Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Boys With The Arab Trap

I was already aware of the whispers on the Right about reporter Jill Carroll prior to her release yesterday. Many, through innuendo or outright accusation, portrayed her as something less than loyal to her country. A traitor even. As evidence, some pointed to her observable displays of sympathy for Iraqis and her cooperation with locals. Others, to her knowledge of Arabic, embrace of Arab culture and her decision to, on occasion, adorn her head with a traditional Muslim head scarf - the last bit was as much a decision based on a desire for self preservation, and keeping that scarf-wrapped head attached to its neck, than it was a show of solidarity or religiosity.

It is no secret that reporters, contractors and other westerners in Iraq are prime targets for attacks, killings and, ironically, kidnappings. Some knowledge of Arabic, local customs and proper attire can be a female journalist's equivalent to camouflage - even if not a guarantee of anonymity and safety. Many native Iraqi women have also resorted to donning the head scarf to avoid attention and aggression from the "pious."

Perhaps worse, in the eyes of her critics, than any manifestations of compassion for the plight of the Iraqi people, or symbols of local culture, Carroll has been vocal about her opposition to the war, and an observer of the ravages of this war on Iraqi citizens. The Moonbattery blog excerpted a story about Carroll back in January which read [emphasis mine throughout]:

Though as a reporter she always complies with the strictest requirements of objectivity and impartiality, Jill has been from day one opposed to the war, to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

More than just being sympathetic with average Iraqis under war and occupation, Jill is a true believer in Arab causes.

From Arabic food to the Arabic language, Jill has always wanted to know and experience as much as possible about Arab identity, and she is keen on absorbing it, learning, understanding and respecting it.

She doesn't just "like" Arab culture, she loves it.
Which elicited this reaction from the site's author:

[Jill Carroll is] among those who have managed to get themselves abducted by the very terrorist goons with whom they sympathize.
So showing an interest in, and admiring, Arab culture and opposing the Iraq war is the equivalent of sympathizing with "terrorist goons"? Better to hold Arabs generally, and Iraqis specifically, in contempt as the "terrorist goons" they are? While showering them with the blessings of freedom and democracy and issuing heartfelt odes to the beauty of purple stained fingers. Can you do both at the same time? I guess you can try.

With this in mind, I was expecting to hear a new round of slander against Jill Carroll after she had the gall to suggest that she was treated relatively well by her abductors (despite the fact that these statements came while she was in an obviously vulnerable position as she was still unsure of her status as freed person or abductee, and was likely looking to remain non-confrontational). Further, it is also entirely possible that she was more or less treated well in that she was left alone while in captivity - spared physical and/or sexual assault (not beheaded is big) and was observing this with some qualified gratitude. At the very least, we should withhold judgment until she has had the time to compose herself and issue a statement while not under immediate duress. Nevertheless, we get this from the popular Brothers Judd website [hat tip to Think Progress and commenter Jay C]:

[Carroll] might as well just come right out and say she was a willing participant.
Worse still, check out this exchange on Imus's morning program the other day between Imus (who, to his credit, seems reasonable on this issue), a producer and sidekick:

MCGUIRK: [Carroll] strikes me as the kind of woman who would wear one of those suicide vests. You know, walk into the - try and sneak into the Green Zone.

IMUS: Oh, no. No, no, no, no.

MCCORD: Just because she always appears in traditional Arab garb and wearing a burka.

MCGUIRK: Yeah, what's with the head gear? Take it off. [...]

MCCORD: Exactly. She cooked with them, lived with them.

IMUS: This is not helping.

MCGUIRK: She may be carrying Habib's baby at this point. [...]

IMUS: She could. It's not like she was representing the insurgents or the terrorists or those people.

MCCORD: Well, there's no evidence directly of that -

IMUS: Oh, gosh, you better shut up! [...]

MCGUIRK: She's like the Taliban Johnny or something.
Charming. Not only a traitor, but a slut and a future suicide bomber targeting Americans to boot. Again, Carroll's empathy, compassion and desire to understand the culture equals terrorism and treason. You can't respect Arabs without embracing terrorism I guess.

These attitudes represent a dilemma for the GOP. A fundamental contradiction in the Party members' outlook that results in a predictably confusing mix of policies and rhetoric. A passage from Fareed Zakaria discussing Bush's speech at the Republican convention back in 2004 - which I have cited more than once - captures the essence of this "Arab trap" and its broader implications.

Bush is right to note that after World War II, because "generations of Americans held firm in the cause of liberty, we live in a better and safer world." But in those years the United States adopted a series of wise, generous policies and a conciliatory style that made it much loved in the countries we were trying to help. Spreading democracy requires allies, particularly among the targets of one's affection. [...]

The Republican convention had two alternating approaches toward foreigners. On the one hand, it repeatedly ridiculed them. The cheapest applause lines in New York last week were ones that ended in "the French," "Paris" or, worst of all, "the United Nations," which was probably meant to conjure up images of envious Third Worlders plotting against America. On the other hand, Republicans constantly declared they were going to deliver the blessings of liberty to the far corners of the world. This is the party's dilemma -- it wishes to spread liberty to people whom it doesn't really like.
With the other justifications for the Iraq war receding into the distance of history's rear view mirror, the Bush administration has been forced to tout the democracy promotion angle - an adjunct to the humanitarian cause of relieving suffering from Saddam's rule in Iraq. According to this narrative, we are expending trillions of dollars, sacrificing thousands of lives and diverting tremendous amounts or resources from homeland security and combating al-Qaeda to bring Iraq a better future. After democracy takes root there, the rest of the Muslim world will succumb to the irresistible pull of democratic dominoes, and the redemptive power of democracy will expunge terrorism and radicalism from the region. To buttress this argument, it is not uncommon to hear accusations of racism hurled against the Left for opposition to this "noble" war, doubt about the means employed and questions about the wisdom of the strategy.

This neo-Wilsonian off-shoot offers a more uplifting rhetorical vantage point to many on the Right who grow weary of the morally unsatisfying demands of realpolitik. But it's not a natural fit. It doesn't exactly track well with the conflicting desire on the part of others in that camp to make somebody pay for 9/11 - with any old Muslim stand-ins suitable as targets. The indiscriminate desire for revenge doesn't really go hand in hand with the purple fingered hagiographies. Nor does the lingering and underlying hostility to Arabs and other heathen Muslims that inevitably percolates to the surface - as exemplified by the reaction to Jill Carroll's positions on these matters.

Some examples of the incongruity of rhetoric and agenda to follow. First, popular conservative personality Michael Savage in May 2004 describing the difficulties facing our humanitarian mission in Iraq:

Right now, even people sitting on the fence would like George Bush to drop a nuclear weapon on an Arab country. They don't even care which one it would be. I can guarantee you -- I don't need to go to Mr. Schmuck [pollster John] Zogby and ask him his opinion. I don't need anyone's opinion. I'll give you my opinion, because I got a better stethoscope than those fools. It's one man's opinion based upon my own analysis. The most -- I tell you right now -- the largest percentage of Americans would like to see a nuclear weapon dropped on a major Arab capital. They don't even care which one. They'd like an indiscriminate use of a nuclear weapon.

In fact, Christianity has been one of the great salvations on planet Earth. It's what's necessary in the Middle East. Others have written about it, I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity but I'll get here a little later, I'll move up to that. It's the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings....

...I'm going to lead up to something of what we must do to these primitives. Because these primitives can only be treated in one way, and I don't think smallpox and a blanket is good enough incidentally. Just before -- I'm going to give you a little precursor to where I'm going. Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people, just so you understand that I'm not going to be too intellectual about my analysis here in terms of what I would recommend, what Doc Savage recommends as an antidote to this kind of poison coming out of the Middle East from these non-humans.
Non-humans? Muslims are non-humans? Interesting. Others have resorted to campaigns promoting the "I Heart Gitmo" logo - which I'm sure most Muslims appreciate considering that many of those detained and abused at that prison were innocent victims fingered by bounty hunters and bitter neighbors. But who cares, they're terrorist goons anyway, right? And that nonsense was endorsed by Time Magazine's "Blog of the Year."

Not to be outdone, highly influential conservative voice Rush "Frat Pranks" Limbaugh has his own glib version of respect for Iraqis with the "Happy Abu Ghraib" laugh-fest. Maybe Zal could try that one out around the negotiating table to break the tension in the room. "Hey Jafaari, before we get started, I just wanted to say, Happy Abu Ghraib!!!" A real gut-buster no doubt.

Speaking of respect, I shouldn't leave out Ann Coulter's warning to all the "ragheads" which she issued at one of the most important annual gatherings of conservatives in America. Her derogatory revelry garnered rousing applause.

And then there was the Marla Ruzicka affair. Similar to Carroll, though the underlying story was more tragic in the end, was the treatment that human rights worker Marla Ruzicka received for her sins of compassion. Check out the outrageous crimes of Ms. Ruzicka who was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb - acts that earned her the moniker: "Treasonatrix Barbie."

Marla Ruzicka was nothing more than a traitor cross-dressing as a peace activist. She formed the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), the goal of which was anything but CIVIC during the War on Terror or ever. Ruzicka's aim was to force the U.S. government to get an "accurate" count of "innocent civilian" deaths by U.S. troops and blackmail America into paying monetary settlements for each death.
Note the scare quotes around the words "innocent civilians." Surely civilian bystanders killed as a result of collateral damage in Iraq could not be properly labeled as "innocent." Even Iraqi civilian non-combatants are, after all, terrorist goons by virtue of being Arabs. Or Muslims. Or both. And Ruzicka's concern for their suffering is tantamount to treason. Debbie "Treasonatrix" Schlussel offers her take on Jill Carroll here.

And there's more elsewhere. Prominent rightwing pundit Bill O'Reilly offers his own analysis of those Iraqis we are trying so hard to help - out of the kindness of George Bush's magnanimous heart.

Now, it's a small little thing, but I picked up on it, because here is the essential problem in Iraq. There are so many nuts in the country -- so many crazies -- that we can't control them. And I don't -- we're never gonna be able to control them. So the only solution to this is to hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible. Because we just can't control these crazy people. This is all over the place. And that was the big mistake about America: They didn't -- it was the crazy-people underestimation. We did not know how to deal with them -- still don't. But they're just all over the place.
When you put it that way, Bill, it's obvious that Jill Carroll must be nuts too to sympathize with, and try to help, such crazy people.

Pulling up the rear both figuratively and, to some extent, literally, is none other than the more sensible conservative pundit, John Derbyshire. Says the Derb about the people we are trying to help with our gifts of freedom, democracy, whiskey and sexy:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don't care about Egyptians.
And just in case you thought that was an aberration, Derbyshire reminds us again of his outlook:
One doesn't want to be accused of inhuman callousness; but I am willing to confess, and believe I speak for a lot of [Americans] that the spectacle of Middle Eastern Muslims slaughtering each other is one that I find I can contemplate with calm composure.
Yeah. Just put on Bach's Cantata No.140, pour a tall glass of Chianti and allow yourself to be rocked to sleep by the calming sounds of Middle Eastern Muslims slaughtering each other.

Happy Civil War!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Say Cheese!

I know there are more urgent issues to discuss, but allow me to return to the Howard Kaloogian story for a brief moment. After all, it's not wholly without import. Kaloogian is vying for a Congressional seat that the Democrats could pick up on the GOP, and that's something. In addition, Kaloogian's shenanigans are a microcosm of the mendacity involved in the "things are fine in Iraq but for the media's distortions" narrative that seems to be the GOP's talking point du jour. So it deserves a thorough trouncing. Now on to the fun stuff.

First, despite Kaloogian's claim on his website that he "just returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq" his trip actually concluded in July 2005. If anyone is interested, under Kaloogian logic, I "just" turned 25. The TPM Muckraker has more [emph. mine]:

As we now know, the key photograph, purportedly showing a "more calm and stable" Baghdad, is actually of a streetcorner in Istanbul. Funny story: Kaloogian didn't actually take that picture. (His Web page caption read "We took this photo".) In fact, he didn't go to Istanbul; his return trip went through Athens. "Everybody in the group, we all shared pictures," Kaloogian told me. "I'm sorry, I don't know who took it."

And check out Kaloogian's response to the questioning:

"You're being really picky on this stuff," Kaloogian told me. "It's not that big a deal. It was a mistake. I'm sorry."

Yeah. What's the big deal? Picture of Istanbul, picture of Baghdad. It's all the same right? Even if you're using the former to prove the peacefulness of the latter. Either way, the media distorts reality.

Speaking of which, via Atrios, the Kaloogian campaign finally got an actual picture of Baghdad up on its website. But check out the photo: a far away, bird's eye view pic taken from such a distance that it's hard to tell anything about the calm and stability below. Leaving aside the fact that a photograph is literally one snapshot in time, and nobody (not even the dreaded MSM) claims that the violence is a 24-7, omnipresent phenomenon. It doesn't have to be for life to be terrifying and brutal for Baghdad's residents. Not exactly proving your point there Howard.

In my prior post on the subject, I suggested that the photo of Istanbul would make a nice accompaniment to Ralph Peters' own dishonest take on the same topic. Ralph can use the new one instead if he prefers. The removed from the scene perspective in both works is eerily similar.

If It Seems A Little Strange, Well That's Because It Is

I admitted yesterday that I was having a tough time parsing the riddle represented by the violence in Iraq over the weekend: a military style raid that, apparently, pitted Iraqi army units (that the Iraqi government doesn't control or know about) against militia members from Sadr's Mahdi Army (with the US acting as, perhaps, reluctant accomplices).

Andrew Sullivan tipped me off to a couple of posts from Iraqi bloggers that show that any confusion on our part could be even greater for the denizens of Baghdad. Though the consequences are obviously far more drastic for Iraqis. First this [emphasis mine throughout]:

The situation in Baghdad is deteriorating from day to day. I have warned about this long ago....Very soon, if this situation continues like this the city is going to be brought to a complete standstill and paralysis. The confusion and conflict between the Americans, the army and the Ministry of interior is producing a situation where the citizens don't know anymore whether the security personel [sic] in the street are friends, enemies, terrorists or simply criminals and thieves. Everybody is wearing the same uniforms. Whole sections of the city have virtually fallen to gangs and terrorists, and this is sepecially [sic] true for the "Sunni" dominated neighborhoods. People and businesses are being robbed and the employees kidnapped en mass in broad daylight and with complete ease as though security forces are non-existent, although we see them everwhere [sic].
But it's not technically a civil war mind you. And that's the important thing. Riverbend adds this observation about the text that she noticed scrolling along the bottom of the television screen:

"The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

That’s how messed up the country is at this point.[...]

It really is difficult to understand what is happening lately. We hear about talks between Americans and Iran over security in Iraq, and then American ambassador in Iraq accuses Iran of funding militias inside of the country. Today there are claims that Americans killed between 20 to 30 men from Sadr’s militia in an attack on a husseiniya yesterday. The Americans are claiming that responsibility for the attack should be placed on Iraqi security forces (the same security forces they are constantly commending).

All of this directly contradicts claims by Bush and other American politicians that Iraqi troops and security forces are in control of the situation. Or maybe they are in control- just not in a good way.

They've been finding corpses all over Baghdad for weeks now- and it’s always the same: holes drilled in the head, multiple shots or strangulation, like the victims were hung. Execution, militia style. Many of the people were taken from their homes by security forces- police or special army brigades… Some of them were rounded up from mosques.
This sort of puts a new twist on the "as they stand up, we'll stand down" formula, huh? As a wise man once said, "Sometimes freedom is messy." Unfortunately, someone else might have to clean it up. Down at the morgue.

Fade to Lavender?

Consistent with my post yesterday that raised questions about the functional sovereignty of Iraq's elected government, and Heather Hurlburt's observation that some Shiites are starting to call the current US rapprochement with the Sunnis the "second betrayal" ("a reference to the US failure to intervene in Iraqi Shias' post-Gulf War uprising 15 years ago"), the New York Times reports today on the latest developments in connection with US efforts to rein in Shiite hegemony. Or at least the hegemony of certain elements of the Shiite ruling coalition.

The American ambassador has told Shiite officials that President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday.

It is the first time the Americans have directly expressed a preference in the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting on Saturday to pass on a "personal message from President Bush" to the interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite member of Parliament who was at the meeting.

Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari as the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. It was the first "clear and direct message" from the Americans on a specific candidate for prime minister, Mr. Taki said.
Given that the alternative to Jaafari (of the Dawa party) most commonly mentioned is Abdel Mahdi (SCIRI), I find it curious that the US would draw the line in the sand with Jaafari - unless they hope, in the end, to usurp Mahdi as well (Allawi anyone?). Some reasons why Mahdi would be an odd choice as replacement - at least if it were necessary to expend valuable negotiating capital to achieve such a result: (a) Mahdi's party, SCIRI, is likely closer to Iran than Dawa/Jaafari; (b) SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corps, were trained by Iran, with many members spending years in exile in Iran following the Shiite uprising circa Gulf War I; (c) Badr has been an active presence in the security forces and military (controversial Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is SCIRI), who are believed to be responsible for many of the atrocities uncovered in recent months - much of which has been blamed on Jaafari; and (d) SCIRI, unlike Jaafari, supports the establishment of semi-autonomous regions in the Shiite south - an issue likely to alienate and anger most Sunnis, though placate the Kurds (this is why Kurdish support for Mehdi is easier to grasp).

One thing Jaafari has against him, however, is the support he receives from Moqtada al-Sadr. Maybe it all comes down to that, and perhaps the raid on Sadr's men over the weekend was one more facet of the strategy to separate, isolate and marginalize Sadr. Not an easy task, to say the least, considering the extensive and committed support Sadr derives from his constituency.

Then again, maybe Zal and Company know something about Abdel Mahdi that the rest of us don't - that he's some potential unifying elder statesman who can transcend SCIRI's internal politics and right the ship at this late juncture. He did, after all, attend the same high school as Chalabi and Allawi. That has to count for something, right? But if Mehdi strays too far from SCIRI's power base, couldn't he be sacked internally?

Either way, I found this statement mildly humorous in that it contained a bit of unintentional honesty:

A spokeswoman for the American Embassy confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad met with Mr. Hakim on Saturday. But she declined to comment on what was said.

"The decisions about the choice of the prime minister are entirely up to the Iraqis," said the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton. "This will be an Iraqi decision."
Though Colton was likely trying to downplay evidence of US interference in the process, her semi-denial was actually more accurate than might have been intended. Ultimately, this will be an Iraqi decision - and that reality should have been apparent for some time now. If Sistani, SCIRI and Sadr line up behind the UIA's prior vote of support for Jaafari, I don't think there's much we can do about it. Despite Bush's personal preferences. On the other hand, might not Sistani see this as an opportunity to knock his rival, al-Sadr, down a peg or two? Or would such provocation lead to an ugly internecine Shiite slug-fest?

Don't Blame The Sweet and Tender Kaloogian

The dark humorist in me would say, "You know it's bad in Iraq when..." and then link to this post and Josh's follow up here. I could, of course, leave the humor to the professionals. Allow me to provide the background: Howard Kaloogian, a Republican congressional hopeful looking to fill the seat vacated by disgraced GOP Congressman Duke Cunningham, has posted a picture on his campaign site that is supposed to be of peaceful, vibrant, and surprisingly modern looking, Baghdad. The picture contains the following caption:

We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism.

Problem is, it looks as if this photo was not taken in Baghdad at all. Not anywhere in Iraq for that matter though that possibility remains. According to a reader quoted at Josh's site, who is writing from Baghdad, the photo contains the following inconsistencies:

Why is this pic definitely not of Baghdad?

As you say, the script is wrong and there are Turkish letters instead of Arabic ("NOTER" is Turkish for "Notary" by the way), including that telltale Turkish “Ç” on the yellow sign on the right.

My four Baghdad staffers tell me the cobblestones on the pedestrian walkway do not exist in Iraq, and anyway, they know every corner in Iraq in this simply is not here.

The blue metal and glass commercial structure at right does not reflect technology in the dilapidated Saddam-nurtured command economy -- "we never had this!," as a staffer adds.

The buildings and taxi are much too nice ("maybe Baghdad in 100 years!" as one of them guffaws); the garb is all wrong; and everything is much too clean for a city greatly straining to meet basic service needs.

The pedestrians are much too relaxed; especially the couple at lower left, with the woman who would be questioned/arrested for indecency being dressed like that. ("This is impossible, to go out like that!," as a female translator of ours relays the obvious.)

In short, they all just laughed, but wherever this is exactly they would like to make a tourism visit. So if the Congressman lets us know, they'd appreciate it. Seemingly, the Congressman relays a photograph of Turkey - perhaps that was a stop on his ill-informed trip?

Another indication that all is not right with the depiction in question: the photo has since been taken down from Kaloogian's site. I have a suggestion though. Instead of removing the photo and destroying it, Kaloogian should make lemonade out of lemons. He could show his conservationist bona fides by recycling it. The photo, after all, would make for a superb pictorial accompaniment to Ralph Peters' series on how the media is misreading the situation in Iraq.

Caption: Dude, check out the real Baghdad.

[UPDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a city. Kaloogian used a photograph of the Istanbul suburb of Bakirkoy to convey the point that the media's version of Iraq is overly pessimistic. Just look at idyllic Bakirkoy, Turkey as proof that Iraq is calm and peaceful. Well done Mr. Kaloogian. His aim with the camera was even worse than Cheney's with a shotgun. If only this was the exception and not the rule for the GOP these days. The gang that couldn't shoot straight indeed.]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Meet El Jefe


Not everyone is lucky enough to work at home and therefore gets to (or is crazy enough to) watch big chunks of C-SPAN live, as I am. I and millions of retirees and shut-ins around the country are privy to the open mic, the stationary camera, all the video verite which doesn't make the newscasts, but which gives us - as Paul Harvey used to say - the rest of the story. You people who have to go to an office see the 'highlights' after work or on the web, but us home-bounders are the first to notice things like Sen. Coburn (R-Precious Moments) passing his dreary time as acting president of the Senate during the Roberts confirmation hearings by doing a crossword puzzle, giving rise to the question: what was the Senator's reverie then? Perhaps spooning Miracle Whip right out of the jar? Mmmm....Miracle Whip.

See? Unedited is the much richer experience.

President Bush's immigration speech yesterday got lots of coverage of course, but those of us who watched the the whole thing got ALL the flava, every bit of the tangy zip. The event began with an introduction from AG Alberto 'Abu' Gonzales. As you may know, the setting was the swearing-in of a room full of new US citizens. Here's how our AG set the tone:

Gonzales: Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise and join me in reciting our pledge of allegiance [hand on heart] " I pledge allegiance, to the..." Please be seated.

America's promise lives in the words of our Constitution, in the mind [sic] of our children who believe that anything is possible. And within the hearts of our Leaders. I entered public service in part because I believed in George W. Bush. I believed he would work to create a society where everyone, including my sons, would have a chance, an opportunity, to succeed in our beautiful country. And I believe in that still today. We are of course responsible for ourselves, and for our families, for our children. But in truth, our future, and our hopes, also lie [significant pause] in the President's Hands. And so in a world of increasing complexity, unknown dangers, and growing challenges, I wake up each morning secure in the knowledge that America is led by a good man, a courageous man, a compassionate man. Hope is what America stands for; hope is what all immigrants live by; and it's what this president has given to many people here and around the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States...

Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please rise and join me in the singing of an old Negro spiritual: "He's got the little bitty babies - in His Hands! He's got the little bitty babies - in His Hands! He's got the little bitty babies.." Is this a pledge of allegiance to a new country, or a cult initiation? Is there a more shameless ass-licker in the White House? None so visible as Abu.

Andy Card may be gone, but the vulcanized, prophylactic ring of 'support' (in the therapeutic sense of the word) for El Jefe is instantly self-sealing - any puncture, any purchace, is there for only nanoseconds. There was a lot of talk in the 90s about Bill Clinton's character problems. Fine. What does it say about the character of a man that he requires such constant, fulsome, private and public fellatiating?

A Lighter Shade Of Purple

I've been doing my best to try to decipher the riddle wrapped in an enigma that was the recent military confrontation in Iraq involving a raid on a Shiite religious center/mosque/insurgent compound that killed 17/20/37 Iraqis who were members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi militia/Sunni insurgents - with alternate versions of events given depending on who you ask. It doesn't seem like anyone has clear answers, yet, but there are myriad, overlapping and often conflicting motives for the disparate narratives being put forth. This portion of the account from Lt. Col. Sean Swindell, whose unit participated in the raid, offers little in the way of clarity.
[Swindell] said he did not know if the [targeted] group had a name, or what its religious affiliation was...
Those might actually be facts that we would want to square away, you know, in advance of initiating a battle. Just a thought. The raid itself was conducted by US forces and Iraqi units operating under the label of the "Iraqi counterterrorism force" - which are, ostensibly, under Iraqi government control. Only problem is, no one in the Iraqi government seems to know who this unit answers to. Swopa offers his best guess and a wager:

The "Iraqi counterterrorism force" referred to in the WaPo story is almost certainly the heir to a battalion created at the end of 2003 from the militias -- yes, irony is useless here -- of various parties allied with the U.S. at the time. It basically exists to be the trustworthy "Iraqi face" to be put on U.S. military initiatives such as the assaults on Fallujah and the intended attack on Imam Ali shrine in Najaf when al-Sadr occupied it in 2004. I'd bet a few bucks that at this point, it consists primarily of Iyad Allawi loyalists and Kurdish peshmerga.
Predictably, certain governmental figures of the "sovereign" nation of Iraq - anointed with so much purple hued fanfare - were none too pleased about military actions authorized by channels that circumvented the civilian, governmental chain of command. According to this article, some Shiite politicians are looking to reassert their control (via Juan Cole). From the Dawa branch:

Iraq's ruling Shia Islamist Alliance bloc demanded on Monday that U.S. forces return control of security to the Iraqi government after what it called "cold-blooded" killings of unarmed people by troops in a mosque.

"The Alliance calls for a rapid restoration of (control of) security matters to the Iraqi government," Jawad Al Maliki, a senior Alliance spokesman and ally of Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari, told a news conference.
And from SCIRI:

At the news conference, Rida Jawad Al Takki, from the SCIRI party in the Alliance, said: "We have said so often that the American forces have been committing great mistakes on security issues and Iraqis should deal with these."

He said the operation was carried out by Iraqi forces that were under U.S. control and not accountable to the government.
Suffice it to say, I think we know where Sadr stands on this recent display of force given that members of his Mehdi militia were the primary targets. That pretty much takes care of the UIA. Some local politicians got into the mix too, as recounted by Cole:

The governor of Baghdad province, Hussein al-Tahan, announced Monday "Today we decided to stop all political and service cooperation with the US forces until a legal committee is formed to investigate this incident."
It's difficult to see what our motives would be behind this recent act. There are several plausible explanations - though none are particularly appealing. First, there is a possibility that we attacked the wrong target. As Cole recounted:

...the US and Iraqi forces say they raided a terror cell in Adhamiyah. Adhamiyah is a Sunni district of Baghdad and is still Baath territory.

But somehow the joint US-Iraqi force ended up north, at the Shiite Shaab district. They say that they took fire from Mahdi Army militiamen. But there aren't any such Mahdi Army men in Adhamiyah. I have a sinking feeling that instead of raiding a Sunni Arab building in Adhamiyah, they got disoriented and attacked a Shiite religious center in nearby Shaab instead.
The fact that Lt. Col. Swindell admitted that he did not know the religious or organizational affiliation of the targets lends an ounce of credence to this story. On the other hand, this "mistake" could have been a bit more deliberate - at least for the Iraqi units involved. Swindell indicated that the raid may have been in retaliation for the torture and killing of "three men belonging to the Iraqi counterterrorism force." As Swopa alluded to, it is possible that the US got dragged into a turf war between a shadowy Iraqi military group and some foes in the Mehdi militia who had previously exacted a toll on three of its members.

Then there is the possibility that this raid was a deliberate act of aggression designed to serve a variety of purposes: 1) to weaken the strength of Sadr's militia; 2) to send a warning to the Shiites in general that militia activity will not be tolerated [But if either option 1 or 2 is the case, we should see many follow up battles because one shot like this won't accomplish much - Sadr won't be weakened enough, and other militias won't likely lay down their arms because of one bloody skirmish between non-related forces]; and/or 3) this could be a part of Khalilzad's game of pressuring the Shiites by "manipulat[ing] the military balance of power," or at least threatening to do so, ala Stephen Biddle's suggestions.

Here's the rub, whatever was behind this confrontation, my advice would be to tone it down and refrain from a repeat performance. If it was ignorance or a mistake of locations, tighten up the intel in advance. That is a must. If we're being used by certain Iraqi military units to settle scores with their militia-based adversaries, let's avoid playing that role. It will end up alienating large swathes of the Iraqi population in the service of dubious objectives. Finding ourselves stuck in the middle of a low-intensity civil war is bad enough. We don't need to start participating in internecine conflicts to boot.

And if this is some type of maneuver attempting to isolate, weaken or threaten Sadr and/or the rest of the UIA sufficient to compel them to negotiate with the Sunni insurgents/political leaders, we might want to reconsider that tactic as well. The balance required for playing both (multiple?) sides of that street is remarkably delicate, and the ability of the various factions in the UIA to mobilize their constituents could make our continued presence in Iraq untenable. I just don't think we have that kind of leverage any more. This would be a very, very dangerous game to be playing regardless.

Above all, we better start using the Iraqi government to clear actions by Iraqi military units or we risk having to deal with the, er, uncomfortable prospect of overriding the Iraqi government's insistence that we hand over security functions to them. They might even ask us to leave. And then we would have to undermine the democratically elected government we have been so busy showing off to the world as a justification for the invasion, and the nascent manifestation of the panacea for jihadist terrorism. I wonder what that would do to bolster our image and inspire faith in our democracy promoting agenda throughout the region.

Right about now, President Bush must be thinking to himself, "This democracy stuff is hard work." Maybe he'll just leave it all to the next president. And history.

Monday, March 27, 2006

No Rest For the Wicked

Fresh off my overly indulgent, misanthropic revelry in the misery of others, the universe has seen fit to punish me with more work than any mortal could be expected to handle. Seems as if spring is in the air around these parts, as all my clients are transacting business like a bunch of rabbits in heat. In other words, the blogging may be light for the next day or two. Or more.

But who knows, every time I get around to posting one of these warnings, I end up freeing up enough time to put thought to ether. Let's hope my ability to pull off the double reverse jinx persists. Otherwise, see you in a few.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Decadently Soothing Embrace of Schadenfreude

Today has been a miserable experience from the get go. Right out of the gate. Fraught with ill omen and punctuated with teeth gnashing pain.

As I was readying for work this morning, I was reaching for something in the refrigerator and I accidentally nudged a glass jar of food enough that it fell out of the refrigerator and shattered with a spectacular noise - and an improbably far reaching scatter pattern - all over the kitchen floor and beyond. After exhausting my rather extensive knowledge of profanities and other assorted expletives - at far too elevated a volume - I spent the next twenty minutes or so (in my boxers, on all fours) extricating glass from food enough so that I could use more mechanical means like a broom or vacuum without spreading the mess. Not a pretty mental image I willingly concede. Less so if you've had the misfortune to actually see me in my boxers.

And when that joyful task was completed, I had the unique pleasure of listening to the dulcet tones of the vacuum cleaner first thing in the morning as I set about to finish off the stubborn remnants of my clumsiness. It was enough to make me re-think my stance on plastics and the environment. If but for a fleeting moment of rage.

The entire process made me a solid half hour late to work, but of course the fact that the cleaners screwed up my suit so badly that it rendered it unwearable didn't help with my timing either. Just another pleasant surprise necessitating a last second scramble for a replacement. And as usual, I was playing it close to the edge in terms of wearable clothes so my ultimate choice was an uncomfortable mish-mosh of the least-favored laundry holdouts.

Not only did I have to hear it from my boss for my lateness, but I had to stand in his office taking my lashing looking like I dressed myself in the dark. At a golf course.

And of course, the pile of work is immense. So big, in fact, that I have no choice but to ignore it for the moment. Take a break and write this. There is no other way.

So you'll have to forgive me if I'm feeling a little vindictive today. If I'm not my usual good natured self. In retrospect, I apologize for the fact that when I was on my way back from grabbing lunch, trailing a man and a woman engaged in conversation, that I did nothing to notify the guy that he had a rather unsightly trail of toilet paper streaming from his shoe. On my better days I would have given him a nudge, a wink and a gesture cluing him in to the presence of the unfortunate hanger-on. But today, it gave me a sick pleasure to know that someone else was suffering - albeit in ignorance for the time being.

Normally, in such ill-spirits, I would avoid posting to this site but today I'll make an exception because...well, because this guy deserves it. And because schadenfreude is all I have to hold on to today. Who is the bete noir that I am referring to you ask? Why Ben Domenech, of course - the recent hire of the Washington Post website. Now there are plenty of reasons to be disappointed in the Post for hiring this guy - a self avowed Republican Party operative, who edited Michelle Malkin's Unhinged book with reckless disregard for fact, a person with no journalistic credentials, who has flirted strongly with racist opinions, insulted other Post employees and public figures with all manner of vile epithet, and a whole host of other valid complaints.

But this just takes the cake. It turns out that the hyper-partisan, arrogant, vitriolic Ben Domenech is also a plagiarizer. Make that a serial plagiarizer. Check out some of the evidence here, here and here. That is just too rich.

Well done Washington Post. And nice work Ben. Seriously, thanks man. That beats the hell out of a little toilet-papered shoe any day. Well, at least this day. Normally I might feel a pang of sympathy for you but not today. Tomorrow, you might get compassion.

Now back to work. And a Xanax.

[UPDATE: No, but seriously, this guy has a major problem. Via Atrios, there's more examples of the "aggressive inspiration" Ben Domenech derived from the work of others here and here. I expect additional updates to be forthcoming. This guy's a fount of plagiarized text. Did he ever write his own material? Don't they teach ethics in homeschooling-ville? Pass the popcorn.]

[UPDATE II: As predicted, there's more. Seriously, the Washington Post did this? The Washington Post. Think they're feeling had right about now? I hope so.]

[UPDATE III: You knew there'd be more didn't you? See Ben here plagiarizing, of all sources, the Washington Post while Ben was writing for theNew York Press. Despite some attempts by Ben's mates to excuse his plagiarism by claiming it was limited to his tenure at the college newspaper of William and Mary (as if that was an acceptable excuse?), there are now documented examples of plagiarism while writing for the NYP and the National Review. And allow me to repeat, his NYP article ripped off the Washington freakin' Post. The mind, it boggles.]

[UPDATE IV: And more. You know, I think I'm going to stop updating this post now because BenDom's plagiarism could consume the rest of my years if I was forced to post something appropriately snarky every time a new example of his lack of ethical standards revealed itself. This guy is flat out exhausting.]

Now, In Easy To Read Colors!

Apropos of the ongoing discussion of abortion-related issues taking place around these parts recently, Ampersand has a nifty, easy to read chart with a break down of the relevant issues. She touches on some areas that I have thus far failed to raise, and perhaps overlooks others I have focused on in greater detail.

Either way, hers is a concise recitation of the tension between the "abortion is murder" rhetoric on the one hand, and the policy manifestations endorsed by this crowd on the other. And at the end of the day, charts and graphs are just plain cool. I got to get me some of those.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

At Least He Did Something

At the risk of being accused of taking down a straw man, allow me to indulge in a little limited anecdotal reminiscence. In the first year or two after the invasion of Iraq, when debating the merits of the invasion as part of a strategy to undermine the appeal and capacity of Salafist terrorism, it was common to hear some variation of the phrase, "At least he (meaning Bush) is doing something." In fact, the argument hasn't exactly fallen out of favor in many circles.

This statement is, in part, a roundabout critique of Clinton's actions (or lack thereof) vis-a-vis al-Qaeda, as well as a nod in the direction of the argument that the status quo in the Muslim world/Middle East was no longer acceptable.

The line of reasoning for the latter argument holds that our policies with respect to the Muslim world had been on a misguided trajectory over the past several decades. The evidence cited is that these policies failed to prevent the emergence of such a virulent strain of terrorism. 9/11 was the wake-up call, and so our outlook must be re-aligned in reaction to this watershed moment. For some this meant that we needed to flex our military muscles in the region and thus inspire fear in those that would martyr themselves in order to attack us, and for others that we must usher in an era of terrorism-eradicating democracy. There was and is, of course, disagreement on the means chosen to accomplish these aims even among those that share common cause.

Tony Blair's recent speech defending Britain's support for the invasion of Iraq, continuing role in that country and related topics echoes many similar sentiments - though not exactly making the same arguments [emphasis added]:

And in the era of globalisation where nations depend on each other and where our security is held in common or not at all, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future here in Britain. We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us. Inaction, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is an isolated series of individual incidents rather than a global movement and would go away if only we were more sensitive to its pretensions; this too is a policy. It is just that; it is a policy that is profoundly, fundamentally wrong.

And this is why the position of so much opinion on how to defeat this terrorism and on the continuing struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East is, in my judgement, so mistaken."

My problem with the general argument that the status quo had to change - and that "inaction" and "opting out of the struggle" are/were not feasible courses of action - is that these arguments are far too frequently weaved together with the decision to invade Iraq as if they are inextricably linked. Which I think Blair does here, albeit in a somewhat indirect way. This creates a false impression that there was a binary choice: you were either for maintaining the status quo or you were in favor of invading Iraq. With us, or against us. No alternative.

But is this really the case? Given the unbridled creativity and myriad options available to this nation's foreign policy institutions, thinkers, pundits and policymakers, there were most certainly other means to disturb the status quo without invading Iraq. Other methods of "action" absent the current Iraqi campaign.

The military incursion into Afghanistan certainly accomplished something. Further, our various intelligence agencies and associated military assets could have, and did, snap into focus post-9/11 - redirected at disrupting the worldwide threat of terrorism that had revealed itself as something that required attention and resources. Surely that is not "inaction."

And there are, and were, a whole host of other tools in the kit capable of altering, and interacting with, the course of political, social and economic development in the Muslim world without a concomitant militarily imposed regime change exercise in Iraq. Some of which we are currently employing, some we aren't.

In fact, critics of the administration could argue that other than invading Iraq, not enough has been done to disrupt that same menacing status quo that we are so warned of. Others, even some administration supporters, have argued that invading Iraq has been a net negative, even if it altered that status quo. Not all disruptions are good disruptions. I don't know how Osama, Zarqawi and/or Iran views this break from the norm, but I have my guesses.

In truth, there was a veritable ocean of possibilities between inaction and invading Iraq. Some of which we have explored and continue to explore - which belies the suggestion that it was an either/or situation. And in the realm of massive foreign policy undertakings, with limited resources and competing exigencies, doing "something" can make a bad situation worse if that "something" is a poorly thought out, strategically bungled, massively costly and incompetently executed war. Just a thought.

[UPDATE: Praktike and I were hunting the same game today, as evidenced by his synergistic post which came in mere seconds after mine on the American Footprints site. Prak has a nice quote from Fukuyama regarding the folly of the reckless "shake up the status quo" policy. Prak also adds this to the conversation (addressing, in part, the "flex our muscle" to sow fear/humiliation in the Muslim world strategy):
... just want to connect this Fukuyama quote with my earlier post rejecting the idea that humiliating the Arab world was a good strategy for achieving positive change. The historical analogy is imperfect, but let's remember that after the Arab states' humiliating loss in 1948 there came a series of Arab nationalist coups followed by dictatorships and then ... a humiliating loss in 1967, which was followed by a tactical loss but small strategic victory in 1973, which was followed by the rise of Islamist movements and, the rise of the PLO, the Lebanese Civil War, the first Palestinian intifada, and so forth. I think you get the idea.
It's worth checking out his prior post too. He's right of course.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

There's A Hole In The Bucket, Dear Rummy

The Cunning Realist makes a compelling argument that Donald Rumsfeld's frequent use of the "all hell will break loose if we leave Iraq" scare tactics are starting to wear thin. Said Rumsfeld on Sunday:

Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.
According to The Cunning Realist, Rumsfeld has gone to the same Nazi/Hitler "well" on far too many occasions - to hype all manner of threat from Saddam, Osama and Zarqawi, to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Go check out his wryly humorous chronicling of Rummy's go-to analogy of choice.

I have already noted in the past, more than once, how Bush administration mouthpieces (notably Cheney and Rumsfeld) have been quick to trot out the "Osama will take over Iraq if we leave" canard in order to scare the populace into remaining resolute in Iraq. Rumsfeld's Hitler/Nazi scarecrow is of a similar vein.

The problem with these scare tactics are manifold. First, they create too high a probability for backlash if and when people realize that they've been manipulated. Think of the "mushroom cloud" dire warnings in the run-up to the Iraq war, and how people are starting to view such rhetoric now. What happens when the pendulum swings back from the exaggerated threat is that people can become overly skeptical or dismissive of legitimate concerns. Such quick-fix fear-mongering is as short-sighted tactically as it is short on factual basis.

In addition, this kind of demagoguery is an all to convenient means of cutting off much needed rational debate. How could one advocate the position of the Hitler-enabler or the accomplice of Osama in the face of such discussion-ending accusations? Yet rational debate is crucial both in advance of, and during, military engagements and other foreign policy endeavors. Open discourse, and a balanced and vigorous dialectic, create a process more conducive to the formation of successful, rational, empirically sound policies than would a fear-laced groupthink enforced with the frequent reference to this bogeyman or that.

Finally, at a time when America's leaders are trying to restore their tarnished credibility at home and abroad (the "tarnish" itself the result of the rhetorical tactics described above), in order to maintain and enlist support domestically and internationally for many vital missions, such nonsense from high ranking officials is hurting the cause. Statements such as these add to the impression that the speakers in question are overall lacking in trustworthiness - so the veracity of all manner of statements "related and not" are instantly called into question. Better to stick closer to actual facts and reasonable speculation. As Greg Djerejian noted in commenting on the same TCR post:
The stakes are already high, very high, without needing to make them sound artificially apocalyptic in scope. This rhetorical overdrive by the Secretary of Defense and Vice President, among others, is not doing them any favors vis-a-vis their already deeply wounded credibility, at least in the view of this little patch of cyberspace.
Nor this patch Greg. The Cunning Realist concludes his post thusly:
During the past few years in the U.S., we've witnessed state-sanctioned torture, extralegal domestic surveillance, a preemptive war based on false pretenses, and a party-above-nation cult of personality. Those who have noted the lessons learned from 1930's Germany have been dismissed as shrill or loony. So what do Rumsfeld's frequent and increasing use of Hitler analogies betray about him---his veracity, his character, his motives?
My only question is, is there an "all of the above"? Or at least an other option: his wisdom.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Shhh, Don't Tell Anyone We're A Democracy

Stuart Taylor, Jr. has written a concise, balanced and thoughtful piece in the newest Atlantic which tracks nicely with my earlier musings on the unhealthy, unprecedented - and at times illegal - consolidation of power in the Executive branch as undertaken by the Bush administration over the past five-plus years. Says Taylor [emphasis mine throughout]:

Many of us mistook the steady expansion of civil liberties during the fifty-five years after World War II as a natural, inevitable, and essentially irreversible evolution. Then came 9/11, and with it the knowledge that suicidal infiltrators were eager and able to murder us by the thousands - unless we could catch them first.

So the battle was joined over whether and how to recalibrate the balance between liberty and security. The Patriot Act soon became its focal point, and a source of bitter debate. In fact the act's 156 sections were mostly reasonable, incremental, overdue enhancements of long-established investigative and surveillance powers. That's probably no accident: it was passed (and is being reauthorized with changes) by Congress after public debate, and in full public view. In short, it represents just the sort of rebalancing that should occur in a democracy struggling to reconcile competing, fundamental values.

But until recently, the scare rhetoric about that law has obscured a far more consequential development: the succession of claims by the Bush administration that the commander-in-chief has near-dictatorial powers to wage war against terrorists, at home as well as abroad - often in secret and certainly without public consent. Without consulting Congress, and in defiance of criminal laws, this administration has claimed (though not always used) powers that are arguably more sweeping than any since Lincoln's. [...]

But most [presidents since Lincoln] worked with Congress when feasible, as did Lincoln. George W. Bush prefers to act unilaterally - so much so, in fact, that avoidance of oversight seems at times to be his principal goal.
While Taylor catalogues the Bush administration's efforts on this front, the main target of his wrath is Congress - due to its almost total neglect of oversight responsibilities and sweeping abdication of power to the Executive branch. Without Congress stepping up to the plate, there is little hope that this imbalance will be corrected otherwise. Taylor argues that we would be wrong to hold out hope that the Supreme Court will be able to preserve Constitutional protections/institutional integrity on its own. Not unless it has Congressional action to fall back on.
Today, the Supreme Court is widely seen as the principal check on presidential overreaching. But courts can decide only a few narrow issues as cases come before them, and cannot legislate detailed rules to restrain the president. What's more, as the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist once wrote, the courts historically have shown "reluctance ... to decide a case against the government on an issue of national security during a war."

That is, unless the courts see the president and Congress as being at odds.
Taylor contends - rightfully so in my opinion - that the Bush administration has only reluctantly backed off in the face of court challenges and only as much as necessary (less so in some instances). Underlying this show of compliance, is the intention to regroup and push back with the same sanctioned policies once the dust settles - as has been evidenced by the subsequent ebb and flow of such controversial matters. Even when Congress has entered the fray (as with the McCain Amendment), the Bush administration has indicated that it has every intention of ignoring inconvenient laws - even ones the President is then signing. The best, and perhaps only, solution would be a resolute, determined and persistent assertion of power on the part of Congress.

Judging by the current makeup of both Houses, and the predictably craven tactics of folks like Senator Pat Roberts, I don't expect to see such a vigorous defense of the Constitution forthcoming. Nevertheless, Russ Feingold has certainly done his part to turn up the heat by introducing a resolution to censure the President for his illegal conduct in connection with the NSA warrantless surveillance scandal.

I think there are some legitimate complaints about the timing and method of Feingold's bold action, and if anyone is looking for some cogent 'for' and 'against' arguments, I would recommend the Carpetbagger and publius on one side, and Glenn Greenwald on the other. In my opinion, Feingold could have handled the execution with greater political deftness and a better sense of timing, but now that the gauntlet has been thrown down, Democrats would be extremely foolish to back away from supporting the measure. I hope more come to this realization in the ensuing weeks.

At its root, Feingold's maneuver represents one step in the march toward a Congressional assertion of power that Taylor suggests is needed to re-align the skewed separation of powers arrangement threatening our Constitutional structure. Now I don't expect the Republicans to fall all over themselves signing on to this measure, but some should bravely step forward and endorse it regardless - or a variation that they find more palatable. While it's easy to chalk up their reticence with respect to censuring the President to mere partisan politics, remember, many Democrats put forward censure proposals for Bill Clinton, or were willing to support ones floated by others. But hey, that was for something infinitely more important to our country - more basic and fundamental to our Constitutional system - than the assertion that the President can violate specific statutes at will in a time of never-ending war.

While I am not naive enough to be surprised by the GOP's lack of support for Feingold's resolution, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback at some of the vitriol heaped on Feingold for his move nonetheless. It's not that the GOP simply disagreed with him, or ignored his ploy. Rather, they unleashed irresponsible and malicious attacks on Feingold's character and motives. Once again, echoing the concerns I raised in this post discussing the pernicious tendency to equate any and all dissent with treason.

For example, Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) accused Feingold of "[siding] with terrorists." How patently absurd. Bill Frist followed a similar story-line in an interview with George Stephanopolous last week:

FRIST: ...I really am surprised about it because Russ is just wrong. He is flat wrong. He is dead wrong. And as I was listening to it, I was hoping deep inside that the leadership in Iran and other people who have the U.S. not in their best interest are not listening because of the terrible signal it sends.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're saying that censure resolution weakens America abroad?

FRIST: Yes. Well, I think it does because we are right now in a war, in an unprecedented war, where we do have people who really want to take us down and we think back to 9/11 and that war on terror is out there. So the signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our Commander in Chief, who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world and, again, that's why I'm saying as leader at least of the Republican side of this equation, that it's wrong, because leadership around the world of our sworn enemies are going to say, well, now we have a little crack there. There is no crack. The American people are solidly behind this president in conducting this war on terror.
How ridiculous. The United States holds itself out as an exemplar - the shining city on the hill - to which the rest of the world should aspire to emulate. We are the torch bearers of democracy and freedom, and we hope that by our example and actions we can help other peoples bring about democratic evolutions in their respective lands. But somehow, Frist and Allard suggest, if we were to allow one of the most basic forms of democratic expression - dissent and criticism of our leaders when they have acted improperly - to be made public, we will weaken our position abroad? Because our enemies will learn that we hold our leaders accountable, and that we are a democracy?

Silly me, I thought we were trying to emphasize these principles, not hide them away as if they were something to be ashamed of. Wasn't that the point that the Bush administration and it's supporters were trying to make in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib: that we would show the world how things work better in a democracy by holding the responsible parties accountable? Now what are we going to tell the Iraqis about democracy?

Further, what, pray tell, will the knowledge of such a censure resolution do for these enemies? How will Osama use Feingold's censure exactly? How will it modify his behavior? And why was the treatment of Clinton not an equally grievous national security breach?

Fill in this blank: Osama wasn't going to attack the US again, but Feingold's resolution made him change his mind because [insert here]. Or it made it easier for Osama because [insert here]. And what of Iran? What if Frist's deepest fears come to fruition and Iran catches wind of the fact that Congress is considering censuring Bush for certain of his actions relating to the warrantless surveillance program. As soon as they find out, they'll proceed what exactly?

This line of reasoning from Frist and Allard is as preposterous as it is poisonous. If anything, the mullahs in Iran and Osama's al-Qaeda would take heart to learn that in the new version of America envisioned by such politicians, Constitutional protections are ignored at will by its leaders, dissent is not tolerated, leaders are not held accountable for serious misconduct and any criticism of the government would be considered treasonous - equivalent to siding with the enemy.

In fact, they would probably feel right at home.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mosul Wasn't Built In A Day

If you're looking for a window into a situation in Iraq that might be going better than most, take a look at Robert Kaplan's latest ode to the military in this month's Atlantic. Kaplan discusses, at length, how a successful blend of strategies implemented at the ground level, and from the proximity of the front lines, has transformed the city of Mosul and other smaller Iraqi towns from insurgent hotbeds to relatively peaceful and stable exemplars. According to Kaplan, this success has stemmed, in part, from the flexibility, localized intelligence and rapid response capacity derived from a less centralized command and control structure for certain military units.

The 1-25 Lancers' shaky achievement does credit to the brigade-level transformation of the U. S. Army, the institution known derisively to the Green Berets of the Special Forces as "Big Army" or "Mother Army." And they are right: Big Army is still too much of a vertical, dinosaurian, Industrial Age organization. Yet that is changing, partly because of the new emphasis on brigades.

A brigade is only a third or half the size of a division. Its headquarters element is less bureaucratic and top-heavy with colonels than that of a division (to say nothing of a corps). The very size of a brigade can be custom-fitted to the situation. Putting brigades first represents an organizational means for dealing with a more chaotic, unconventional world. It is the kind of bureaucratic reform that the military is embracing faster than the financially starved State Department or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The credit for this radically changed emphasis belongs to successive Army chiefs of staff, particularly Eric Shinseki and Peter Schoomaker.

Nevertheless, there are limitations to what our armed forces have been able to achieve. Despite the successful, grass roots-like counterinsurgency measures employed in some areas of Iraq, without concomitant economic development in these newly-secured towns, that progress could all disappear. Take this account from a meeting of friendly tribal/municipal/military leaders in the recently pacified town of Om al-Mahir [emphasis mine throughout]:

"The hands of men who are without work will end up cooperating with the devil," said General Ali, addressing the Americans and Captain Ferguson in particular. He followed with details of this young man and that one who were unemployed, and who had drifted north to Mosul to take part in the insurgency. He was working up to a familiar theme.

"Where is the investment money, now that our area has been safe for months?" The American soldiers had no answer. They were as frustrated as the Iraqis. Even the safe areas showed no sign of civilian relief work or major rebuilding other than what I had seen en route. The soldiers admitted that while they had the money to lay gravel on a particular road, they lacked the funds to pave it, even though all agreed that graveled roads offered easy concealment for IEDs.

It was surreal. The stability of Iraq will likely determine history's judgment on President George W. Bush. And yet even in a newly secured area like this one, the administration has provided little money for the one factor essential to that stability: jobs. On a landscape flattened by anarchy in 2004, the American military has constructed a house of cards. Fortifying this fragile structure with wood and cement now will require more aid - in massive amounts, and of a type that even America's increasingly civil affairs -oriented military cannot provide. This house of cards, flimsy as it is, constitutes a substantial achievement. But because Washington's deeds do not match its rhetoric, even this fragile achievement might go for naught. [...]

The Bush administration's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," released with great fanfare in November, was merely a document; the difficulty of finding ground-level money for necessary projects was, in contrast, quite real.

Obviously, there has been massive fraud, graft and embezzlement in connection with the handling of funds earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. In addition, the bureaucratic labyrinth that was/is the CPA (staffed by inexperienced, incompetent, yet ideologically pure partisans in far too many instances) has been - predictably - ineffectual in terms of disbursing the aid that was/is available. But those legitimate concerns do not obviate the urgent need for targeted reconstruction dollars - funds necessary to make our counterinsurgency inroads stick in the areas where we have won hard earned victories. This money is needed to provide brick and mortar to the latter two parts of the "clear, hold and build" strategy.

As alluded to above, Kaplan and some soldiers see the possibility for an improved strategy for disbursing reconstruction funds - one that could eliminate some of the bureaucratic negatives listed above and the futility of the "throw money at it" approach. Such a strategy involves, of all things, putting the actual experts in charge - who themselves might benefit from a version of the less centralized approach employed by our military in combating the insurgency. Experts? Imagine that. How novel a concept.

"We can race around the battlefield and fix little problems," one Army major complained to me, "but where is the State Department and USAID to solve the big problems?" Whereas commentators in Washington tend to blame the machinations of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon for keeping the State Department out of Iraq, all of the mid-level military officers I spoke with - each of whom desperately wanted to see civilian aid and reconstruction workers here - said that if the State Department got the requisite funding, it could be as bureaucratically dynamic as their own battalions, and infrastructure-rebuilding would not be where it appeared to be: at the zero point.

But as Gordon Adams at Democracy Arsenal noted in two separate posts, the Bush administration, and its allies in Congress, have shown a muddled sense of priorities in terms of fiscal obligations. Unleashing new aid packages, even for Iraq, has become harder to justify considering the daunting and dangerous levels of debt and deficit perpetuated each year by the pork stuffing GOP Congress and the veto-averse White House. Adams describes this new pique of election year-induced fiscal responsibility:

[Members of Congress] are moved by broader considerations than national security, of course; principally the growing sense among Republicans that federal spending is out of control and the party that was once the party of fiscal conservatism is going to pay for that profligate deficits next November.

But this rush to prove fiscal integrity is going to give major heartburn to anyone who feels that spending on diplomacy and foreign assistance ought to be an integral part of our national security strategy.

There is another way, though. And it's high time the Bush administration and Congress prove that they are sincere when they describe what's at stake, all that rides on a positive outcome in Iraq. Here's the point: if fiscal concerns and budgetary shortfalls are preventing us from putting the follow-through to such courageous efforts as described by Kaplan in Mosul, then why don't we do things to ease those concerns. Like, say, repealing a portion of Bush's multi-trillion dollar tax breaks that have gone, disproportionately, to the wealthiest Americans.

Seriously. If Iraq is so important, and the lack of reconstruction funds is endangering our efforts, shouldn't we be asking the American people to return to the pre-2000 tax landscape? At least the upper-most tax brackets, and multi-million dollar heirs and heiresses? Was the tax burden really so onerous in the 1990s? I seem to remember there being a decent level of prosperity.

I don't know if more money would cure what ails Iraq, but I think in some areas it would help in meaningful ways. And at least it would show that the Bush administration is as committed to success in Iraq as they have been to easing the tax burden on the people most able to handle it. Not to mention the fact that Adams lists myriad other ways in which the budget pinch is impacting our crucial national security efforts outside of Iraq. Ultimately, it's question of priorities. So who is stuck in the pre-9/11 mindset exactly?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

From The Department Of Sufficiently Beaten Horses

None of this is, or should be, bombshell-like in its revelatory impact, but still worth taking a look at. A series of memos from senior British military and diplomatic staff in Iraq dating from May-June 2003 corroborates much of what has already been gleaned about the rampant incompetence, delusional expectations and inexcusable lack of preparedness on the part of the Bush administration in connection with the post-invasion administration of Iraq (via Juan Cole). Nothing new, but some additional evidence to pore over for those future "historians" President Bush keeps appealing to for lack of a more receptive, and temporally accessible, audience.

John Sawers, Mr Blair's envoy in Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion, sent a series of confidential memos to Downing Street in May and June 2003 cataloguing US failures. With unusual frankness, he described the US postwar administration, led by the retired general Jay Garner, as "an unbelievable mess" and said "Garner and his top team of 60-year-old retired generals" were "well-meaning but out of their depth"

That assessment is reinforced by Major General Albert Whitley, the most senior British officer with the US land forces. Gen Whitley, in another memo later that summer, expressed alarm that the US-British coalition was in danger of losing the peace. "We may have been seduced into something we might be inclined to regret. Is strategic failure a possibility? The answer has to be 'yes'," he concluded.

Talk about morning-after regrets.

Mr Sawers, in a memo titled Iraq: What's Going Wrong, written on May 11, four days after he had arrived in Baghdad, is uncompromising about the US administration in Baghdad. He wrote: "No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis." [emphasis mine throughout]

He says that like it's a problem. Meanwhile, in Iraq, sectarian/ethnic violence that we should not label a low-level civil war because that would be irresponsible and defeatist, has claimed more victims - as bodies have begun piling up in mass graves.

Police in the past 24 hours have found the bodies of at least 85 people killed by execution-style shootings - a gruesome wave of apparent sectarian reprisal slayings, officials said Tuesday.

The dead included at least 27 bodies stacked in a mass grave in an eastern Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.

The bloodshed - the second wave of mass killings in Iraq since bombers destroyed an important Shiite shrine last month - followed weekend attacks in a teeming Shiite slum in which 58 people died and more than 200 were wounded.

This might sound bad to some, but dude, Ralph Peters totally didn't see any of this happening - so one must wonder if it really occurringing. My guess: just that liberal media makin' stuff up to make Bush look bad.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Preserving Pay To Play

Two weeks back, I waded into the great political morass known as the abortion debate in order to discuss some of the seemingly inconsistent positions taken by the "pro-life" side with respect to fertility clinics, stem cell research and related issues of embryonic sanctity. It was my thesis that those inconsistencies reveal the existence of certain underlying motivations (sub-conscious and otherwise) for championing the pro-life agenda that have more to do with issues of women's sexuality - and human sexuality more generally speaking - than the belief that a fertilized egg is a human being. As I laid out, the embryo-as-human belief was only being applied in selective contexts by far too many on the pro-life side - contexts relating to women and sexuality specifically speaking.

One topic I did not discuss in that post (it was long enough as is, no?) were issues related to the interplay between socially conservative beliefs about human sexuality and access to treatments and cures for sexually transmitted diseases. One such controversial intersection of those two forces has to do with vaccines for the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). While many strains of the virus are relatively harmless, some lead to cervical cancer in women - while men avoid such catastrophic outcomes for obvious, anatomical reasons.

In what should be deemed an untenable position, many social conservatives and pro-life groups are opposing widespread distribution of the vaccine on the grounds that it could lower the risks associated with sex - thus leading to more sex - or, in the alternative, that administering the vaccine to high school girls would send the wrong message about condoning pre-marital sexual activity.

Something to consider when assessing the willingness on the part of social conservatives to sacrifice women on the altar of sexual chastity:

Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 U.S. women each year, killing more than 3,700.

The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains.

With those incredible stakes in mind, take a look the "pro-life" concern for human life in action. Not sex mind you. The dignity and sacredness of human life.

"Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that, 'We expect you to be sexually active,' " said Reginald Finger, a doctor trained in public health who served as a medical analyst for Focus on the Family before being appointed to the ACIP in 2003, in a telephone interview.

"There are people who sense that it could cause people to feel like sexual behaviors are safer if they are vaccinated and may lead to more sexual behavior because they feel safe," said Finger...[...]

Conservative medical groups have been fielding calls from concerned parents and organizations, officials said.

"I've talked to some who have said, 'This is going to sabotage our abstinence message,' " said Gene Rudd, associate executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.[...]

"Parents should have the choice. There are those who would say, 'We can provide a better, healthier alternative than the vaccine, and that is to teach abstinence,' " Rudd said.
I try to be open-minded and sensitive to the beliefs of others, but positions such as these I cannot accommodate. The position that thousands of women dying each year is preferable to the prospect of less pernicious - the more frequent - sexual activity is just beyond my ability to fathom. But wait, it gets worse. Andrew Sullivan (an, er, interested party I suppose), relays this bit of information as quoted from a New Yorker article by Michael Specter (via Atrios). Note the reappearance of our friend Reginald Finger [emphasis mine]:

"Religious conservatives are unapologetic; not only do they believe that mass use of an HPV vaccine or the availability of emergency contraception will encourage adolescents to engage in unacceptable sexual behavior; some have even stated that they would feel similarly about an H.I.V. vaccine, if one became available. 'We would have to look at that closely,' Reginald Finger, an evangelical Christian and a former medical adviser to the conservative political organization Focus on the Family, said. 'With any vaccine for H.I.V., disinhibition' - a medical term for the absence of fear - 'would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care.' Finger sits on the Centers for Disease Control's Immunization Committee, which makes those recommendations."
They would have to treat a potential H.I.V. vaccine "with a great deal of care" because of the impact it could have on sexual mores. Let that sink in. And then remind me again how it's not all about sex. Just concern for human life. At least in this case, it's not just women bearing the brunt. Makes you feel better about it, doesn't it?

Culture of Life. Feh.

Outside the Bubble


There's a whole impeachment debate brewin' over at TPMcafe. They're drinkin' the good Hi-Test over there (I mean coffee of course)! The DC-types (Josh Marshall, Matt Y, H. Meyerson) all think that impeachment is a 'bad idea'. Unfortunately, no one quite defines what Matt scoffingly calls 'impeachment talk' or what the 'idea' is. Someone (a commenter?) eventually does call it a 'push for impeachment', which is clearer; running on the impeachment of Bush in the '06 election is a bad idea. But I'm not against Dem House members wearing "Hastert for Pres. in '06" tee shirts.

Kaygro X (who's idea the tee shirt thing is) is the point-human on this issue and has done yeoman's work. The practical lesson I take from his The Necessity Of Impeachment series is this: rhetorical power is real power. Your odds of achieving a goal is a separate consideration from knowing you have the right goal and knowing why it's right. Rhetorical power is real power, and doesn't depend on election results (but does influence them over time). Mr X would never admit in advance to being willing to settle for censure or other kinds of compromise. Why do that? Some people have a sense of humor and some people don't. My conclusion is that it's the anti-impeachment talk which is dangerous.

Impeachment of Bush and Cheney should not be a campaign theme in '06 (do any of our DC guys really think it's a possibility?), or even an implacable, inflexible short-term goal, because, unlike abortion or gun control, impeachment 'sunsets' due to the fact that Bush's term will end anyway. But the basic issues involved never sunset, and as Kaygro points out, the same conception of government, and even the same exponents of that view, seem to recur no matter who the Republican president happens to be. Impeachment in this case is a foundation, in the ideological sense - a baseline. Your ideology has to have enough 'vertical integration' to make some kind of sense from end-to-end, or else it will have no power (short circuit = no power). If you believe that the president isn't above the law, can't choose not to enforce legislation via 'signing statements', etc. etc., then you have to stand up for that, at the very least rhetorically. If you don't, you're a bullshit party. Furthermore, you have to be willing and prepared to actually succeed, to go beyond the rhetorical, or else the whole exercise is pointless.

Can Democratic politicians duck and be non-committal on this issue in '06? Of course. But they must NEVER say 'never'.

Meanwhile, in the real world of real, physical papers and magazines, I see I missed a scoop, hanging out so much here in the blog-o-bubble. This is an exclusive report from WWN*:

Washington DC - Beset by scandals, war and low poll ratings, the Republican Party is in trouble.

"All they've got to throw against us in November is fear", said Andrew Spitz, a leading Democratic strategist. "They intend to win like they won in '04, bogusly pitching Democrats as weak on terror. This time, we'll be ready for that baloney."

Perhaps. [Shades of George Will! (penultimate paragraph) ed.] But will they be ready for this? Insiders say that the latest idea to help resurrect the party is to resurrect former president Ronald Reagan, and make him a candidate for the 2008 presidential election.

"The technology is in place", said a chief Republican strategist, who insisted on anonymity. "First we restore Reagan's body, then we reboot his mind, then we return him to office."

"It's a natural. What's the slogan? 'You can't keep a good man down'. Well, Reagan was a great man, so why shouldn't he rise again?"

Republican strategists are jubilant at the prospect.


One potential roadblock is the 22nd Amendment, which limits a candidate to two terms as president. But Republicans see it differently.

"It's two terms during one's lifetime", said the strategist. "If we bring Reagan back, it's a different lifetime, so there are no obstacles."

Democrats are disgusted at the prospect.

"We see what they're doing," said Spitz. "They're trying to solidify their radical right-wing base by equating Reagan with Christ. Well, it won't work. People are smarter than that."

"Well, maybe not those people, but some people are".

"Those are the words of a panicked strategist", said the Republican insider. "Can you imagine a resurrected Reagan running under the slogan 'Bring America Back to Life'? It would be a bigger landslide than Mr Reagan got the first two times!".

See how much we miss staring at computer screens all day? Let's all try and get out a little this weekend and reconnect with the real world, eh?

*Weekly World News


Appropos of my goose and gander watching below, I thought this catch by the Armchair Generalist over at the fab-collab site Blue Force was worth a mention. Conservative Jim Hoagland on the consolidation of power threat:

"The powers of the presidency have been eroded and usurped to the breaking point. We are engaged in a new kind of war that cannot be fought by old methods. It can only be directed by a strong executive who alone is not subject to the conflicting pressures that legislators or judges face. The public understands and supports that unpleasant reality, whatever the media and intellectuals say."

These words came from a White House aide defending U.S. policies on Guantanamo Bay prisoners, secret renditions and warrantless eavesdropping in a conversation with me. A few days later, I heard a Russian official use nearly identical terms to defend his country's coercive merging of private energy and media companies under state control.

Both Putin and Bush swim against the tides of their time as state power fragments or atrophies everywhere, not just in Moscow or Washington. The spread of technology and global communications weakens all governments. The better policy choice is to take those changes into account and use them in nimble fashion, rather than simply lashing out against them in strong-arm fashion.

Kind of makes you wonder what exactly Bush saw in Putin's soul when he gazed penetratingly through the window. Kindred spirits? Not exactly. But a little too close for comfort, no?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?