Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I Don't Live Here Anymore

Not exactly, but I'll be taking yet another vacation (slacker!) starting tomorrow - compounding the light-blogging epidemic plaguing this site over the past couple of weeks. The good news is that the familiar tandem of jonny and Alex will be pitching in to keep this boat afloat. Please tune in for what promises to be more quality contributions from TIA's MVP's.

The upside for me is that I get to go celebrate a good friend's graduation from the Fletcher School at Tufts (new home of Prof. Dan Drezner). It's off to Vegas, and then my friend will be starting a career in counter-terrorism/intelligence with one of the government's top agencies - that is, if he clears his background checks and all the assorted security clearance niceties.

To accomplish this, the poor guy actually has to rely on me for a reference. He's doomed.

And I don't suppose our vacation in Vegas is going to help any along these lines. Did someone say highly actionable blackmail material? Looks like I just got my first comp of the trip.

See you in about a week.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Also Not About The Oil. Honest.

Back in late February, Ted Koppel penned an op-ed in the New York Times that sketched out a brief history of the foreign policies of both the US and Britain in the Middle East over the past century or so. He did so to puncture the specious, yet persistent and forceful, claims from Bush administration officials that the invasion of Iraq (and continued presence of American military forces) had (and has) nothing to do with oil.

But the Bush administration's touchiness about charges that we acted - and are still acting - in Iraq "because of oil"? Now that's curious. Keeping oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz has been bedrock American foreign policy for more than a half-century. [...]

If those considerations did not enter into the Bush administration's calculations when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it would have been the first time in more than 50 years that the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was not a central element of American foreign policy.
Color me unconvinced - Andrew Sullivan's "evidence" notwithstanding. That is not to say that the invasion of Iraq was only about oil for every party involved in the decision making process - directly or indirectly - but surely it was the primary motivator to many. That Iraq sits atop the second largest oil reserve in the world was not mere coincidence, or serendipitous happenstance. In reaction to this politically inconvenient reality, the Bush administration doth protest too much.

This is also not to say that such concerns should not enter the calculus. On the contrary, they must. Oil is simply too important to our national security, economic well being and several other vital interests. In the realm of foreign policy, oil is a very demanding and jealous mistress.

So too has oil inserted itself in the Iraqi political process - becoming an important feature in the ongoing violence due to the competing claims of the various factions. Sunni demands for more of a stake in the control over oil production and revenue - both of which were largely delegated to the Kurds and the Shiites via the Constitution adopted in October - remain one of the most significant stumbling blocks to forging a political solution.

But it doesn't end there. Oil has been a source of intra-party tension as well. As Swopa noticed earlier this month, oil has become the ultimate deal breaker even within the Shiite coalition [emphasis mine throughout]:
A Shiite political party said Friday that it would not participate in the formation of a new Cabinet, saying the selection of the ministers was being dictated by personal interests that ran counter to the spirit of national unity.

"We have found that the way the negotiations are progressing, and the way (ministerial) posts are being distributed, which is based on personal interest and selfish desires ... will not lead to the formation of a truly new Iraq," Sabah al-Saadi, spokesman for the Fadhila party, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Fadhila [or "Virtue"] - which holds 15 seats in Iraq's 275-seat parliament - is one of seven parties comprising the powerful Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance.
Like the Bush administration, the Virtue Party claimed that their motivations had nothing to do with oil. Rather, it was their concern for the respect shown to national unity in the post-distribution process. But it turns out that the alleged "selfish desires" behind the distribution of posts criticized by the "Virtue" Party's spokesman had to do with the fact that a candidate other than Virtue's was awarded the highly coveted Oil Ministry. Virtue was angry about its exclusion, not the general lack of inclusiveness. As Swopa said, "In Iraq, there is no Virtue without oil."

Speaking of the Oil Ministry, the man who actually got the job ahead of Virtue's candidate, Hussein al-Shahristani, is already making noises - encouraging ones at that. In response to Kurdish moves to set up their own separate oil ministry, and negotiate deals with foreign powers for oil exploration and extraction on their own, without any input or insight from the central government in Baghdad, Shahristani is attempting to reverse the trend.
Iraq's newly appointed oil minister said on Tuesday that the central government should handle all contracts related to petroleum exploration and production, putting him on a potential collision course with the autonomous Kurdish region which has recently begun to develop its own oil resources. [...]

"Any oil production, exports or exploration should be handled by the [Baghdad] ministry of oil," said Mr. Shahristani, a member of the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, in one of his first statements since a national unity government was announced at the weekend.

He had earlier said that Iraq's new government needed to get "national agreement" from regional oil officials on ambiguous articles in the constitution governing investment.

Under their own interpretation of the constitutional articles governing oil resources, the northern Kurdistan regional government signed an agreement in November with a Norwegian company to begin the first new drilling in post-invasion Iraq. Since then, a Canadian and a Turkish company have also began drilling in the north.
These words are encouraging because of the larger backdrop of insurgent violence - and the associated economic/political impetus. Unless the Constitution is amended in a way that creates a more equitable system of control over oil production and distribution of revenues, I don't think most Sunnis will buy into the political process to the exclusion of more violent means of asserting their demands. Part of this realignment of oil rights must involve reining in Kurdistan's attempts to establish a pattern of practice - and facts on the ground - that might make such Constitutional amending impossible or, if achieved, moot.

Solving this predicament is, again, easier said than done. Because the central government is headed by the UIA coalition, and that coalition has only a minority stake in the legislature, the ability of Shahristani and even Maliki to act along these lines shall be severely constrained. In an unfortunate synergistic twist, the departure of the 15 Fadhila ministers from the UIA coalition over the issue of oil has further weakened Shahristani's position vis-a-vis the Kurds. What was a minority position for the UIA is now a super-minority.

Maliki - and by extension Shahristani - find themselves in the following bind: Due to a lack of strength in the legislature, they must rely on coalition partners to rule - namely, the Kurds. So they're not exactly in a position to dictate terms to the Kurds, or tell them how to conduct their business - with respect to oil or otherwise. Instead of demands, they must make requests. Maliki and Shahristani can ask the Kurds to stop, but when the Kurds say no (as they likely will absent some unforseen incentive), I'm not sure what else Maliki can do. Intractable problems such as these are part of the reason that I was slightly underwhelmed at the replacement of Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister. Hopefully Maliki the Great can prove my pessimism wrong.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Deus Ex McCain-a

Ladies and gentlemen, put away your pens, paper, keyboards, etc., our problems in Iraq have been solved. Apparently, while the so-called "problem solvers, wonks and pundits" were busy overcomplicating the situation in Iraq, all that was needed was a little straight talk. Here is the Straight Talk Expresser himself (via Brendan Nyhan):

For all the national attention surrounding John McCain’s two highly anticipated, protest-ridden commencement speeches in New York last week, the Senator actually saved some of his best material for the crowd that gathered on Friday behind closed doors in the back of the Regency Hotel.

In a small, mirror-paneled room guarded by a Secret Service agent and packed with some of the city’s wealthiest and most influential political donors, Mr. McCain got right to the point.

"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit,'" said Mr. McCain, according to Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an invitee, and two other guests. [emph. mine]
So straight. So talked. So bound to succeed.

Whew. That was a close one too. I had my doubts, but it looks like its onward to victory!

Next Up: McCain employs his "Stop the Bullshit" doctrine to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Freedom Is On The March...To The Exit

Remember, invading Iraq (a nation with relatively non-existent connections to salafist jihadism - as practiced by al-Qaeda and its imitators) was going to choke off the spread and appeal of terrorism. The invasion would set off a tumble of democratic dominoes throughout the region, and through the redemptive power of war against another Muslim nation, the appeal and luster of salafist jihadism would - counterintuitively - fade away. From a strategic point of view, this was the type of stuff that adds merit to Tommy Franks' infamous description of Douglas Feith - extended to his compatriots. Let's take a look at some of the fruits of our sacrifice, and that of so many Iraqis. From Prof. Cole:

Al-Hayat reports that [Ar.] the Salafi Jihadis have established a Taliban-like mini-state in West Baghdad, paralleled by a Shiite militia-ruled region of East Baghdad. The Sunni Arab extremists assassinate young men who walk around clean-shaven, and they pass around leaflets declaring that they will enforce Islamic canon law (sharia) in that neighborhood. They have established the Emirate of Baghdad in Dora and Amiriyah districts, and it is alleged that Zarqawi is there and has appointed viceroys over each. Radical Sunnis fleeing other areas of the Sunni Arab heartland have come to those districts of Baghdad in large numbers. An eyewitness told al-Hayat that in one of these Salafi-Jihadi neighborhoods, an unveiled girl was kidnapped on the street, then later returned to her home with her head shaven. A broadsheet then circulat[ed] saying that it was necessary to deal with unveiled girls in this way on the first offense, but later on they should be killed. Men have also been shot down for being clean-shaven or wearing the wrong clothing.
Something to keep in mind when considering the dueling theocratic oil spots being created in rival Shiite and Sunni districts of Baghdad (and some parts south), are these words of wisdom from one of this war's other sage proponents, William Kristol, as recounted by Harold Meyerson:

"There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America," he told National Public Radio listeners in the war's opening weeks, "that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's been almost no evidence of that at all," he continued. "Iraq's always been very secular."
Brilliant! Kristol sneering at the pop sociologists. No evidence at all - as long as you ignore, denigrate, suppress and circumvent all that inconvenient scholarship compiled by the actual experts. And how's this for irony, in a perverse sense, freedom and secularism really are on the march. But I'm not sure they're heading in the right direction. More from Meyerson:

[Kristol] wasn't entirely wrong. Iraqi professionals were disproportionately secular. Now they are packing up their secularism and taking it to other lands. [...]

And now, just as middle-class Americans fled the cities in the wake of urban disorder, so middle-class Iraqis are fleeing, too -- not just the cities but the nation. In a signally important and devastating dispatch from Baghdad that ran in last Friday's New York Times, correspondent Sabrina Tavernise reports that fully 7 percent of the country's population, and an estimated quarter of the nation's middle class, has been issued passports in the past 10 months alone. Tavernise documents the sectarian savagery that is directed at the world of Iraqi professionals -- the murders in their offices, their neighborhood stores, their children's schools, their homes -- and that has already turned a number of Baghdad's once-thriving upscale neighborhoods into ghost towns.

Slaughter is the order of the day, and the police are nowhere to be found. "I have no protection from my government," Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni who has decided to emigrate, told Tavernise. "Anyone can come into my house, take me, kill me, and throw me into the trash."
Somehow, I don't think this is what war supporters had in mind when they brandished the overly simplistic, though no doubt self-gratifying phrase, "Draining the swamp."

With this reality so cruelly confronting Iraq's beleagured population, it is absolutely vital - in the most pressing sense of the word - that we all recognize that these same people (Kristol, Feith, Krauthamer and their ilk) are still giving us advice - only this time urging a military confrontation with Iran and/or Syria.

Looking at how spectacularly, and tragically, they have been wrong on so many levels vis-a-vis Iraq, it is an enduring marvel that anyone still takes them seriously on matters such as these. Let alone the White House. After all, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dude, Where's My VOA

Perhaps devoid of any sense of irony, Ralph Peters, back in early March, chided journalists for sitting comfortably in their safe "enclaves," in the Green Zone, failing to get out and about to get the real stories in Baghdad without their "hired guns." Of course, Peters was basing these criticisms on the observations he made on his own illuminating tour of Baghdad - while tucked away in a US military convoy. I guess they weren't "hired guns" in the strictest sense.

But there's no way we can let irresponsible journalists off the hook - or their parent organizations. Many journalists are, indeed, brave and conscientious; yet some in Baghdad - working for "prestigious" publications - aren't out on the city streets the way they pretend to be.

They're safe in their enclaves, protected by hired guns, complaining that it's too dangerous out on the streets. They're only in Baghdad for the byline, and they might as well let their Iraqi employees phone it in to the States. Whenever you see a column filed from Baghdad by a semi-celeb journalist with a "contribution" by a local Iraqi, it means this: The Iraqi went out and got the story, while the journalist stayed in his or her room.
According to Peters, the persistent stories of violence and civil war in Iraq that were percolating around US-based newsrooms were just so much exaggeration and Bush-bashing. After all, on his brief tour through a narrow sliver of a small portion of Iraq, he didn't see any violence.

All day - and it was a long day - we drove through Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. Everywhere, the reception was warm. No violence. None.

And no hostility toward our troops. Iraqis went out of their way to tell us we were welcome.

Instead of a civil war, something very different happened because of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. The fanatic attempt to stir up Sunni-vs.-Shia strife, and the subsequent spate of violent attacks, caused popular support for the U.S. presence to spike upward.
Interestingly, some federal government agencies are getting into the Bush-bashing business by recklessly responding to "alleged" violence committed against some of its employees. From Howard Kurtz (via Rox Pop) [emph. mine]:

The Voice of America's bureau in Baghdad has been closed for the past six months, ever since the government-funded agency withdrew its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed.

All Western news organizations have struggled with the dangerous conditions in Iraq, which have led to such high-profile incidents as the kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff. But for a federally funded information service to pull out of Baghdad for such a prolonged period raises questions about the Bush administration's insistence that conditions there are gradually improving.

VOA reporter Alisha Ryu said yesterday that she told her bosses in December that "it would really be impossible for me to do any kind of work" in Iraq. "I couldn't live with the idea that someone else could have died who was working with me....For all journalists, it's really become impossible to move around."

Asked why VOA has not sent another reporter to Iraq, Ryu said, "They didn't have any volunteers to replace me."
Hey Ralph, did you hear that? They're having a tough time finding a replacement for Ryu. Why don't you volunteer and show all these craven VOA types how safe Baghdad really is. Then again, considering this, you might want to think twice.

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 69 journalists have been killed while on duty, along with 26 media support workers.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Disband of Gold - To Rein Or Not To Reign?

Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has made some encouraging noises regarding the persistent problems associated with the proliferation of private, ethnic/sectarian militias throughout Iraq. The ubiquity of these militias threatens the sovereignty and stability of Iraq's already frail government by dissipating the state's monopoly on the use of force. Not to mention the fact that the militias - heavily influenced by foreign powers such as Iran, as well as narrow ethnic/sectarian (mostly Shiite) interests - lack direct accountability, and thus are not noted for their restraint or regard for issues of national unity. Reuters picks up on Maliki's statements [emphasis mine throughout]:

Two bomb attacks killed nine people in Baghdad to underline a new warning from Maliki that Iraq faces civil war if his government fails to rein in "militias" -- generally code for armed groups run by fellow Shi'ite Islamists in his cabinet.

Maliki warned that a failure to end the practice of major political parties controlling militia forces would be disastrous. "Weapons should be in the hands of the government ... Otherwise this will lead to the introduction of civil war."
Maliki is saying all the right things, but as the adage goes: easier said than done. There are obvious impediments to reining in, or disbanding, the militias: the miserable security situation that has plagued Iraq since the toppling of the regime has allowed these non-official forces to fill the vacuum and become entrenched as tools of the various political parties and factions. And many of those parties and factions are in Maliki's own ruling coalition of Shiite parties (UIA), or are looked upon as necessary allies to ensure the coalition's ability to govern (Kurds). So Maliki's latitude to act might be constrained by his political bedfellows.

It is natural to wonder whether Maliki could achieve such a bold initiative - which would anger and alienate so many allies - even if he had the will. And, unfortunately, there is also reason to question his will - or at least his interpretation of the phrase "rein in." About a month ago, the Los Angeles Times picked up on some of Maliki's earlier musings on the machinations of militia control (via Swopa):

Iraq's prime minister-designate continued to send mixed signals about militias, even as the U.S. ambassador said Sunday that disbanding the armed groups was the most important step toward preventing a civil war.

...In one of his first public speeches after his endorsement, Maliki promised to rein in the militias, but he said he would do so by adhering to a controversial law that requires making them part of the government's security forces.

...Maliki has suggested that militia members could get jobs with Iraqi security forces so that weapons would "only be in the hands of the government."
While bringing militia forces under one official, government-controlled banner would be a net positive, it would also create - or exacerbate - problems within the official security forces themselves. The heavy-handed, extra-judicial tactics adopted by many militia members prior to their integration could infuse the official forces with a troubling strain of bad behavior that would only heighten ethnic/sectarian tensions.

More importantly, the conflicting allegiances of the various militia members would not magically disappear upon the change in uniform, chain of command or official recognition. This could lead to a situation where significant portions of the army, police and other forces would remain only contingently loyal to the government - perpetually one step away from fragmentation, withdrawal and/or attempted coup.

Further, incorporating so many Shiite militias could further skew the ethnic/sectarian balance (or lack thereof) in the Iraqi armed forces. Along these lines, other statements from Shiite leaders quoted in that Los Angeles Times article give cause for concern:

Ali Adib, a senior member of the Islamic Dawa Party and a Shiite member of parliament for the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite bloc, said in an interview Sunday that the militia problem was "exaggerated."

Besides, "we're not the only ones who are responsible for security," he said. American officials "let the elements of the past regime into the security forces. Even criminals that were released from the prisons were allowed into the security forces. We need to disinfect and clarify the security forces."
By "elements of the past regime" in the security forces, Ali Adib means Sunni elements. A dual-pronged approach of incorporating Shiite militias, while further purging Sunnis would be disastrous to the mission of creating a national, non-partisan military. A daunting mission under any circumstances.

Maliki's latest proclamations about "reining" in the militias came as a backdrop to an announcement by British officials regarding the goal of turning over coalition security responsibilities in southern Iraq to Iraqi security forces by year's end. This timing might give credence to the assumption that Maliki is looking to incorporate the militias rather than disband them. After all, where is he going to come up with all the extra forces needed to accomplish this?

If incorporation is indeed the plan, the trick will be to rein in these irregular forces, while maintaining the ability to reign over them as the sovereign - with sufficient support from political allies and control over potentially disloyal segments of the armed forces. While it might ultimately be better to have these forces inside the tent rather than outside it, getting this camel's nose under that tent carries its own risks.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Slacker Friday Week

All apologies for the light blogging this week. Such is the nature of serving so many masters: day job, blog(s), beer, etc. Anyway, I thought I'd leave you with a quote of the day to take you into the weekend. The quote is from the inimitable Billmon, discussing the alternating (and often contradictory) denials, celebrations and rotating justifications employed by far too many on the Right - in the Bush era - when confronted with news of a scandal.

In the present instance, Billmon refers to the bombshell announcement by Jack Murtha of a pretty serious war crime allegedly committed by US Marines in Haditha, Iraq [emph. mine]:

Well, after taking a quick swim through the moral sewer of Right Blogistan this morning, I can see how the authoritarian right is going to play this story: It's all Jack Murtha's fault. He's just grandstanding to please his commie puppetmasters and raise money in Hollywood and get in Jane Fonda's pants. Or something like that.

The charges themselves are getting the pure Abu Ghraib treatment -- they're nothing but the lies of the liberal media committed by a few bad apples against people who deserve to be slaughtered in cold blood because Zarqawi beheads people on camera. And nits make lice. Or something like that. At least we're not being told it wasn't any worse than a college fraternity prank. Yet.
If that's not the evolution of the narrative in chronological order, I don't know what is. On that note, have a nice weekend. See you on Monday, hopefully with more TIA-related blogginess.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Eyes On The Prize

It's election season, so you can bet that the GOP - the party of "ideas" - will put forth a bold new set of policy proposals that will be sure to wow the public by the sheer quality of their idea-ness. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've already been treated to the somewhat inauspicious unveiling of Gay Marriage 2.0 - The Immigration Scare. Given the mixed reaction to the roll-out of that product (outright hostile in some quarters), I was certain the GOP would turn to something more serious, august and befitting the Party Of Weighty Ideas.

I wasn't disappointed. Behold, the incandescent splendor of Gay Marriage 3.0 - More Gay Marriage.

Amid increasing partisan tension over President Bush’s judicial nominees and domestic wiretapping, the panel [of the Senate Judiciary Committee] voted along party lines to send the constitutional amendment — which would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages — to the full Senate, where it stands little chance of passing.

Democrats complained that bringing up the amendment is a purely political move designed to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base in this year of midterm elections.
Yes folks, with all the monumentally important challenges facing this nation: a raging conflict in Iraq, a potentially nuclear Iran, a nuclear North Korea, an ascendant China, a staggering deficit, rising inflation, out of control gas prices, massive environmental degradation and global warming, gaping holes in health care coverage for Americans, Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Zarqawi on the loose, etc., the Party Of Weighty Ideas has focused like a laser on.....gay marriage and illegal immigration?

Can a Constitutional amendment banning flag burning really be that far behind?

And just for the sake of piling on, Christian conservative leader Pat Robertson claims he had another conversation, hombre y dio, with our Heavenly Meteorologist.

In another in a series of notable pronouncements, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says God told him storms and possibly a tsunami will hit America's coastline this year. [...]

"If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms," Robertson said May 8. On Wednesday, he added, "There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest."
Now that's what I call ideas! The Democrats gotta get themselves some of those.

No Answers, Only Questions

My ongoing war of attrition with my day job will prevent me from composing a post replete with arguments, conclusions and resolutions. All I can manage on my tight schedule are a few questions. Maybe you can help with the answers.

First, I was startled awake in the middle of last night - shaken by the realization of a fear that has dominated my waking thoughts since its inception:

Do the conservatives who criticized Bush so stridently after his nationally televised immigration speech realize that they are helping the terrorists win?

Think about it, everything that weakens our president's popularity in an era of enduring and everlasting war against the Islamoliberalfascistmulticulturalmichaelmoorefeminazipartyofdeath is a victory for our enemies. So my question to these conservatives is: Why do you hate America and secretly hope for the victory of our enemies? Answer that.

Second question: Why is it that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - who both work for a network called "Comedy Central" - are the toughest interviewers on television? I know that Chris Matthews is supposed to play "Hardball" (chuckle) and the 60 Minutes gang can certainly be probing and incisive in their own polite, professional manner, but Stewart and Colbert are outright brutal. They go for the rhetorical jugular at every opportunity. They don't dance around the issues, or let their guests spout their pre-packaged spin and platitude. They cut to the core of the issues and demand the uncomfortable answers.

If I had to pick the exemplar for Colbert, I'd say check out his back and forth with William Kristol. It's really quite remarkable. Watch for the awkward silence that ensues after Colbert really puts Kristol on the spot. Kristol is admittedly, "Speechless."

As for Stewart, last night's interview of Ramesh Ponnuru - including the relentless pounding over the ludicrous and incindiary book title, Party of Death - was pretty typical of his style. Check out the video when it's posted on the Comedy Central site or watch the re-run if you haven't seen it. Poor Ramesh. He was rattled from the get go. Then again, as Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala had the misfortune to discover, Jon Stewart can be equally tough on his interviewers.

While I'll readily admit that both these guys have a left of center perspective, to their credit they don't exactly go easy on left-leaning guests. For example, Stewart was dogged in his questioning of Howard Dean the other night - trying to make Dean come up with tangible policies rather than just criticisms of Republicans. I almost felt sorry for Dean at one point when he bemoaned the "high hard one to the chin" he got from Stewart.

Not only do they ask the tough questions, and dismiss the canned responses, demanding more of their guests than talking points, but both of their shows also manage to provide the best archival footage around. It is not uncommon for either program to show a clip of a politician directly contradicting a current position or statement. And if you want to see video of some of the stories that only make it to print, Comedy Central provides the goods even if they don't have Katie Couric behind the anchor's chair. If only the rest of our media were so dedicated to revealing hypocrisy and mendacity rather than trying to find the right packaging for their mediocre product.

What does it say about the cozy relationship our media has with the power structure that one has to turn to Comedy Central for the hardest-hitting product?

My third and final question forthcoming, but first some background. Since we're about a week away from the one year anniversary of Dick Cheney's proclamation that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes," I thought it would be a good time to see just how defeated that insurgency is.

Let's see: the past month and a half has seen a frightening increase in deaths suffered by coalition forces, Baghdad residents aren't able to actually "live" and move around in their own city, the southern city of Basra has come to resemble Baghdad in that it is spitting out refugees fleeing violence at an alarming rate - and the British are beginning to come under repeated attacks by local forces - and any day you check the updates, there is a widespread pattern of violence throughout the nation. From the southern tip, to the ongoing shelling of Kurdistan by its neighbors up north.

Take, oh, today for example:
NEAR BAGHDAD - Four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement.

BASRA - Major-General Hassan Suwadi, Basra's police chief, escaped unharmed an assassination attempt when a bomb exploded outside his home, police said.

KERBALA - Gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead a high school teacher in central Kerbala, 110 km (68 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

KIRKUK - Najim Abdullah, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was killed by gunmen in central Kirkuk, said police and party official Mohammed Noshirwani.

NEAR RAMADI - Gunmen abducted 15 martial art athletes near the city of Ramadi on Wednesday as they were travelling by bus to neighbouring Jordan to attend a training course, said Abdul Karim al-Basri, an official of the Youth and Sports Ministry. The driver was also seized, he said.

BAGHDAD - Gunmen opened fire on a minibus carrying labourers, killing six, in southwestern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Seven people, including four policemen, were killed and four people were wounded when a car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in northern Baghdad, police said.

KIRKUK - Gunmen shot dead a school teacher and a student in the oil city of Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

FALLUJA - A policeman and two insurgents were wounded in clashes in Falluja, west of Baghdad, police said.

AL-MALIH - Iraqi police found the bodies of two people, handcuffed, blindfolded and shot dead, in al-Malih village, about 75 km south of Baghdad, police said.

BASRA - Gunmen killed Nazar Abdul-Zahra, a former member of in Iraq's national soccer team, in Basra on Wednesday, a police source said.

MOSUL - U.S. forces wounded nine insurgents who were planting a roadside bomb in the city of Mosul, 390 km north of Baghdad, on Wednesday, the U.S. military said on Thursday. A civilian was also wounded in the incident.

MOSUL - U.S. forces killed three insurgents who were attacking civilians in Mosul, the U.S. military said. Another insurgent was wounded by the Iraqi army as he tried to flee the scene. The insurgents wounded three civilians.

BASRA - Gunmen wounded a military intelligence lieutenant- colonel and his driver in the southern city of Basra, an intelligence source said.

ANBAR PROVINCE - A member of the U.S. Navy was killed on Wednesday during a combat operation in the western Anbar Province, the U.S. military said on Thursday. Most U.S. Navy personnel in that area are attached to Marine units as medics.

NEAR NAJAF - A policeman was killed and three were wounded when a roadside bomb went off near a convoy of U.S. military and Iraqi police vehicles near the Shi'ite city of Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad, police said.
My questions: Vice President Cheney, are these the "last throes" you were talking about one year ago? If so, how much more of these "last throes" can Iraq withstand? Will we have a better idea in six months?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pirouette on a Pinhead

Has the "Blossom" lost his petals? Judging by the Bush administration's handling of Gay Marriage 2.0 - The Immigration Scare, one must wonder whether Karl Rove has not been knocked off his game ever so slightly. Poor Karl does have a lot on his mind, as recounted in this Newsweek article (via Swopa):

Privately, Rove’s friends and colleagues tell NEWSWEEK that the senior Bush aide has struggled to maintain an upbeat front about his legal status in recent weeks and that he has appeared distracted. . . .

...One House Republican who attended a session with Rove two weeks ago at the White House told Newsweek that the CIA leak investigation never came up, but that it seemed obvious" the subject was on Rove’s mind. According to the lawmaker, who declined to be named while talking about a private meeting, Rove is known to be strong-willed and combative during political strategy sessions. At this meeting, the lawmaker says, Rove appeared to have "less bite."
This latest attempt to stir up the fear quotient in the base by the suddenly defanged and flaccid Blossom is kind of backfiring - to put it mildly. The problems with the approach are obvious and the features decidedly un-Rovian: instead of driving a wedge between Democratic factions, Rove has found one of the few issues that Republicans will turn on each other over. And made it a central part of election year 2006. No doubt seduced by the potency of the highly charged xenophobia within certain factions of the GOP, Rove made a play for the base but came up short. Instead, he has heightened the internal contradictions within the Party.

The far Right's hostility to immigrants, especially those from south of the border, stands in direct conflict with big business's desire for sub-minimum wage labor and the GOP's reliance on religiously conservative Hispanics for future Party growth/stability. To navigate this minefield, Bush must perform a series of graceful pirouettes on top of a pinhead. Without a safety net. And this is a man who is not known for deftness on his feet.

One theory was that Rove's strategy might be more regional in scope - seeking to bolster and enhance GOP support in redder/border states in order to maintain what could be eroding advantages in the House and Senate. But the policies and rhetoric put forth thus far haven't had the requisite red-meat to really rally the base in those states. In fact, it's having the opposite effect. And as the rhetoric and the policies grow more muddled and divergent, pulled in opposing directions by powerful forces, the Bush administration has managed to alienate almost everyone while pleasing none.

In particular, that same coveted "base" is up in near-revolt. Glenn Greenwald has a nifty roundup of the conservative blogosphere's response to Bush's recent schizophrenic oration on the "great immigration ploy of 2006." Judging by the heated reaction, and the fact that it is emanating from some of the most devoted, cultish followers, Bush might actually be in jeopardy of losing some of that 29%.

Even John Hinderaker, the man who puts the "sick" in sycophant, who once compared Bush to a man of "extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius," incapable of error, only "one masterpiece after another," has seen fit to criticize his personal Mozart on the Potomac.

[Bush] had his chance and he blew it. He should have given the speech I told him to. As soon as he started talking about guest worker programs and the impossibility of deporting 11 million illegals, it was all over. President Bush keeps trying to find the middle ground, on this and many other issues. But sometimes, there isn't a viable middle ground. This is one of those instances.
One can almost see the tears hitting the keyboard as a distraught Hindrocket penned his 'Dear George' letter. Mark Levin of the National Review called the speech "pure idiocy." Unsurprisingly, Michelle Malkin lamented, "empty platitude after platitude...laid on thick." Others have taken to calling Bush "Jorge" - making a mockery of Bush's 'closeness' to Spanish speaking immigrants. That is worthy of scorn, huh?

The hopelessly hagiographic Hugh Hewitt admitted to the fact that his after-speech interview with Julie Myers of the Department of Homeland Security "staggered me, undoing in a handful of minutes my confidence in the president's commitment to border security first." John Hawkins summed up the general mood quite well:
After the speech last night, I took a look around the right side of the blogosphere to get a sense of what people thought. The reaction was probably -- oh, let's say somewhere between 75-90% negative and to be truthful, as often as not, I got the impression that the bloggers who said they liked the speech were reading out of the old "root, root, root for the home team playbook" rather than genuinely being enthused about what Bush had to say.
At the root of this rare show of internal dissent are a few factors, the most important of which has to do with Karl Rove's failure to appreciate the changing nature of Bush's support even from within the Party. At his recent speech before the neo-con think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, Rove dismissed the recent abysmal poll numbers stating:

But the polls I believe are the polls that get run through the RNC. And I look at those polls all the time. The American people like this president. His personal approval ratings are in the 60s. Job approval is lower. And what that says to me is that people like him, they respect him, he’s somebody they feel a connection with, but they’re just sour right now on the war. And that’s the way it’s going to be.
Rove might want to pore over some of that internal, RNC data again. Because the long, extended, era of rigid discipline and hyper-allegiance are nearing sunset. The succession of blows sustained by the far-Right in the form of Harriet Meirs, Dubai and now immigration have served to undermine the cult of Bush on one side of the Party. Creeping in from the center-Right are feelings of displeasure with foreign policy efforts in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere, the Katrina fiasco, as well as soaring deficits, a lack of vision and the reverse drag of the coattails from Bush's sagging popularity.

No longer will Bush get a free pass on all manner of policy by virtue of his position as party leader. The knives are out, and Rove better be paying attention. Especially when he decides to try to thread such a needle as this - one fraught with as much raw emotion, hatred and xenophobia. And one that threatens to upset the business holdings of the Party's all important monied interests. In closing, I thought I'd leave you with a bit of Right-wing rhetoric on immigration, straight - no chaser. A glance into the mindset that Karl & Co. are up against. The temptation to get the base fired up is strong, but if you play with this kind of raging fire, you might just get burned. Careful Karl (via Digby):
Dear Jorge plans to address the nation tonight, a speech wherein he will almost surely attempt to deceive citizens into believing that he does not wish the mass migration from Mexico to continue unabated. [...]

And he will be lying, again, just as he lied when he said: "Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic – it's just not going to work."

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society. [emphasis mine]
The Germans were nothing if not efficient. And imitation would be the sincerest form of flattery.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Both and Neither

In the most recent issue of The Atlantic, Fred Kaplan ponders a couple of questions surrounding our military designs in Iraq: Are we planning on a withdrawal of forces in the near future or, on the other hand, are we making preparations to "hunker" down in semi-permanent bases for years to come? The answer Kaplan reaches is, for Iraq, characteristically enigmatic: both.

Late in February, U.S. Army generals in Iraq started asking military historians and archivists to dig up official records from the 1970s involving the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. The generals were especially interested in the nitty-gritty of pulling out- procedures for disposing and transferring military property, for example, and the precise sequence of demobilization. The message was explicit: we're going to be staging another withdrawal soon, from Iraq; once it begins, it could spin easily out of control; so we need a plan for an orderly exit now.

And yet, in three years of occupation, the U.S. military has taken steps that suggest a total pullout is unlikely for years to come. The most tangible sign of these measures is the far-flung network of Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs. There are more than seventy FOBs scattered across Iraq, many of them elaborate renovations of Saddam Hussein's former network of military bases and presidential palaces. Some FOBs consist of just a handful of barracks, but more than a dozen of them are vast complexes reminiscent of the West German garrisons from Cold War days. [...]

And so we are operating in an odd state of limbo. It's clear that we're getting out of Iraq, and soon, yet it's equally clear that we're staying, in a fairly big way. We are simultaneously engaged yet disengaging, hunkered down yet packing up.

The confusion, and seemingly conflicting directives, is a malady familiar to the Iraq endeavor. The invasion that had a hundred different rationales for a hundred different supporters has spawned an equally diverse plethora of those justifying a continued occupation (myself included).

There are those making the case on the morally-tinged, strategic side of the debate akin to the "pottery barn rule" (that our presence will mitigate the effects of the low level civil war; prevent the outbreak of a full blown civil war; and/or stave off a larger regional war and as such, out of a moral duty to the country we broke, its inhabitants and in the pursuit of our strategic interests in preventing the creation of a failed state, we should stay put).

On the flip side are those making the case for maintaining a military launching pad for future operations (or at least preserving the viability of such a threat); those in favor of keeping our troops in the middle of oil country to ensure that the flow continues; and, relatedly, those that see our continued military presence as a means to put the squeeze on other oil powers (perhaps Russia and Saudi Arabia) as well as the oil starved (China).

The difference in occupation objectives can have real world effects on the policies adopted to manage the occupation, however. The competing rationales for the invasion (from the idealistic to the cynical) plagued the mission from the get-go by creating a conflicting set of policy goals that scratched the surface of several grandiose endeavors (such as liberal democratization, an overhaul of the economic system, establishment of a viceroy and/or faux-democratic rule by hand-picked exiles, etc.) but lacked the focus, resources and wherewithal to succeed in any one area. So too is the current "going and staying" message creating it's own disjointed repercussions.

For example, at a time when reconstruction dollars are drying up, and various administration outlets are making noises about the limitations on our mission with respect to rebuilding Iraq, money can be found for the euphemistically palatable "enduring bases."

There's nothing provisional about these places. They're often referred to as 'enduring bases,' and there are plans to keep them operating, in American hands, even if all our combat regiments go home. The Pentagon is requesting $348 million in emergency funds this year for further base construction, beyond the billions already spent.

While it is imperative that we improve upon our increasingly unpopular image amongst the Iraqi people in order to make our continued presence tolerable, doing so without being able to point to tangible gains in terms of reconstruction will be all the more difficult. Not to mention the fact that, to the extent it's not too late already, improving conditions for the average Iraqi should contribute to the overall counterinsurgency effort. Yet our funding priorities scarcely pay heed to these concerns.

The impenetrable sieve that is Swopa has flagged a couple of articles that further illustrate the herky-jerky pace of our military operations which is, predictably, generating successes and setbacks in alternating fits and spurts. From the Los Angeles Times:

In the region around Qaim, a northwestern Iraqi town near the Syrian border, Marines are fanning out from their main base and moving into villages as part of a new strategy to root out insurgents who enter the country here.

The troops have set up 19 small base camps throughout the area and begun routinely patrolling insurgent hot spots north of the Euphrates River. The deployment follows a strategy favored by a new generation of counterinsurgency experts: disperse, mingle with the population and stay put.

But the shift comes as the Pentagon appears to be moving the overall U.S. military effort in the opposite direction across much of the country. Army units are being concentrated in "super bases" that line the spine of central Iraq, away from the urban centers where counterinsurgency operations take place.

The two approaches underscore an increasingly high-profile divergence - some say contradiction - on how best to use U.S. forces in Iraq, and are evidence of a growing debate in the upper ranks about the wisest course of action.

The contrast also reflects the complicated mix of military goals and concerns as U.S. troops begin their fourth summer in Iraq. Top commanders are eager to begin shrinking the U.S. footprint, an implicit step toward a gradual withdrawal of American forces. At the same time, some field commanders are determined to break an endless cycle that allows insurgents to move back into key areas as soon as U.S. forces move on. That requires large investments of manpower.

If our relative troop strength is hindering our ability to undertake successful and lasting counterinsurgency efforts, perhaps removing large numbers to FOBs isn't such a great idea strategically. I concede that there might not be too many options at this point though. Available troops are a scarcity. And the Iraqis haven't exactly been able to fill the void. From the New York Times (also via Swopa):

Indeed, a trend of American troops pulling back to their bases and letting Iraqi troops take the lead has had to be scaled back, and the Americans have had to resume more active operations to help stop the widespread sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in the past few months, a senior officer said. At the same time, attacks on American troops in March and April were at their highest point since last fall.

Nevertheless, with the state of security being what it is, withdrawing to the FOBs should be delayed as much as possible. As with the reconstruction effort, our ability to provide stability will greatly impact the reception we continue to receive in country - although maybe in some counterintuitive ways. On the face of it, our ability to carry out effective counterinsurgency operations is crucial to our efforts to undermine the various insurgencies while winning the support of the Iraqi people. Yet while our continued inability to establish order and prevent the advent of lawlessness has eroded our standing in country, the potency of the fear of the vacuum created by our potential absence is not to be underestimated.

This realization has apparently dawned on many Iraqis - even some Sunni leaders have expressed fear of what might ensue after too hasty a US withdrawal. Zal and the gang have tried to parlay this dynamic into political/military gains with limited success. Yet while some Sunni groups are coming around, the Shiites are growing increasingly troubled by our overtures to those same Sunni groups. So what about the risks that our inability to provide a military solution to the insurgencies might lead the majority Shiites move to boot us from Iraq regardless?

We do have a trump card that might make the concerns expressed above about providing security/reconstruction less relevant. As Kaplan notes, there are structural features of the Iraqi military's reconstruction that might just guarantee us a prolonged welcome in Iraq should we desire one, regardless of other factors:

Here's the little secret that explains the contradiction, understood by all involved: whatever factions end up running the Iraqi government, they'll need - and want - the U.S. military to stick around for many years. This is true no matter what the political mood is stateside.

Over the past year or so - ever since competent American officers were finally put in charge of training local soldiers - the Iraqi army has been growing and improving. Yet the Pentagon estimates that while nearly half of the Iraqi units are able to lead a combat operation, not one can fight by itself. The reasons are plain: the Iraqi military has no air force, no centralized intelligence corps, scant logistics apparatus, and only one armored battalion. As a result, it is - and, for the foreseeable future, will be - unable to coordinate a battle plan, defend the country's borders, provide air support, or protect supply lines. To perform any of these basic tasks, it will need an outside power with professional armed forces. And unless some other country gets involved soon, that outside power will have to be the United States.

Militarily, we may just be indispensable to the Iraqi armed forces. Here's the catch, though: our strategic worth in this regard depends heavily on our willingness to use this capacity. That willingness might be tempered by the facts on the ground. While the Shiites might not try to boot us out just because we are making nice with some Sunni groups, if the increasing violence leads to an all out civil war our options and appeal might be diminished beyond the point of no return. The other portion of Kaplan's article discusses what our options and posture would be (none of them particularly attractive) should a full blown Iraqi civil war erupt:

But then there's the nightmare scenario: What if there is no Iraqi government to defend? What if the political stalemate between Shiite and Sunni Muslims persists and the 'low-grade civil war' - which has been rumbling since Saddam Hussein left Baghdad - erupts into anarchy, an unbridled sectarian war of all against all? If America's mission is to hold Iraq together, what happens if the country falls apart? What do the American troops there do? [...]

If Iraq shatters, the Bush administration will be faced with four choices: (1) Try to stop the civil war. (That would involve sending a lot more troops, which seems politically out of the question.) (2) Pick one side and fight alongside it. (Several senior U.S. officers, including two generals, told me they can't imagine a president going this route.) (3) Get out quickly. (4) Hunker down, and stay neutral, till the smoke clears.

I think Kaplan is correct that options #1 and #2 wouldn't really be on the table. With option #4, however, our indispensability would melt away as we continued to sit in our bases with our air power, armor, logistics, intelligence, etc. Our value would come into question for all groups involved in the fighting. In such a scenario, any and all factions could decide that our presence was no longer necessary and urge our exit. That could create an untenable dynamic.

Further, the fear is that the warring factions would turn to other patrons to garner these necessary military components. This could set off a round of regional tensions between our forces, Iraqi factions and several of Iraq's neighbors. We might be able to use brinkmanship to keep outside interference in check, but our track record in Iraq in this regard hasn't been that great, and there's little evidence to support the contention that our leverage would be increased in the midst of a raging civil war - with fewer troops in country (though I suppose we could re-deploy to handle tense moments).

Kaplan suggests that we should begin diplomatic initiatives with Iraq's neighbors sooner than later, in order to foster healthier relationships more conducive to establishing cooperative efforts around contingencies such as a hot civil war. He's right, but we'll just have to wait and see what the Bush administration's willingness will be to dialogue with Iran and Syria. I'm not overly optimistic - but the possibility remains.

The best option would be preventing the "nightmare scenario" - rather than attempting to manage it, especially considering how our trump card could go bust should we be forced to sit out while the various groups engage in bloodletting. Easier said than done. Yet by once again pursuing alternate strategic tracks in Iraq - and watering down our reconstruction and counterinsurgency efforts by diverting resources and attention to the conflicting imperatives of the FOB strategy - we are failing to utilize all the tools available to ensure that the nightmare remains just another bad dream. As much as things change in terms of our muddled Iraq policy, they stay the same.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When Right Is Wrong

As I've mentioned before on numerous occasions, one of the more bizarre narratives to emerge from Washington during the Bush presidency has been the storyline about the treasonous CIA - an agency that has been, allegedly, overrun by liberals, peaceniks and other assorted appeasers and defeatists. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the CIA's history - especially its cold war activities, both domestically and abroad - over the past fifty years should derive a hearty chuckle at the thought of CIA headquarters coming to resemble a hippie commune in rural Vermont. The C...I...A for crying out loud!

Nevertheless, due to the CIA's reluctance to endorse all aspects of the radical new foreign policy that was proposed post 9/11 (and prior), the propaganda mill churned out this up-is-down head scratcher. In fact, in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the growing displeasure with the CIA - and its "timidity" vis-a-vis intelligence on Iraq - led Rumsfeld to set up the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon in order to get at the intel that the CIA was too busy "vetting" - or better yet "ignoring" due to their peace and love bias.

The only other agency to surpass the CIA in terms of scorn, contempt and suspicion in the eyes of the neocon/hawk set is the State Department - especially prior to Condi's recent appointment. State has morphed into the standard bearer for "weakness" and diplomatic hemming and hawing, a paralysis that stood as a roadblock to the neocon inspired policy of "toughness" on the part of administration hawks and their once sizable, though dwindling, pool of supporters. State's dedication to employing means other than the cruise missile was actually blamed for the current plague of extremism and the continued rule of despotic regimes around the globe. These defenders of the status quo, above all, were not to be trusted.

But the grand irony of it all is that the much maligned and distrusted State Department's intelligence bureau (INR) was actually the most prescient and accurate when compared to other intelligence agencies with respect to assessments of Iraq's WMD capacity, the difficulties that a post-invasion Iraq would pose and a whole host of other relevant matters. If you travel along the spectrum from the INR, to the CIA to Special Plans, you go from better informed to worse. But from the hawk/neocon point of view, you go from most derided to praised. Go figure.

So it was with little surprise that I read this bit in the most recent issue of The Atlantic (scroll to bottom of page) about how State was closer to predicting the victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections than their cohorts in the intelligence business (a fact that I believe was flagged on American Footprints - perhaps by Prak - around the time of the elections). The story bears returning to [emphasis mine]:

It turns out that sometimes U.S. intelligence gets things right, or close to right—even if nobody’s listening. When Hamas upset Fatah in January’s Palestinian elections, the radical Islamic group’s victory seemed to catch American policy makers entirely off guard. But they wouldn’t have been so shocked if they’d taken a look at a polling analysis carried out just before the election by the State Department’s intelligence service (and recently obtained by Secrecy News, an online service that tracks “new developments in secrecy, security, and intelligence policies”). While the State Department didn’t go so far as to predict a Hamas victory, its analysts did describe the race as “neck and neck,” with the Islamist group only two points off the lead. The analysis also cited a decade’s worth of polls showing Hamas steadily gaining the trust of Palestinians while the ruling party’s support diminished, and noted that corruption (an issue on which Hamas enjoyed a huge advantage in public confidence over Fatah) was the most-cited concern of voters leading up to the election. All in all, the State Department analysts concluded presciently that “these results show a closer race than other published surveys … which have tended to place [Fatah] ahead at the polls by a wider margin.

Makes me want to channel the exasperated plea from Bill Paxton's character in Aliens: Why don't you put [INR] in charge?


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sully's Circles

I see, via the Cunning Realist, that Andrew Sullivan is up to his old tricks again with a statement that is so glaringly wrong on so many levels that it almost defies analysis:

One thing that today's high gas prices strongly suggest is that, whatever else it was, the Iraq war was surely not about oil. If you care about cheap oil above everything else, you'd have found some deal with Saddam, kept the oil fields pumping, and maintained the same realist policy toward Arab and Muslim autocracies we had for decades.

Where does one begin? First, I guess, you could point out that low gas prices realized in the immediate aftermath of the invasion (relatively speaking) would be only one way that the Iraq war could be "about oil." Also of interest is control over, and lucrative contracts exploiting, the Iraqi oil fields in perpetuity, regardless of the impact on gas prices in the near term.

As an adjunct to this, having the ability to establish permanent military bases in the middle of the world's leading oil producing region in order to watch over the precious resource would also have its, er, advantages. Given the fact that demand via expanding economies in India, China and elsewhere is surging, and the supply of oil is limited and nearing its peak in terms of production, occupying the pole position in the Middle East - both militarily and through expanded political influence via a proxy government - might be worth the pain at the pump resulting from the process of gaining such control.

And if one wanted to be even more cynical, one could point out that the oil industry is actually benefiting quite nicely from the increase in gas prices even if American consumers are feeling the pinch. They never said whose oil it was about. So even if one were to believe that the Bush administration was aware of the likely impact on gas prices, they still might have believed this result was worth the risk for the reasons mentioned above.

But more fundamentally speaking, Sullivan makes a rather basic error in logic: attempting to prove intent by looking at the results. Assuming the war in Iraq had something to do with oil (imagine that), and assuming that part of that oil-based strategy included establishing a cheap and steady stream of the stuff to American consumers, pointing out that the plan hasn't worked out doesn't mean that it wasn't the plan all along.

To perform a little reductio ad absurdum of this circularity, one could imagine any failure in design being explained away by the failure itself.

One thing that today's fiery ball of flame in the sky strongly suggests is that, whatever else it was, the Hindenburg was surely not supposed to be about safe air travel.

Along these lines, keep in mind that the "planners" of this war (using that term in the loosest possible sense) held many erroneous expectations of how events would play out. Recall, there was not supposed to be a prolonged insurgency, no ethnic/sectarian strife, our troop presence would be reduced to roughly 30,000 by Autumn 2003 due to the stability of the situation, Ahmad Chalabi was supposed to be a popular figure capable of mustering a mandate to lead the nation in the aftermath, and even then, elections would only be held after five-plus years while the CPA ruled over the nation via the "viceroy," Iraqi oil was supposed to be flowing at levels high enough to fund reconstruction and then some, etc.

So if those were the expectations, there is no reason to conclude that within that naive and pollyanish view of post-invasion Iraq, there was not an expectation of cheap and plentiful oil for the American consumer. If you aren't expecting an insurgency, you probably aren't expecting persistent sabotage and other factors negatively impacting the flow, and price, of oil. Further, there was generally an overestimation of the status of Iraq's oil producing infrastructure - with most analysts ignorant of the state of decay and inefficiencies.

But being wrong about expectations does not mean that you can point to the harshness of reality's reception as proof that those expectations did not exist.

Not to mention all that incompetence in the aftermath stuff that Sullivan has railed about in the past - especially with respect to every repentant war supporter's bete noire, Donald Rumsfeld. If this incompetence actually had an impact on the less than ideal outcomes we are currently witnessing, then how can you deduce initial motives from the tragic results of the unexpectedly poor execution. Incompetence in the execution does not absolve the intent.

But let's see how Sullivan's bizarre interpretation of logical argumentation holds up against other justifications for the Iraq war:

One thing that today's al-Qaeda presence in Iraq, and increased popularity worldwide, strongly suggests is that, whatever else it was, the Iraq war was surely not about fighting terrorism.

Or this:

One thing that today's decline in the status and rights of women, increase in religious fundamentalism and increase in influence of Iran and other theocratic forces in the political process in Iraq strongly suggests is that, whatever else it was, the Iraq war was surely not about spreading liberal democracy.

You know the dissonance must be reaching a deafening hum for many erstwhile Iraq war supporters when this is what they put forward as a defense. A logical fallacy that a junior high school debate team member could shred to ribbons in a matter of seconds.

Something For The Faithful

On the off chance that some Americans might lose sight of the monomaniacal and overarching purpose of the modern GOP, the goodly Republican lawmakers took the time to remind us all:

House Republican leaders are ready to move forward on tax breaks worth $70 billion over five years to investors and some middle-income families now that they've sorted out a disagreement among themselves.

The bill offers a two-year extension of the reduced 15 percent tax rate for capital gains and dividends, currently set to expire at the end of 2008.

Critics, including many Democrats, have attacked the tax rate reductions on dividends and capital gains as being largely tilted to the wealthy. They say provisions should not be extended at a time of large budget deficits and massive spending for the war in Iraq.
You know, looking around at the state of affairs in this country, and abroad, with social services slipping, baby-boomer retirements approaching, Iraq and Afghanistan hemorrhaging trillions and deficits shooting the moon, I would say the solution is pretty obvious: yet one more round of tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest Americans. Brilliant! Because, you know, they've had it so tough during the previous five years of Bush-onomics. They sure do need a break. Besides, how else are you going to hold on to that precious 31%?

Truth be told, the aspects of the bill that relieve some of the impact of the downward creeping alternative minimum tax are a good thing, but leave it to the GOP to stuff a remedial tax bill with loads of giveaways to the Paris Hilton set. It's hard out here for an heiress.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I'm Back - Almost

I'm back in the States, but the amount of work that piled up in my temporary absence has made blogging all but impossible. Add the vicious jet lag in to the equation, and you get a very quiet TIA. At least for another day or two.

But luckily, you can still peruse the fine contributions put forth by jonny and Alex last week. Eternally grateful for their generosity and assistance.

Oh, and Tokyo was simply amazing. Not only is my circadian clock stuck in Japan's time zone, but my heart and mind are trapped somewhere in the Ebisu neighborhood of Tokyo to boot. At least for a little while. In the meantime, anyone looking to hire a lawyer with limited Japanese language skills in Tokyo, please shoot me an email.

Hopefully a return to more regular posting in the near future.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Our Vainglorious Revolution


(Just one more quickie before Eric gets over his jetlag).

Twenty-five years is long enough. It's no longer cute, nor novel, nor vanguard, nor 'feisty', nor even reliably righteous indignation-producing: it's just stupid and weird. I would hope that our Opposition Party would acknowledge - first to themselves - that they have a once-in-a-generation chance to chart a new course for the country. In a way, it's actually easier to mount a counter-'revolution' than it is to make small gains within the status quo, most particularly when the operative verities are crumbling. Let's hope this sinks in in the coming years.

Political Economy

Or, I'm a Libertarian and I Worship Lightning; I Vote for Lightning Bug Because At Least He Has the Word 'Lightning' in His Name.

Via Brad DeLong:

Niskanen recently analyzed data from 1981 to 2005 and found... "no sign that deficits have ever acted as a constraint on spending." To the contrary: judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount....

Niskanen, the chairman of Cato, goes on to say 'I'd love to be wrong..'. I'll bet.

Frank Luntz' Insolent Pouting Rictus...

....uncomfortably close to your ear. Blow some my way, Frank. A queef from 'Washington Whispers' (via Taegan):

"GOP political guru Frank Luntz thinks 2008 could be the year for a third-party success, but only if the presidential candidate is a big name. The ideal guy: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who isn't interested. Why Mike? Luntz says he's frugal with the city budget, socially liberal, and rich enough to buy the advertising it takes to win the election. Two others: Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Colin Powell."

When you've lost even Frank Luntz, that's pretty bad. It's bad not because he's become disenchanted with the party; amoral actors aren't enchanted in the first place, which is the reason this matters: he's a market indicator. The Bush brand is, commercially-speaking, lapsed.

Cox, Bollocks

Acting old beyond her - or anyone's - years, Ana Cox insists that attention must be paid:

Comedy can have a political point but it is not political action, and what Colbert said on the stage of the Washington Hilton — funny or not — means far less than what the ardent posters at ThankYouStephenColbert.org would like it to.

Comedy is not political action? Rhetoric isn't? Satire isn't? That is such an obtuse thing to say that I find myself wondering if I really understand her meaning. Surely she knows that people thanking Colbert in some comment window know that they aren't literally voting in an election. I'd also note that Yahoo cites an increase in Colbert searches of "5,625% this week and picking up speed. Trajectories for "Colbert speech" and "colbert video" are racing off the chart." They say there's a "boulder-coming-at-Indiana Jones quality to the story now."

Kleinman, in a pretty contradictory, 'yes, but, yes, but, yes, but' kind of post, basically 'gets' the Colbert event, but defends Cox for sniffing at the raucous glee of Left Blogostan (whatever that is). Yes, some people in the largely inchoate LB can be boorish, reductive, stupid, and - yes - even humorless (while some, on the other hand, quote Shelley). Your point is....?

Sorry, but there is no point, other than: I am trenchant, thoughtful and well-spoken; you are rabble. So what if you just witnessed a surrealistic coup? Simmer down.

Colbert pee'd in the punch bowl last weekend. Cox must counter-pee. It's a reflex.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

War of Words with Russia

The belligerent Bush Administration never fails to amaze me with its bellicose bullying. This week they not only pushed forward with their plans to start a war with Iran, they also took some time to poke Russia in the eye.

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) -- Vice President Dick Cheney, in remarks that caused a stir in neighboring Russia, Thursday accused President Vladimir Putin of restricting the rights of citizens and said that "no legitimate interest is served" by turning energy resources into implements of blackmail.

"In Russia today, opponents of reform are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade," Cheney told a conference of Eastern European leaders whose countries once lived under Soviet oppression, and remain in Russia's shadow.


He said Russia has a choice to make when it comes to reform, and said that in many areas, "from religion and the news media to advocacy groups and political parties, the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of the people."

Other actions "have been counterproductive and could begin to affect relations with other countries," Cheney said, mentioning energy and border issues.

Now, this would be a little less brazenly bizarre if the U.S. hadn't just submitted an extremely controversial resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Iran's nuclear activities. This is obviously not a coincidence, and I highly doubt that Bush and Co. are stupid enough to think that they can bully and embarrass Russia into supporting the resolution, which the Russians are still sure to reject, as it will, IMO, do little but give the U.S. the green light to start overt hostilities with Iran.

The real purpose seems to me to be the further destruction of any semblance of credibility for the U.N., which the Bushies have been trying to destroy since they came to power, and esp. since they appointed "Screamy" John Bolton as their ambassador to the U.N. You would think that the Bushies would put their complete disgust for the U.N. (and anything else which would restrict their power on the world stage) on hold while they try and get some cover for their Iran actions, but I guess they believe they can kill two birds with one stone here- further crippling that pain-in-the-ass U.N. while ensuring that the eventual rejection of sanctions by the Security Council can be explained away at home and, possibly, to our international friends.

The other thing that is pretty bizarre about this episode is the nature of the criticisms against Russia. Either Bush and Co. have a really twisted sense of irony, or they are completely ignorant of how they are viewed at home and abroad by those who are not blinded by partisan ideology, bribed, or who have not bought 100% into their BS . For an intellectually honest person, it's a little hard to call Russia out on abuses of power, when we have condoned and administer torture, when we have shown nothing but disdain for any international treaties that do not enhance our immediate interests, when Bush has basically told Congress that they cannot restrict his power, when the Bush Administration conducts illegal warranties surveillance of its own citizens, when it allows the FBI to spy on groups opposed to it's war, etc. (the list really does go on, and on, and on...).

There was a time when the U.S. had the moral authority to speak out against the abuses of power of other governments, but the Bush Administration has done everything that it could to destroy our moral standing. And now all we are left with is the ability to throw around our weight like the 200-lb Gorilla that we are (in terms of raw physical power). Unfortunately for us all, that physical power has serious limits, and every day we are pushing against those limits tempting the fates to give our nation the lesson that so many powerful nations before us have learned the hard way. By advocating for constant war, and by destroying the levies that hold back the destructive waters of time, we have opened ourselves up for precipitous decline.

Crossposted at Blue Force | National Security Progressives, Progressive National Security

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Dogs Of War Are Barking

When will the war with Iran officially begin and under what circumstances? Those seem to be the only questions left to ask in the minds of the NeoCons. Paul at Powerline provides a good example of the forced choice that the NeoCons would like to foist upon the debate over Iran:
There are only two horses in this race -- a nuclear Iran and an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. Those who back a third horse -- be it U.N. involvement or "tough" sanctions -- are engaging in a Clinton-style evasion.
Bill Kristol is alarmed at the suggestion that we'd even consider talking to Iran, because, you know, you're "soft" if you even consider solving this with diplomacy. They see Condi's recent statements, which looked to me like an announcement of a coming war, as an pronouncement that the Bush Doctrine (i.e. shoot now, plan later) is dead.
Condi and her colleagues will try to say--privately and off the record--that it ain't so. They'll explain to Bush supporters here in Washington that the administration hasn't really gone soft on Iran. The State Department is just doing its job, reassuring the Europeans so as to keep them on board. Sure, hawks will worry that proclaiming "Iran is not Iraq" signals that the Bush administration is now terrified even to threaten the use of force against terror-sponsoring dictatorships seeking weapons of mass destruction. But all options, at least theoretically, are still on the table...
Condi and her colleagues may come home and say, privately, it ain't so. But it is so. Much of the U.S. government no longer believes in, and is no longer acting to enforce, the Bush Doctrine. "The United States of America understands and believes that Iran is not Iraq." That's a diplomatic way of saying that the United States of America is in retreat.
Man, there's nothing like being called a punk by an Upper-West-Side prep-school sophist (a brilliant one, no doubt) to get my blood boiling. Yeah- attack Iran or we're in retreat! Kristol still must be reeling from his beatdown on the Colbert Report the other day, because if this is the lamest and most common instigator bullying tactic, I don't know what is.

But, as stupid as Kristol's bullying tactic is, it seems that Suzanne Nossel, over at Democracy Alliance has bought in hook, line, and sinker to the war party's propaganda (so what does that make her?). Let's call her top-five list on Iran Top 5 things to do about Iran if you've overdosed on NeoCon koolaid (my comments in italics):
After last Friday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Tehran has successfully enriched uranium and defied the UN Security Council’s Friday deadline to halt the process, we find ourselves in a frightening stand-off with an uncontrollable Islamic demagogue bent getting nukes. I am not an expert on the region, but here’s my take on some things the U.S. ought and ought not do:
1. Do everything possible to position this as a showdown between the Iran and the UN, not Iran and the US... *Because this tactic was actually effective in bullying the UN into passing a resolution that the US used to give the Iraq War a thin vaneer of legitimacy
2. Align the world’s neutral nations behind a tough UN stance... *Holding back laughter...
3. Stay close to Europe... *Can't hold it back any more- HAHAHAHA!!! If Europe is stupid enough to fall for this tired tactic again, then, well, they're dumber than I thought possible
4. Hold firm on the idea that Iran cannot dictate to the UN... *Yeah, only the US can dictate to the UN! Don't they know that the US is the international community?
5.Consider an outcome involving intrusive inspections under UNSC supervision... why even bother playing that game again? We already know what the US thinks about inspections
I really hope that Nossel is getting a check from PNAC, because without folks like her on the "liberal" side, they'd actually have to make convincing arguments. But solid arguments aside, I have no doubt that the NeoCons, unfazed by their utter catastrophe in Iraq, are pushing with everything they've got to start a war with Iran. The question is- can we muzzle this dog before it bites us all?

Crossposted at Blue Force | National Security Progressives, Progressive National Security

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Life In The Catbox: One Foot In and One Foot Out (L'affair Colbert, Part Two)


For some insane reason, I find myself watching a little bit of 'Scarborough Country'. The original Wonkette, Anna Marie Cox, is ventilating the burning question of the moment: did Colbert 'bomb' on Saturday night? Cox took the Yglesias line: he was neither great nor awful, but 'okay' (Matt's exact adjective for what Colbert does). Dislike-him or like-him I can understand, but 'okay'? I guess when you're a budding Assistant Manager Trainee DC Insider, it pays to pretend to be as world-weary and unflappable as humanly possible (and then some); Cox's take: how amusing that Left Blogostan was - characteristically - declasse enough to assume that if you didn't think Colbert's material was hilarious you disagreed with his implied criticism. (Rule number one inside the beltway is, evidently: preempt any possibility that you might be perceived to be a knee-jerk liberal). Cox is mostly wrong here. The aggregate Left blogostan may not be as articulate as the fabulous Ms Cox, but of course the visceral glee most of us felt watching Colbert's performance was not, and could not have been, due to a dispassionate critical appreciation of his objective comedic qualities (a completely imaginary concept, by the way); as ought to have been protuberantly obvious to her, what we reveled in was the sheer theatre of it. Hello?! He was insulting the president and press to their faces! In a very pointed way! On television! As I said, I find Matt Yglesias to be generally an excellent journalist and blogger, and I've gotten a few laughs at Wonkette.com here and there - she's okay - but sometimes I wonder if these people are numb from the ears down. If you think the way to evaluate the event in question is to answer the question 'Did Colbert bomb?' - no matter how clever you are about it - the joke is on you. Bleat.

Dear Liberal-ish Assistant Manager Trainees:

Real satire - like politics itself - is not mere entertainment; it draws blood. Not 'kind of'; not 'sort of'. Really. Ever get frustrated with our stultifyingly boring American culture? Our crappy, disposable, derivative, remake-stripmined pop music and movies, for instance? Long for the olden days when things 'really happened' - long for them via either envy or its twin (a too-virulent scorn)? Know what the effective synonym is for the words 'quirky' and 'snarky'? It's 'harmless'. Also 'tame'. And 'tractable'. If you're smart enough to know that the Culturo-commercial Borg co-opts and commodifies everything (you are, and it does), you are certainly smart enough to see that, since it will eat anything, there is utility in putting a little 'poison' in its food when you can. Perhaps you are smart enough, but don't care.

You have inherited an atomized, decadent, nihilistic culture. In some rather fundamental ways, it's definitely not 'all good'. Difficult and disconcerting as it is, please try to examine the water in which you're swimming, particularly if it's in the Potomac.

Was Colbert 'Funny'?


It doesn't matter.

Both or Neither

Just as you can't miss someone unless they go away; just as drama without a conflict isn't drama; just as a liar who doesn't know the truth isn't quite a liar; just as release is impossible without tension; just as you can't be truly strong without being capable of vulnerability; just as 'trust but verify' is, strictly speaking, non-sensical; just as freedom can't exist without discipline - so too: comedy can't be comedy without a foundation of knowing what to be serious about, or without being serious about anything. (And of course, seriousness is impossible without comedy.) You might laugh in spite of yourself if, for example, someone ties you up and tickles your feet - but feet-tickling isn't comedy.

There were lots of complaints yesterday that Stephen Colbert's roast at the White House Correspondent's Dinner wasn't funny - ranging from libertario-conservative Robert George to young progressive fuddy duddy (and wonderful blogger) Matt Yglesias. The basic objection is that a comedy event sponsored by the White House press corp and featuring the President is not an 'appropriate' place to...satirize the White House press corp and the President. Got that? I happened to think Colbert's speech was funny, but whether you thought it was good 'entertainment' or not is immaterial. Our official culture has lost sight of what's serious and what isn't. Satire like Colbert's attempts to make us remember. Without that distinction, there will be neither comedy nor tragedy, but rather just a big postmodernist Nothing - a fatuous, reflexive, mirthless giggle standing in for both 'bang' and 'whimper'. Odd that neither the Greeks nor Nietzsche were familiar with the concept of 'dramedy'.

Why was Bush's performance at last year's event ('There's gotta be some WMDs around here somewhere!') not funny? Because Bush's routine attempted to drain all meaning from the fact of his having started a tragic, devastating war - in which tens of thousands of people die - for fake reasons. Mr Colbert's performance ought to remind us that satire - real satire - isn't necessarily 'ha ha'-funny either, but it affirms meaning rather than obviates it. Satire may seem anarchic sometimes, but it's not nihilist; it's the opposite of nihilist. There's a reason Bush wasn't laughing at Colbert on Saturday night, but it's not because the jokes weren't 'funny' enough....

Comedians Attempting to Defend Comedy From Annihilation


(JON) STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

(TUCKER) CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.

STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.

STEWART: How old are you?
CARLSON: Thirty-five.
STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.

BEGALA: Go ahead. Go ahead.

STEWART: I watch your show every day. And it kills me.

CARLSON: I can tell you love it.

STEWART: It's so -- oh, it's so painful to watch.


STEWART: You know, because we need what you do. This is such a great opportunity you have here to a actually get politicians off of their marketing and strategy.

CARLSON: Is this really Jon Stewart? What is this, anyway?

STEWART: Yes, it's someone who watches your show and cannot take it anymore.


STEWART: I just can't.

CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?

STEWART: If I think they are.


CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.

STEWART: I know. And you won't. But the thing I want to get to...

(PAUL) BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.

CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let's get to those!


BEGALA: They're in this book, which is a very funny book.

STEWART: Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please.

CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE.

We're going to take a quick break.

STEWART: No, no, no, please.

CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We've got commercials.


STEWART: Please. Please stop.

CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the "Rapid Fire."

STEWART: Please stop.

CARLSON: Hopefully, he'll be here, we hope, we think.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We're talking to Jon Stewart, who was just lecturing us on our moral inferiority.

Jon, you're bumming us out. Tell us, what do you think about the Bill O'Reilly vibrator story?

STEWART: I'm sorry. I don't.


STEWART: What do you think?

BEGALA: Let me change the subject.

STEWART: Where's your moral outrage on this?

CARLSON: I don't have any.

STEWART: I know.


BEGALA: Don't you have a stake in it that way, as not just a citizen, but as a professional comic?


STEWART: Right, which I hold to be much more important than as a citizen.


"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Review, by Thaddius J. Lenno: Come, come, my dear Clemens! We all enjoyed the rough-hewn felicities of 'The Jumping Frog' and the like - rather vulgar of course, but bracing and delightful in a rude, vigorous way; but now you are casting a crepuscular shroud upon us with your witless 'War Prayer'! Surely in this time of national alarm, shouldn't you ought to be lifting and lightening our spirits?....

[edited for clarity - I hope]

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