Friday, June 30, 2006

The Fear of Fear Itself

One of the concepts that stood out to me from Nadezhda's insightful post on the major themes of Ron Suskind's latest effort is the effect that fear has had - and continues to have - on the decision making process in the upper echelons of the Bush administration.

Suskind describes how, quite understandably, fear dominated the Bush Admin's initial improvised responses to having 9/11 happen on their watch, explains why the dynamics of a fear-driven policy apparatus have become self-perpetuating, and shows how the failure to adjust strategy and decision-making is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.

Human beings, as part of a series of defense mechanisms that have developed through centuries of exposure to environmental exigencies, have predictable reactions to intense feelings of fear. This is true whether one is at the helm of the most powerful nation on the planet, or just a civilian ensconced in suburbia.

One such response to fear-inducing stimuli is to puff up one's chest and opt for a display of "strength" - or what passes for strength in these contexts. But all too often, strength is perceived, incorrectly, as the use of force, regardless of the consequences of the actions.

Another typical response, closely related to the first and often quite destructive when combined, is to lapse into a form of paranoia - becoming prone to lash out at even vaguely perceived threats in order to preemptively neutralize the possibility of suffering a repeat of the traumatic event that gave rise to the fear in the first place. Thus, fear can lead to a greater willingness to use force, against a wider array of potential targets - regardless of whether or not such decisions would be made if calmer, more rational deliberations were undertaken.

What makes these fear-based responses particularly seductive is that they seem to serve a purpose in and of themselves. The brandishing of force can create the illusion of control over the chaos, unleashed psychically, by the fear-inducing event. As Bill Clinton is reported to have quipped, when fear holds sway over the populace, people "will opt for strong but wrong, not weak but right." It is the actual perception of strength, even ephemeral, gained from wielding force that people crave during times of heightened anxiety. But this is, ultimately, deeply misguided and likely to lead to many counterproductive results.

As I have argued before, the actual "strength" of a given policy lies in the results achieved - the "ends" not the "means" employed. But when fear is exerting undue influence over the process, certain "means" can take on an exaggerated luster. As Nadezhda recounts, the Bush administration, if not already predisposed, was at least enticed down this perilous path [emphasis hers]:

Suskind stresses two closely-linked articles of faith [for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al]. The belief in the overwhelming utility of force relative to other means of influence -- because force is the only thing "they" understand, whether "they" be Al Qaeda or Al Jazeera. And "the one-percent doctrine": a deeply ingrained commitment to action against "worst case scenarios" despite a lack of evidence that a scenario is becoming, yet alone likely to become, reality.

These predilections have affected, and continue to affect, many policies adopted as part of the ill-named "war on terror" - from the invasion of Iraq itself, the disproportional response to the killing of the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah and the negative response to diplomatic entreaties by Iran in the aftermath of the invasion on the one hand, to the use of torture and extraordinary rendition in the interrogation of prisoners on the other. But what makes these tendencies a particularly bad fit for the "war on terror" is that, while often times at least temporarily gratifying to the population on the homefront, they tend to have enormous, and long lasting negative consequences with respect to the target population.

I agree, in many respects, with Francis Fukuyama's description of the "war on terror" as a counter-insurgency effort. This is even less controversial to say when referencing our military's current plight in Iraq itself. Effective counter-insurgency strategies require, to quote Fukuyama, "a tricky mixture of precisely targeted force, political judgment and extremely good intelligence: a combination of carrots and sticks." That delicate balance required by that "tricky mixture" is not well-served by an over-reliance on force - especially when the use of force is further stripped of restraint by the "one-percent doctrine."

The result is that the overly forceful tactics employed have a tendency to alienate the target population in which the "insurgents" operate. This causes the insurgents' popularity to rise in inverse relation to our own - increasing the levels of logistical, tactical and financial support the insurgents receive, thus making them more potent, freer to act and capable of repeating the attacks that gave rise to the fearful response in the first place. In this context, shock and awe is the fools gold of strategic thinking.

One example of these counterproductive, overly muscular policies that Suskind flags in his book has to do with the efficacy of using torture during interrogation - with captured al-Qaeda operatives Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah. When al-Libi was captured:

...FBI fought CIA over what to do with him. The FBI sent agents to Afghanistan with experience in interrogating al Qaeda members linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a process of surprising suspects, who were prepared for barbaric treatment from infidel captors, with favors in exchange for information. It had been a successful method; productive relationships were developed. [emph. added]

The FBI approach reminded me of the substance of an article appearing in The Atlantic about a year or so ago that I wrote about here. That article cited the work of Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, whose scholarship in the field of interrogations is considered seminal. From that post:

Despite the human impulse to drift toward using violence, abuse, and torture as a preferred means of soliciting information from prisoners - what would be considered the "gloves off" or "strong" approach that many just instinctively assume is the most effective but taboo because of "quaint" moral concerns - Moran found that:

...despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them. [...]

The brutality of the fighting in the Pacific and the suicidal fanaticism of the Japanese had created a general assumption that only the sternest measures would get Japanese prisoners to divulge anything. Moran countered that in his and others' experience, strong-arm tactics simply did not work. Stripping a prisoner of his dignity, treating him as a still-dangerous threat, forcing him to stand at attention and flanking him with guards throughout his interrogation - in other words, emphasizing that "we are his to-be-respected and august enemies and conquerors" - invariably backfired. It made the prisoner "so conscious of his present position and that he was a captured soldier vs. enemy intelligence" that it "played right into [the] hands" of those who were determined not to give away anything of military importance. [emphasis added]

Like some of the interrogators that Moran encountered, senior officials in the Bush administration bought into the same fallacies about the use of force in interrogations. Force, after all, was the "strong" approach. Suskind details the tug of war between the FBI and CIA over who would get to interrogate al-Libi under what methods:

The CIA - under pressure from the White House for immediate, actionable information - claimed there wasn't time for such a measured approach. The debate went up to Mueller [FBI] and Tenet [CIA], and Tenet - appealing directly to Bush and Cheney - prevailed. Al-Libi was bound and blindfolded for a trip to Cairo, where he'd be handed over to...Egypt's intelligence chief. On the tarmac in Afghanistan, an FBI agent would recall years later to Newsweek, "the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f--- her.' So we lost that fight. [emphasis added]

Al-Libi produced some of the now infamous bogus intelligence on Iraq that the Bush administration was seeking. Torture made him talk, and he told us what we wanted to hear, but it wasn't the truth. The results were lacking.

The case is perhaps even better illustrated by the successes and failures in connection with the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah - a mentally ill, low level al-Qaeda travel coordinator who was initially misidentified by Bush in speeches immediately following his capture as a more important piece of the terrorist organization. From Suskind:

"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied.

So, in an effort to back up Bush's earlier boasts, and after Bush inquired as to the efficacy of the "harsh methods" used by interrogators, Tenet's CIA proceeded to employ those "aggressive interrogation" techniques including water-boarding, threats of imminent death, withholding medication, sleep depravation, etc. to a mentally unstable individual already physically weakened by the multiple gun shot wounds he suffered during his capture. From a Washington Post review of Suskind's book:

Under that duress, [Zubaydah] began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to" And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

None of those leads panned out - despite the "strong" approach taken during his interrogation. Nevertheless, actionable intelligence was eventually extracted from Zubaydah - but observe the method that finally yielded results:

Then there was a small break. A CIA interrogator...was skilled in the nuances of the Koran, and slipped under Zubaydah's skin. The al Qaeda operative believed in certain ideas of predestination - that things happen for reasons preordained. The interrogator worked this, pulling freely from the Koran. Zubaydah believed he had survived [his violent capture], when several of his colleagues were killed, for a purpose. He was convinced that that purpose, in the fullness of time, was to offer some cooperation to his captors, something a dead man couldn't do.

Zubaydah provided his interrogators with the name and whereabouts of Jose Padilla and none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the planner of the 9/11 attacks itself. It was a major breakthrough. As Suskind notes:

On the issue of interrogation, Zubaydah represented a first test, with results that could now be reviewed. It seemed as though the FBI - and those inside the CIA advocating a gentler model of interrogation - might be right.

As Nadezhda warned in her post, the Bush administration has been slow to adapt and reluctant to change course from the tactics and strategies adopted early in the game. This has given the jihadist terrorists an advantage on the battlefield - they can discover and exploit our existing weaknesses and adjust to mitigate our strengths. Some of these weaknesses include the stunning degradation of our image in the eyes of the world as a result of the adoption of so many morally, legally and ethically dubious tactics that run counter to our core principles.

To remedy this, and regain the initiative, we must disabuse ourselves of the knee-jerk assumption that the application of more force - a greater show of shock and awe - will be the panacea to the highly complex and nuanced problems that we face in the "war on terror." We must rethink tactics that on the surface may look effective, but in reality have limited practical value and many hidden costs such as tarnishing our image and standing to such an extent that they severely undermine our overall efforts. Think of all we are ceding to our enemies, and all for policies of highly questionable value! Major Moran's advice to would-be interrogators can be applied across the board to our leaders in the war on terror:

Moran was saying that an interrogator who is genuinely tough has the confidence to know that he will always keep the upper hand, even while being nice. "Enlightened hard-boiled-ness," he called this attitude. And he concluded that "strange as it may seem to say so," the most important characteristic of a successful interrogator is not his experience or even his linguistic knowledge; it is "his own temperament" and "his own character."

Let us not lose sight of our own character and our own temperament. Without them, we will never win the fight.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Dropping F-Bombs

Some people (whose opinions I respect) took issue with my use of the word "fascist" to describe the sentiments of Powerline's Scott Johnson in a prior post. So instead, I'll refer to such ideas as: extremely anti-liberal (little "l") with severe totalitarian tendencies. Now that's catchy.

Either way, I don't want the focus on my choice of words to distract any attention from what is, in reality, deeply disturbing rhetoric emanating from mainstream, run of the mill right wing voices such as the former recipient of Time's Blog of the Year award. Greg Sargent clues us in to another example [emphasis his]:

San Francisco talk show host Melanie Morgan believes that Times editor Bill Keller should be jailed for treason for approving the publication.

The maximum penalty for treason is death.

"If he were to be tried and convicted of treason, yes, I would have no problem with him being sent to the gas chamber," Morgan, whose show airs on KSFO-AM, told The Chronicle on Wednesday. "It is about revealing classified secrets in the time of war. And the media has got to take responsibility for revealing classified information that is putting American lives at risk."

No problem with Bill Keller being sent to "the gas chamber"? That's what passes for acceptable discourse in America these days? And interesting use of execution methods. Kind of reminiscent of the...oh, I'd better not say for fear of creating another distracting tangential discussion.

Nevertheless, as Greg's subsequent post makes clear, Melanie Morgan has been a frequent guest on MSNBC - and that station won't comment on whether they'll invite her back or not. Someone who is calling for a newspaper editor to get the "gas chamber" could very well be a return guest! After all, we have to get the "other" side of the story too. As Duncan observed

I remember when sending subpoenas to Judith Miller was considered by the media insiders to be a threat to democracy itself. The press largely seems to be treating this as just another story.

Where's the outrage now?

Outrage? Hell, she might become a regular. Journalism in this country is in a serious crisis when such attitudes are treated with equanimity - even rewarded with continued patronage. Certain rhetoric should just be deemed unacceptable. Like, oh, sending newspaper editors to the gas chamber! Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On The Road

Will be in DC later today and until tomorrow. Blogging may be light, but anyone in and around the DC area that would like to meet up for a drink, and possibly join me for a screening of the War Tapes documentary sponsored by the Center for American Progress, please send an email. Details on the screening, and the pre/post meet ups can be found on the War Tapes website here.

I'll be there with TIA contributor Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg. He'll be the cat in the hat. I'll be by his side pontificating. And from what I hear, there might be some interesting guest appearances. Come out. It should be an interesting night.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

That, Lee Siegel, Is Fascism

A lexical lesson for Lee Siegel, courtesy of the good folks at Powerline - who received Time Magazine's Blog of the Year Award in 2004, and whose members appear frequently on CNN and other major networks. From Scott Johnson's brief discussion of the controversial New York Times story cited below, we see an example of a sentiment that I would not hesitate to describe as actual fascism - pure and simple - no hyperbole, no clever prefixes:

If America is going to wage a war against terrorism, it must indeed act on all fronts. In 2006, it needs to act on the home front and direct its attention to those whose war on the administration is unconstrained by the espionage laws of the United States.

Let that sink in for a minute. The administration needs to direct its attention in the "war against terrorism" on the "homefront" against the New York Times - an institution that is waging "war on the adminsitration." Can someone posit a guess as to which of the various methods, tactics and extreme tools that have been employed in the "war against terrorism" Scott Johnson might be urging the administration to use here?

Blog of the Year. Charming. But Jon Stewart and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga are a threat to democracy. And if you believe that one, I've got a Lee Siegel column to sell ya...

A Man For All Treasons

Like Duncan, and perhaps Matt to a lesser extent, I confess to a bit of wry bemusement at the return trip home of the chickens looking for a roost. The same "journalists" that continue to patronize people like Ann Coulter that call for their violent deaths (repeatedly), and others in the conservative punditry that beg for their imprisonment and/or executions via more traditional legal means, are facing some of the consequences of this self-flagellating, over-indulgence of vociferous enemies. The often caustic Mr. Black:

Torturing people, jailing journalists for treason, the president being allowed to disobey the law at whim...The mainstream media has made all of these things a part of the normal conversation. They've allowed "two sides" to all of these things to be debated on equal footing. Left wing bloggers on the internets complain about the media and they get ignored and accused of "blogofascism." Conservatives call for the New York Times to be blown up and their reporters and editors jailed and they get treated seriously on MSNBC's flagship political talk show.

There's a problem here. You've been playing this game for years, letting these people control the terms of the debate. This is where it has brought you. Congratulations.

Congratulations indeed. And guess what your prize is? Just wait, it's coming.

Meanwhile, in the right wing press, the sins far exceed providing venues to those who wish to tear down, marginalize and neuter their hosts. At outlets such as the Weekly Standard, New York Post and Fox News (to name but a few), there has been a fairly strident call for criminal prosecution of the New York Times - for treason - over revelations in its recent story on the Bush administration's plans to monitor certain financial transactions.

While I am outraged, generally, at the notion of trying a newspaper for treason - in the United States of America! - I am also somewhat curious as to the shortsightedness on display here from those on the right. Do they think, as I asked in these posts on other abuses of power by the Bush administration, that the GOP will remain at the helm forever? Would they be comfortable with such a precedent for persecuting the press when such powers were wielded by Democratic administrations with compliant and prostrate legislatures?

Because they are certainly inhabiting glass houses. Laura Rozen recounts hearing William Kristol on Fox News imploring Attorney General Gonzales to bring charges against The Times. Mr. Kristol might want to be a bit careful about the standard he's working to establish:

But - didn't Mr. Kristol's magazine publish classified information just a few years ago leaked to it during the height of the Iraq war? I believe it did. As Mr. Kristol's magazine brags below, it published excerpts from a top secret intelligence document:

OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003...according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee....

So does Mr. Kristol as Keller's editorial counterpart deserve to be prosecuted as well by Mr. Gonzales? Why does he think he has the authority to make that decision to publish top secret intelligence information in his magazine, while, as he is saying now on Fox, the NYT's Bill Keller does not? Does Kristol think it should be left to his editorial discretion?...

Kristol might be safe in the knowledge that Gonzales would never turn his sights on him, but would he be as confident with a Democratic Attorney General? And while we're dispensing indictments for treason based on the revelations contained in this story, should we spare the editors of the Wall Street Journal who also published details on the same day?

All that being said, there is, as they say, a cherry on top. That cherry being the President of the United States of America. Here is Bush himself setting out the stakes of these disclosures:

...the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program...does great harm to the United States of America....If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money. And that's exactly what we're doing. And the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror.

Maybe Bush is right. Perhaps the President, when making such bold statements, deserves to be taken seriously. It is because of this, that I, with somber reluctance, beseech Representative Peter King to join me in calling for an investigation of President Bush for treason. As evidence, I rely, in part, on this post from Glenn Greenwald. Behold, our President and his underlings doing "great harm to the United States of America" and making it "harder to win this war on terror."

Here is President Bush, campaigning for re-election in Hershey, Pennsylvania on April 19, 2004, boasting about our vigilant efforts to monitor the terrorists' banking transactions:

Before September the 11th, law enforcement could more easily obtain business and financial records of white-collar criminals than of suspected terrorists. See, part of the way to make sure that we catch terrorists is we chase money trails. And yet it was easier to chase a money trail with a white-collar criminal than it was a terrorist. The Patriot Act ended this double standard and it made it easier for investigators to catch suspected terrorists by following paper trails here in America.

And as former State Department official Victor Comraes detailed (and documented) on the Counterterrorism blog, it has long been public knowledge that the U.S. Government specifically monitors terrorists' banking transactions through SWIFT:

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news.

But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries.

The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:
"The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries."

...Claims that The New York Times (and other newspapers which published stories about this program) disclosed information about banking surveillance which could help terrorists are factually false. Nobody can identify a single sentence in any of these stories which disclosed meaningful information that terrorists would not have previously known or which they could use to evade detection. To the extent that it is (ludicrously) asserted that the more they are reminded of such surveillance, the more they will remember it, nobody has spoken more openly and publicly about the Government's anti-terrorism surveillance programs than a campaigning George Bush.

Think about that folks: "nobody has spoken more openly and publicly about the Government's anti-terrorism surveillance programs than a campaigning George Bush." How much longer can we let this rogue element jeopardize our safety?

Thinking it Over


If you have a steady diet of good and serious blogs like this one, it's easy to forget that the current mainstream arguments about the Iraq war are, at best, incredibly trivial - will in fact be seen in future as no less ephemeral than arguments about who should win 'American Idol' (and why). If you are under the age of 40 and contemplating the country and world you're inheriting or about to inherit (or over 40, for that matter), you are, alas, taking a decidedly Reality TV-view of this Iraq 'adventure' if you don't see it for what it actually is: the defining tragedy of a generation and more. Young Matt Yglesias bravely gives us one overarching perspective in a new Prospect article:

The [$1.27 trillion number - the proposed true monetary cost of the war] is so high as to defy human comprehension. All the numbers ending in “-illion” sound the same. But a trillion is what you get if you spend a million dollars a day … for a million days. That’s 2,737 years -- a cool mil a day, every day, in other words, until the Year of Our Lord 4743. Or, working backward, from the time when Homer wrote the Iliad up to now. The $270 billion in rounding error is worth another 750 years at the million-a-day rate. That takes us up to the year 5493 -- or back to when Moses fled Egypt.


What the President [promised] was the following: that regime change would curb nuclear proliferation, weaken al-Qaeda, and create a shining beacon of democracy. What happened? We eliminated a nuclear program that didn’t exist, encouraged Iran and North Korea to speed theirs along, offered terrorists a gigantic recruiting opportunity and training ground, and turned Iraq into a venue for chaos and civil war plagued by death squads and offering local despots a handy cautionary tale about the dangers of liberalization.

For $1.27 trillion, we have our hands full in a quagmire; the world hating us; worldwide acts of terrorism on the sharp rise; and much more. We could have done better. Much better. You might even say a trillion times better. Economists use the term “opportunity cost” to refer to the cost of an endeavor in terms of the opportunities that endeavor foreclosed. Iraq foreclosed advancing important humanitarian goals, killing and capturing terrorists more effectively, eliminating nuclear threats, and securing the homeland among other goals.

He goes on to suggest many other ways that money could be spent, including this 'inconvenient' little booger:

In a May 10 Washington Post op-ed piece, University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein argued that “the economic burden of the Iraq War is on the verge of exceeding the total anticipated burden of the Kyoto Protocol.” Sunstein’s argument, predictably, came under attack from the right, but in fact he seriously understated his case. The estimated $325 billion cost of Kyoto refers not to direct budgetary costs -- most academic studies have concluded that these would be extremely small. Instead, the figure refers to indirect costs to economic growth. This is a large price to pay, but as with the rest it’s significantly less than the economic impact of the war. On top of the $1.27 trillion in direct expenditures, however, Bilmes and Stiglitz also anticipate an additional trillion or so in indirect reduced economic growth. Without the invasion, in other words, we could have both gotten a jump on the emerging challenge of global warming and enjoyed higher levels of overall prosperity than we’re seeing today.

Readers of TIA, among other venues, will see no completely new factual information in this article, but the summing-up is irresistible, and one we all - conservative, liberal and otherwise - are insane to not face, and right now (one point of the piece is that we aren't spending a mere million a day, but between 33 and 66 times that, or more). You can quibble about what the real dollar cost will end up being, but there is simply no doubt that it will be astronomically high, both in terms of money and opportunity cost (of every kind). This was not a mere 'mistake', but a catastrophe. I repeat, this truth dwarfs all of our bubbliciously trivial attempts at 'ideology'. The Iraq war is a tragedy in terms of Neo-conservative no less than Liberal Internationalist goals, and most others, for that matter - excepting only than those of al-Queda itself.

This is where politics, the turd in the genepool, the 'core' competence human beings will do ANYTHING to avoid getting or thinking seriously about getting, insists on being dealt with. Keeping one's eye on the ball, drilling down into the sub-politics, 'real-world' strata of policy, is well and good - essential, in fact - but a little too comfortable sometimes: just as the body itself has its own imperatives which will not be ignored forever, so too does politics - gross and stupid though it is - insist on being dealt with. Ignore it, and it just gets worse. If you will indulge me, an anecdote...

Many years ago, I worked in a restaurant which specialized in meat. Each night before closing, several 55 pound 'rounds' of beef were put into slow-cook convection-type ovens for use the next day. One morning, after munching on our customary pre-shift fresh beef-round sandwiches, the guy unloading the massive plogs of meat noticed that whoever had put them into the incubators the night before had set the cooking temperature too low; lurking behind the normal-looking meat we all had just sliced off and eaten was masses of what looked like liver - grey-black, mushy and stinky: scientifically, overnight-rotted meat. The word came down from the 'team leader': we were all to immediately go to the toilet and purge ourselves of the tainted meal we'd just finished eating. With varying degrees of difficulty, we all did - all except for one young waitress, a late-teens redhead from out in the country working her first job. She was mortified, claimed to 'never' have vomited before in her life, and just 'couldn't do it'. A guy from India on staff lightly rubbed her shoulder and said, in a gentle voice, "Really, it's no big deal, just use your finger and simply lose it! Like 'bing'! and it's over!". Absolutely not. The more the pressure grew, the more stubbornly un-nauseated she became. The team leader finally said, in a firmer voice: 'Look. Would you rather puke now, or end up getting seriously ill or even dying later?' Faced with that choice, she nonetheless needed - in a gastro-internal variation of the old existential Jack Benny joke - to...'think it over'.*

The magnitude of this Iraq folly is truly nauseating to contemplate, and anti-peristalsis is no fun at all - a mini-death of sorts; but denial - morbid retentiveness, as it were - is much, much worse. Argue about the timing and nature of withdrawal and the contingencies concerning a permanent American presence in Iraq all you want, but if you're not The Decider (or Karl Rove), you're imposing patterns where, apparently, none exist. The comforting notion that, sure, Bush is inept, but 'institutional forces' won't allow too much disaster to happen, is already exploded. The 'Old Hand Cheney' salve?....also exploded - if anything, Cheney is even more dangerous. There are no 'buts' anymore. This is a major disaster and we ought to fear any 'proactive' plan these policymakers tease us with; we are guaranteed the most arbitrary of all possible worlds if they remain unfettered. If people of all ideological stripes, left, right and otherwise, can agree on nothing else, we ought all to at least admit to this devastating truth as a point of departure. And that reckoning has everything to do with the coming elections. Whatever your political persuasion, it ought to be clear by now that this White House needs oversight/guidence, or at least to be constrained. And clearly, politics is 'all they understand'.

Unfortunately, failure - in this case, political failure - most definitely IS an option. If there is a serious-minded conservative out there who can find any deliberate coherence at all in the Bush 'policy', and finds it preferable to the mere possibility of a countervailing force, let's hear it - although I would warn you that it's going to be a very difficult sell at this point. The other option? Just 'bing!' and it's over.

*[The young woman in question never did purge that I know of, and quit her job that day. I assume she didn't die, and I don't know how sick she did or didn't get.]

[UPDATE: Because I circumlocute so damned much, I want to make clear what I am advocating for and what I'm not. I'm not advocating for any particular course of action in Iraq in this post, even by implication - only for divided government in DC for the next two+ years. I want independents, moderates and conservatives who don't have the luxury of voting for a Hagel or a Lugar to vote for Democrats in November - or to stay home, at least. I want them to consider the strategic importance of divided government at this point. I want them to pull their heads out and look at how bad things really are; to acknowledge that the chance for an improvement in the performance of this WH vis a vis Iraq (and Iran) is infinitesimal - the margin of error, in fact. I want them to see the necessity of imposing some sort of discipline on this WH, and that '06 is the last chance to do it in an electoral way. Talking about specific courses of action is worthwhile, but ultimately kind of pointless until there's a little friction, some kind of tension, between branches again. I want them to see, at long last, that this WH has complete contempt for most of the rest of the US gov., particularly Congress, but also parts of its own branch. We're going to get some kind of new political consensus in this country anyway - however narrow - and we may as well start banging it together now. Drift is worse than enervating. It's not only billions of dollars we're wasting. The policymakers in DC now - Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld - are neither conservative nor moderate, and they can do a lot more damage in 2+ years.]

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's The Singer, Not The Song

I must admit that my head is spinning from the circularity plaguing the reality-defying media narrative emerging from Washington over the past week or so. It would be enough to make Orwell blush, and his writing seem overly cautious and quaint in retrospect. First, the media was consistently repeating the "cut and run" Democrats spin as put forth by the GOP - as the Dems were mercilessly lambasted as weak, terror-appeasing, prone to surrender, confused, divided and in a general state of disarray because they put forth a plan for measured withdrawal from Iraq that was supported, ironically, by almost every Democrat in the Senate. Oh, and did I mention that - according to that same up is down conventional wisdom - this plan would be wildly unpopular with the American people, who, poll after poll indicate, support a similar plan in large numbers.

Then, the much-touted "free and sovereign" government in Iraq put forth their own version of us "cutting and running" that we will now refer to as an "honorable victory." That plan came complete with some rather controversial provisions on amnesty for insurgents that attacked US troops (made the more disagreeable by the fact that said troops would still be on hand in Iraq to be attacked - with impunity from the Iraqi side - for at least a few years more). Since then, such version was perhaps edited for content by our man on the scene (and possible author of the initial plan itself) to water down some of the bitter elements.

Following with the logical progression of an undulating loop, the Bush administration brought its own product to market in the form of a leaked plan put forth by General Casey to begin forging a timetable for a steady reduction (hinting at withdrawal) of US forces from the region. Would this count as the same "cutting and running" type of timetable that the GOP accused the Dems of ignominiously supporting just days earlier? For one too wedded to logic and rational thought, perhaps. But please keep in mind that when Republicans say it, it's strong, unified, decisive, bold and above all, brave. The type of plan that will make us safer. You think I'm being cynical? See if you can follow along on Greg Sargent's bizarre ride:

OK, this is getting downright surreal. Here's the analysis in the LA Times's piece on the leaked troop reduction plan:

Last week, Congress debated two Democratic proposals that called for Bush to begin a troop drawdown, resolutions that divided the party. Public acknowledgment of the Casey plan by administration officials could leave the Democratic Party's leaders in an even more awkward position, having backed a withdrawal plan already embraced by the White House — in effect leaving the party with no Iraq policy distinct from the administration's as the parties head into the midterm elections. (Emphasis added.)

Just try to wrap your brain around that logic for a word is being leaked that the top commander in Iraq is "projecting" just what Dems pushed for and just what the GOP derided relentlessly as embracing "retreat" and "surrender." So how does the media react? By refusing to even acknowledge the political context of this at all.

And now the LA Times casts the fact that the Republicans are being forced by pressure from the Dems to start down the road toward troop reductions as something that will be bad for...Democrats!

Got that? Me neither.

In response to this cut-and-pasting of cut-and-run plans, there has been much discussion regarding whether the leaked Casey version signifies an authentic intention to withdraw troops, or is it merely campaign fodder for the GOP to use to assuage the growing discontent with the trajectory in Iraq among likely voters come November. I can't say which is which, though I have been operating under the assumption (perhaps naively) that some form of reduction would be necessary in the near future due to issues related to the looming "meltdown" of key components of the armed forces (National Guard/Reserves) as predicted last summer by retired general Barry McCaffrey. Which says nothing of financial demands, the exigencies of other hot spots (Afghanistan, Somalia) or domestic political concerns.

I think these logistical factors, coupled with the reality of American public opinion, at the very least makes some sort of withdrawal an attractive option. All things being equal, Matt's probably right about how to square the circle when he says this:

...I think the current administration is really quite deeply committed to an enduring military presence in Iraq and to exercising considerable influence over the Iraqi government. If that can be accomplished in a manner consistent with drawing down 75 percent of our troops then, obviously, Bush will do that. Saying he wants to stay in Iraq forever isn't equivalent to saying he wants 120,000 troops to stay there forever (that would be a lot). But if it isn't possible to draw down to that level, then we won't draw down.

The wildcard here would be if Maliki and the Iraqi government are actually - and independently - intent on tying us to a timetable for total - not symbolic - withdrawal. What would we do then? Perhaps we have anticipated such a possibility. Our ability to provide logistical assistance, air power, armored capabilities and advanced artillery support - and our lack of helping the Iraqi armed forces to do for themselves on these fronts - serves the purpose of making our military presence a necessary, if unattractive, "evil" for much of the indigenous population for years to come. That is, unless those services can be obtained from a more palatable friend or neighbor.

Regardless of the actual course of future events, a little perspective and context from our major media outlets in the reporting of these developments would be nice. I see, from Swopa, that the Dems are starting to fight back in order to try to hammer the tortured logic of the dueling narratives back into place. And that's refreshing. We'll see if there is any corrective in the media's follow through.

And while I'm chiding the MSM (and risking the wrath of Lee Siegel), I thought I might as well make one more request. If we're going to let the GOP put forth their own withdrawal plans (one from the White House and one via proxy in Iraq), then some questions should be asked beyond those aimed at matters of proper chronological attribution and the hypocrisy of the vitriolic rhetoric aimed at the Dems for proposing essentially similar plans themselves.

During his recent trip to Iraq, Bush repeated this phrase describing the truly misguided "flypaper theory":

I've told the American people, we will defeat the enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home.

If that's his position, and the GOP tries to make political hay with voters this election cycle with their own dubious withdrawal scheme (whether or not such plans are real or illusory), shouldn't someone ask the various GOP personalities why this axiom no longer applies?

Why does the GOP suddenly want to face the terrorists at home? It's their rhetorical messy bed, let them lie in it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Residual Rattling

Like Laura Rozen, I admit to being a bit puzzled by the timing of the bold and confrontational statements made by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. yesterday - with Donald Rumsfeld standing next to him at the lectern.

"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates," Casey said, using the military abbreviation for "improvised explosive devices," or roadside bombs. The Iranians are "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people." [...]

"Since January, we have seen an upsurge in their support, particularly to the Shia extremist groups," Casey said. "They are providing weapons, training and equipment to Shia insurgents, and that equipment is being used against us and Iraqis."

In recent weeks, I have been growing increasingly confident as to the accuracy of my earlier assessment of the heated rhetoric surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue: that it was, for the most part, saber rattling on the part of the Bush administration to try to increase our leverage vis-a-vis Iran and, relatedly, to convince our needed coalition partners on the UN Security Council/multilateral sanctions-front that we mean business so as to garner support for the more attractive, non-military measures we would be seeking.

But then this non-sequitur from Casey pops up after the Bush administration had recently changed tones and shifted gears, noticeably, away from beating the war drums in favor of non-military melodies. So, why the replay of this familiar loop? One of Laura's readers puts forth a couple of scenarios:

"... I can think of only a couple of explanations for the timing, both related. The first is that Casey is coming under pressure from the WH to help prepare the propaganda battlefield for an air attack against Iran. The second is that the Iranians have ordered the militias under their influence in Iraq to start engaging the US as a warning of what will come if we do bomb Iran."

These are indeed wholly within the realm of possibility, but something doesn't feel right. Option one just seems too impractical (Iraq's exigencies) and out of synch timing wise (why the lull in hysterics if we wanted to bomb them all along?). I'll continue to believe this unless we hear a renewed round of steady percussion from those aforementioned war drums - plus some additional logistical grinding of the gears. Option two is certainly more plausible, and Occam's Razor might suggest that Casey's words are nothing more than a rhetorical shot off of Iran's bow because of an uptick in their mischief making. Let them know we know what they're up to.

Gareth Porter's column (also via Laura) might contain a hint of some other possibilities, though. Porter describes the continued reluctance of Russia, China and other powers to join in on any meaningful sanctions, UN Security Council actions or other means of isolating/pressuring Iran. With this in mind, Casey's bluster could be the Bush administration's latest attempt to remind those recalcitrant "allies" what Plan "B" would look like - the better to nudge them toward a shared, non-military approach.

Or maybe we're just laying the groundwork in order to pursue our real objective: regime change. By turning up the heat on this type of rhetoric, we might be making our case, so to speak, before the world as to why we are justified in seeking to undermine the regime in Tehran. Those fence-sitting onlookers, and Iranian trading partners, might be sufficiently dissuaded from interfering with our surreptitious plans to bring about regime change in Iran (by means other than invasion) if they see invasion as the alternative or view our cause as relatively justified. Or at least that would be the hope.

Of course, there's the ancillary benefit of keeping the Iran-issue "on the table" and in the news in an election year. Especially considering that Rove and the GOP have decided to run, once again, on national security issues (along with the usual suspects - gay marriage, flag burning amendments, etc.). The better to keep the cinders smoldering should a fire be required nearer to November.

In either instance, I believe this is just one more variation of the saber rattling motif, with different tunes for different audiences. But speculation aside, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for - or better yet an ear.

Home Grown Talent

TIA's resident comedian/political activist is up to no good. I am speaking of none other than the man with two last names - each presenting their own unique pronunciation-related challenges:

PHILADELPHIA — Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg wants to be Rick Santorum.

"It’s just crazy for gays to get married," he said. "It’s like dogs getting married to a rock."

Actually, Urevick-Ackelsberg wants to be the first-ever "mockSantorum." Along with two other contestants, he’ll go for the crown tonight at an event sponsored by Philadelphians Against Santorum (PAS), a group that wears its hatred for the conservative junior senator from Pennsylvania on its sleeves and Web sites.
Right now, Alex is on his way to Philly to bring home the gold - and the greater glory to TIA/Blue Force/Draft Zinni, etc. Wish him luck.

Via Atrios (with a hat tip to jonnybutter)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Satire Is Dead - I Blame The Bush Administration

The Bush administration is making life difficult for journalists and political commentators yet again - this time, by trampling on the ability to snark about politics. Just the other day, I tried my best to touch up my post on the now infamous memo from the US Embassy in Baghdad with a touch (heavy-handed perhaps) of satire at the end by concluding:

While a demand for [Khalilzad's] resignation might normally be in order, I'm willing to grant Zal a temporary reprieve because the memo was dated June 6, and the events described therein preceded the death of terror mastermind, and premier puppetmaster of the insurgency, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As we all know, with the death of Zarqawi, to paraphrase Marc Steyn, the insurgency will only continue for a few weeks more, as it peters out like Zarqawi's last breaths. So Zal's memo is already moot, and the problems it details are all but resolved. In fact, you could say that it's the type of history that "is like so far back it doesn't count." Or something.

But the Bush administration, in a clever, yet diabolical, rear flanking maneuver, has gone ahead and preemptively deprived my sarcasm of any bite by replacing the satirical with the real. Here's White House Press Secretary Tony Snow describing the relevance - or lack thereof - of Khalilzad's rather untimely memo in an appearance on Wolf Blitzer's CNN Show (via Jim Henley):

Blitzer said, "I know that many have complained that the news media is only focusing in on the negative, but here the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad paints a pretty stark picture of what's going on right now." In response, Snow argued that the embassy's account was outdated. "Well, that's taken in mid-May," he said. "Here we are, a month later, and I just told you, you've got 50,000 Iraqi troops that are now focusing on those problem areas in Baghdad." [emphasis added]

Pretty sneaky Tony Snow. You may have beaten me this time, but I'll be back.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What's In A Name(s)?

A while back, Nadezhda (on American Footprints) made an excellent point regarding the "insurgency" in Iraq. Namely that it wasn't really "an" insurgency in the singular sense, but rather multiple insurgencies - each with its own distinct, and often conflicting, set of goals, motivations, objectives, strategies and tactics. I've tried to incorporate that fine point in my thinking and analysis.

Through this clarification, it becomes easier to appreciate the true state of affairs and posit solutions or at least means for damage control that better comport to reality. Among them, a counter-insurgency strategy involving the coopting and peeling off of layers of the insurgencies, while marginalizing and eliminating others. Even with the proper linguistic framework, easier said than done.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, there is a five-person roundtable of pundits organized around the central question of "What to Do in Iraq?" (actually four of the authors are commenting on Stephen Biddle's article - discussed here and here - and Biddle is given a rebuttal). While I hope to provide some more in-depth analysis of the various solutions proffered by the various authors (no magic bullets mind you), I did want to highlight one passage from Chaim Kaufmann that might tell of yet another useful linguistic distinction:

Three different civil wars are now raging in Iraq: the first between U.S.-led coalition forces and antigovernment insurgents, the second between the Kurds and other communities in northern Iraq, and the third between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs in the center of the country. The last is the most important because it represents the greatest potential for humanitarian disaster as well as for long-term instability in Iraq and in the region.

So instead of describing Iraq as being embroiled in a low-level civil war, it might be more accurate to say that Iraq is beset by many civil wars - with all of the related implications. Then again, Anthony Shadid might argue that Kaufmann fails to appreciate the many ways that Kaufmann's version of the multiple civil wars could be expanded in scope when considering the additional variables that lurk underneath the surface:

This question of civil war is really pressing, and I think it is actually important to say whether one is under way or not. I believe it is, but maybe not in the way we've fashioned it in the past: Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. When I think of the civil war in Iraq, I'm struck by the fault lines that are getting less attention. There is the sometimes explosive rivalry between Hakim's Badr milita [sic] and the Sadr forces. We've seen time and again the flaring of differences in western Iraq between insurgent groups. (As far back as last year, I heard an Iraqi guerrilla from Fallujah, of the nationalist variety, vowing to shoot any Arab expat trying to give him orders.) We should be careful in not minimizing differences between the two Kurdish parties. Understandably our attention is focused on Zarqawi's threats to wage an unrelenting campaign against Shiites. But in the long run, it's the intra-communal battles that I think are more decisive and worrisome.

Speaking of which, might not the contested city of Basra exemplify the current state of the internecine civil wars warned about by Shadid? In today's Guardian (via Juan Cole), we see that British military officials on the scene - in particular Lieutenant General Nick Houghton, Britain's chief of joint operations - aren't exactly optimistic about the deteriorating situation:

"There is a worrying amount of violence and murder carried out between rival Shia factions," he said. "The security situation in Basra has no doubt got worse of late due to the protracted period of talks to form the government." That, he said, allowed "a period of time in which politics that should have been conducted more appropriately, actually were conducted through violent means on the streets". Gen Houghton continued: "There has been inter-faction rivalry, much of it then reflecting in non-judicial murder between rival Shia factions struggling for political and economic power."

It's going to be a long, hot summer in Iraq. Or should I say summers. Let's hope it's only one. I don't know how many more plurals Iraq can take.

From The Department Of: Careful What You Wish For

The elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi should be greeted as an unmitigated success for US/Iraqi forces, but, consistent with the uniquely frustrating features of our Iraq involvement, even this victory might be tempered by a touch of the pyrrhic. As Spencer Ackerman noted, there are indications that Zarqawi's replacement might be "just as barbaric as Zarqawi, but not as stupid." It's the "not as stupid part" that is a cause for concern.

Ackerman is referring to the fact that Al Qaeda in Iraq - through the umbrella organization known as the Mujahideen Shura Council - has taken credit for the brutal deaths (including signs of severe torture) of the two US soldiers recently abducted at a checkpoint in the town of Yusufiya, located in the volatile Sunni Triangle region. From this, Ackerman speculates that this event could signify a shift in al-Qaeda in Iraq's tactics, goals and general strategy. A recalibration that will redound to their benefit, at our expense by focusing more on the targeting of US forces, and less on Iraqi civilians.

...if indeed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) murdered Menchaca and Caldwell, it further suggests that the organization has learned from the mistakes of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi--that is, the seemingly indiscriminate slaughter of Muslim civilians (particularly Shia, whom Zarqawi considered infidels), which even Ayman Al Zawahiri considered counterproductive to the cause of radicalizing the Islamic world [...].

In other words, under the new leadership of Abu Ayyub Al Masri (or, if you prefer, Abu Hamza Al Muhajir), AQI is presenting itself as more in line with bin Laden's leadership than Zarqawi's--combating the enemies that unite radicalized Muslims, in Iraq and beyond, rather than those that divide them.

This possible re-alignment to a footing more consistent with the broader goals and tactics espoused by senior al-Qaeda leaders lie Zawahiri and Bin Laden would certainly fit within al-Masri's profile, partially explored here. According to the bio on al-Masri set forth in that article, he is an Egyptian with close ties to Ayman al-Zawahri, ties that date back to al-Masri's beginnings as a terrorist in 1982 as part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was led by none other than Ayman al-Zawahri.

Zarqawi, on the other hand, was rumored to have been a bit of a loose cannon, a rogue element that al-Qaeda's senior leadership accepted in a marriage of convenience despite frequent rhetorical skirmishes over Zarqawi's inflammatory tactics and failed attempts to rein him in.

If indeed al-Masri improves on Zarqawi's performance by creating a more widely accepted and less despised al-Qaeda in Iraq by focusing on the vastly more popular tactic of targeting US troops rather than other Iraqis, this will be one more example of what I meant when I said that in Iraq, even when we win, we lose. Or as Spencer Ackerman put it, much more succinctly, "Shit."

Monday, June 19, 2006

That Eternal Recurrence Mumbo Jumbo

My Nietzche-inspired nightmare continues - or, more accurately, is re-lived. From Think Progress, we get a little deja vu all over again courtesy of the Veep who has defrosted his infamous "last throes" nonsense from May 2005 and proceeded to reheat as fresh and new. Behold: Last Throes 2.0 [emphasis mine]:

REPORTER: About a year ago, you said that the insurgency in Iraq was in its final throes. Do you still believe this?

CHENEY: I do. What I was referring to was the series of events that took place in 1995 [sic – 2005]. I think the key turning point when we get back 10 years from now, say, and look back on this period of time and with respect to the campaign in Iraq, will be that series of events when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their own affairs....And that process of course has been completed recently with the appointment by Prime Minister Maliki of ministers to fill those jobs. I think that will have been from a historical turning point, the period that we’ll be able to look at and say, that’s when we turned the corner, that’s when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.

So not only was the insurgency in its last throes thirteen months ago, but it still is. Or it is again. Or it will be soon. Next year maybe. And the year after that, and on and on and on....(cue spiraling vortex imagery and eerie Twilight Zone theme music).

Spin Cycle Needed

Paging Ralph Peters, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Reynolds, Jeff Goldstein, Fox News, et al: more stab in the back defeatism to counteract. This time, my fellow travelers, we have seen the enemy up close - and the enemy is us. In the strictest possible terms.

I submit, as Exhibit A (pdf), a memo from the American Embassy in Baghdad that was ostensibly signed by none other than Zalmay Khalilzad. Please observe the handwringing, the doom and gloom pessimism, the blatant defeatism and, dare I say, open cheerleading for a terrorist victory. Here are some excerpts from the memo, as compiled by Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell:

As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, "An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq."

Among the other troubling reports:

-- "Personal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors."

-- One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.

-- Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report "pervasive" harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices "have diminished the quality of life." Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods "have visibly deteriorated" and one of them is now described as a "ghost town."

-- Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May...."some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.

-- It has also become "dangerous" for men to wear shorts in public and "they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts." People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack.

-- Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. "is punishing populations as Saddam did."

-- Since April, the "demeanor" of guards in the Green Zone has changed, becoming more "militia-like," and some are now "taunting" embassy personnel or holding up their credentials and saying loudly that they work in the embassy: "Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people." For this reason, some have asked for press instead of embassy credentials.

-- "For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events....We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their 'cover.'"

-- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."

-- The overall environment is one of "frayed social networks," with frequent actual or perceived insults. None of this is helped by lack of electricity. "One colleague told us he feels 'defeated' by circumstances, citing his example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stifling heat," which is now reaching 115 degrees.

-- "Another employee tell us that life outside the Green Zone has become 'emotionally draining.' He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral 'every evening.'"

-- Fuel lines have grown so long that one staffer spent 12 hours in line on his day off. "Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without....One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day."

-- The cable concludes that employees' "personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials."
First, the Bush administration's representatives on the scene decided to close the Voice of America's bureau in Baghdad six months ago because it "had" to withdraw its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed. "Supposedly" they haven't been able to locate a replacement willing to go back under the faux-dangerous conditions.

And now this near-treason from Khalilzad's office? While a demand for his resignation might normally be in order, I'm willing to grant Zal a temporary reprieve because the memo was dated June 6, and the events described therein preceded the death of terror mastermind, and premier puppetmaster of the insurgency, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As we all know, with the death of Zarqawi, to paraphrase Marc Steyn, the insurgency will only continue for a few weeks more, as it peters out like Zarqawi's last breaths. So Zal's memo is already moot, and the problems it details are all but resolved. In fact, you could say that it's the type of history that "is like so far back it doesn't count." Or something.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Exhuming McCarthy

Once again, the US Army is showing that it does not support the troops, is soft on terrorists and wouldn't care if a nuclear device were detonated in downtown Manhattan. The Army is joining the ranks of the CIA and State Department in terms of infiltration by the liberal-America bashing-Bush hating-MoveOn-peacenick fringe. Eric Umansky has even more evidence of how the Army is getting all Al Gore on us again [emphasis mine throughout]:

As the US government debates the merits of harsh interrogation techniques today, it should be careful to not limit the debate to a technical discussion of legal matters. The key questions that should drive American policy are those of operational and strategic effectiveness.

Harsh interrogation can provide some valuable tactical and operational intelligence. However, the advantages that such intelligence provides may be totally negated by a plethora of strategic dangers arising from the methods used to gain it. These dangers include effects on military and political cohesion; national and international legitimacy; and, most important, decisive negative effects on the hearts and minds of the population.
Boo-hoo, ya bleedin' heart commies. Don't you know that Zarqawi beheads his captives? Clearly the US Army hates the US Army. And kittens.

But wait my fellow Americans, the liberal perfidy doesn't end there. Apparently, the liberal-America bashing-peacenick-Islamofascists have also over-run the US Navy. Check out this recent event at the US Naval War College, and the audience reaction to what can only be described as treasonous and blatant surrender monkey-ism:

If anyone asks you why this is a great country, tell them this story.

Yesterday the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, opened its annual conference on international strategy with a speech from the Navy Secretary in a vast hall, followed by a panel on American power composed of three scholars, all of whom had opposed the war in Iraq. Indeed, in the biographical notes that were given out to the audience of officers—men and women wearing their dress whites—one of the scholars stated bluntly that he had written about the "folly of invading Iraq."

...The last [question from the audience] was from a Navy commander named Cladgett from Syracuse, who rose in the middle of the audience.

"My question to the panel is, What is the path to success in Iraq?"

There was a damburst of laughter in the audience, then the scholars took it on, one by one. The first, Stephen Walt of Harvard, said "This was a huge strategic blunder, there are no attractive plans forward." The greatest danger—an international conflict in Iraq—would be there no matter when we left. The next man, Robert Art of Brandeis, said, he thought it was extremely important for America's image in the Arab world not to have permanent bases in Iraq.

The last one to speak was the one who had used the word "folly" in the program: John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. Mearsheimer is 58. He told the audience that when he was a teenager, he had enlisted in the Army. Then he'd spent 1966-1970 at West Point. Then he said this:

I remember once in English class we read Albert Camus's book The Plague. I didn't know what The Plague was about or why we were reading it. But afterwards the instructor explained to us that The Plague was being read because of the Vietnam War. What Camus was saying in The Plague was that the plague came and went of its own accord. All sorts of minions ran around trying to deal with the plague, and they operated under the illusion that they could affect the plague one way or another. But the plague operated on its own schedule. That is what we were told was going on in Vietnam. Every time I look at the situation in Iraq today, I think of Vietnam, and I think of The Plague, and I just don't think there's very much we can do at this point. It is just out of our hands. There are forces that we don't have control over that are at play, and will determine the outcome of this one. I understand that's very hard for Americans to understand, because Americans believe that they can shape the world in their interests.

But I learned during the Vietnam years when I was a kid at West Point, that there are some things in the world that you just don't control, and I think that's where we're at in Iraq.
The panel was over. For a moment or two there was stunned silence, and then applause—at once polite, sustained and thunderous.
I guess they're just rooting for the terrorists to win. Personally, I think we should pore over the tape, figure out which Naval personnel were applauding, and try them for treason. With the Honorable Michelle Malkin presiding of course. Legal poems in the courtroom to be provided by Jeff Goldstein.

Oh Come, All Ye Faithful

A little PSA from TIA: If anyone in the NYC area is interested in enjoying the amazing weather with an amazing blogger/author, Glenn Greenwald will be at Drinking Liberally tonight. Even if Glenn's not what floats your boat, there will be BEER. And lots of it. At super affordable happy hour-esque prices.

At the very least Alex UA will be there. Wearing a hat. And I'll be standing next to him yammering away. Details below:

Talk & signing with author Glenn Greenwald.
Thursday, June 15th - 6:30pm
Rudy's - 9th btw 44th & 45th - backyard.

See ya there I hope.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"A Good Week...For Cowboy Unilateralists"

In light of President Bush's victory lap-ette around Baghdad's Green Zone inspired by the impending burial of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - and the commensurate 'Zarqawi's death is a watershed' triumphalism sprouting up from so many fertile plots in Right blogistan - I thought I would disinter an oldie but goodie from the archives to remind us all about the value of some good old "let's wait six months before we start crowing" circumspection.

I'm not saying that the capture of Zarqawi was meaningless - that would be a gross oversimplification and it would ignore the fact that ridding the world of such a depraved killer will always have meaning. But in the words of Jim Henley, "I doubt it will make much difference to the future of Iraq, where the problems are about structure rather than personality..."

With that in mind, and with an assist from my Aussie on-the-spot Tim Dunlop, I offer you this object lesson in self-restraint from none other than Hugh Hewitt's favorite person in the whole wide world, Mark Steyn. Here's Steyn getting a bit too worked up over the capture of Saddam way back when we were still only pivoting around the first couple of "turning points" in Iraq. Ahhh, heady days those were.

As for [the insurgency] being "not just about one man," don't bet on it. In May, I was sitting in a restaurant in Ramadi just west of Baghdad, chewing the fat (very literally, alas) with various Iraqi chaps, all of a Sunni disposition.

"Hey, things are gonna be great from now on, right, guys?" I said, by way of an icebreaker.

They shrugged gloomily. "Where is Saddam?" said one, pointing at the BBC News on the TV in the corner. "Where is Saddam? He has money, he has friends. He will be back."

In the months since, Saddam has been all but irrelevant to any active coordination of the so-called "resistance," But the fact he was still on the run, somewhere out there, meant that, in theory, he could be behind it, and that made it easier for the Ba'athist dead-enders and the imported terrorists to lean on communities in the Sunni Triangle for support and cover.

The sight of Saddam looking like a department-store Santa who has been sleeping off a bender in a sewer for a week will deal a fatal blow to the Ba'athist thugs' ability to intimidate local populations. The insurgency will continue for a few weeks yet, but it will peter out, like the dictator, not with a bang but a whimper. [ed note: does one laugh, cry or both?]

As for the Western naysayers, let me go back to what I wrote in July, after the killing of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay, and the Democratic Party reaction: "If they're still droning on like this on the day Rummy's passing out souvenir vials of Saddam's DNA, they'll be heading for oblivion."[...]

"What happened this week," I wrote back on Uday-Qusay Tuesday, "is a foretaste of what the party can expect in the next 15 months: Reality will keep intruding, and if the Dems keep moving the goalposts ever more frantically, pretty soon they'll be campaigning from Planet Zongo. Recently, Sen. Tom Daschle insisted Uday and Qusay were all very well, but where was the Big Guy? Why hadn't that slacker George Bush caught him yet?

Next question, Tom? [emph. mine]

My name's not Tom, but I would like to ask a question nonetheless: Mark, how's the weather on Planet Zongo?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

That's Why

Quick hit and run linkage here at TIA. I see (via Ezra) that Nathan Newman has put together a rather comprehensive reservoir of information concerning the state of the labor movement in present day America under the heading "Why Unions? Labor 101." I had the pleasure of meeting Nathan at a recent Drinking Liberally event in NYC, and he was engaging enough in person that I tend to pay extra attention to his work when I come across it. I have yet to be disapointed.

The slow deterioration in power and influence of the labor movement in America has been one of the largest, yet unheralded and regrettable, victories of big business over the middle class. The results have skewed a playing field that was already pretty lopsided. Natahn gives a play by play of the sizable stakes involved and what can be done to reverse the trend. Check it out. Well worth the read, if not the bookmark as a go-to resource.

Rabbit In Your Headlights: The Eternal Recurrence of the Bush Administration

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more'...Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'

-Friedrich Nietzsche
The Gay Science

What a curious position critics of the Bush administration - myself included - have found themselves in over the past five and a half years. So many of this administration's policies and decisions have had all the characteristics of a series of car wrecks - only played out in super slow motion, over the course of months, years and likely decades (when all is said and done). Despite the slow, plodding denouement, nothing is done to halt the tragic progression. Or is it that the same failed policies are pursued time and again such that it creates the illusion of one continuous mistake?

With the advent of the blogosphere - and other related media access points - citizen critics and concerned onlookers have been released from the pose of the deer frozen by the glare of the oncoming headlights. In response, there has been a flurry of activity and protest in digital form in order to attempt to muster what effort can be made to avert the imminent and seemingly inevitable disasters. Despite this admirable and spirited exercise in citizen participation, though, the end result might be the same: a ruinous montage of collisions with a convoy of eighteen wheelers.

Worse still, those of us sufficiently bothered by the events which we are forced re-live on a periodic basis like some Nietzsche-an nightmare of eternal recurrence (see, ie, Bush's deja vu inducing speeches on Iraq delivered every couple of months), receive a healthy dose of the blame for the fact that the movie is playing out according to form. We are not rewarded for our prescience or oft repeated admonitions, but rather accused of rooting for failure or weakening the country's resolve because we point out along the way how the signposts on the many ill-fated roads are, indeed, the signposts we thought they were. Regardless, no vindication for being "right" about any of these strategic boondoggles would be particularly satisfying anyway.

Nevertheless, witness, for example, the increasingly frequent "stabbed in the back" meme popping up in Right blogistan surrounding the Iraq conflict. Or sympathize with Al Gore and his attempt at one last hail mary pass to the American consciousness regarding the specter of global warming - a problem that Gore highlighted many years ago (to much ridicule) and to which the Bush administration has shown a persistent recklessness toward addressing. Or wonder to yourself about the groundhog day-like fiscal policies that involve repeatedly cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans at a time of two simultaneous wars. While these go-to tax cuts are always accompanied by the soothing bromides of Laffer curve distortions and other such supply side voodoo, the results are always the same: dangerously burgeoning deficits, increasing inequalities in wealth, cuts in social programs and a cash strapped treasury. Predictable? Perhaps, but guess what the election year plan is. I blame the tax and spend liberals.

Speaking of predictable, what has been so particularly confounding about these blunders is just how obviously foreseeable the eventual geo-political five car pile-ups have been prior to the keys even being turned in the policy making ignition. I think Fred Kaplan summed it up best as an aside to his critique of the rather "bland" list of foreign policy objectives put forth by Congressional Democrats as part of a national security plan a few months back [emphasis mine throughout]:

The list may seem obvious, like those "Do not use in water" tags that come with electrical appliances—except that Bush & Co. have been spinning fan blades in bathtubs around the world the past four years. This is the advantage that the Democrats hold at the starting gate: The Republican administration has violated so many precepts of International Relations 101 that clichés take on the air of wisdom. It may be that the Dems don't need to put forth their own agenda; promising to pull the plug out of the socket might be sufficient.
For me personally, the decision to invade Iraq marked the moment that the electric current met the bath water - shocking me into action and converting me from passive observer, to active participant in the campaign to convince policy makers and ordinary citizens of the folly of this administration's grand designs. I remember feeling a profound sense of alarm and astonishment at the fact that so many serious thinkers were brushing off, or failing to consider, the impact that an invasion of a Muslim nation in the heart of the Middle East would have on our image in the region - and how that would interplay with our broader objectives. The other half of the story - informed by the learned empathy that tells of the "consequences" side of the equation - wasn't even on the radar.

The belief that the way to combat the virulent anti-American propaganda spewed by Bin Laden (aided by certain questionable real world policy choices) that fed so much of the pernicious strain of anti-American jihadism in the region was through the use of "shock and awe" bombing campaigns and prolonged occupation of a Muslim nation replete with civilian killings, arrogant viceroys, permanent bases and sweetheart deals on reconstruction contracts for US firms was just beyond the beyonds.

The thought that there would not be significant "blowback" from a new generation of mujahadeen replacing the prior generation of Afghan fighters that have bedeviled us over the past decade or so, was beyond myopic. These patently "obvious" deductions were undone by a combustible mixture of hubris, narrow-minded focus, solipsistic thinking, exceptionalism, mixed motives and greed. There's a reason Michael Scheuer called the invasion of Iraq Bin Laden's Christmas gift. Anthony Shadid tells us about the gift that keeps on giving (via Swopa):

...the war is building a profound legacy across the Arab world: fear and suspicion over Iraq's repercussions, a generation that casts the Bush administration's policy as an unquestioned war on Islam, and a subterranean reserve of men who, like Abu Haritha, declare that the fight against the United States in Iraq is a model for the future.

Grievances against the United States are nothing new in a city like Tripoli. For a generation, activists across the spectrum have bitterly criticized U.S. policy. What has shifted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq is the perception of that policy. The critique is no longer about perceived double standards -- of excessive support for Israel, of backing Arab dictatorships. Today, it is more generalized, universal and uncompromising. Popular sentiment here and elsewhere holds that U.S. policy amounts to a war on Islam, and in the language of Abu Haritha and others, the conflict is framed as one between the faithful and infidels, justice and injustice.

"The targeting of Iraq can be considered the first step in targeting the entire Middle East to impose a new order in the region," said Fathi Yakan, a founder of the Islamic Association and head of an umbrella group known as the Islamic Action Forces.
Wow. Who could have seen that one coming? If you want more on the positive developments in Iraq, and the future they portend, check out Richard Holbrooke's sentiments as retold by some of the good folks over at Democracy Arsenal (as summed up by Kevin).

While issues such as the fueling of dangerous (and now well trained and equipped) anti-American jihadists through the invasion of Iraq, as well as the utter neglect of pending environmental calamities, are certainly the crown jewels in the firmament of the Bush administration's obvious mistakes, there are also the smaller ones that deserve mentioning (rampant cronyism, erosion of sound policy making procedures, Katrina, etc.). One such textbook error was the appointment of John Bolton to the role of ambassador to the UN - a mistake that enough Republicans in the Senate likely spotted far enough in advance that Bush had to use a recess appointment in order to circumvent the Senate's approval process.

At the time, many administration supporters hailed Bolton's coarse style, and open contempt for the UN itself, as would-be assets that would assist Bolton in working with other member nation's to reform the UN. Allow me to repeat that bit of counterintuitive thinking: Bolton's well documented inability to work with others and repeated proclamations as to the irrelevancy of the institution were going to help him to work with other nations within that institution on so many sensitive issues. I know, I know - it really is beyond belief. In reality-based reality, though, Bolton's appointment was correctly viewed as part and parcel of a policy of undermining international organizations and multilateral actions - from institutions such as the UN to alliances such as those found in "old Europe." It was unipolarity run amok - which happens to be the quickest way to unravel such unipolarity.

Well guess what's happening with Bolton at the UN: the obvious. To paraphrase praktike, "We told you so." Not that it required a crystal ball or anything - just a pinch of common sense. Sebastian Mallaby recounts the oh-so shocking results from Bolton's brief - yet destructive - tenure. First some background:

Last month President Bush issued a rare apology. "Saying 'Bring it on,' kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal," he confessed. "I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted."

Well done, Mr. President, you've understood that bluster can backfire. Now how about sharing this insight with your ambassador to the United Nations?

John R. Bolton, the ambassador in question, has a rich history of losing friends and failing to influence people. He was notorious, even before arriving at the United Nations last year, for having said that 10 stories of the U.N. headquarters could be demolished without much loss; he had described the United States as the sun around which lesser nations rotate -- mere "asteroids," he'd branded them. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Senate refused to confirm Bolton as U.N. ambassador. "Arrogant," "bullying," and "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be," Sen. George Voinovich called him.
Then, after recounting Bolton's dubious highlights at the UN, Mallaby proceeds with some of the reaction:

Last week the U.N. deputy secretary general, a pro-American Briton named Mark Malloch Brown, went public with his Bolton frustrations. He pointed out that the United Nations serves many American objectives, from deploying peacekeepers to helping with Iraq's elections. Given this cooperation, the powers that be in Washington should stick up for the United Nations rather than threatening to blow it up. They should not be passive in the face of "unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping."

This merely stated the obvious...But Malloch Brown's speech didn't seem obvious to Bolton. "This is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen," he thundered in response. "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations."

Which would suit Bolton and his allies perfectly. But it should not suit Bush, at least not now that he's grasped that bluster can backfire. Arriving at the U.N. summit last September, a different Bush greeted the secretary general and gestured at Bolton; "has the place blown up since he's been here?" he demanded, teasingly. Well, it's now time for the new Bush to acknowledge that Bolton's tactics aren't funny. The United States needs an ambassador who can work with the United Nations. Right now, it doesn't have one.
For good measure, Lorelei Kelly provides some instructive insights for the Bush administration - what should be blatantly obvious to anyone not a "Vulcan":

Bolton's threatening response are the words of a bully....It appears that we not only need better intelligence from our national security agencies, we need more emotional intelligence from our political appointees. Re-cap on Emotional Intelligence: Relationships are vital for life achievement. Understanding and relating well with others is often more important than run of the mill smarts because self-awareness and the ability to build lasting meaningful relationships are fundamental keys to success. All the public diplomacy gimmicks and flackery in the world will never overcome this basic fact.

The administration's squandered political capital is splattered all over the place these days. [...]

Maybe the new Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who seems to have lots of emotional intelligence, could use some of it to explain a really basic economics term to the Bush team: Opportunity Cost: it's the benefits you miss out on when you choose one course of action over the alternatives. Its how economists value choices. In human relations terms, its that people aren't stupid and because of that you almost never can have your cake and eat it too. Well, the opportunity cost of being a bully is the diminishment of every American national security objective that requires cooperation, trust and goodwill from Hearts and Minds to public diplomacy to UN reform.
Imagine that. Diplomacy sometimes requires one to actually act diplomatic. Oh, and it helps not to hold your allies and their institutions in open contempt. Whodda thunk it? Now could someone please pop a tire on the big rig John Bolton is trying to drive headlong into the UN headquarters on Turtle Bay? There are, in fact, still a couple more years left on Bolton's voyage. The sooner the better though. The slow motion is excruciating, the movie is a re-run and I'm gnashing my teeth.

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