Friday, July 29, 2005

The Eons Are Closing!


Busy end to a busy week here in Butterland. And I'm on the road today, going down, down, down, not into a burning ring of fire but rather the hot, musky heart of Missouri. More later, but in an extra-busy news week, one question stands out above the rest:

Would Jessica Simpson be safe from the Wrath of Rove (really Bushrove) if he wasn't busy with problems of his own?

She's certainly vulnerable to being discredited - whom isn't? She was seriously off-script this week, complaining about missing video tapes and other whitewash vis a vis her recent trip to Iraq. Finally, this whole dang Eye-rack deal is taking shape in an EZ-to-understand way! You have questionable Jessica on the one side, deviating from the party line - not at all like loyal celebrities were in the 1940s! - and, on the other, America's (other) Sweetheart who is, so far, still loyal. Take a tip (updated) from LBJ, Mr Bush and tread carefully: if you lose Britney, you've lost the country.

[UPDATE: I'd foolishly and wrongly assumed that everyone had been following the contours of this debate, so in the interest of being clearer, allow me to remind you of Ms. Spears existential comment via a Drudgeflash in Sept. 2003:

SPEARS: Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.

Mark ye well. Be 'faithful in what happens', people.]

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Priorities, Part the Second

Everyone's favorite denizen of New Orleans (Mssr Oyster), flagged this item from Josh Marshall which reminded me of my prior post questioning the "Priorities" of the modern GOP. Get this:

Sen. Roberts doesn't have time to investigate the manipulation of prewar intelligence, the Niger forgeries or the Plame disclosure.

But he does have time to investigate how the CIA uses 'cover' in its clandestine operations. And as part of his new exercise in water-carrying he will also
investigate Patrick Fitzgerald's criminal probe.

Note the specifics: I didn't say he'll be investigating what Fitzgerald's investigating; he's apparently found time to investigate the Fitzgerald probe itself. Roberts' spokesperson Sarah Little told Reuters that his "committee would also review the probe of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Plame case for nearly two years."

So let me see if I have this straight in terms of issues worthy of Congressional scrutiny and fact findings, and this from the same GOP that brought you the Whitewater/Lewinsky investigations with a price tag of $40 million as compared to the far less important 9/11 Commission which was allotted a mere $15 million:

1. One of the most colossal failures/manipulations in the history of intelligence (Iraqi WMD or the lack thereof):
Not worthy of dedicating money or time to investigate. Let's just move on.

2. Forged memos regarding Iraq's attempts to acquire Uranium from Niger, the contents of which appeared in the President's State of the Union Address: What's a little forgery between friends?

$9 billion (that's billion with a "B") in American taxpayer dollars that have gone unaccounted for in Iraq: $9 billion ain't what it used to be. Besides, would investigating something as minor as this be what the taxpayers expect us to do?

4. A widespread application of extreme abuse, torture, homicide, sodomy, sexual assault, etc., at myriad US detention facilities with some methods receiving official authorization: Interesting and all, but what about a flag burning amendment?

5. The outing of a covert CIA operative: We would have investigated this but some of us don't like her husband. Besides....

We're saving our energy and resources to investigate something of crucial importance and impact - something that will shape the trajectory of this great republic for years to come: We will probe the prosecutor in charge of investigating the outing of a covert CIA operative. You see, this simply can't be put off for another moment. We have to get to the bottom of L'Affaire Fitzgerald. Duty calls, and priorities are what they are.

Laura Rozen clues us in to why Roberts and his Senate colleagues on the Right might be getting a little nervous and taking an increased interest in what Fitzgerald is doing:

Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street.

In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed.
Maybe the Senate Select Intelligence committee would like to outsource such investigations in the future to Justice Department prosecutors, if they are too busy or predisposed to do it themselves?
I think of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson as the quintessential MacGuffins - the one errant thread of an otherwise elaborately woven garment. But you know what happens when you pull that thread - or better yet when someone as determined, scrupulous and dogged as Patrick Fitzgerald pulls that thread? You unravel the whole sweater.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Out of Sight, Out of Mind - Or Never Say "Never Again" Again

The "situation" in Darfur - a euphemism for genocide - is one that belies simple solutions, or even clear cut routes along which to pursue difficult solutions. Obviously, the Sudan's cooperation in the effort to counter extremist groups is an important foreign policy consideration, and as such the interventionist approach is not without obvious costs. Further, the various intra- (and inter-) national players involved and their sometimes competing interests (read: China's cozying up to the Sudanese regime in exchange for oil contracts) only adds threads to the gordian knot constricting around the neck of the beleagured people in the Darfur region. Nevertheless, the paucity of coverage this ongoing crisis is receiving both in the American media and its exalted political circles is astounding. The lack of an easy answer to the crisis is no excuse for the inattention. The lack of coverage also has costs. Without the public's focus on the mass-salughter, it becomes less likely that politicians and policymakers will feel pressured to forge any response at all.

After the world, America included, looked on with passivity as hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were slaughtered, we heard the now familiar refrain, "Never again." Such impassioned declarations, apparently, have the shelf life of under a decde. What was Clinton's most profound failure, has morphed into Bush's updated version. Despite his often lofty rhetoric about freedom and tyranny, this is one policy area where President Bush has largely ignored the strong convictions of the religious right in America - who have been amongst the most vocal and vigilant about trying to halt the continuing violence and mass murder.

In case you missed it Nicholas Kristof recently did his part to rebuke his fellow journalists for their dereliction of duty:

Some of us in the news media have been hounding President Bush for his shameful passivity in the face of genocide in Darfur.

More than two years have passed since the beginning of what Mr. Bush acknowledges is the first genocide of the 21st century, yet Mr. Bush barely manages to get the word "Darfur" out of his mouth. Still, it seems hypocritical of me to rage about Mr. Bush's negligence, when my own beloved institution - the American media - has been at least as passive as Mr. Bush.[...]

This is a column I don't want to write - we in the media business have so many critics already that I hardly need to pipe in as well. But after more than a year of seething frustration, I feel I have to.

Like many others, I drifted toward journalism partly because it seemed an opportunity to do some good. (O.K., O.K.: it was also a blast, impressed girls and offered the glory of the byline.) But to sustain the idealism in journalism - and to rebut the widespread perception that journalists are just irresponsible gossips - we need to show more interest in the first genocide of the 21st century than in the "runaway bride."
A look inside the numbers provides the evidence to back up Kristof's accusations:

The real failure has been television's. According to monitoring by the Tyndall Report, ABC News had a total of 18 minutes of the Darfur genocide in its nightly newscasts all last year - and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings. NBC had only 5 minutes of coverage all last year, and CBS only 3 minutes - about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths. In contrast, Martha Stewart received 130 minutes of coverage by the three networks.[...]

If only Michael Jackson's trial had been held in Darfur. Last month, CNN, Fox News, NBC, MSNBC, ABC and CBS collectively ran 55 times as many stories about Michael Jackson as they ran about genocide in Darfur.

The BBC has shown that outstanding television coverage of Darfur is possible. And, incredibly, mtvU (the MTV channel aimed at universities) has covered Darfur more seriously than any network or cable station. When MTV dispatches a crew to cover genocide and NBC doesn't, then we in journalism need to hang our heads. [emphasis added]
Even when the networks have begrudgingly turned their gaze to the region, it has been in the context of American-centric celebrity and sensationalism.

Incredibly, more than two years into the genocide, NBC, aside from covering official trips, has still not bothered to send one of its own correspondents into Darfur for independent reporting.

When I've asked television correspondents about this lapse, they've noted that visas to Sudan are difficult to get and that reporting in Darfur is expensive and dangerous. True, but TV crews could at least interview Darfur refugees in nearby Chad. After all, Diane Sawyer traveled to Africa this year - to interview Brad Pitt, underscoring the point that the networks are willing to devote resources to cover the African stories that they consider more important than genocide.[...]

Condi Rice finally showed up in Darfur a few days ago, and she went out of her way to talk to rape victims and spotlight the sexual violence used to terrorize civilians. Most American television networks and cable programs haven't done that much.

Even the coverage of Ms. Rice's trip underscored our self-absorption. The manhandling of journalists accompanying Ms. Rice got more coverage than any massacre in Darfur has.
In response to Kristof's rant, a group of media executives issued a rebuttal containing many of the usual excuses like viewer interest, competing demands, resource allocation and related cost concerns.

Most editors who spoke with E&P agreed that the Darfur story should get more attention due to its seriousness. But, each reminded Kristoff of the realities at today's daily papers. Budget cuts, other worldwide stories like Irag and terrorism, and limited reader interest, require a broad approach, they said.

"If we don't cover the Michael Jacksons, that will be our demise," said John Yearwood, world editor of The Miami Herald. "That is what the public wants. But, we ought to make the commitment to also give Darfur or Rwanda attention if we can."
First, I would like to point out that despite the factors listed, nothing justifies the landslide of coverage given to runaway brides, missing white females and celebrity trials. It is not a choice between no coverage at all on the one hand, and the hours of panel discussions, probing of minutae and repetition of the same, on the other. Something resembling a better balance is possible without the result being the economic "demise" of the media outlet in question - and if such balance is not possible absent dire consequences, then maybe there are structural flaws that need to be addressed.

Which brings me to my next point. If media companies cannot exist in an environment in which they are able to report on actual newsworthy events, then perhaps the marketplace is not best-suited to deliver the type of news that a well informed populace requires in a healthy, functioning democracy. Forgive such heresy, but I think that when the major networks and 24-hour cable stations are preoccupied with making edgy, smartly packaged, human interest fluff and infotainment, maybe capitalism is not the solution in this particular setting. In light of this, someone should tell Ken Tomlinson to back off of Public Broadcasting and NPR. The fact that those entities operate on a public charter, without the hyperfocus on Nielsen ratings and profits, frees them to make editorial choices based on the profundity of the story, not which celebrity or pseudo-celebrity was involved. PBS and NPR need more money and editorial freedom, not lean budgets and politically partisan censorship and oversight. They are fast becoming the only American outlets to turn for real news coverage. Other than MTV and The Daily Show that is.

(cross-posted at LAT)

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Press Box of the Shining Wires

For those of us leaning toward the liberal end of the political spectrum, the last couple of weeks have been difficult to beat. Between the steady stream of incriminating evidence, the near daily excoriation of Scott McClellan by the White House press corps, and the comically inept defense presented by administration supporters, Rove's slow-motion fall from grace has given Democrats an uncharacteristically bright moment to savor during an otherwise bleak eight years. I, for one, find it difficult to contain my exuberance as we edge toward what appears to be an inevitable implosion in the Bush White House. Honestly, words escape me.

Yet, my joy has been tempered by the fact that the current state of affairs was arrived at only after coercive forces were aimed at the free press. I feel like a crime victim who witnesses the conviction of the offending individual with the knowledge that the case was made with planted evidence. The "victim" in me screams "Yes!", while the "civil libertarian" howls "No!" Frankly, this dilemma is making it difficult to fully appreciate current affairs. And maybe I'm spoiled, but I'm one who prefers his political pleasures pure.

Moreover, the situation has sparked a fair amount of discussion regarding the shield laws (or the lack thereof) covering journalists. Currently, 49 of 50 states afford journalists some degree of protection for the confidentiality of their sources, while almost none exist at the federal level. This has left us with a rather uneven landscape, legally speaking. On the other hand, there does appear to be a fairly consistent professional ethic on the matter: source confidentiality is to be maintained at all costs unless said source specifically provides a release. Unfortunately, because of the disparity between the legal and ethical universe, journalists sometimes end up in jail.

At any rate, my attempt to resolve these conflicts in my own mind has led me back to a fundamental question: why do shield laws exist?

The laws protecting communication between attorney and client, between husband and wife, or between medical professional and patient are not abstract, theoretical exercises. In each case a balance is being struck between competing agendas. On the one hand, you have society's need to be able to effectively investigate criminal activity, and on the other the efficacy of the institution in question. A defense attorney certainly has information about his client that would be of great value to any prosecutor, but if such testimony could be compelled clients would view their attorneys as potential prosecution witnesses as opposed to advocates. Clearly, such an outcome would undermine our larger aspirations toward justice. Similar arguments justify protections in these other relationships. There are, of course, exceptions to these protections (usually in reference to future criminal acts), but we have for the most part decided that investigatory limitations in these areas leads to a greater societal good.

A similar argument can be made in the case the journalists. Society frequently benefits from the illegal acts of whistleblowers who choose to reveal classified information or information covered by nondisclosure agreements. If the journalists who become privy to this information suddenly become conduits to government investigators, many sources will become disinclined to serve society in this fashion. In fact, we are already beginning to see the development of this phenomenon in response to the Rove/Cooper/Time magazine affair.
Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc., said … that his decision to obey the courts and hand over Mr. Cooper's notes and documents to the special prosecutor - which he said he did reluctantly after fighting the edict all the way to the Supreme Court - has already resulted in several valuable confidential sources refusing to cooperate again with Time magazine.
However, all sources are not equal and it is misleading to view them this way. Specifically, there are sources who are vulnerable to powerful forces within the society and there are those who are not. In the same sense that First Amendment protections are unnecessary to defend expressions supported by the majority, powerful individuals within society are not at risk of persecution by the prosecutorial machinery that they control. In other words, the powerful do not have to be protected from themselves.

If we understand that two classes of confidential source exist, it also becomes clear that the rationale for protection in each case is distinct. You must protect vulnerable whistleblowers, lest they be crushed by the powerful they transgress against. But, protecting empowered sources serves only to preserve the relationship between the source and the journalists. It's merely about access. That goes a long way to protecting the journalist's professional assets, but it is hard to say how this helps you and me.

Unfortunately, the relationship between the powerful and the press has evolved into a much more symbiotic form over the last 20 years (or so). "Background" sourcing from highly placed government officials has comprised an increasing percentage of the information available to journalists of late. At the same time, these channels have become important release points for administration doctrine that cannot be revealed directly. Both parties have personal interests in keeping this exchange alive and so both are likely to fight to preserve it.

Yet, the preservation of this relationship does not justify the protections that many would endorse. To do this right, there has to be some way to systemically recognize the distinction between the two classes of source. And I truly doubt that the law is the best way to do this.

In truth, it is probably the journalist who is in the best position to make this assessment. He could explicitly grant different levels of confidentiality based on the position of the source in question. In fact, that probably would be in the best interests of the public at large. You might find his access to certain individuals limited under this scenario, but society would lose little, as "well-placed sources within the administration" would easily find other methods to disseminate the information they had chosen to leak.

Will this occur? Unlikely, I suppose. Much like the Warren of the Shining Wires from Watership Down, the press has lost much of its ability to subsist without those who feed them. It would take quite a bit to encourage them to leave the comparative safety of the Warren.

However, until they do venture out, I'm hard-pressed to justify taking action that would make their stay there that much more comfortable. If the press serves no purpose other than presenting an additional form for administration policy, it hardly matters whether it exists at all.

This is one instance where the feeding hand really should be bitten -- at least from time to time. It keeps everyone a little more honest and the public is served as it should be. So, until the press is willing to bite back, I think I'll refrain from cementing the status quo.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Post-Modern Projection

The Right has long sought to make political hay out of the supposed embrace of post-modernist thinking on the Left - one aspect of the poor man's definition of this catchall meant to summarize a variety of philosophical and artistic trends is that there are no objective truths, and that all truth is subjective to the individual. Thus, the Left has adopted ultimate relativism, the lack of morality and judgment because what we perceive, and what we recount are both influenced by our own biases to the point of having no independent meaning. This, supposedly, is contrasted with the black and white, good/evil clarity of the Right. They don't do nuance. For them, there are objective truths that don't have to pass through lenses. Relativism is for girlie men.

Right? Wrong. The direct opposite in fact. The overarching strategy of the Right wing media empire/noise machine has been to confuse the issues that don't favor them - muddy the waters and shroud the truth in ambiguity and doubt. One of the ways to achieve this is to attack the messenger, rather than confront the information presented by the spokesperson - you can't believe anything in the "liberal" media for example. See also, the treatment doled out to Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, John DiIulio, Joe Wilson and whoever else attempts to contradict the party line. Instead of addressing the allegations or issues raised by a critic, better to tar the critic with all sort of slander and innuendo - even if the critic has no ostensible hostile political bias (the ultimate veracity of the smears matter little as long as there is doubt created in the mind of the viewer). This shifts the focus to irrelevant tangential issues, or puts the focus on the personal leanings of the speaker, which the press dutifully covers in attentive detail while the original point of the whole story is lost. Just review the GOP talking points on the issue of the illegal outing of a CIA operative: challenge Joe Wilson's credibility and the details of his Op-Ed, despite the fact that this has exactly zero relevance to the allegations of the crime and/or misconduct. Last time I checked, it wasn't OK to out a CIA operative just because her husband bungled certain facts and accounts. That is not a defense. This modus operandi represents the ultimate in post-modernist political strategizing: there is no truth in any story, criticism or issue, only the subjective bias or flaw of the speaker/actor or vehicle.

But often times, the truth exists independent of the messenger or vehicle used to carry it. It's not that you shouldn't consider biases and credibility when processing news and events, but it must also be so that not everything said can be explained away by pointing to bias. The sky is blue, even if a liar or a person who is biased in favor of the color blue says so. With this in mind, I turn to this story in
the Times linked to without comment from my sometimes sparring partner March Schulman:

Splashed on the front page of The Independent yesterday, was the figure 24,865. "Revealed: Iraq's Civilian Death Toll", read the headline.

It was not alone. The BBC's bulletins ran with the same figure, as did the Daily Mirror and The Guardian - derived, said the latter, from "a detailed study of the human cost of the conflict".

There is only one problem with the figure - not that you would know it from the credulous reporting. It is an entirely arbitrary figure published by political agitators.

The figure was released yesterday by two organisations, Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group. According to the BBC, the former "is one of the most widely-quoted sources of information on the civilian death toll in Iraq". Indeed it is because the BBC itself reports its propaganda as fact.
[emphasis added]

Ah, those crafty political agitators issuing their propaganda yet again. Even TIA fell victim to the spell of the spinmasters. The numbers couldn't be true right? No says the author, and here is his scant evidence of their use of scant evidence (one paragraph describing methodology, and the other eight dedicated to building the case for bias - and even this paragraph gets in a last dig at the bias of the authors):

The reason his figures...are almost certainly wrong now, is that the IBC's methodology is designed to come to as large a total as possible. The organisation simply adds up all reports of casualties, no matter what the source or how scant the evidence. Hardly surprising, since the IBC's associates are a veritable who's who of anti-war activism.[emph added]

Hmmm, "as large a total as possible"? What about the Johns Hopkins Study that was published in Lancet which arrived at the total of 100,000 civilian deaths (which was subsequently attacked by the Right, but defended quite admirably by Tim Lambert here and elsewhere on his site)? What methodology were the Johns Hopkins people using? Super-secret-double infinity-counter-plus one?

It should be noted, by the way, that one of the reasons we have these "political agitators" conducting independent studies in the first place is that the Bush administration ordered the CPA and other interim Iraqi government bodies to stop counting civilian deaths early on. Better to keep pesky facts shrouded in doubt, vulnerable to charges of bias by any who put forth their existence. From the
New York Times:

The issue of civilian deaths in Iraqi has been a delicate one, with some contending that the Bush administration and the Pentagon have deliberately avoided body counts to deprive their critics of a potent argument against the war. Estimates have ranged from the 12,000 offered by Mr. Jabr to as many as 100,000 in a widely reported study last year. The new figures are likely to add to that debate.

Obtaining tallies of Iraqi dead has always been difficult, in part because they have not always been compiled systematically. For some time after the 2003 invasion, the Health Ministry released daily counts that were cobbled together mostly from figures provided by hospitals. But last year, when the numbers began to rise, the ministry stopped releasing even those tallies publicly, and provided classified copies to the government.
But those meddling kids Iraqis just won't cooperate with their own liberation.

Last summer, the Interior Ministry took over responsibility for tracking the deaths, according to a ministry official who oversees statistics. The official, Waleed Khalil, said that before August 2004, the figures came in haphazardly on scraps of paper, and that a large portion had been what he called "dark numbers," approximate counts of all the deaths.
And what did they find?

Iraqi civilians and police officers died at a rate of more than 800 a month between August and May, according to figures released in June by the Interior Ministry.

In response to questions from The New York Times, the ministry said that 8,175 Iraqis were killed by insurgents in the 10 months that ended May 31. The ministry did not give detailed figures for the months before August 2004, nor did it provide a breakdown of the figures, which do not include either Iraqi soldiers or civilians killed during American military operations. [emph added]
Interesting. An average of 800 a month. And the conflict has been going on for roughly 28 months. Assuming that average held true for the preceding months, which included the initial invasion which would be the bloodiest period for civilians, by my count that's roughly 22,400 dead civilians. Pretty close to the Iraq Body Count numbers. But remember, the 800 a month excludes "Iraqi soldiers or civilians killed during American military operations." As a matter of fact, these totals also exclude Iraqi civilian deaths resulting from Iraqi military operations. If you added those numbers in, I think you would be quite near the Iraq Body Count figures, which did not exclude the same groups of Iraqi civilians - and rightfully so in my opinion. They deserve to be counted as well. So, what about the subjectivity of the Iraqi Interior Ministry?

I can't say for certain that the Iraq Body Count numbers are correct. But looking at the evidence, as reported by the various groups involved, I'd say they are a lot closer to the truth than some on the Right would let on - especially the author of the Times piece cited by Schulman. Better to attack the messengers than parse such grisly numbers because, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, these facts are biased.

[All apologies for the philosophical hacketry on display in this post. I would love to discuss the finer points of post-modernist thinking, but please allow me the use of the shorthand for brevity's sake.]

The Dull Boy

Since the negotiations between myself and George Soros have been dragging on for months now, I find myself still stuck in my day job unable to blog on a full-time, paid basis. That Soros is a tough-as-nails sort at the bargaining table.

And for some reason, counter the entire economic history of the world, this summer has been particularly busy around the office. This is my roundabout way of apologizing for the intermittent posting which may continue to be sporadic at best over the next week or two as the demands of work keep me from my true love.

Thank you all for the patience and the continued conversation. Hopefully I will be able to blog with a bit more consistency in the near future - when Mr. Soros finally gets around to making me a rich subsistence level blogger.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Collateral Flypaper

I have noted before the irony in the Right's lauding of the flypaper theory considering the claim by many of the same people that the Left's critique of the invasion was rooted in racism - the belief that Arabs and/or Muslims are not capable of handling democracy. The supposed defenders of the dignity of ordinary Iraqis are also the same people that show a glib disregard for the mounting civilian casualties piling up as a result, ostensibly, of the flypaper's volatility. Better over there than over here they defiantly proclaim. So much for holding the Iraqi people in high regard.

Leaving aside the merits of the flypaper theory, or better yet lack thereof, I thought I would try to translate what the continuous violence suffered by the Iraqi people since our invasion would look like in American terms - aided by the numbers put out by a well respected
group of researchers. In this sense, take some of the daily drumbeat of carnage out of the abstract, and into a more visceral appreciation. As reported by the BBC:

Nearly 25,000 civilians have died violently in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003, a report says.

Based on more than 10,000 media reports, the dossier is the first detailed account of such deaths.

"The ever-mounting Iraqi death toll is the forgotten cost of the decision to go to war in Iraq," said John Sloboda, one of the report authors.
Keep in mind, the United States is roughly 12 times the size of Iraq. In other words, if this level of civilian death were felt in the US, it would be akin to losing 300,000 civilian lives over the course of roughly two and a half years. 300,000 civilian deaths. That would be like killing every man, woman and child in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The report breaks down the numbers in terms of daily violence.

"On average, 34 ordinary Iraqis have met violent deaths every day since the invasion of March 2003," said John Sloboda.
Once again, translated into America's population size that would be equivalent to 400 civilian deaths a day over the course of two and a half years. But wait, it gets worse.

The number of civilians who have died has almost doubled in the second year from the first, according to the report.
Then, of course, there is the Johns Hopkins University study that used different methodology than the Iraq Body Count group and came to the conclusion that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives since, and as a result of, the invasion and subsequent destabilization. In American dimensions, this would be like losing 1.2 million civilians over the course of two and a half years. 1.2 million. For perspective sake, on 9/11, we lost in the neighborhood of 2,900 - and that was a tragedy of such proportions that we are still grappling with its magnitude. According to this study's findings, that would be like killing every man woman and child in Dallas, Texas. A sobering thought to say the least. A window into why regime change through preventitive invasion is such a problematic policy. How can you keep the allegiance of a population suffering this brutality? That is not to say, by any stretch, that all the deaths are the result of our military's actions. But when you break it, you buy it and you will be held accountable for what ensues. Pottery barn, except in human lives.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Wages of Boltonism


The emerging center-left CW about this Rove/Plame/Wilson scandal is that it's ultimately about the Suckering of the American People into supporting the invasion of Iraq. Of course that's not wrong, but what troubles me more is the abuse of power generally, especially the use of official power to damage or destroy innocent lives - not to mention the preposterous and dangerous idea that the Men of Destiny in the current White House 'make reality'. This is quite beyond neocon, neolib, or any other ideology; I make a distinction between neocons like Wolfowitz and the people to whom they are allied in this administration who aren't really neocons at all - the Hard-Asses: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton and the like. The patent authoritarians.

We're all familiar now with Valerie Plame, and some of us who followed the Bolton hearings also know some other victims' names, like Christian Westermann, and Melody Townsel , and others. But the most shocking, disgusting example of this kind of abuse I've seen yet is the tale of Alberto Coll, told by A.L. Bardach in a little-noticed Slate piece last week:

Coll is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense during the George H.W. Bush administration, a military scholar, and a dean at the U.S. Naval War College whose life has been nearly destroyed by a slander campaign accusing him of espionage and an absurd criminal prosecution for violating U.S. travel rules to Cuba.

For many years, Coll defined himself as a conservative Republican and anti-Castro hard-liner. When he was 6 years old, he watched as his father was taken from home to serve nine years in a Cuban prison for his opposition to Castro. When he was 12, he fled Cuba in a propeller-engine plane. He would not see his family again for 10 years. Although he did not know any English upon his arrival, he won a full scholarship to Princeton and earned a law degree at University of Virginia, going on to teach at Georgetown University and become a senior Pentagon official.


Then Coll committed the unforgivable by coming to believe in the late '90s that the U.S. embargo of Cuba was a doomed policy. Once he made those views public, marginalizing Coll was not enough; he had to be destroyed.

Go read the whole thing, but make sure you've fully digested your late lunch before you do. And while you're there, try to avoid the temptation to click on Hitchens' new clueless, shit-eating apologia for Rove, et. al. Or not; if you enjoy the pathos of self-parody, click away.

[UPDATE: I didn't make the distinction between domestic-political and foreign abuse, and should have. Of course, the biggest victims of abuse of power in the last few years have been American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. But I was meaning to highlight the ruthless suppression of domestic political dissent, which is corrosive in a different way.]

Friday, July 15, 2005

Politics and Passion - A Liberal Confession


Reading Eric's fine post below, it occurred to me that some of the political polarization in this country about prisoner/detainee policy in the so-called GWOT is more apparent than real - just like most of the other humiliatingly fake political polarizations we continue to endure year after year. After the recent London bombings, and not for the first time, I immediately felt what any Powerline dittohead did: overwhelming anger, rage. I stamped around with red in my eyes, gritted my teeth, shook my fists, and imagined horrible deaths for the deluded fanatics who would kill innocent people. I wished for all of them to be instantly poofed out of exsistence - both for the preservation of civilization and for revenge. It's a natural, visceral reaction. In your larger mind, you know that these kinds of revenge fantasies and rage are basically pointless, but you still truly feel them, however briefly. We are all more/less the same, at some level. Some people are calmer and wiser than others, but few of us are Buddahs. The difference between the two camps is that most liberals feel this stuff and let it pass - gone but not forgotten; whereas the 'conservatives' (the wrong word, but, alas, the operative one at the moment) hang onto that feeling for dear life. Anger fuels them. Liberals (and true conservatives) want to ultimately talk on a policy level - what to actually do about the problem - while the dittoheads want a shortcut, a direct-from-the-gut, emotionally satisfying, Hollywood ending. Of course they are tragically mistaken, tactically, strategically and morally (three things which usually turn out to be pretty confluent). However, this political polarization being what it is, some liberals (present company excluded) can sometimes - usually by default - seem coy and holier-than-thou about the issue: 'how can you feel such a thing, you animals!' I actually don't blame most liberals for this; we have been shoved into this position against our wills. But somebody is going to have to begin acting like adults here, and it's NEVER going to be the 'Fuck You Boys'. So, on our road to Nirvana, fair or not, we are going to have to be the ones to climb down, to remember - and admit that we remember - that we're all basically the same, that we 'all breathe the same air' . It's not so much a political opportunity as a political imperative - not a matter of 'want to' (political ambition), but 'must' (patriotism).

The effective way to sublimate our fighting spirit is surely via politics. That's what the current regime does, and we need to fight fire with fire. I know a few 'dittohead' types who - vis a vis terror attacks - have asked me incredulously, and quite sincerely: 'Aren't you angry?!!'. I say that of course I am, but I know they don't quite believe me. That impression of liberalism is reinforced by the way Dems often do politics - perfectly exemplified by Kerry's refusal to immediately counter-attack the Swift Boat Horseshit during the election. A lot of these wingers know full well that their slime attacks are unfair and unfactual - it's 'just politics'; but what's really at issue is not what's factual, but a larger fact: whether their 'enemies' are willing to hit back. They - and, I suspect, large chunks of the voting public - don't respect someone who won't defend themselves. And of course it all fits neatly into their narrative of an appeasing, French 3rd Republic, weak liberalism.

Like a muscle spasm, extreme political polarization takes on a life of its own, and doesn't start to heal just because you've stopped putting strain on it. Polarization is also a dead end - it can get only so bad, and then it's just ugly stasis. The country is ready, or will be shortly, to be united again - there's nowhere else to go. If liberals don't seize the opportunity, Republicans like McCain or Romney will. It's gut-check time for liberalism, in more ways than one. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

[UPDATE: I realize that the above seems to be more rant than prescriptive finely wrought argument. Tough-minded smart liberals like Eric, Praktike and others really exemplify the attitude I'm arguing for. I'm concerned here with politics rather than commentary. Where are the national Democratic leaders who frame rational, intelligent policy around anything other than mere boilerplate language of outrage and resolve? Pretty much absent, so far. Democrats react; they cede 'resolve' to Bush as 'his issue'. VERP! (thanks Oyster ). So I guess my ultimate rantees are people who will never see this post - politicos; it's certainly not the people who will read it. Oh well. FWIW.]

[UPDATE 2: From a blog in (liberal, socialistic, effete) London called Clagnut . This post ('St Paul's') is dated 07/07/05:

So thanks then, terrorists. You’ve just succeeded in bringing the families of millions of Londoners that bit closer together, giving them an increased love of their city and an enhanced appreciation of their way of life. You might have destroyed the lives of several hundred people, but – and this is stating the bloody obvious you fuckwits – you’ve achieved nothing.

My train goes through Kings Cross and my office is less than half a mile from three of the bombs, and how did it affect me and thousands like me? I had a longer walk to the station on the way home; it was an otherwise beautiful evening and I needed the exercise anyway, so big deal. Oh, and I got a bit angry, a mood tempered by St Paul’s Cathedral, still a symbol of London’s resilience, gleaming proudly in the evening sun with a huge Make Poverty History banner wrapped around its dome.

Get it into your thick skulls that this kind of shit just doesn’t work. Never did and never will. Right now, my thoughts go out to those who’ve been more directly affected by this morning.

Abuse Is Humane Treatment

The term "Orwellian" is so routinely used to describe the degradation of common meaning in public discourse that it's lost much of its rhetorical oomph. But if ever it were appropriate to invoke that hoary adjective, perhaps now's the time. Recall the Ministry of Truth in "1984": "WAR IS PEACE; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH," right? Well, would you believe...

So says Marty Lederman in this must read analysis of the recent military led investigation into the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay referred to as the Schmidt Report (hat tip to Katherine via the Armchair Generalist). Lederman provides some background.

As I've discussed several times on this blog—most recently here and here—on February 7, 2002, the President issued a directive requiring the Armed Forces to treat al Qaeda and Taliban detainees "humanely." (This obligation does not extend to the CIA, which is free to treat detainees inhumanely.) Yet it has been increasingly difficult to square that directive with what we now know about the interrogation techniques that the Department of Defense subsequently approved for use at Guantanamo and elsewhere.[...]

The Schmidt Summary explains in great detail that certain interrogation techniques approved and employed at GTMO...were "abusive" and "degrading," and further reveals that the interrogation of another "high-value" detainee included unlawful threats against the lives of the detainee and his family. And yet then the Report somehow, and without any explanation whatsoever, concludes that all treatment at GTMO was "humane"—indeed, that the investigators found "no evidence" of any "inhumane treatment" at Guantanamo!

Abusive and degrading...yet humane. Speaks volumes, doesn't it?
Predictably, Bush supporters are going to point to the tactics employed and argue about legalistic definitions of torture. I expect to hear many of them equating the techniques described as akin to "frat hazing" as Rush Limbaugh has done, and Tucker Carlson and his panel did last night on his MSNBC show The Situation. The question remains, however, whether we as a nation want to make such a distinction between torture and everything else - such that we condemn torture but not abusive and degrading treatment - and then contort ourselves into logical circles in order to explain away what is obvious to most as the inhumane. I argue that torture should not be the only tactic that we reject. As a matter of fact, there is, ostensibly, legal support for my argument. Or at least there was.

That is not, however, the most alarming thing about the Schmidt Report. More disturbing still is the Report's repeated assertions that the techniques in question—which included, for example, having female interrogators physically seduce and taunt a Muslim detainee; forcing him to wear a bra and placing a thong on his head during interrogation; tying him to a leash, leading him around the room and forcing him to perform a series of dog tricks; stripping him naked; and pouring water on his head during interrogation 17 times—are not only "humane," but also are authorized by Army Field Manual 34-52. Field Manual 34-52 has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. [...]

...Field Manual 34-52 has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Until now, the debate over the Bush Administration's interrogation policies has been about whether and why it was permissible for the Administration to go far beyond Manual 34-52 in its coercive treatment of detainees. But if, as the Schmidt Report concludes, the techniques used at GTMO are authorized by the Army Field Manual itself, it then follows that the military may use those techniques on any detainees, including POWs, anywhere in the world, in any conflict. Accordingly, by virtue of the Schmidt Report itself, this is not simply about al-Qahtani and other high-level detainees, nor about what is permissible at Guantanamo. Rather, it presages a radical transformation of what is deemed acceptable, lawful treatment of U.S. military detainees across the board — an erosion of the Geneva-based standards that have been the basis for the military's training and practices for the last few decades.
Which says nothing of the normative implications, the price we will pay, to paraphrase the Armchair Generalist, in moral and world leadership terms. And even that leaves aside the question of whether or not such morally dubious actions actually work. Andrew Sullivan connects the dots in the Schmidt Report, draws the obvious conclusion and appeals to America's wayward moral compass.

Maybe you still remember the shock of seeing the photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. More gruesome images are on their way, and may well be released within a month. What we saw - the use of barking dogs, people shackled to the floor, sexual abuse, a man dragged around on a leash like a dog, simulation of gay sex, references and threats to relatives - was indeed shocking. But we were emphatically told by the administration that none of this was policy, that all of it was dreamed up by some nutjobs on the night shift who got their ideas from bad television or their own demented psyches. When some of us pointed out that there was clear evidence that some of these techniques were authorized, that, indeed, the commander of Guantanamo Bay, had been sent to Abu Ghraib to "Gitmoize" it, we were told we were slandering the troops and the administration.[...]

"[W]e now know that almost every one of the Abu Ghraib techniques was practised and innovated at Guantanamo. These were not improvised out of nowhere. They were what the report calls 'the creative application of authorized interrogation techniques,' and the interrogators 'believed they were acting within existing guidance'....The kind of techniques used in Abu Ghraib—sexual humiliation, hooding, use of dogs, tying prisoners up in 'stress positions,' mandatory nudity, humiliating prisoners for their religious faith, even the famous Lynndie England leash—were all developed at Guantanamo Bay under the strictest of supervision. What we were told were just frat-guy, crazy techniques on the night shift had been deployed by the best trained, most tightly controlled, most professional interrogation center we have. The Schmidt report argues that, while some of this was out of bounds, it was only because of some extra creativity, not because the techniques themselves were illicit, or unauthorized by Rumsfeld and Bush."
I wish I could say I was shocked. Maybe my mode of thinking is too "quaint" for this brave new America, but I must confess to harboring a belief that we can and should strive for something better, more noble. If you want to be the city on the hill, the exemplar to the world (and I believe in many ways we are and/or should be), you have to actually lead by example. This is a craven abrogation of the duty to lead.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


I don't have much more to say on this. I give you Larry Johnson in his own words (via the ever vigilant Stygius):

Valerie Plame was a classmate of mine from the day she started with the CIA. I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985. All of my classmates were undercover--in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport--i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card.

A few of my classmates, and Valerie was one of these, became a non-official cover officer. That meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed.

The lies by people like Victoria Toensing, Representative Peter King, and P. J. O'Rourke insist that Valerie was nothing, just a desk jockey. Yet, until Robert Novak betrayed her she was still undercover and the company that was her front was still a secret to the world. When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her.

The Republicans now want to hide behind the legalism that "no laws were broken". I don't know if a man made law was broken but an ethical and moral code was breached. For the first time a group of partisan political operatives publically [sic] identified a CIA NOC. They have set a precendent [sic] that the next group of political hacks may feel free to violate. [emphasis added]
Anyone in the mood for a lecture by Darby Rove's husband on the national security instincts and nefarious motives of liberals? Allow me to repeat: "[Valerie Plame] agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed."

But hey, maybe I've got this thing backwards. Darby Rove's husband did have a propaganda presidential campaign to run. Priorities people. No time to get all weak-kneed about some CIA NOC risking her life overseas somewhere for the alleged good of the supposed American people. Besides, it is well documented that ever since George W. Bush was elected in 2000, the CIA has been overrun by a proto-Marxist, socialist, feminist, extreme environmentalist cult hell-bent on Bush's political destruction - Presidentail Medal of Freedom honoree George Tenet being the Svengali-like cult leader. Take it from the Medium Lobster - and get your perspective in check:
As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the true tragedy in the Plame affair has been the burning of Karl Rove. Indeed, if there is any integrity left in Time Magazine, it must fire Matt Cooper. By outing Karl Rove as the man who outed an undercover CIA agent, Matt Cooper has selfishly, recklessly, and amorally endangered a top administration official, exposing Rove and those he works with to threat from political opponents, news organizations and the Justice Department, to say nothing of the damage done to Rove's career as one of America's hard[est]-working partisan hacks. With his identity revealed, how will Rove effectively leak the leaks and spread the rumors necessary to serve his party? Such shameless and reckless abuse of partisan security cannot be tolerated. Matt Cooper must go.
[Update: Once again, Hilzoy has to show off and make my efforts look all pedestrian like. Go read.]

Shagging Flies

My eyes are on the flies these days, and with the tenacity of a bulldog, I intend to grind the wrongheaded "flypaper" meme into so much pulp and drivel. Today's installment comes via this recommended Op-Ed by the recommended columnist EJ Dionne, (flagged by Praktike and Oyster - to name a few). First Praktike's take:

Am I the only one who continues to be utterly astonished by the Bush administration's bizarre embrace of what ought to be a completely discredited argument by now?

"We're fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world so we do not have to face them here at home."

That's what President Bush said in his speech yesterday at the FBI Academy in Quantico. After the attacks on Britain, our closest ally in the war on terrorism, it is an astonishing thing to say. "It's a very insensitive statement with regard to the British," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). "Tony Blair must absolutely have blanched when he heard that."

What does Bush's statement mean? Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, said that the war in Iraq attracts terrorists "where we have a fighting military and a coalition that can take them on and not have the sort of civilian casualties that you saw in London."
It's unclear whether Townsend believes that Iraqis are in fact people. [emphasis added]
Oyster quotes other pertinent sections of Dionne's column:

Huh? If British troops fighting in Iraq did not stop the terrorists from striking London, then what is the logic for believing that American troops fighting in Iraq will stop terrorists from striking our country again? Intelligence reports -- and Townsend's own words -- suggest that Iraq has become a terrorist breeding ground since the American invasion. How, exactly, has that made us safer?

It is time for a policy on terrorism that is based on more than ideology and the rote incantations the president has been offering for four years.
"America will not retreat in the face of terrorists and murderers," the president declared yesterday. Absolutely. But neither can we retreat behind a haze of rhetoric and ideology that contributes nothing to the fight against terrorism.
All are correct to note the callous disregard for the lives of Londoners and Iraqis who have, apparently, not been graced with the magical blessings of our own unique brand of flypaper which apparently doesn't work for Europe (Madrid, London, Istanbul) or Asia (Bali, Saudi Arabia). But I wanted to turn the conversation in a different direction, based on a comment I left to Praktike's post which I will repeat below (touched up for clarity and purpose).

For the sake of argument, let's assume that this implausible theory is valid. That a substantial number of pre-existing jihadists - actual high level al Qaeda even - are funneling into Iraq and getting stuck there, incapable of leaving and/or projecting power elsewhere. Mystically reined in by Iraq's otherwise porous borders. That these same jihadists would have struck America by now had we not invaded Iraq (Ignoring, of course, the lack of attacks on the homeland between September 2001 and late March 2003 when we invaded Iraq - call it the pre-flypaper era - for which we were somehow ignored. And the fact that Afghanistan should have already been flypaper enough to the extent that there is merit to this theory, unless the argument is that Iraq is more conveniently located from a geographical stand point than Afghanistan, but these are supposedly the same people that would have travelled many more miles and crossed the Atlantic to attack us. Or maybe the invasion of Iraq itself, viewed differently than the invasion of Afghanistan, motivated some of the response by otherwise non-jihadists....but I digress).

Let's posit that there is not an appreciable number of young men who are becoming radicalized by the war itself, turning to jihad whereas they wouldn't have done so absent such a war. Further, that both existing jihadi and new recruit are not subsequently receiving training, networking contacts, tactical expertise and indoctrination in Iraq so as to become more lethal once they eventually leave that country to wreak havoc elsewhere. Finally, let's suspend reason and cling to the notion that this war is not influencing opinion in the Muslim world against us, so as to create an environment that is more tolerant of, supportive of, sympathetic with, and generally conducive to the success of, the jihadists.

In summation, let's hypothesize that the flypaper is an irresistible magnet, but not in any way a motivator, influencer, enhancer or force multiplier accruing to the benefit of existing and would-be jihadists. Picture Iraq as a net ensnaring thousands of jihadists who, but for Iraq, would be attacking the American homeland en masse.

Even if all the aforementioned is taken as true, what does that say about our willingness, nay, impatient eagerness to turn over such a vital function as killing the attracted and ensnared "terrorists" to such a rag-tag, limited, disorganized and conflicted fighting force as the cobbled together Iraqi military - itself a product of competing ethnic and sectarian militias, some with close ties to Iran? Shouldn't such a worthy cause as fighting the world's most pernicious jihadists "over there" rather than "over here" remain the job of the US military with all its ability, skill and capacity? Do we trust the Iraqi military to be our proxy in such a crucial task? Wouldn't the safety of our homeland be greatly compromised by such an outsourcing of jobs - vastly increasing the risk of future terrorist attacks on our soil? Equally important, will the Iraqi military be a sufficient lure for the flies, or will our absence free them to visit their wrath on American soil? If such a lure is a good thing now, why not in five, ten, fifteen years?

In other words, isn't there an underlying tension between the flypaper meme and the Iraqization goal? If we are ramping up efforts to field and train an Iraqi army so that we can begin major troop drawdown, what does that say about the flypaper meme? I think it drives home the point that this notion of "flypaper" has always been a slipshod, post hoc, argument of convenience bandied about by some of the war's supporters to try to maintain some semblance of justification in the face of an otherwise eroding edifice. If we are to take the flypaperists at their word, then shouldn't we stay in Iraq in perpetuity - to attract and neutralize the last of the jihadists? If our belligerence in Iraq is not radicalizing young Muslim men and in turn increasing the ranks of the jihadists, shouldn't there come a point in the near future when their numbers are nearly eliminated - a tipping point in the jihadist population? To leave before then, or subcontract these duties to an inferior Iraqi army, would be an instance of gross negligence, no?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Train In Vain?

Coming on the heels of the resounding electoral victory of the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, these developments are probably causing a bit of unrest in many circles (via the Financial Times - subscription only):

Former foes Iraq and Iran announced "a new chapter" in their relations on Thursday, including cross-border military co-operation, dismissing US concerns about Iranian regional meddling.

On his first official visit to Tehran, Iraqi minister of defence Saadoun al-Dulaimi asserted his country's sovereign right to seek help from wherever it sees fit in rebuilding its defence capabilities.
Juan Cole summarized the article, as well as other corroborating reports, thusly:

The Financial Times reports on negotiations between Iraq and Iran about mutual aid. Iran will give Iraq $1 billion in foreign aid, and will help train the new Iraqi military (as reported here from al-Hayat a couple of days ago). Everyone is doing a double-take about these developments. But they were predictable, given that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party won the January 30 elections that the American public was so excited about. This is what that victory really means. Iran in some sense as much won those elections as the Bush administration lost them.
But, Iraq's defense minister was quick to downplay the implications of the claim by his Iranian counterpart that cooperation would extend to training Iraqi military forces:

Iraq's defense minister said Monday that a military agreement reached with Iran last week does not include any provision for the Iranian armed forces to help train Iraqi troops, contradicting reported assertions by his Iranian counterpart.

Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi said during a news conference here that the five-point memorandum of understanding that he and Iran's defense minister, Adm. Ali Shamkhani, signed Thursday in Tehran contained "no agreement" on military training.
This move to disavow that level of cooperation is not surprising - though it is hard to tell what's really going on behind the scenes and what future plans may hold. My guess is the peshmerga would not be too comfortable with Iranian trainers for the Iraqi military writ large, nor would potential Sunni factions to be included (hopefully) in the nascent armed forces. So some level of pushback would be expected from such an accord - but that doesn't mean it's DOA.

Which brings us back to that increasingly problematic situation with the balkanization of Iraq's armed groups into various militias - each with competing or at least divergent allegiances and aspirations - and the near impossible task of bringing them all into the fold under one united flag.

Could this cooperation with Iran be a formal acknowledgement of that country's ongoing involvement with the Badr Corp.? I can't give the answer to that question. But any military cooperation with Iran, even short of training Iraqi military forces, could serve to exacerbate the ethnic and sectarian cleavages currently pulling in disparate directions in Iraq by increasing the perception of Tehran's influence over certain Shiite ruling factions - thus making any resolution on the militia dilemma that much more remote. Not to mention what this means for US interests vis a vis Iran, and any potential military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The plot thickens.

[Update: Justin Delabar has more:

How much can change in only a couple weeks.

The Iraqi government has clamped down on pro-Iran public talk recently, as prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari claimed relations with the US would remain strong even if the Bush administration ordered an assault on Iran if nuclear negotiations broke down. A marked change, considering the SCIRI and Dawa parties, both making up the largest portion of the Shi'ite coalition running the National Assembly, are directly backed by the Iranians. Also, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- easily the most powerful and influential Shi'ite in Iraq -- is an Iranian citizen. Undoubtedly, the US has been using its status as the only effective security force in the country to place leverage on the Iraqi government over Iran, which is a policy I support -- although it cannot work indefinitely. Iraq will eventually become a fully sovereign country and its ties to Iran will strengthen at an even faster rate when that finally occurs. Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi's visit to Baghdad in May and Shamkhani's visit -- and the five military "guidelines" reached by him and his Iraqi counterpart -- are only the beginning of the process, constrained as it may be.

I have to wonder if concerns over Kurdish autonomy are pushing some of the military-centered talks? Scary thought with possible wide-ranging ramifications if true.
Good points by Justin. There is, unfortunately, a solid chance that the Shiite parties will turn to Iran to strengthen their capabilities, military and otherwise, as more and more American forces begin withdrawing from the theater - with the threat from the Sunni based insurgency persisting beyond such pull out, thus necessitating such close alliances with Iran. Beyond that, though, there may be natural motivations for alliance with Iran that transcend the need for fortification of militias and security forces. And speaking of withdrawal - perhaps sooner than some war supporters might like - say, in early 2006?]

(cross-posted at Liberals Against Terrorism)

The Motives Of Conservatives?

Darby Rove's husband in his own words, June 24, 2005:

But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. [...]

Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation involved in a noble cause of self-defense. Liberals are concerned with what our enemies will think of us and whether every government approves of our actions.

Has there ever been a more revealing moment than this year? When the Democratic senator, Democrat Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans have done to prisoners in our control in Guantanamo with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot — three of the most brutal and malevolent figures of the 20th century?

Let me put in this in really simple terms. Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Sen. Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals. [emphasis added]
Hmmm: "motives," "national security," "terrorists," "defeating our enemies," "treason," "WMD" etc. Are these really concepts that Darby Rove's husband wants to thrust into the spotlight, with him as the supposed standard bearer?

Juan Cole from today:

Whether the courts can and will punish Karl Rove for telling Time Magazine's Matthew Cooper that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative should be beside the point. That's for the courts to decide.

The real question is whether we want a person to occupy a high office in the White House when that person has cynically endangered US national security to take a petty sort of revenge on a whistleblower.[...]

But Rove's revenge on Wilson was the ultimate. Plame was undercover as an employee of a phony energy company. She was actually investigating illegal proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. When Rove blew her cover to the US press, everyone who had ever been seen with her in Africa or Asia was put in extreme danger. It is said that some of her contacts may have been killed. Imagine the setback to the US struggle against weapons of mass destruction proliferation that this represents. Rove marched us off to Iraq, where there weren't any. But he disrupted a major effort by the CIA to fight WMD that really did exist. [emphasis added]
If I were the inverted version of Darby Rove's Husband, I might say: "No more needs to be said about the motives of conservatives." But then, I wouldn't have Laura Bush's and Lynne Cheney's husbands to defend and patronize me, or Scott McClellan and Judy Miller to cover my tracks. But more importantly, I wouldn't like what I saw when I looked in the mirror. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think political discourse in our country deserves better - that's what motivates this liberal.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Darby Rove's Husband

It appears that Darby Rove's husband may be in a bit of trouble as details are beginning to emerge concerning his role in the outing of undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame. At the very least, as the story makes clear, Darby Rove's husband shared the fact that "Joe Wilson's wife" was working for the CIA with certain members of the press - a fact that was not common knowledge due to the fact that Wilson's wife, Valerie, was, you know, undercover. Kevin Drum excerpts the relevant sections from a recently leaked email penned by Matt Cooper (the journalist at Time Magazine who was indicted for failure to reveal his source on this matter to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald):

It was 11:07 on a Friday morning, July 11, 2003, and Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper was tapping out an e-mail to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. "Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation ..."

....Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA" — CIA Director George Tenet — or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip." Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division.
There is much speculation now that Darby Rove's husband may have steered clear of legal culpability by not mentioning Joe Wilson's wife by name, and that his testimony before the grand jury may not have risen to the level of perjury. The man has been nothing if not cautious to maintain a plausible legal defense for an otherwise indefensible bit of political retaliation.

Rove's words on the Plame case have always been carefully chosen. "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name," Rove told CNN last year when asked if he had anything to do with the Plame leak.
But really, how many wives did Joe Wilson have? Can one actually hide behind such flimsy barricades in order to shield what was an otherwise obvious identification of Valerie Plame as such? As the supporters of Laura Bush's husband, and the complicit media, try to put a rosy spin on this story by supporting Darby Rove's husband's claims that he never "knew" Joe Wilson's wife was undercover at the CIA, and that his failure to mention her by name is somehow morally exculpatory, I thought I would remind everyone that Laura Bush's husband vowed to be the President who would "restore honor and dignity to the White House." I guess it depends on what the meaning of "restore" is. And how exactly does Darby Rove's husband's hyper-legalistic, word parsing defense stack up against claims made by Laura Bush's husband and Jill Martinez's husband (aka Scott McClellan)? As Billmon asks:

So what did Rove do when he heard his Commander in Chief say this -- all the way back in September 2003?

If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.
Or this, less than one week later?

If anybody has got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find out the leaker.
Again, Jill Martinez's husband assuring us of Laura Bush's husband's resolve:

No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States. If someone leaked classified information, the President wants to know. If someone in this administration leaked classified information, they will no longer be a part of this administration, because that's not the way this White House operates.
Billmon, to his enduring credit, unearths many more such gems, a small sample of which follow (with my own emphasis):

QUESTION: The Robert Novak column last week . . . has now given rise to accusations that the administration deliberatively blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative, and in so doing, violated a federal law that prohibits revealing the identity of undercover CIA operatives. Can you respond to that?

McCLELLAN: Thank you for bringing that up. That is not the way this President or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. And, certainly, no one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step.

Scott McClellan
Press Briefing
July 22, 2003

QUESTION: Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove . . . Did Karl Rove tell that . . .

McCLELLAN: I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.

QUESTION: But did Karl Rove do it?

McCLELLAN: I said, it's totally ridiculous.

Scott McClellan
Press Briefing
September 16, 2003

QUESTION: Has the President either asked Karl Rove to assure him that he had nothing to do with this; or did Karl Rove go to the President to assure him that he . . .
McCLELLAN: I don't think he needs that. I think I've spoken clearly to this publicly . . . I've just said there's no truth to it.

QUESTION: Yes, but I'm just wondering if there was a conversation between Karl Rove and the President, or if he just talked to you, and you're here at this . . .

McCLELLAN: He wasn't involved. The President knows he wasn't involved.

QUESTION: How does he know that?

McCLELLAN: The President knows.

Scott McClellan
Press Gaggle
September 29, 2003

QUESTION: Weeks ago, when you were first asked whether Mr. Rove had the conversation with Robert Novak that produced the column, you dismissed it as ridiculous. And I wanted just to make sure, at that time, had you talked to Karl?

McCLELLAN: I've made it very clear, from the beginning, that it is totally ridiculous. I've known Karl for a long time, and I didn't even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.

QUESTION: Can you say for the record whether Mr. Rove possessed the information about Mr. Wilson's wife, but merely did not talk to anybody about it?

McCLELLAN: I don't know whether or not -- I mean, I'm sure he probably saw the same media reports everybody else in this room has.

QUESTION: When you talked to Mr. Rove, did you discuss, did you ever have this information?

McCLELLAN: We're going down a lot of different roads here. I've made it very clear that he was not involved, that there's no truth to the suggestion that he was.

Scott McClellan
Press Briefing
September 29, 2003
Now, now Scotty, many things have been said about Darby Rove's husband, but "committed to the highest standards of conduct" is beyond a stretch. Politics are obviously a down and dirty endeavor, but even knee-deep in the muckrakers, Darby Rove's husband has managed to distinguish himself - and it has nothing to do with standards, ethics or morality. Darby Rove's husband's most recent foray into the world of dirty tricks should surprise no one. Rove does as Rove is - and what he is is nothing admirable. If you want examples, here are just a few. Peruse at your leisure, but prepare to be disgusted. Darby Rove's husband has a very dark side, and a penchant for repeating what has been a winning formula: the politics of personal attacks, false witness, dirty tricks, insinuation, sexual innuendo, grand diversion and much much more. Others have played this ignominious game, but none with baser standards than the husband of Darby Rove.

[Update: Go read Hilzoy. She says what I would have said if I were as smart as her. Luckily, I have the power of the almighty link to make me appear worthy.]

Friday, July 08, 2005

Popularity: It Isn't Just about High School

Bush's reelection may have been ushered in with a lot of "mandate" talk, but the reality of the second term has demonstrated how truly deluded that talk was. While there have obviously been successes, Bush has found himself supporting minority and/or losing positions with surprising frequency of late, sometimes in defense of his core policy initiatives. Whether one examines his intervention in the Schiavo matter or the cold reception his Social Security privatization plan received, it is clear that his popular support has limits.

Finally, this phenomenon has begun to manifest with respect to his policies in Iraq. According to this poll, 58% of Americans now disapprove of Bush's management of the situation, 61% believe he has no clear plan going forward, and, perhaps most importantly, 53% now see the entire incursion as a mistake. This drop, and its resultant impact on his overall popularity, has been severe enough to require action on the part of the administration. Bush took to the national stage to once again conflate the 9/11 attacks with the Iraq invasion, while others employed less direct means to refocus our attention on the president's "War on Terror" credentials. So far, these efforts seem to have been for naught.

However, before we get too excited by these numbers, it is important to acknowledge that this increasing ambivalence is not an unequivocally good thing. It is, of course, satisfying to see the public at large come around to our way of thinking. And who can resist taking joy in George's misfortune. But, once we begin looking outside our narrow sphere of political interests, other issues emerge as problems for Americans of all stripes. It's worth taking an honest look at them.

First of all, the president may be the commander-in-chief, but this is not to say that his command of the military free of popular influence. Traditionally this influence is an advantage, as the nation freely unifies around the president and his cause of action. He can make calls for national sacrifice that will be gladly offered as long as his goals are considered noble. And as history has demonstrated, this noncoercive unity makes the United States a formidable adversary.

More specifically, the military options available to a president with wide support are nearly unlimited. Therefore, his strategic decisions can be wholly driven by strategic concerns, increasing the likelihood of their ultimate success. Of course, his actions must be perceived as appropriate for the support to be maintained. Nevertheless, a president leading the military in a just cause will always have room to navigate.

By contrast, certain actions are foreclosed once the nation loses its taste for war. The president is still in a position to give orders and the military will certainly still follow them. But modern wars are fought with more than just the military. Certain actions require, at a bare minimum, domestic acquiescence. As a case in point, observe the questions regarding troop levels in Iraq. At present, Bush claims that current levels are sufficient to achieve our stated goal. Whether or not this is true is beyond the scope of this essay. But it is almost certainly true that the option to massively increase current levels is off the table. As Kevin Drum has noted on several occasions (perhaps here first), we are very near our maximum practical deployment levels in Iraq. A large deployment increase would require either a massive surge of volunteers or a draft -- neither of which is likely to happen while the nation is questioning the conflict's justification. Thus, President Bush is forced to make do without, regardless of whether or not the situation demands it.

Then again, dropping support may be enough to rein in a reckless administration. If the best course of action is truly a cessation of hostilities, surely it is for the best if a president's remaining options are foreclosed. And if a conflict is unjustifiable, what could mitigate the benefit of its termination?

As it turns out, there are potentially serious ramifications for the veterans of such conflicts. On the one hand, soldiers certainly benefit when they are taken out of theater. This is even truer when the justifications for their sacrifice are revealed as weak. That said, all trips home are not equal.

For example, soldiers returning after successfully defeating the Nazi scourge during World War II were welcomed home as heroes. They were greeted with ticker-tape parades and other testimonies to their bravery and sacrifice. Moreover, they received the message that America at large stood behind their actions on the battlefield. They might have killed and maimed while they were abroad, but these actions were justified by the achievement of a greater good. This justification was an important part of their rehabilitation and reintroduction into civilian life. With it, their transition was relatively seamless.

Then, of course, there was Vietnam. Soldiers returned from this conflict to a country that was sharply divided over our involvement there. Some surely saw them as heroes, but many others saw them as complicit in a larger crime. They too had committed violent acts in service of their country. But unlike their forefathers in World War II, they received no absolution for these acts. Instead, they were forced to cope with the reality that these violent acts served no greater purpose. Without this justification, these soldiers were more likely to develop trauma disorders upon their return and, in the end, many did. This was not the only reason for the increased manifestation of PTSD during the Vietnam era, but it was an important contributing factor.

Now, we are unlikely to make the same mistakes when our soldiers return home this time. Our support of the soldiers is unmitigated, even if we opposed the conflict itself. However, this is not sufficient to deflect the consequences of the combat experience. World War II veterans were told: "you sacrifice and killed -- but you did so to avert a far greater evil." The veterans of the Iraq war will be told: "you loyally followed orders -- but your actions served no great purpose." You can dress that message up if you want, but you can't substantially change it. And if the soldiers do not believe that there was justification behind their actions, they will suffer.

And so, on the one hand, there is satisfaction to be had in the waning support for this immoral conflict. But, now that we are there, there are consequences to ending things in this manner. On balance, I would agree that almost anything that quickly brings this conflict to an amicable conclusion is worth pursuing. Yet, I must acknowledge that there will be consequences for our souring appetites. Ultimately, the responsibility for these consequences belongs to those who led us here in the first place. But, we should all prepare to face what's next. Because, like it or not, that's where we are headed.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Calling London

Shock and horror. Words can't really sum up the sadness of this day so I will keep mine brief. I just want to offer my heart felt condolences to the victims of this attack, and their relatives and loved ones, as they are left to sort through the staggering pain and loss inflicted upon them. It was nervous and tense, to say the least, riding the New York subways today. Let's hope that the bloodshed has ceased at least for the near future.

For any interested in real time updates on the details, Stygius has a roundup of some bloggers keeping regular watch on the developments as they occur. I also recommend the BBC website for up to the minute coverage.

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