specifically cites evidence that Mr. Zarqawi was in the camp during those prewar months. They said the CIA's conclusion was based in part on a review of electronic intercepts, which show that Mr. Zarqawi was using a satellite telephone to discuss matters relating to the camp, and that the intercepts indicated the probability that the calls were being made from inside the camp.
Another reason this story appears to be re-emerging is the fact that the Wall Street Journal has received acknowledgement of its veracity from Pentagon officials and Bush administration insiders. Tim Dunlop, of The Road To Surfdom, excerpts some key paragraphs of the story:

As the toll of mayhem inspired by terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi mounts in Iraq, some former officials and military officers increasingly wonder whether the Bush administration made a mistake months before the start of the war by stopping the military from attacking his camp in the northeastern part of that country.

The Pentagon drew up detailed plans in June 2002, giving the administration a series of options for a military strike on the camp Mr. Zarqawi was running then in remote northeastern Iraq, according to generals who were involved directly in planning the attack and several former White House staffers...

Senior Pentagon officials who were involved in planning the attack said that even by spring 2002 Mr. Zarqawi had been identified as a significant terrorist target, based in part on intelligence that the camp he earlier ran in Afghanistan had been attempting to make chemical weapons, and because he was known as the head of a group that was plotting, and training for, attacks against the West. He already was identified as the ringleader in several failed terrorist plots against Israeli and European targets. In addition, by late 2002, while the White House still was deliberating over attacking the camp, Mr. Zarqawi was known to have been behind the October 2002 assassination of a senior American diplomat in Amman, Jordan.

But the raid on Mr. Zarqawi didn't take place. Months passed with no approval of the plan from the White House, until word came down just weeks before the March 19, 2003, start of the Iraq war that Mr. Bush had rejected any strike on the camp until after an official outbreak of hostilities with Iraq. Ultimately, the camp was hit just after the invasion of Iraq began.

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who was in the White House as the National Security Council's director for combating terrorism at the time, said an NSC working group, led by the Defense Department, had been in charge of reviewing the plans to target the camp. She said the camp was "definitely a stronghold, and we knew that certain individuals were there including Zarqawi." Ms. Gordon-Hagerty said she wasn't part of the working group and never learned the reason why the camp wasn't hit. But she said that much later, when reports surfaced that Mr. Zarqawi was behind a series of bloody attacks in Iraq, she said "I remember my response," adding, "I said why didn't we get that ['son of a b-'] when we could." [emphasis added throughout]
The reasons for rejecting all three of the Pentagon's plans of attack are contested by members of the Bush administration, but many close to the operation offer their own insights. As reported by

"People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of preemption against terrorists," according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
Fred Kaplan offers the following observations regarding the rationale for postponing the strikes until after the invasion:

But the problem, from Bush's perspective, was that this was the only tangible evidence of terrorists in Iraq. Colin Powell even showed the location of the camp on a map during his famous Feb. 5 briefing at the U.N. Security Council. The camp was in an area of Iraq that Saddam didn't control. But never mind, it was something. To wipe it out ahead of time might lead some people - in Congress, the United Nations, and the American public - to conclude that Saddam's links to terrorists were finished, that maybe the war wasn't necessary. So Bush let it be.
The logic of the Bush administration's response to these charges is thin at best:

Administration officials say the attack was set aside for a variety of reasons, including uncertain intelligence reports on Mr. Zarqawi's whereabouts and the difficulties of hitting him within a large complex.
Another reason cited was a fear of collateral damage. Several high ranking military personnel take issue with certain elements of the Bush team's version of the risks and prospects for success:

Some former officials said the intelligence on Mr. Zarqawi's whereabouts was sound. In addition, retired Gen. John M. Keane, the U.S. Army's vice chief of staff when the strike was considered, said that because the camp was isolated in the thinly populated, mountainous borderlands of northeastern Iraq, the risk of collateral damage was minimal. Former military officials said that adding to the target's allure was intelligence indicating that Mr. Zarqawi himself was in the camp at the time. A strike at the camp, they believed, meant at least a chance of killing or incapacitating him.

Gen. Keane characterized the camp "as one of the best targets we ever had," and questioned the decision not to attack it. When the U.S. did strike the camp a day after the war started, Mr. Zarqawi, many of his followers and Kurdish extremists belonging to his organization already had fled, people involved with intelligence say. [emphasis added]
Fred Kaplan backs up General Keane's account with other factors that favored action:

This camp was in the Kurdish enclave of Iraq. The U.S. military had been mounting airstrikes against various targets throughout Iraq - mainly air-defense sites - for the previous few years. It would not have been a major escalation to destroy this camp, especially after the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The Kurds, whose autonomy had been shielded by U.S. air power since the end of the 1991 war, wouldn't have minded and could even have helped.
How can the Bush administration's version of events be trusted? What exactly changed after the invasion that made a strike on the Zarqawi's camp more palatable? Was the intelligence of his whereabouts suddenly more trustworthy - even though he wasn't there by the time they got around to attacking? Was the risk of collateral damage magically mitigated? I find these arguments implausible, especially considering our willingness to launch so many poorly informed "decapitation strikes" against Saddam Hussein and his underlings immediately after the invasion. As the New York Times reported in June of this year:

The United States launched many more failed airstrikes on a far broader array of senior Iraqi leaders during the early days of the war last year than has previously been acknowledged, and some caused significant civilian casualties, according to senior military and intelligence officials...

An unclassified Air Force report issued in April 2003 categorized 50 attacks from March 19 to April 18 as having been time-sensitive strikes on Iraqi leaders. An up-to-date accounting posted on the Web site of the United States Central Command shows that 43 of the top 55 Iraqi leaders on the most-wanted list have now been taken into custody or killed, but that none were taken into custody until April 13, 2003, and that none were killed by airstrikes.[emphasis added]

If the Bush team was willing to move on shaky intelligence to launch airstrikes in heavily populated urban areas, causing significant civilian casualties, in order to take out senior Baathist leaders, why were they so reluctant to target Zarqawi in a sparsely populated area? The answer appears to be that the man who is supposedly "tough on terror" was so preoccupied with the impending invasion of Iraq that, in addition to drawing away valuable resources from the hunt against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and abroad, he let known terrorists remain at large for fear of undermining his case for war. That's not tough, that's distracted. I am more than confident that John Kerry would have listened to the military personnel in his Pentagon, if for no other reason than most presidents do. It is the the Bush administration that has shown a near unprecedented pattern of hostility and confrontation with the military leadership in the Pentagon. How, exactly, is that a position of strength?

The Kingdom Of The Blind

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king - or when speaking of this country, president. Such are the troubling findings from a series of polls conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). What the findings suggest is that the majority of Bush's supporters are ignorant regarding several of the key foreign policy realities that exist and affect the positions of each candidate. Please note that I am not saying that all Bush supporters are ignorant. Quite clearly that is not the case, especially in the blogosphere which tends to attract hyper-informed watchers from all political camps. That being said, there is a disturbing trend:

Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions. [emphasis added]
Some of these numbers are quite startling, and some are easier to explain. Part of the blame for the confusion lies with Bush administration officials themselves. On numerous occasions, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have declared that we have found WMD's in Iraq, only to have their bold statements qualified and spun later by press secretaries and media liasons (Cheney being the more frequent offender of the two). Unfortunately for the public, and fortunate for Bush/Cheney, many Americans do not have the time or interest level to search out the subsequent corrections and qualifications, especially if their only news source is a less than fair or balanced one. Cheney has also been stubbornly persistent in misinforming the public about the illusory connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam, continuing to parrot information that has been proven unreliable and false - even in the face of stern rebukes from bi-partisan sources like the 9/11 Commission. Looking at the results, it is hard to argue with the strategy - unless you appeal to the more noble sense of democracy and respect for the public. Apparently Bush and Cheney do not.

Part of the problem can also be attributed to cognitive dissonance - or the ability of human beings to ignore or disregard facts or realities that contradict a pre-conceived notion of the world or a particular series of events. As
George Lakoff and others have noted, facts don't always carry the day, especially in a political context. Human nature and our physical makeup are not always a facts-friendly landscape. Here is an excerpt from his book Don't Think Of An Elephant!:

Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have - the long-term concepts that structure how we think - is instantiated in the synapses of our brains. Concepts are not things that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as fact, or they mystify us: Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. [p. 17, emphasis added]
Lakoff makes a compelling case, especially when you consider all the evidence of hostility to the facts, which does not end with WMDs and al-Qaeda connections:

This tendency of Bush supporters to ignore dissonant information extends to other realms as well. Despite an abundance of evidence--including polls conducted by Gallup International in 38 countries, and more recently by a consortium of leading newspapers in 10 major countries--only 31% of Bush supporters recognize that the majority of people in the world oppose the US having gone to war with Iraq. Forty-two percent assume that views are evenly divided, and 26% assume that the majority approves. Among Kerry supporters, 74% assume that the majority of the world is opposed.

Similarly, 57% of Bush supporters assume that the majority of people in the world would favor Bush's reelection; 33% assumed that views are evenly divided and only 9% assumed that Kerry would be preferred. A recent poll by GlobeScan and PIPA of 35 of the major countries around the world found that in 30, a majority or plurality favored Kerry, while in just 3 Bush was favored. On average, Kerry was preferred more than two to one.
The director of PIPA, Steven Kull, takes a position similar to Lakoff's when he weighs in on the effects of cognitive dissonance amongst Bush supporters:

"The roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information," according to Steven Kull, "very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake. This appears to have created a powerful bond between Bush and his supporters--and an idealized image of the President that makes it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments before the war, that world public opinion could be critical of his policies or that the President could hold foreign policy positions that are at odds with his supporters."
While I appreciate the psychological roots of this almost willful ignorance, cognitive dissonance alone is not the only factor. As I mentioned above, the Bush/Cheney administration has been deft at manipulating public opinion on several of these issues of fact by releasing misinformation, stubbornly defending it, and then leaving it to impartial fact-checkers to parse truth from propaganda after many Americans, and most Bush supporters, have tuned out. But there is also another factor: the right wing media and punditry have created a cocoon of sorts, that shields Bush supporters from the nastiness of facts that run contrary to pre-conceived notions. In this sense, entities like Fox News, enable the ignorance that cognitive dissonance initiates. Journalist Eric Alterman describes the findings of another PIPA study:

An in-depth study undertaken for the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes and published around the time of the second anniversary of the attacks found that over sixty percent of Americans believed one of the following misperceptions:

1. There's clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the Sept. 11 terrorists.
2. U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
3. People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S. - led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it.

Moreover, the researchers discovered a direct correlation between these misperceptions and the consumption of television news as opposed to newspapers or National Public Radio. According to its figures, 80 percent of Fox News' audience and 71 percent of CBS's bought into at least one of the above falsehoods. Meanwhile only 47 percent of newspaper and magazine readers and just 23 percent of those who said they relied on PBS or NPR found themselves similarly misled. And lest we forget, phony ideas have consequences. Support for Bush's war reached 53 percent among those who believed one of the lies, 78 percent among those who accepted two of them and a full 86 percent among those who embraced all three. Meanwhile fewer than a quarter of people who understood the truth of the situation--rejecting all three phony canards - were willing to take a trip on Bush and Cheney's not-so excellent adventure. [emphasis added]
With this in mind, I am a little pessimistic that the latest bombshell of bad news emanating from Iraq will sway any die-hard Bush supporters - despite the implications of what conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan described as "criminal negligence." I am referring to the article which appears in today's New York Times which contains the startling revelation that "380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations."

This is one more bit of evidence which lends credence to the assertion that the Bush team's plan for post-war Iraq is a model of incompetence and poor judgment. There never were enough troops in Iraq to perform all of the necessary tasks post-invasion: providing security, creating lawful order, preventing looting, patrolling the borders, and quelling the insurgency. That this facility was not considered enough of a priority to receive adequate protection is either a testament to the dearth of adequate forces, or just plain reckless negligence. Take your pick.

The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.
What is most discouraging is the fact that these facilities, and the materials they stored, were known about before the war, and were in fact policed and safeguarded by weapons inspectors and nuclear watchdogs. Our invasion of Iraq has actually unleashed a threat that was previously contained - a self-fulfilling prophecy of Iraq's danger to the world.

The International Atomic Energy Agency publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured, European diplomats said in interviews last week. Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded, beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country....

Earlier this month, in a letter to the I.A.E.A. in Vienna, a senior official from Iraq's Ministry of Science and Technology wrote that the stockpile disappeared after early April 2003 because of "the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security."
And they had good reason to be concerned about these particular munitions. Here is a brief summary of the destructive capacity of some of the materials looted from the site:

American weapons experts say their immediate concern is that the explosives could be used in major bombing attacks against American or Iraqi forces: the explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, could produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings...

The explosives could also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, which was why international nuclear inspectors had kept a watch on the material, and even sealed and locked some of it. The other components of an atom bomb - the design and the radioactive fuel - are more difficult to obtain....

More worrisome to the I.A.E.A. - and to some in Washington - is that HMX and RDX are used in standard nuclear weapons design. In a nuclear implosion weapon, the explosives crush a hollow sphere of uranium or plutonium into a critical mass, initiating the nuclear explosion.
Think about the implications for a moment. The United States invaded Iraq because Saddam supposedly had vast "stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons" (to quote Donald Rumsfeld), but we didn't plan ahead to provide the necessary troop presence to secure even the most sensitive of sites? What if the Bush administration was right about Saddam's WMDs? What if his arsenal was extensive and far flung, what position would we be in now? In a sense, we should all be thankful that the Bush team was so spectacularly wrong and dishonest about the WMD threat that Iraq posed. If they had been right, is there any doubt that Saddam's WMDs would be disseminated throughout the world, ending up in the hands of terrorists - which was the pre-invasion worst case scenario.

While that is cause for some comfort, the weapons that have already escaped present their own unique threats.

A special property of HMX and RDX lends them to smuggling and terrorism, experts said. While violently energetic when detonated, they are insensitive to shock and physical abuse during handling and transport because of their chemical stability. A hammer blow does nothing. It takes a detonator, like a blasting cap, to release the stored energy.

Experts said the insensitivity made them safer to transport than the millions of unexploded shells, mines and pieces of live ammunition that litter Iraq. And its benign appearance makes it easy to disguise as harmless goods, easily slipped across borders.
Those properties, and the destructive capacity of HMX and RDX, might explain the meaning of "an internal I.A.E.A. memorandum [which] warned that terrorists might be helping 'themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.'"

Rather than viewing this latest revelation concerning the bgreathtaking dimensions of the Bush administration's gross incompetence in the planning and execution of the war, the forces of cognitive dissonance will likely push these unfortunate facts out of the reasoning of Bush's staunchest supporters. That being said, there is hope that news such as this will help to inform and influence moderates who are not so firmly entrenched in either camp and whose minds are more apt to process information impartially. One week from tomorrow, we will behold whether truth or ignorance prevails.

[Update: Cyndy at MouseMusings has concocted a telling timeline of the looting of various sensitive facilities in Iraq and the subsequent release, or leaking, of that information to the public.]

Friday, October 22, 2004

Friday Joke

Spurred on by the good natured ribbing of Mick Arran, I am inching closer to actually inserting a bit more of my own wry sense of humor into posts on this site - which should provide a much needed balance to my dry lawyerly tone. In the meantime, I will take advantage of this one I swiped from Altercation

What's the difference between Vietnam and Iraq?

Bush had a plan for getting out of Vietnam.

That would be funny if it weren't so utterly tragic.

Porter Goss = Partisan Hack

It is shocking: The Bush administration is suppressing a CIA report on 9/11 until after the election, and this one names names. Although the report by the inspector general's office of the CIA was completed in June, it has not been made available to the congressional intelligence committees that mandated the study almost two years ago.

"It is infuriating that a report which shows that high-level people were not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner before 9/11 is being suppressed," an intelligence official who has read the report told me, adding that "the report is potentially very embarrassing for the administration, because it makes it look like they weren't interested in terrorism before 9/11, or in holding people in the government responsible afterward."
So begins an article written by Robert Scheer appearing in the L.A. Times on Tuesday. While this story has been circulating throughout the blogosphere (hat tips to Mick Arran and Tim Dunlop), I wanted to make sure that it receives maximum exposure, attention, and a measured dose of outrage - or for the more jaded amongst us, stern condemnation. In addition, there are some aspects of this controversy that I wanted to address, which have gone unmentioned thus far.

First, let's establish the parameters of what is going on with this report. The CIA conducted "an exhaustive 17-month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency" in order to determine what went wrong within the various branches of the government in the run-up to the tragic attacks of 9/11. The report was finished in June of this year, or roughly five months ago, yet that information is being withheld from Congress and the American people despite efforts from both Republicans and Democrats:

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she and committee chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., sent a letter 14 days ago asking for it to be delivered.
The release of the report was first quashed by acting CIA director John McLaughlin and now President Bush's appointee, Porter J. Goss, has continued to withhold the documents. There is no reason beyond pure partisan politics to deny the American people access to the findings of their own government.

By law, the only legitimate reason the CIA director has for holding back such a report is national security. Yet neither Goss nor McLaughlin has invoked national security as an explanation for not delivering the report to Congress.
The reticence regarding the rationale for withholding the information on the part of Goss and McLaughlin is not an accident. According to the sources Scheer cites, "[the report] surely does not involve issues of national security." This is more than likely the case, especially since they plan on releasing the report after the election. Are we to assume that the national security concerns magically vanish on November 3rd? Scheer's source provides further evidence that the Bush administration is trying to manipulate the release of information to the American people:

"No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress."
I do not think I am overstating the case when I say that this is an outrageous circumvention of our very democracy. The administration is taking the position that the less the American people know about the incumbent, the better. In truth, democracy depends on a well informed population. But this case is even more egregious because of the rhetoric emanating from Bush's camp.

Remember, it was Vice President Cheney who warned that al-Qaeda would attack America again if the people decide to elect John Kerry. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert insisted that al-Qaeda would rather Kerry get elected, citing no evidence of his own, and despite
actual evidence to the contrary. The Republican Convention, and indeed the entire breadth of Bush's campaign, has been predicated on the notion that Bush's team is the one to trust in the "war on terror," and that John Kerry will expose us to danger. Given all of that, it is that much more crucial that the American people are provided with as accurate a picture as possible of Bush's actual performance in that war on terror? Apparently the Bush administration doesn't think so.

From a tactical point of view, they are probably wise to sit on this report:

It most certainly will detail how the Attorney General himself chastised his staff to stop bothering him with all those pesky reports on terrorist activities. Or maybe it would mention the fact that before 9/11, John Ashcroft proposed slashing counterterrorism funding by 23 percent. It might also point out that, despite her protestations to the contrary, the National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, is actually supposed to coordinate intelligence from various agencies. One can only speculate that the CIA's findings might take the view that the daily briefings provided the president pre-9/11 were sufficiently specific to raise the level of alarm in relevant areas of the government - especially if George Tenet's hair really was on fire. It's safe to say that the report might also go harder on the administration than even Richard Benveniste did during the hearings - for which he was accused of partisan grandstanding.

But from the point of view of responsible leadership in a democracy, this is inexcusable. I anticipate some on the right will respond with one of the most bizarre memes that has begun making the rounds in the conservative punditry: that the CIA is dominated by leftists. That's right, that was not a typo, I have seen it now on more than one occasion - we are supposed to believe that the CIA is now a left-wing organization. Apparently the right wing in this country has drifted so far to the extreme of the poles that they consider the CIA of all places to be overrun by Democrats with a partisan axe to grind. I can think of no other time in history that a Republican administration has had so openly hostile and contentious a relationship with the CIA - not to mention their own State Department. Trust me when I say this, it is not the notoriously slow to change CIA that has undergone a radical re-alignment of political affiliations, it is that this administration has embraced a radical ideology that defies traditional conservative and right wing values.

Speaking of which, didn't Porter Goss assure the skeptics that he would be a non-partisan CIA director - an honest broker and straight shooter. Wasn't the whole point of the reforms suggested by the 9/11 Commission to remove the influence that partisan politics would have over intelligence gathering and dissemination in light of the Iraq debacle and 9/11 breakdowns? So in his first significant act as director of the Agency, Goss decides to go out of his way to suppress a document in the furtherance of base partisan politics - to the detriment of the American policy and our increasingly fragile democracy.

I don't know about you, but I'm impressed.

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