Friday, April 30, 2004

How Reassuring....

Al Qaeda has denied that it intended a chemical weapons attack on Jordan, asserting that if it had such weapons it would already have attempted to use them in Israel.
The chemical and poisonous bomb is a fabrication by the evil Jordanian mechanism," [Al Qaeda spokesperson Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] said in a full text of his statement carried on Islamist Web sites.

"God knows, that if we possessed such a bomb that we would not have hesitated for a second to avidly seek to strike Israeli cities such as Eilat, Tel Aviv and others."
(And some people think we can negotiate a truce with these terrorist groups?)


Thursday, April 29, 2004

"We Can Kick *Anybody's* Ass...."

Isn't it time for the Second Amendment absolutists to finally surrender their pretense that a society of people armed with handguns and rifles can defend a nation against a modern army? After all, aren't many of those same people relishing in the fact that not even the mightiest of the world's competing armies can stand up to our war machine?

And why isn't the NRA complaining that the Bush Administration is confiscating arms from law-abiding Iraqis, leaving them at the mercy of bandits and street gangs? I thought, after all, that an armed society was a polite society.


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Getting It Wrong on Powell

Many in the American political "left" do not understand the U.S. military, and it seems that many in the military do not understand the American political left. While there are suggestions that many traditionally Republican veterans and members of the military are so disillusioned with Bush that they will not be voting for him in the fall, that does not mean that they will be voting for Kerry - they simply won't vote. I think a good case study for the difference in mindset which leads to the schism between the military and the political left is Colin Powell.

Leave aside for a moment the thought that his resignation would be embarrassing to Bush, or would hurt Bush's reelection hopes. If you are on the political left and cannot understand why Powell would choose to remain and serve a President with whom he has significant personal disagreement, work to advance and effect policies with which he has significant personal disagreement, and even make public statements in support of those policies and proposed actions, the superficial response to your incredulity might be "you just don't get it". From what I have seen, people in the military have no problem understanding why, after committing to the job of Secretary of State, Powell's strong sense of duty and self-discipline would keep him from quitting or undermining the President. To the military mind, the recent spate of leftist editorials criticizing Powell for doing his job probably sound like nails down a chalkboard. If you can't understand that, at least try to ponder it for a while before you next criticize Powell for not quitting his post.


I think there's a one-word explanation....



Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Why Isn't It Working?

While I was never one to believe the "candy and flowers" scenario, to praise Ahmed Chalabi, or to purport that because Saddam Hussein was so bad anything that followed his removal would inevitably be better, there is some evidence in the region that suggests the possibility of successful nation-building in Iraq - specifically, the Kurdish region in the north, which has moved toward democracy and capitalism during the decade-long "no fly zone" when they were shielded from Hussein's regime and allowed to develop autonamous rule. So it seems fair to ask, why aren't other Iraqis inspired by that example? Why don't they trust our motives after seeing how much freedom and independence the Kurds now possess?

The answers to that are likely far more complex than I can fathom, with my limited knowledge of the region and its culture - if you want to review culturally attuned and timely analysis of developments in Iraq I recommend Juan Cole's weblog. However, some of the differences seem self-evident.

First, the Kurds were not offered autonomy as a result of an invasion and occupation of their lands, "secured" by large numbers of foreign troops on the ground, but received it as a result of their being protected by the "no fly zone", and further by local militias that developed during that period. They knew that there were limits on the sovereignty they could assert - they knew that they were not free to declare their own state - but beyond that were given great latitude in building their own national institutions, infrastructure and economy. They knew and obviously considered the preferences of their protectors, but chose their own path toward democratization.

Second, as I just suggested, the Kurds were given the right to rebuild their institutions and infrastructure in the manner of their choosing. Foreign contractors were not dropped into their midst to do the work for them, while they were kept at a distance by razor wire and armed guards.

Third, their economic position was significantly improved. Whereas previously they had been all but shut out of Iraq's economy, they received a share of the revenues raised through the sale of Iraqi oil under the UN sanctions. While far from rich, between that revenue and an improved climate for trade, they saw an overall improvement in their standard of living.

Contrast that with what happened in the rest of Iraq. We came in by force, and after dissolving the Iraqi military and attempting to disarm the militias, we left an enormous security void which still exists, and which still leaves many Iraqis afraid to leave their homes and parts of the country at the mercy of bandits. We have refused to let the Iraqi people have any say in the structure of the government which will replace Hussein's regime, and we selected a "council" to represent them from people whom we believed would accede to our wishes for the country. We did not permit them to rebuild their own country, instead bringing in outside contractors at extraordinary cost, and excluding many Iraqis from participating in reconstruction (while permitting some others to participate, but at best as subcontractors to the outside companies). Meanwhile, the Shia majority is told that it will have to accede to a form of government which "protects" the rest of the country from what it might do following truly popular elections, and the Sunni minority is marginalized with many people who could otherwise be active in reconstruction or the new government completely excluded from the process as a result of de-Baathification. While the Kurds gained both politically and economically from their democratization, both the Sunnis and Kurds are being asked to permanently surrender economic and political power.

In The New York Review of Books, Peter Gailbraith suggests that the best path toward a stable Iraq, from which we could safely withdraw our troops, would likely be the "loose federation" - essentially, three relatively autonomous regions with a limited federal government. He recognizes that this would create an Iraq that was more a nation in name than in reality, which in turn implicates the concerns raised by Juan Cole about a possible "three state solution".

It still bothers me that, beyond endorsing the band-aid of the day (presently, the hope that a UN negotiator can somehow achieve a consensus which moves Iraq toward a stable government) nobody in the Bush Administration seems to be doing any long-term planning or analysis about Iraq. We hear tired cliches about "getting the job done" and how bad it would be to "cut and run", but the pro-war factions have done an atrocious job of telling us how we will achieve the desired goals - well, really, they have been pretty much silent on the issue. The most sensible analysis seems to come from the people who were anti-war, not out of any desire that Hussein remain in power but out of fear of a difficult and perhaps catastrophic post-war occupation - people who, unfortunately, were intentionally marginalized by pro-war factions prior to the war, and whose opinions remain at the margins in no small part because the leaders of the U.S. and U.K. are too vain to admit their mistakes.


A Continuing Shame....

Stories like this remind me of my long-standing feeling that this country would have been much better served over the past four years, had John McCain won the Presidential nomination for the 2000 election.


Monday, April 26, 2004

Kristof's (Latest) False Dichotomy

A couple of days ago, Nicholas Kristof presented a rather peculiar false dichotomy:
I've argued often that gay marriage should be legal and that conservative Christians should show a tad more divine love for homosexuals.

But there's a corollary. If liberals demand that the Christian right show more tolerance for gays and lesbians, then liberals need to be more respectful of conservative Christians.
I'm not sure why the issues are interconnected - can anybody fill me in on the elusive parts of Kristof's reasoning?

It is also interesting to note that the points of "disrespect" shown by the left toward "conservative Christians" is not based upon religion per se - many people on the left are devoutly religious Christians - but is about a particular interpretation of religion. And much of the "disrespect" is not even over conservative religiosity, but instead is a reaction to those sects which advance hatred toward homosexuals, hatred toward Islam, and the notion that anybody who hasn't been "saved" in accord with a particular interpretation of the Bible is destined for Hell, in the name of Christian religion. Isn't Kristof actually arguing that the political left needs to be more tolerant of intolerance?


Saturday, April 24, 2004

A False Sense of Balance

When addressing contentious issues, it seems common for the press and for laypersons to attempt to achieve "balance" by criticizing both sides. The worst examples of this seem to be in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where (outside of the Israei press) it is difficult to find an article that simply hones in on a troublesome issue without providng some sort of allusion to dubious conduct by the "other side". This perhaps is understandable, in the sense that the western media is accused of bias pretty much any time it touches that particular conflict (whatever the merit of the charge), but it's ultimately a cop-out.

Given the superficial understanding of the conflict possessed by most Americans, and presumably by most of the reporters who author the news coverage, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that we get facile, superficial analysis of the so-called "cycle of violence", without any hard look at whether either side (or both sides) is acting unwisely. "The Palestinians" are treated as a monolithic whole, such that the individual act of the most extremist nutjob is attributed to "The Palestinians" without thought or explanation. The Israelis don't fare much better, being associated with the often dubious judgment of the Sharon Administration - an elected administration, but under a system of government which results in often fragile coalition governments with government decision-making sometimes more influenced by the need to appease a tiny extremist political party (with just enough MK's to make or break a coalition majority) as opposed to the will of the people. We rarely hear that the majority of Isralies have long been willing to abandon most of the settlements in the occupied territories as part of the peace process, nor how that contrasts and conflicts with Sharon's long-standing plan to annex huge portions of the occupied West Bank.

The ignorance of the western media is frequently exploited in the conflict, as was the case with propaganda about Palestinians using children as "human shields" early in the Intifada. An investigation by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem established this claim as anti-Palestinian propaganda:
In response to Israeli "misrepresentation," leading Israeli publicist Dan Margalit advocates a strategy "to reduce the gap between the cold logic on Israel's side and the bloody photograph giving Palestinians the edge.… A planned and creative PR campaign would attack Arafat from an unexpected direction—that he sacrifices children.… If all officials repeated this contention, some of those graphic photos would work against Arafat."

Over the past few weeks, the Israeli media—and Israel's supporters worldwide—have adopted this strategy. Newspapers tell of mothers who raise their children to be martyrs. Mass emails assert that Palestinian gunmen are using children as human shields. So, precisely as Margalit intended, the discourse has shifted from the soldiers who kill children to a critique of Palestinian society, a pagan society (according to one controversial article) that practices child sacrifice.

Hanan Ashrawi rightly has labeled these accusations a classic case of racist demonization, achieved by blaming the victim and dehumanizing Palestinians and their culture. Seventy-four percent of Palestinians in a recent Birzeit University survey opposed the participation of children under age eighteen in the confrontations. The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem has found no evidence of organized exploitation of children.
That's certainly not to say that more could not be done on the Palestinian side to keep young kids out of harm's way, and to discourage them from participating in demonstrations or stone-throwing which might culminate in Israel's use of deadly force, but that's a much lesser charge. Early in the Intifada the Israeli military issued cameras to its troops hoping to catch some footage of gunmen hiding behind children. Not one frame of footage has been released to support the anti-Palestinian propaganda, and ultimately the cameras were recalled.

The sort of faux "balance" I describe is also not alien to the blogging world. In this example, a dogmatically pro-Israeli blogger is actually criticizing Israel, but you can only learn that if you follow the link:

Palestinian fighters routinely use children as human shields, but that doesn't excuse this. Those responsible deserve to be punished.

Posted by Gene at April 24, 2004 03:31 AM
The linked Ha'aretz article is a pretty good overview of allegations and actual use of "human shields" during the conflict, and it does present a similar claim to Gene's - but with two important differences: "Security forces insist they do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and accuse Palestinian militants of routinely using non-combatants for cover." - first, the accusation of "routine use" is properly depicted as an undocumented allegation. While there are likely isolated incidents which could be documented, there does not seem to be any evidence of anything approaching the security forces' claim. Second, the claim is general, not about children. Arguably, even this line was included to minimize accusations of imbalance, which are frequently directed at Ha'aretz, but apparently Ha'aretz has a thick enough skin that it is willing to adhere to the known facts. Given the pressures they face, that's pretty commendable.


Friday, April 23, 2004

Sharing Secrets II

I guess the Washington Post felt left out, given yesterday's editorial in the Times. In a very long piece, the Post tells us:
An examination of [Kerry's military] record, supplemented by interviews with the candidate, his crewmates and some skeptics, found little to undermine Kerry's portrayal of his service.
But I guess "there's no story here" doesn't provide enough column inches?

Meanwhile, there's no similar story about Bush's war record, perhaps because they can't find many people who remember his later service?


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Sharing Secrets

Today, following John Kerry's release of his military records, the New York Times complains that the Kerry's should be more forthcoming with other information, such as additional medical records or details of Teresa's finances.

With all due respect for the importance of knowing a presidential candidate's medical history, and certain details of his finances, this seems to be an unbalanced demand. On the more personal front, there is no call for Bush to disclose his personal financial background, including the details of the questionable business dealings which have inspired some to accuse him of insider trading. There is no call for him to disclose why he skipped his annual physical in his last year of reserve duty. On matters which affect all of us, there is no call for disclosure of the identity of participants in Dick Cheney's energy task force. There is no call for disclosure of additional documents and records pertaining to 9/11, when the Bush Administration started to plan for war in Iraq, or even for an explanation of its diversion of $700 million from Afghan reconstruction to pay for Iraq warplanning. There's no call for Cheney to disclose the present status of his heart condition, or for an update on President Bush's peculiar fainting spell.

I'm all for disclosure, but I'm not sure that Kerry's the one with the bigger secrets. When can I expect The Times to present a similarly unambiguous demand for disclosure by the other side?


Wednesday, April 21, 2004


In Today's times, David Margolick tells us about "the nicest terrorist I ever met", detailing the extreme beliefs of the recently assassinated leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. If you've had the luxury of growing up in peace, Rantisi's endorsement of endless conflict seems almost alien.

Also, Walter Russell Mead editorializes that, based upon his experience with the people of the Arab world, the greatest source of antipathy toward the United States is not the U.S.-Israeli relationship, but the "widespread belief that the United States simply does not care about the rights or needs of the Palestinian people. He suggests what some, such as Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery and the U.S. group Tikkun, have suggested for years:
America's Middle East policy is unnecessarily zero-sum. We can be more pro-Palestinian without being less pro-Israeli. Indeed, to the degree that American policies help create support for compromise among Palestinians, pro-Palestinian initiatives can help Israel too.
(As if on cue, even the King of Jordan is responding to Arab anger over Bush's endorsement of Sharon's plan to annex portions of the occupied West Bank.) In The London Guardian George Monbiot presents a different perspective on zero sum games. He argues that the Bush Administration's policies toward the conflict are driven by the views of a certain subset of Christian fundamentalists:
For 15% of the electorate, the Middle East is not just a domestic matter, it's a personal one: if the president fails to start a conflagration there, his core voters don't get to sit at the right hand of God. Bush, in other words, stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli aggression than he stands to lose by restraining it. He would be mad to listen to these people. He would also be mad not to.
According to that hypothesis, as with his reported short-changing the troops in Iraq on funds and equipment, Bush is willing to put sensible policy far behind his goal of being reelected.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Causes of Columbine

Slate presents an analysis of the Columbine shootings which departs significantly from the popular myths and conceptions.


And I thought Brooks Was Bad....

I issued some criticism of David Brooks a couple of days ago for his thinly reasoned, self-serving editorial about the present situation in Iraq. But Brooks ain't got nothin' on Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens first criticises those who were opposed to the war, but supposedly now argue that they would have supported it had the invasion force been larger. His examples prove that an overstatement - he references E.J. Dionne who does not argue that he would have changed his mind on the invasion, but instead suggests that had we not had an enormous post-war security void subsequent events might have gone more smoothly. It might be possible to find somebody who disagrees with Dionne's larger point, but it would take some work. Hitchens' argument is an absurd straw man.

Further, there would be nothing wrong with opposing a war on the basis that the proposed invasion and occupation force was too small, while supporting a war which would utilize a larger invasion and occupation force. A great many hawkish voices were airing concerns about whether the number of troops proposed by the Bush Administration would be sufficient to hold the peace after the war and - although Hitchens can't bring himself to admit it - they were right. The present troop deployment is significantly larger than the White House proposed, and it is presently being increased because even that larger number of troops is inadequate.

Worse, Hitchens misrepresents what Dionne argues, claiming "E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post has just instructed his readers that Fallujah and the Sunni triangle would more likely have been under control the first time around, except that we refused the offer of help from the Turks." Dionne in fact argues the opposite: "And when Turkey denied our troops the chance to invade from Iraq's north -- those troops might have pacified the now violently unstable regions of the country -- Bush did not pause or delay." How can Hitchens possibly justify his misinterpretation of a plain English sentence describing how Turkey declined us aid we requested, and pretend that the author wrote that we declined aid Turkey offered?

Hitchens then presents a reductio ad absurdem about de-Baathification:
Now we hear on all sides, including Lakhdar Brahimi of the United Nations, that de-Baathification was also a mistake. Can you imagine what the antiwar critics, and many Iraqis, would now be saying if the Baathists had been kept on?
I have yet to hear anybody argue that de-Baathification should not have occurred. The argument is that de-Baathification was handled in an clumsy (perhaps incompetent) manner, resulting in the exclusion from employment of large numbers of qualified individuals who had no real ties to the Baath party beyond obtaining membership so that they would qualify for particular jobs or careers. There is a huge difference between what is now widely accepted - that a more judicious de-Baathification would have better served our post-invasion needs and the needs of the Iraqi people - and the claim that no de-Baathification should have occurred.

Hitchens adds another layer of absurdity - the false dichotomy that the Iraqi military had to be dissolved in its entirety or not at all - suggesting that it was only through dissolution of the entire military that it became "impossible for any big-mouth brigadier or general to declare himself the savior of Iraq in a military coup" - yet I have never heard anybody argue that (above a relatively low rank) the officers of Hussein's military would have been retained, let alone that retaining them would be a good idea. As expected, Hitchens doesn't identify any.

Hitchens then rambles about the threat Hussein was believed to pose, and the fact that he once had some nasty weaponry. I can't tell quite what he intends to argue - perhaps that it was okay to use 9/11 as a subterfuge for attacking Iraq because Hussein was so nasty. If that is his point, I am not sure how it relates to criticism directed at the disingenuousness of the government in pressing for the war. If the case for war against Iraq could have been made on its own merit, why did the Bush Administration find it necessary to mislead the public, and why would any journalist complain that it is somehow unfair for people to demand honesty from their elected leaders - particularly on matters as important as going to war?

Hitchens confesses only one small mistake himself, which he self-servingly describes as "the thing that least undermines the case" - the extent of Iraq's religiosity. Hitchens doesn't explain himself on this point, perhaps with good cause. After all, it appears that Iraq is likely to elect a theocratic government in about a year, assuming elections are held, at which time the invasion will have successfully removed a secular regime and replaced it with an Islamic theocratic regime (ideally, one which nonetheless accepts religious and political plurality). To the extent that Hitchens endorses the Iraq war as a crusade which delivered the Iraqi people from the evil clutches of Islam, it is not yet clear that the war didn't do the opposite. [nb: I am not describing Islam as evil, but am merely describing an inferred mindset.]

Hitchens then reverts to bashing the "anti-war Left", pretending that everybody on the anti-war left had previously wished to gratify Hussein by unconditioinally removing sanctions from Iraq. I don't recall any such unity on the anti-war left, and as is usual none is documented by Hitchens. I do recall criticism of the sanctions as being harmful to the Iraqi people, as helping to consolidate Hussein's grip on power, and thus that different alternatives should be considered - but that's something apart from what Hitchens pretends.

Hitchens next criticizes France and Russia for "acting as knowing profiteers in a disgusting oil-for-bribes program that has now been widely exposed." Okay - let's accept that the oil for food program was corrupt (seemingly another argument in favor of the reform Hitchens just told us were a bad idea), and that France and Russia were leading profiteers. Why then, Mr. Hitchens, did Russia and France advocate for reform or elimination of the sanctions and the associated oil for food program, from which they were supposedly profiteering? No explanation? That's okay.... I didn't expect one from you.

Reverting to his bashing of the "anti-war Left", Hitchens pretends that those who favored any change in the sanctions were arguing that removal of the sanctions would automatically result in regime change. Again, no examples provided. (Ironically, he argues that during the decade between Gulf Wars "a whole paranoid and wretched fundamentalist underclass was created and exploited by the increasingly Islamist propaganda of the Baath Party" - while overlooking the role of the sanctions in empowering Hussein to create that underclass.)

Hitchens' conclusion isn't any better.
When fools say that the occupation has "united" Sunni and Shiite, they flatter the alliance between the proxies of the Iranian mullahs and the Saudi princes. And they ignore the many pleas from disputed and distraught towns, from Iraqis who beg not to be abandoned to these sadistic and corrupt riffraff. One might have seen this coming with greater prescience. But it would have made it even more important not to leave Iraq to the post-Saddam plans of such factions. There was no way around our adoption of Iraq, as there still is not. It's only a pity that the decision to intervene was left until so many years had been consumed by the locust.
His flawed reasoning is obvious at the outset: He posits that if you recognize the fact that Shiite and Sunni militias have been cooperating in taking up arms against "coalition" forces, you are a fool who ignores the fact that most Iraqis want peace. Surprise: It is possible to recognize both facts.

While I'll grant Hitchens the point that it is unfortunate that it took so long for Hussein's regime to be toppled, and extend it to argue that if we did have to occupy all of Iraq the better time to have done so would have been at the end of Gulf War I, that small point doesn't save him from himself. Hitchens apparently lives in a world of false dichotomies, where things either had to be exactly the way they presently are, or we would have had to do absolutely nothing at all. Even Brooks was able to recognize how mistakes and mismanagement have complicated the occupation and transformation of Iraq. Hitchens, obsessed with proving his critics wrong, seems to have lost any ability to reason.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Lessons from History

I find it interesting that people in various pro-war factions, right up to the President, take such umbrage at even the slightest comparision between the war in Iraq and Vietnam. It doesn't much matter whether the comparison is on a broad scale, or in relation to the finest of points - pro-war factions declare such comparisons to be false, unfair, and even that the comparison (in the President's words) "sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy".

It is also interesting that similar objections typically are not raised when comparisons are made between Iraq and other conflicts, such as Lebanon or Algeria. (In fact, the Pentagon military saw enough parallels between Iraq and the French experience in Algeria, that it was reportedly screening the film "The Battle of Algiers" as a cautionary tale.) And anybody who recalls Lebanon, including the short-lived U.S. intervention and barracks bombing, and Israel's ultimate withdrawal after eighteen years of occupation, should be concerned by the thought that the Iraqi occupation may turn out the same way.

So why the consternation about Vietnam, and not other wars - particularly where the comparison to a different war may ultimately be more damning? In my opinion, it is because the popular conception of Vietnam is "The U.S. lost", whereas there is little popular understanding of the other conflicts which are mentioned. There is no instant message to a comparison between Iraq and Lebanon, or Iraq and Algeria, but a comparison to Vietnam sends the message, "We might lose" - or perhaps even, "We are losing". If understood, comparisons to Algeria and Lebanon might seem more damning than a comparison to Vietnam, but absent a popular understanding the pro-war factions apparently see no reason to try to shout down those comparisons.

Ultimately, the "we might lose" subtext, and not the validity or invalidity of any particular point of comparison, is why the pro-war factions are so pained by mention of Vietnam.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Bush #1 was right?

As everybody knows, at the conclusion of the first Gulf War the first Bush Administration chose not to depose Saddam Hussein. In his book, A World Transformed, George H.W. Bush explained,
We should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. Assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerilla war, it could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability.
In his 1993 autobiography, General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf took a more practical view:
From the brief time that we did spend occupying Iraqi territory after the war, I am certain that had we taken all of Iraq, we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit - we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of the occupation. This is a burden I am sure the beleaguered American taxpayer would not have been happy to take on.
Responding to a typically self-serving editorial by David Brooks, Matthew Yglesias provides an interesting commentary on the pro-war factions:
Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn't going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been. I blame, frankly, vanity. "Bush is right to say we should invade Iraq, but he's going about it the wrong way, here is my nuanced wonderfullness" sounds much more intelligent than some kind of chant at an anti-war rally. In fact, however, it was less intelligent. I got off the bandwagon right before the shooting started, but by then it was far too late -- this was more a case of CYA than a case of efficacious political dissent.
I don't know if Yglesias is correct, or that "useful idiots" like Brooks could ever have come to realize that Bush I had a point. I still think that the war was going to happen - Bush II wanted it that badly - and if anything his reaction to an 11th hour shift in popular opinion would have been to start the war sooner, before public resistance became too powerful for Congress to ignore.

I have argued since the war started that, while historical lessons should be learned from the manner in which we were drawn into the war, we need to recognize the reality: We're in Iraq, and we have to figure out how to best resolve our occupation. It seems that, despite our having been the occupying power for more than a year, the Bush Administration has given this almost no serious thought. They still seem to think that everything is going to get better, perhaps by magic. If a magical solution does not somehow materialize, and commentators like Brooks continue to cheerlead instead of pressing for material improvements in the Bush Administration's strategies, in twenty years it seems far more likely that history will support the position now taken by Yglesias, not Brooks. And that would be tragic.


Selective Amnesia

Poor President Bush. His memory seems to be failing:
President George W. Bush has denied that his administration began drafting plans for the invasion of Iraq shortly after the September 11 attacks, insisting he did not begin to focus on Iraq until nearly a year later.

The comments came in response to the publication of excerpts from Plan of Attack, a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, which says Mr Bush ordered Donald Rumsfeld, his defence secretary, to draw up a fresh war plan for Iraq in November 2001.

* * *

But Mr Bush told reporters he could not recall what plans were being developed in November 2001, and said he had focused on defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
(So we're not saying that the story, which is consistent with accounts dating back to 9/12, is false - we're just denying that the President remembers something so minor as whether he ordered a key cabinet member to draft war plans.)


Friday, April 16, 2004

Going Off the Roadmap


But perhaps not surprising for a President, who has no grasp of or interest in history or diplomacy, and whose largest exposure to the region at issue was a propaganda helicopter tour personally led by Ariel Sharon.

Funny, how those rational voices who point out that you cannot make significant progress to peace without providing the Palestinians with some sense of the borders of the state they will obtain were ignored by Bush, yet he is more than happy to assure Sharon that he can annex huge amounts of illegally settled Palestinian land well in advance of any peace deal.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Another Term for "Cut and Run"?

Today, Thomas Friedman suggests that if we let the Iraqis know that we will be handing sovereignty over to some form of interim government at the end of June, that we expect democratic elections to be held a year later, and that we will then leave, that by some miracle all of the disparate factions will suddenly cooperate to form a viable national government. As the basis for this assertion, he points to a tentative agreement between Hamas and what's left of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, in relation to how Gaza might be governed in the event that Israel actually does withdraw its soldiers and illegal settlements from that tiny territory.

Whatever the merit of the observation that the remnants of the P.A. are willing to negotiate with Hamas to prevent a civil war, and to ensure the flow of international aid, in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, the situation in Iraq is a bit more complicated. Ignoring the fact that the Bush Administration apparently doesn't want to leave, and is building massive infrastructure to support tens of thousands of American troops for the indefinite future, the calculus is very different for the various factions in Iraq. The Kurds have expressed a willingness to join a national government as long as they get self-rule - something close to a state of their own, but not so close as to make Turkey uncomfortable. And they have suggested that they will try to form an independent state if that's not possible. But there's little to inspire those who benefited from a Sunni-led dictatorship, or those who desire a Shiite theocracy, to stick with a plan which will lead to a relatively secular and pluralistic democracy.

I am sure that Friedman believes that this approach - throwing the baby into the deep end and letting it learn how to swim on its own - would work. It's not the nuttiest idea he has espoused in his column over the last few years. But it is reminiscent of the suggestion that we "cut and run" - or follow the Vietnam model of declaring "victory with honor" and leaving a puppet government to fend for itself. While some puppet governments have managed to last for quite a few years after the departure of their sponsors, most don't seem so lucky. It takes somebody like Friedman to point to the possibiliity that a peace agreement might theoretically hold between two factions in a tiny territory where a long-standing occupation might theoretically be ended, and to argue that it proves, well, anything.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

I doubt that Senator Roberts expects anything in return for his setting the record straight on Clarke's testimony, which apparently was in fact consistent with his prior testimony, but it does take a certain amount of gumption to stand up to the Senate Majority Leader of one's own party, and the desire of certain partisans to undercut Clarke's testimony.


Staying The Course in Iraq

Newsweek reminds us of the course we have taken to date. Is this the course we intend to pursue, or is there some other course we plan to "stay"? Apparently, not even the President can explain what it means to "stay the course". Just that we're going to "stay" it.

Meanwhile, if as rumored the Bush Administration green lights Sharon's annexation of huge swaths of occupied Palestinian territory, I don't think that the "course" we are staying will become any easier....


Bad News from Europe?

According to the New York Times, bad things are happening in Eastern and Central Europe:
Politicians espousing nationalism, ethnic bigotry, overly simplistic economic programs and a rejection of all things European are gaining ground around the region....
Um... isn't that a description of the Bush Campaign's platform?


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Corporate Taxes

Reading this ("Almost two-thirds of America's corporations paid no federal income taxes during the late 1990's, when corporate profits were soaring."), it is difficult to imagine America before the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. Rebuilding our nation's tax code such that it is more simple and more fair would obviously be a difficult and politically thorny project, but it is one that is way overdue.


Monday, April 12, 2004

"Threat" or "No Threat"

The Bush Administration helpfully explained yesterday that the Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Osama bin Laden Determined to Attack the U.S." was not a threat because "There was not a time and place of an attack".

Let's see how the Bush Administration tackles real threats....

* December, 2002: A Bellbrook, Ohio High School student is interrogated by the Secret Service because he wore a t-shirt which had a picture of Bush with a target on his forehead which read, "Not My President".

* March, 2003: A student at Eastern Washington University whose family had immigrated from Iran is interrogated by the Secret Service after advocating against the invasion of Iraq during class, apparently after somebody called the Secret Service with the allegation that he had a picture of Bush on a dartboard in his dorm room.

* May, 2003: Two sixteen-year-old students at Oakland High School are interrogated and threatened with deportation after one commented in class that "Bush is whacked" and the other joked about getting a sniper to "take care" of Bush.

You see, the Bin Laden information suggested a manner of attack, but did not have specifics as to time and place, and thus was not a threat. While the comments and actions by the various students were... um... well... er... Well, they were threats. Let's leave it at that.


Sunday, April 11, 2004

Hey Look, Everybody - It's a Crisis

As I read through this week's newspapers, it seems that most editorials and articles regard what is presently happening in Iraq as a "crisis" - and seemingly as one that arose as if by magic. Which can only make me wonder... do the reporters and news columnists bother to read their own newspaper's articles? Because this "crisis" has been building for a long time.

Oh, I know.... those on the right were arguing that every bad word about Iraq reflected "media bias" and insufficient coverage of "all the good things that are happening". The apologists for the war on the left were unwilling to admit that maybe they underestimated the difficulty of the occupation and transformation of Iraq. So we've spent a year with most voices trying to justify their political stance going into the war, as opposed to analyzing what is actually happening in Iraq.


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Bad Policy

The Washington Post has two articles on bad Bush Administration policy, although it uses softer language. And it correctly points out that the Democrats share responsibility.

The first is the Alternative Minimum Tax - a tax the White House knows will soon consume most of the small "middle class tax cut" which were meant to make its enormous tax cuts for the rich somehow more palatable. The Bush Administration was confronted on the AMT in 2001, and responded that its present focus was on cutting taxes and that it might address the AMT in the future. As they say, tomorrow never comes.

The AMT was designed to ensure that the ultra-rich, who are very good at sheltering their money from taxes, paid at least some tax. The rich, as you might expect, have created new tax shelters which take the AMT into consideration. Meanwhile, as the AMT isn't indexed to inflation, it reaches more and more taxpayers. To fix the AMT would seriously upset the financial projections made based upon its reaching huge numbers of middle class taxpayers - people the AMT was never intended to reach, but people who simply don't matter to Bush. (Sorry if I shattered your illusions - if I just described you, it's true - you don't matter to Bush.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress (with barely a peep from the opposition) are permitting corporations to underfund their pension funds. Never mind that they are already underfunded. What the heck - you're rich enough that you don't really need your pension, right? (Assuming you are one of the lucky few who still qualifies to receive a pension....)


Friday, April 09, 2004

Scalia v. Sound Bite News Coverage

Justice Scalia has a long and well-known policy of not permitting his public speeches to be recorded. The reasons for this go beyond the controversy over his statements about the Pledge of Allegiance case, and his recusal from that case - the fact is, it is difficult for a Supreme Court Justice to speak on any subject of public interest without somehow suggesting how he might ultimately rule on a matter or controversy that may ultimately come before the Court.

The latest controversy surrounding Scalia involves the seizure of tape recordings made by members of the news media, of a speech Scalia made at a high school. Apparently the reporters who made the recordings were informed before a morning presentation that no tape recording was permitted, but no similar announcement was made prior to an afternoon presentation. (Now, due to the legalities involved, there is disagreement over whether the tapes were seized and erased, or whether the Marshal who approached the reporters simply made a polite request for the tapes.)

While I do think the manner of seizure was heavy-handed, and I am a strong advocate of a free press and of the distribution of this type of information, I have to wonder what the reporters were thinking. Were they naive of Scalia's long-standing policy on recording, such that even after the morning's announcement they honestly believed that he would not object to their recording his afternoon presentation? Or were they hoping that the failure to give a second announcement in advance of the afternoon presentation would allow them to avoid what they knew to be the case - that Scalia would not approve of their recording his presentation? I would have a lot more sympathy for the reporters if I thought this was an innocent mistake, but my suspicion is that they were trying to avoid Scalia's well-known policy on what some might call a "technicality".

It seems that all parties involved in this latest controversy could have acted more responsibly.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

On the Edge of a Sword

Watching Condoleezza Rice testify, I don't expect any real surprises or revelations. After a surprisingly unpracticed reading of her long introductory statement, Ms. Rice demonstrated a range of reactions to questions, including what appeared to be anger and fear. Audience applause resulted when a commission member reminded her of the time limits, and that it would be nice if she would simply answer the questions as posed to her rather than eating up his time with self-serving, peripheral commentary. But it seems clear that Ms. Rice has a typical strategy for a witness whose testimony is artificially constrained to a limited amount of time - eat up as much time as possible with long, rambling, indirect, and sometimes non-responsive answers.

When Ms. Rice suggested that she wanted to read certain passages of a classified report, the commissioner asked that she declassify the entire report. She asserted, repeatedly, that the commission had been given access to the full report - as if that is the same thing as declassifying the report. The commissioner noted that until today, even the headline of the report had been classified.

Although the headline suggested otherwise, Ms. Rice argued that its description of Al Qaeda activity, delivered shortly before the 9/11 attacks, were historic in nature - detailing Al Qaeda's domestic activities and terrorist plans in the past, but not warning about the future. That's the sort of hair-splitting which might impress the author of a idiotorial, but c'mon. A warning that Al Qaeda operatives were traveling to the U.S., residing in the U.S., and operating cells within the U.S., had no relevance to Al Qaeda's future activities? Assuming she is being honest, I don't know what she was smoking when she made that assessment, but it wasn't something that improved her judgment.


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Saving Face....

The Bush Administration has reportedly refused to release the speech that Condoleezza Rice was going to present in public on September 11, 2001, on the basis that it is "confidential".
The Washington Post, citing former U.S. officials who have seen the Rice speech, reported last week that the speech was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy. It said the speech included no mention of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups.
Granted, disclosure would help rip the curtain away from the truths the Bush Administration fears, but even with the continued stonewalling one would have to be rather dense not to be able to read between lines this wide.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Here Come the Black Helicopters....

Okay, perhaps not the best headline, given the color of some of the helicopters they're using in Iraq, but....

In the London Guardian today, a columnist hypothesizes that Bremer may be intentionally provoking a confict with the Shiite factions aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr, whose desired future government for Iraq appears to be much more of a theocracy than a democracy. The columnist asks why Bremer would order the crackdown in Shiite newspapers, protests, and order al-Sadr's arrest at this time, and postulates,
Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council.
Well, gee... it is a possible answer - it's just rather unlikely. This alone suggests otherwise: If the Bush Administration did intend to delay its ceremonial "handover" of sovereignty, it would stop talking about how the handover will occur as scheduled and start focusing its public statements on the security issues facing Iraq. The Bush Administration, by all appearances, intends to have the "handover" go on as planned - out of concern for the 2004 election, not Iraqi security.

The Washington Post sees this very differently, as a "necessary fight"to put down a radical Shiite militia.
Mr. Sadr, who has a base in the slums of Baghdad, is a young cleric with a considerably smaller following and reputation than other Shiite leaders, like Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf. Precisely for that reason, Mr. Sadr has sought to gain support by adopting a hard line against the occupation and the United States. That the coalition had a prepared but unimplemented strategy for dealing with him was indicated by yesterday's announcement in Baghdad that an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr on murder charges some time ago. An associate was arrested recently, providing a pretext for the assaults on coalition forces.
Perhaps the real problem here is that the plan was bad, its implementation too slow and clumsy (or too cautious out of fear of a Shiite uprising), and it was too easy for as-Sadr to see it coming.

Perhaps Richard Cohen has a point today when he argues that a major flaw of the Bush Administration is the failure of any person in a leadership position to take responsibility for - or even to admit to - a mistake. In fairness to the Bush Administration, that approach has largely worked - since 9/11, the refusal to admit mistakes has helped create a public perception of "leadership" and "confidence". Now there is the possibility of a cascade failure, and the Bush Administration is desperate - not to fix things or take responsibility, but to try to keep things from falling completely apart in advance of the elections.


Monday, April 05, 2004

Looking for Something In All The Wrong Places

Today, Bill Safire (like several columnists before him) complains that the 9/11 Commission is focused on the wrong questions:
Today we are engaged in the wrong debate. The brouhaha about whether the new Bush administration treated the threat of Al Qaeda as "important" versus "urgent" is history almost as ancient as whether F.D.R. did enough to avert Pearl Harbor.
Funny.... When the 9/11 Commission was formed, numerous columnists from the political left and center complained that its focus was too narrow, and that it appeared to be designed (by the Bush Administration and the Republican majority in Congress) to avoid a full inquiry into the most crucial issues surrounding 9/11 and terrorism prevention for fear that the President might be embarrassed - with particular criticism focused on the selection of Henry Kissinger as its proposed Chair. Now that it looks like the President is going to be embarrassed anyway, the right has started to whinge (while the left remains silent), making it appear that this inquiry has become far less about finding out "what happened and why it happened" and much more a game of political "gotcha". Safire concludes,
Let the floo floo birds look back in anger, scheduling the 9/11 commission's report on the opening day of the Democratic convention, hoping to persuade voters that Bush's concern with Saddam's threat diminished our suppression of Osama.

Other birds who dare to look ahead will wonder: Are those fixated on fixing blame avoiding the needed debate about how best to get to the root of terror in the Middle East today?
Safire deliberately fails to mention the fact that the 9/11 Commission asked the Bush Administration for an extension that would have delayed the release of its report until after the election, and Bush refused. And Safire conveniently forgets to mention the drooling loonies on the right who are so backward-focused they want to blame everything that has happened during Bush's watch on the Clinton Administration.

But beyond that, why is it only now that he is asking us to look ahead? Those of us who have been looking ahead for years had concerns about domestic terrorism before 9/11, and had grave concerns about the Bush Administration's so-called "war on terror" even before it became strangely focused on Iraq. "Don't look back - only look ahead" isn't great advice when it only comes after somebody has taken you down a blind alley.


Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Stakes Increase

While the Bush Administration continues to attack Richard Clarke for his testimony to the 9/11 commission, the media has been paying attention to the details of the alleged contradictions and errors, and has been drawing its own conclusions, as demonstrated by the Washington Post:
But the broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.

In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made.

* * *

Eleanor Hill, staff director of the House-Senate intelligence committee inquiry, said last week that she heard some of Clarke's March 24 presentation before the 9/11 commission and remembered his six-hour, closed-door appearance.

"I was there," she said of Clarke's 2002 testimony, "and without a transcript I can't have a final conclusion, but nothing jumped out at me, no contradiction" between what he said last month and his testimony almost two years ago. She also noted that Rice refused to be interviewed by the joint intelligence panel, citing executive privilege.

* * *

While the commission staff has found that Clarke did agitate for the armed Predator, several Bush administration officials, reading from a memo prepared by Clarke's staff for a Sept. 4, 2001, meeting of national security principals, said the recommendation about the Predator was this: "We believe concerns about the warhead's effectiveness argue against flying armed missions this fall."

* * *

With the exception of the Predator issue, Clarke's alleged misrepresentations are largely peripheral to his central argument about Bush's lack of attention to terrorism before Sept. 11. The White House believes this nevertheless suggests flaws in Clarke's overall credibility.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is examining how the Bush Administration's narrative of its supposed emphasis on terrorism before 9/11 aligns with the facts, and points out that Condoleezza Rice's account is not always consistent with the stories of other Bush Administration insiders.

Meanwhile, it has been alleged that while President Bush was planning to invade Afghanistan nine days after the 9/11 bombings, he was placing an enormous emphasis on Iraq as the next target.


Saturday, April 03, 2004

Kristof's Support of Child Labor

Today, Nicholas Kristof complains that international pressure to raise labor standards or to eliminate child labor can backfire, citing bans on the import of Bangladeshi garments manufactured by child labor and Pakistani hand-stitched soccer balls. He asserts that many of the children presently employed in sweatshops have no educational opportunities, and thus cannot attend school, and that their lot is often worsened when they are excluded from sweatshops.

He omits, though, another example of child labor affected by international pressure - the use of children to manufacture hand-knotted carpets in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Typical work weeks involved twelve to sixteen hour days, seven days per week, in "employment" that is better described as indentured servitude. Children are favored for this work because their small hands allow them to more easily tie smaller knots. Children employed in this type of setting often suffered eye injuries and hand injuries before being cast out of the factories when they had the audacity to reach adolescence. Thanks to international pressure, many of these sweatshops have closed.

Also, in relation to his soccer ball example, while Kristof mentiones that jobs were lost to India in part because of the end of child labor, he mentions that Pakistani women were also excluded from the work because "Conservative Pakistanis believe that women shouldn't work outside the home". Kristof seemingly has no problem with the loss of jobs due to the exclusion of adult women from the workforce - but laments that children can't be used in the jobs forbidden to the adult women.

Kristof closes with a classic false dichotomy - telling "university students" that they should stop avoiding products made with child labor, while making contributions that will help improve the lives of children in the nations that exploit child labor. Why, one wonders, can't a college student do both?


Friday, April 02, 2004

Peace Negotiations?

In today's Washington Post, a columnist criticizes the failed tactics of Hamas and of Ariel Sharon, condemns suicide bombings, calls upon the Palestinians to transform their Intifada into a mass nonviolent protest, and calls on the west to press for resumed peace negotiations. The difference from the usual, at least in a U.S. paper, is that this call is coming from an Arab writer. Arab voices don't seem to get many column inches on a typical U.S. editorial page, save perhaps if they are talking about the occupation of Iraq.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

As if we didn't know....

As I have previously mentioned, I recall watching a political program shortly before 9/11 during which the Republicans were attempting to make their case for a "missile shield", and brushed off a response from Senator Joe Biden that the biggest threat was not of a rogue state firing a missle at us, and that a nuclear attack was far more likely to come in the form of a bomb welded into the bow of a freighter that was sailed directly into a U.S. port. Before 9/11, there was no public sign that the Bush Administration viewed terrorism as a significant issue. After 9/11, there were numerous accounts, including a quote from President Bush in Bob Woodward's book, suggesting that the Bush Administration had underestimated the significance of al Qaeda and terrorism:
Until September 11, however, Bush had not put that thinking [that Clinton's response to al Qaeda emboldened bin Laden] into practice, nor had he pressed the issue of bin Laden. Though Rice and others were developing a plan to eliminate al Qaeda, no formal recommendations had ever been presented to the president.

"I know there was a plan in the works. . . . I don't know how mature the plan was," Bush recalled. . . . He acknowledged that bin Laden was not his focus or that of his national security team. There was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11. I was not on point [before that date], but I knew he was a menace, and I knew he was a problem."
And today, courtesy of the Washington Post, we get insight into the Administration's thinking on 9/11.
On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday" -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.

The speech provides telling insight into the administration's thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.

The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.
David Broder got it right today, writing:
For nine days the White House and its allies did everything in their power to discredit Clarke, while trying to shield his old boss, Rice, from the commission's unanimous request that she give sworn public testimony in response to Clarke's stunning indictment.

When the effort to shoot the messenger failed to halt the political erosion, Bush did what he never should have done: He threw Rice to the commission. And, worse, he failed to do what he could have done long before: Offer the American people and the world a clear, coherent and detailed account of his own activities and state of mind in the months leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Instead of acting as the man in charge and saying to the commission, "No, you may not put my national security adviser on the mat, but I will answer to the public for what happened," he did just the opposite. He gave up Rice and then turned on his heel and walked out of the briefing room even as reporters were trying to ask him questions.
The most obvious reason for the years of Bush Administration stonewalling since 9/11 is that Bush fears being embarrassed, and perhaps having his reelection bid mortally wounded, by the truth. It's within his power to provide a different reason for his refusal to candidly speak to the facts, but I don't expect to hear one.