The newest National Intelligence Estimate is leaking out, and the Attorney General had better get on the case unless he wants the other party to get control of Congress. According to the New York Times (Sept. 23):
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.
This assessment contradicts the White House line that "we are safer, though not yet safe," and must dismay those Republican candidates who have taken heart from Karl Rove's blitzkrieg to set "terrorism" rather than "Iraq" as the number one issue in the midterm elections coming up in seven weeks. Or are we all in for a suprise?
Over at Balkinization, Marty Lederman (Law, Georgetown) brings some clarity to the torture debate on Capitol Hill:
And it is this: Should the CIA be legally authorized to breach the Geneva Conventions by engaging in the following forms of "cruel treatment" prohibited by "common" Article 3(1)(a) of those Conventions?:
-- "Cold Cell," or hypothermia, where a prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees, during which he is doused with cold water.
-- "Long Time Standing," in which a prisoner is forced to stand, handcuffed and with his feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours.
-- Threats of violence and death of a detainee and/or his family.
(These are the CIA techniques that have been widely reported, including in this ABC News Report and in Ron Suskind's book [The One-Percent Doctrine]. To the extent some of these techniques are not among those that the President is now euphemistically designating "alternative," or to the extent the Administration is attempting to preserve other techniques currently prohibited by Common Article 3, the burden is on the Administration to clarify the record. They have resolutely refused to disclaim any of these reported techniques, and so I think it's fair for Congress and the public to assume, absent contrary evidence, that these are among the techniques at issue in the current debate. If we're going to authorize conduct currently prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, we ought to know just what we're signing on for.
What about waterboarding? My sense is that the debate is no longer about waterboarding. I have heard scuttlebut from several sources that not even the lawyers in this Administration -- who apparently were able to conclude that waterboarding was not torture -- have been willing to say that waterboarding is legal under the McCain Amendment's prohibition on conduct that shocks the conscience. Therefore, I think (but am not certain) that waterboarding has not been a viable option since December 30, 2005 -- which explains, perhaps, why the Vice President was so insistent on creating a CIA exception to the McCain Amendment, i.e., because he thought that waterboarding could not continue without such an amendment (or a Commander-in-Chief override).)
A bunch of other questions that have been dominating the public debate really ought to fall to the side now.
[It's not about] the authority of interrogators to yell at detainees, or subject them to Eminem or the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Nor -- contrary to the Administration and to many press accounts -- is it primarily about the meaning of Geneva's prohibition on "outrages against human dignity," and "humiliating and degrading treatment."
Unfortunately, even the New York Times can't get this straight. In "Bush Says GOP Rebels Are Putting Nation at Risk" (Sept. 16), the Times repeats the Bush/Rove line:
The dispute centers on whether to pass legislation reinterpreting a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3 that bars “outrages upon personal dignity”... Mr. Bush argued that the convention’s language was too vague and is proposing legislation to clarify the provisions. “What does that mean, ‘outrages upon human dignity’?” he said at one point.
But, as Lederman points out,
The CIA isn't much interested in the outrageous and inane forms of humiliation -- underwear on the head, religious degradation, etc. -- that the military used at GTMO and in Iraq. Those things may be illegal, they might violate Common Article 3, but they are not what the Administration is tring so diligently to preserve. The Administration is, instead, seeking authority to use threats of violence, and the cruel physical techniques listed above, akin to classic forms of torture.
That is what this current legislative debate is about.
"Stress positions" and devices to compel them have a long history. One of the best-known examples is the "Little Ease," a cell barely large enough for its occupant, who was unable to stand upright, sit, stretch, or find any comfortable position. The 16th century Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion was confined in "Little Ease" in the Tower of London, followed in the 17th century by Gunpowder Plot conspirator Guy Fawkes. Cells of similar description--4 feet high, 4 feet long and 20 inches wide--were used by US Special Operations in Iraq, according to the New York Times, "Pentagon Study Describes Abuse by Units in Iraq" (June 17, 2006), along with "cold cell" and starvation. In 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court unanimously outlawed the use of stress positions, shaking, and sleep deprivation as interrogation techniques--but, what would the Israelis know about combating terrorism, right?
Of course Rove wants the issue to turn on the meaning of "outrages upon personal dignity," which--hey!--might include hazing the pledges over at Animal House. What is not understandable is why reporters at the New York Times are falling for it. Or is that understandable too?
The International Atomic Energy Agency has condemned the House Staff Report on Iran's nuclear-weapons capabilities; Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has condemned the Bush effort to get Congress to legalize torture; the conservative Cato Institute has condemned the institutionalization of Orwellian double speak in the "war on terror"; and Turkish and Pakistani government officials have condemned the Pope for diss'ing Mohammad as a bringer of inhumanity and evil. Don't these people know there's a war on?
Relaxing in the midst of like-minded folk, the President let on yesterday that he sees himself as leading a third great religious awakening. So says the Washington Post, in "Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'" (Sept. 13). Lest the Great Crusader be misunderstood,
aides said Bush was not casting the war [against Islamo-fascism] as a religious struggle but was describing American cultural changes in a time of war . "He's drawing a parallel in terms of a resurgence, in dangerous times, of people going back to their religion," said one aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was not open to other journalists. "This is not 'God is on our side' or anything like that."
Of course not. The Post also relates that
On another topic, Bush rejected sending more troops to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas to find Osama bin Laden. "One hundred thousand troops there in Pakistan is not the answer."
One hundred thousand troops in Iraq is the answer? No? What then is the answer? The President continued:
"It's someone saying 'Guess what' and then the kinetic action begins," he said, meaning an informer disclosing bin Laden's location.
The Post's English translation is helpful if incomplete. It suggests Bush's presumable answer to neoCon William Kristol's call for a further infusion of troops to rescue the former Iraq. Kristol has a point: If "the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad," as the President told the nation on Sept. 11, 2006, wouldn't it make sense to send reinforcements when that battle is being lost? Or do you suffer defeat "with the army you have"? Surely some bold journalist will someday ask Bush this question. Until then, we may surmise that more troops there aren't the answer: the thing to do is to wait for the "Guess what" that means an informer has disclosed the location of,....well, you know, the evildoers. Then you'll see some kinetic action, maybe of the kind that began when bin Laden was cornered in Tora Bora. Which was...sending a hundred thousand troops to Iraq?
Meanwhile, the Vice President has disclosed that at least part of his job is to "think about the unthinkable" --you know, the out-of-the-box stuff Herman Kahn dug but John Nance Garner never was much into. Wilde's foxhunters have now turned to quail, and the unspeakable are in full pursuit of the unthinkable. Somebody wake me when the kinetic action begins.
Al Qaeda is the effective sovereign over one third of the territory of the former Iraq, according to the Marine Corps's chief of intelligence in Iraq, Col. Pete Devlin. The report was sent to the Pentagon on August 16, and is described in today's (9-11-06's) Washington Post:
Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force...the report ... describes Anbar as beyond repair ... it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar.
This, following the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, concluding not only that there was never any credible evidence that Sadaam Hussein supported Al Qaeda, but that Hussein in fact opposed it. In defence of the Bush Administration's conduct of the "war on terror," Vice President Cheney explains that this kind of reversal is the result of people talking about it.
At the top of the New York Times "most e-mailed" list this morning is a short op-ed piece by Tom Lutz (English, Iowa),"The Summer Next Time." Lutz argues that the chief attraction of the academic's worklife is something it shares with that of the 19th century manufacturing laborer. He doesn't mean the pay scale: he means the freedom to work at your own speed, a freedom that nonacademic laborers now seldom enjoy. Lutz is the author of Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America (2006).
Remember "mutual assured destruction" (MAD), that happy, nutty condition in which neither the United States nor the Soviet Union dared launch a nuclear first-strike against the other, and peace was--in Churchill's words--"the sturdy child of terror"? I had assumed that the end of the Cold War and the subsequent nuclear-arms reductions negotiated between Russia and the US had left MAD in place--so that no rational nuclear power would hazard a nuclear first-strike against either the US or Russia, at least, and maybe not against China. But, in "The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy" (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006), Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press argue that this is not so:
For four decades, relations among the major nuclear powers have been shaped by their common vulnerability, a condition known as mutual assured destruction. But with the U.S. arsenal growing rapidly while Russia's decays and China's stays small, the era of MAD is ending -- and the era of U.S. nuclear primacy has begun....
Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike.
How has this come about? Lieber and Press ask,
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion....
The intentional pursuit of nuclear primacy is...entirely consistent with the United States' declared policy of expanding its global dominance. The Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy explicitly states that the United States aims to establish military primacy: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." To this end, the United States is openly seeking primacy in every dimension of modern military technology, both in its conventional arsenal and in its nuclear forces.
(The 2002 National Security Strategy also announced the readiness of the Administration to launch preemptive wars despite the constraints of conventional just-war doctrine, which permits anticipatory force only to resist "imminent" threats.) Should we worry? Lieber and Press observe that
Hawks will undoubtedly see the advent of U.S. nuclear primacy as a positive development. For them, MAD was regrettable because it left the United States vulnerable to nuclear attack. With the passing of MAD, they argue, Washington will have what strategists refer to as "escalation dominance" -- the ability to win a war at any level of violence -- and will thus be better positioned to check the ambitions of dangerous states such as China, North Korea, and Iran. Doves, on the other hand, are fearful of a world in which the United States feels free to threaten -- and perhaps even use -- force in pursuit of its foreign policy goals....Owls worry that nuclear primacy will cause destabilizing reactions on the part of other governments regardless of the United States' intentions....If Russia and China take these steps, owls argue, the risk of accidental, unauthorized, or even intentional nuclear war -- especially during moments of crisis -- may climb to levels not seen for decades.
Lieber and Press's article has caused a ruckus in the foreign-policy world. Peter C.W. Flory, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, wrote to Foreign Affairs that:
The essay by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press ("The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy, "March/April 2006) contains so many errors, on a topic of such gravity, that a Department of Defense response is required to correct the record.
This, from "Nuclear Exchange: Does Washington Really Have (or Want) Nuclear Primacy?" (Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct. 2006), where Lieber and Press reply to Flory and several other critics, and point to evidence that preemptive nuclear strikes have long been an element of Pentagon planning.
Today, the Pentagon announced the successful testing of a component of the "Star Wars" anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) system initiated during the Regan Administration--a "total success...a huge step." The US insistence on abrogating treaty obligations in order to push the costly ABM program figures into Lieber and Press's argument:
Washington's pursuit of nuclear primacy helps explain its missile-defense strategy, for example. Critics of missile defense argue that a national missile shield, such as the prototype the United States has deployed in Alaska and California, would be easily overwhelmed by a cloud of warheads and decoys launched by Russia or China. They are right: even a multilayered system with land-, air-, sea-, and space-based elements, is highly unlikely to protect the United States from a major nuclear attack. But they are wrong to conclude that such a missile-defense system is therefore worthless -- as are the supporters of missile defense who argue that, for similar reasons, such a system could be of concern only to rogue states and terrorists and not to other major nuclear powers.
What both of these camps overlook is that the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one -- as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal -- if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left.
Just over three years ago, it was "old Europe" whose global significance was unimpressive to Donald Rumsfeld--tomorrow, it could be "old Eurasia."
The deadline set by the UN Security Council for Iran to cease uranium enrichment expires tonight. Iran will not comply, that much is clear. The rest is, well, foggy. Is it the fog of impending war, or fog of some other kind? Two illuminating interviews ran this afternoon on NPR's "Fresh Air." One, with Joseph Cirincione of the Center for American Progress, afforded some historical perspective on the US involvement in Iran--beginning with the regime change accomplished in 1953 by the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected socialist Mossadegh and the installation of Shah Reza Pahlevi on the "peacock throne." Did you know that the Shah got all manner of support and encouragement for the development of nuclear power, even after the Shah's secret pursuit of nuclear weaponry became known? I didn't--but the Iranians do. That, as Cirincione explains, is part of the reason why Iranians tend to support Ahmadinejad on the nuclear issue in spite of his evident faults. It's called "nationalism." A powerful human impulse, more so even than the one toward "Islamo-fascism."
Cirincione also gives us insight into the conflict now dividing top Republicans. One faction, which might be called "the NeoRealists," knows that the Iraq mess has to be faced, and that it limits rather than expands US options in the region. (James Baker, consigliere to the Bush family, has enlisted a bipartisan panel (the "Iraq Study Group") that is busy putting together a salvage policy on Iraq. Baker, naturally, has undertaken this with a view toward neutralizing the botched war as an issue that can hurt Republican candidates.) The other faction used to enjoy being known--however wrongly--as NeoConservative. Whereas the NeoRealists can tell the difference between nationalism and fascism, the thinkers formerly known as NeoConservative can't, or won't. They want to play Churchill to the Democrats' Chamberlain--Hitler or no Hitler.
Terry Gross's companion interview with Michael Ledeen, tenant of the "Freedom" Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, confirms just about all of what Cirincone is concerned about. According to Ledeen, Iran has been attacking the United States for the last 27 years (when Terry Gross asks him what he means by "attacking"--does he mean 9/11?--there is thoughtful silence). Ledeen scolds the Bush Administration for dithering over Iran for six years instead of doing the virtuous thing--"virtuous" meaning manly, not maidenly, in his Straussian idiolect. The only realistic option left now is--yes, you got it--regime change! Speaking of woosie-ward lingustic creep, Ledeen wonders how this "NeoConservative" canard got started. He gladly disavows the "conservative" in "NeoCon," and gushes that he's always been a (Neo)Revolutionary. "Always!" ("Tenured radical" had already been assigned.)
Meanwhile, the White House discloses that, now that Katrina is mission accompli, the President will be stumping the country to warn us again of the growing threat of Islamo-fascism. "We are safer, but at increasing risk," as it were. If this is any indication, the NeoRealists have failed in the struggle to control midterm election strategy. Whether they have any control over war policy remains foggy.
As the fallout from the failed Israeli-US campaign in Lebanon spreads, the risk grows that it will become radioactive. The ceasefire there is unstable; and Ahmadinejad's remarks about Israel could not be more obnoxious. Now, Republicans in and close to the White House and Congress are demanding that the intelligence services produce a pretext for striking militarily at Iran, according to the New York Times (Aug. 24) "Some in G.O.P. Say Iran Threat Is Played Down." It seems that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies are reluctant to shill for the neocons and Bush as they did in 2002. The warmongers are livid:
“The people in the [intelligence] community are unwilling to make judgment calls and don’t know how to link anything together,” one senior United States official said.
“We’re not in a court of law,” he said. “When they say there is ‘no evidence,’ you have to ask them what they mean, what is the meaning of the term ‘evidence’?”
In the same story, Newt Gingrich is reported to explain what "evidence" means:
“When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: ‘If North Korea were to ship them a nuke tomorrow, how close would they be then?’”
And, if North Korea had shipped them one last week...? So, that's settled: there is evidence that Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction. (Any questions?) In any case, this administration prides itself on its unique understanding the nature of the post-9/11 world and the lesson of 9/11: "Take threats before they fully materialize." And how to take the Iranian threat? The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sept-Oct., 2006) reminds us of the following:
During an impromptu April 18 press conference, President George W. Bush was asked if his assertion that "all options are on the table" regarding Iran included the possibility of a nuclear strike. Bush reiterated, "All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically, and we're working hard to do so." In no uncertain words, the president of the United States directly threatened Iran with a preemptive nuclear strike.
Working hard at diplomacy is not something this administration is likely to be remembered for. Or is Bush's incuriosity and belligerence simply a tactic? The Bulletin reminds us that there are many precedents for nuclear brinksmanship as a negotiating ploy:
Bush's statements regarding Iran are particularly reminiscent of a diplomatic strategy employed by President Richard Nixon known as the "madman theory." 
Madman theory? The footnote explains:
 The theory was first made public by Nixon's chief of staff, H. R. "Bob" Haldeman. "I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry--and he has his hand on the nuclear button'--and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace." H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (New York: Times Books, 1978).
Hmmm....communism then, "Islamo-fascism" now (other fascisms being presumably benign). The Bulletin story continues:
The madman theory, or, as Nixon and his chief of staff Bob Haldeman described it, "the principle of the threat of excessive force," was at the center of this strategy. "Nixon was convinced that his power would be enhanced if his opponents thought he might use excessive force, even nuclear force. That, coupled with his reputation for ruthlessness, he believed, would suggest that he was dangerously unpredictable" .... As part of the strategy, underlings would transmit information to foreign officials saying that Nixon might be unstable or unpredictable and that unless concessions were made he might order the use of military force or even nuclear weapons. The entire effort was conducted in extreme secrecy with only a few U.S. officials even aware of it.
Reliance on a "principle of the threat of excessive force" might explain the extent of Israel's devastation of the civilian infrastucture of Lebanon. (After all, following Warren Quinn, if you have the right to threaten (what some might think "excessive") force, you must have the right to use it.) Moreover, the unguarded obnoxiousness of Bush's public conduct and the incoherent obsessiveness of his public utterances could be explained as calculated moves in a grand game. A game, unfortunately, that two can play. Come October, will Ahmadinejad have pulled the nuclear finger?
If you happen to hear a "giant sucking sound," it could be emanating from the book-readin' contest (US News, Aug. 20) going on now between the President and his kabuki-demon brain, Karl Rove. The tally so far is 60 books (estimated to amount to 27,000 pages) for the President to Rove's mere fifty. The pages are flying but, why all the hifalutin'? There is speculation that the White House is worried that the incumbent may be perceived as lacking the gravitas his office requires. But is he not revered by the American public as an honest-to-gosh authentic backwoodsman, like Honest Abe? Rove may figure that this cover is about to blow, due in part to exchanges like the following, from yesterday afternoon's hasty news conference:
QUESTION: And would you campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman, who's a Republican [sic] candidate (OFF-MIKE)?
BUSH: I'm going to stay out of Connecticut.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you were born there.
Oooowhh. (Colleged there too.) Only a selection from the President's reading list appears in US News. Biographies of baseball stars and other power figures are well represented: what, one can only wonder, was left out? Rumors that Rove has been disqualified for counting fifty re-thumbings of The Concept of the Political as fifty books cannot be confirmed.
Isn't this all PR, the product of anxiety that Bush, the 43d, may not make crack the US News top-100 presidencies? White House spokesman Tony Snow says, No.
He's not a legacy guy. It's not, "I've got to get this bill passed because it's important to my legacy." He takes a longer view of things.
You know, not legacy, but longer-term stuff. Do the reading. But, lest his base get the idea that W. is going panty-waist on them, a "top insider" revealed the following to US News (Aug. 20: "Animal House in the West Wing"):
He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we're learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he's still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.
Things can't get much L'Etranger than that.
Lewis Carroll fans will treasure this excerpt from a transcript of the President's news conference yesterday afternoon:
QUESTION: A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out [of Iraq] seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?
BUSH: I square it because imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein, who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who had relations [sic] with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.
Now look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq, at the time, was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.
But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq. And I also saw the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my answer to your question is that -- imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.
You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and -- you know, the stir-up-the-hornet's- nest theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned.
The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were ...
QUESTION: What did Iraqi have to do with that?
BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?
QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.
BUSH: Nothing. Except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is: Take threats before they fully materialize, Ken.
Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq [ed.--but see supra]. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill, to achieve an objective. I have made that case.
And one way to defeat that -- you know, defeat resentment -- is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government.
Now I said, going into Iraq, "We've got to take these threats seriously before they full materialize." I saw a threat. I fully believe it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein, and I fully believe the world is better off without him. Now the question is: How do we succeed in Iraq?
And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete....
Etc., etc., making "vain pretence our wanderings to guide."
Israelis and their friends (me included) are wondering what went wrong. Robert Parry, in "Israeli Leaders Fault Bush on War" (Aug. 13) writes:
Amid the political and diplomatic fallout from Israel’s faltering invasion of Lebanon, some Israeli officials are privately blaming President George W. Bush for egging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into the ill-conceived military adventure against the Hezbollah militia in south Lebanon. Bush conveyed his strong personal support for the military offensive during a White House meeting with Olmert on May 23....
Olmert, who like Bush lacks direct wartime experience, agreed that a dose of military force against Hezbollah might damage the guerrilla group’s influence in Lebanon and intimidate its allies, Iran and Syria....
"Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things," in other words. So Bush stated in 2001 to a startled Colin Powell, by way of announcing that he had no interest in continuing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and what had been US Middle East policy since 1948. Startling, but Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would readily agree. Parry continues:
As part of Bush’s determination to create a “new Middle East”...Bush even urged Israel to attack Syria, but the Olmert government refused to go that far....[S]ome Israeli officials thought Bush’s attack-Syria idea was “nuts” since much of the world would have seen the bombing campaign as overt aggression....
While balking at an expanded war into Syria, Olmert did agree on the need to show military muscle in Lebanon as a prelude to facing down Iran over its nuclear program, which Olmert has called an “existential” threat to Israel.
Coincidentally, Bush's reading list for his grudgingly curtailed August holiday consisted of two biographies of Lincoln (great Republican war president) and Albert Camus's The Stranger (existential Arab threat). Parry continues:
But the month-long war has failed to achieve its goals of destroying Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon or intimidating Iran and Syria. Instead, Hezbollah guerrillas fought Israeli troops to a virtual standstill in villages near the border and much of the world saw Israel’s bombing raids across Lebanon –- which killed hundreds of civilians –- as “disproportionate.”
Now, as the conflict winds down, some Israeli officials are ruing the Olmert-Bush pact on May 23 and fault Bush for pushing Olmert into the conflict.
Parry also recounts how this round began:
Soon after the May 23 meeting in Washington, Israel began to ratchet up pressure on the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories and on Hezbollah and other Islamic militants in Lebanon. As part of this process, Israel staged low-key attacks in both Lebanon and Gaza.
The tit-for-tat violence led to the Hamas seizure of an Israeli soldier on June 24 and then to Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza. That, in turn, set the stage for Hezbollah’s attack on an Israeli outpost and the capture of two more Israeli soldiers on July 12...the trigger that Bush and Olmert had been waiting for. With the earlier attacks unknown or forgotten, Israel and the U.S. skillfully rallied international condemnation....
Bush and Olmert justified an intense air campaign against Lebanese targets, killing civilians and destroying much of Lebanon’s commercial infrastructure. Israeli troops also crossed into southern Lebanon with the intent of delivering a devastating military blow against Hezbollah, which retaliated by firing Katyusha rockets into Israel.
However, the Israeli operation was eerily reminiscent of the disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Like the U.S. assault, Israel relied heavily on “shock and awe” air power and committed an inadequate number of soldiers to the battle. Israeli newspapers have been filled with complaints from soldiers who say some reservists weren’t issued body armor while other soldiers found their equipment either inferior or inappropriate to the battlefield conditions...several top military commanders wrote a letter to Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the chief of staff, criticizing the war planning as chaotic and out of line with the combat training of the soldiers and officers.
Sounds suspiciously rummy. Meanwhile, preparations for the shocking and awing of Iran go forward. As Paul Rogers reports in "An Unfinished War," (Aug. 14): "The guns of August might yet become the bombs of October." Just in time to influence the midterm elections. Or would that be too conspicuously Rovian?
Since I credit diplomacy more than prophecy, I am astonished and dismayed by the continuing bloodshed in Israel, Lebanon, and Gaza. In June I told an Israeli-born friend, in London, of a report in the Guardian (June 28) that Hamas was ready to recognize Israel's right to exist. Wasn't that a hopeful sign? She replied that I obviously hadn't heard of the abduction of Gilad Shalit. I had not (it was in paragraph three). My bubble of optimism was punctured, but even the pessimist in me was surprised that Hezbollah would be capable of attacking Israel with hundreds of rockets daily, for weeks. Today is no exception, and Hezbollah's capacity seems undiminished after as many weeks of Israeli air strikes and incursions into Lebanon (costing hundreds of Lebanese civilians their lives).
How is it possible for this to continue? Israel can depend on the US for an endless resupply of weaponry. But where is Hezbollah getting its missles? Most of them are Iranian Katyushas--but how have they reached Hezbollah in Lebanon from Iran? Through Syria or by sea, one would assume; and the US State Department has named Iran and Syria as Hezbollah's sources of outside support.
But Syria shares no border with Iran, and has less than 200 kilometers of coastline, all on the Mediterranean. Lying between Iran and Syria is Iraq, which is in the midst of a civil war and is under occupation by nearly 150,000 US and coalition troops. Two more questions come to mind.
The first is this: why is the US refusing to talk to Syria, which controls a crucial half of Hezbollah's supply line? Syria is overwhelmingly Arab and Sunni, while Hezbollah and Persian (nonArab) Iran are overwhelmingly Shi'ite. Israel possesses something of great value to Syria: the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 war and now occupied by scores of Israeli settlements as well as Syrians. Thomas Friedman, in "Talking Turkey with Syria," in the New York Times (July 26; registration required) writes:
Syrians will tell you that their alliance with Tehran is ''a marriage of convenience.'' Syria is a largely secular country, with a Sunni majority. Its leadership is not comfortable with Iranian Shiite ayatollahs. The Iranians know that, which is why ''they keep sending high officials here every few weeks to check on the relationship,'' a diplomat said.
So uncomfortable are many Syrian Sunnis with the Iran relationship that President Bashar al-Assad has had to allow a surge of Sunni religiosity; last April, a bigger public display was made of Muhammad's birthday than the Syrian Baath Party's anniversary, which had never happened before.
Syrian officials stress that they formed their alliance with Iran because they felt they had no other option. One top Syrian official said the door with the U.S. was ''not closed from Damascus. [But] when you have only one friend, you stay with him all the time. When you have 10 friends, you stay with each one of them.''
This Syrian official may be coming down with the same cognitive virus that has debilitated the Bush regime: the delusion that talking with someone means he's your friend. Another New York Times columnist, David Brooks, in "Talking About Terror," (Aug. 6) reports the following exchange with an unnamed Washington "policy maker":
M [Brooks]: Is it possible to flip Syria?
P [Policy Maker]: The U.S. and others have channels open to Syria, but its interest diverges from ours. Its interest is the increased weakness of the Lebanese government [which, by the way, claims, with Hezbollah, that the Shab'a Farms area of the Golan Heights belongs to Lebanon, not Syria].
The Bush administration keeps intimating that secret talks are going on with Syria. Unfortunately the Syrians don't seem to know this. Hey, and so what? Syria's interest diverges from ours--and since when do you talk to someone whose interest does that? Pointless, right? (Or are those maybe simply the circumstances of diplomacy?)
At least we should be reassured that Brooks has located someone who claims to do policy, rather than politics, in...er...well he says "Washington" and not "the Adminstration" but...we can hope. Or can we? Sidney Blumenfeld writes in "The NeoCons Next War," in Salon (Aug. 3; advertisements) that the policy that is playing out now was set before W. Bush took power:
senior national security professionals have begun circulating among themselves a 1996 neocon manifesto against the Middle East peace process. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," its half-dozen authors included neoconservatives highly influential with the Bush administration -- Richard Perle, first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense; and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief Middle East aide."A Clean Break" was written at the request of incoming Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intended to provide "a new set of ideas" for jettisoning the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of trading "land for peace," the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud's terms, "peace for peace." Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed "weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria." They also advanced a wild scenario to "redefine Iraq." Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain "control" of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them "wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria."
Netanyahu, at first, attempted to follow the "clean break" strategy, but under persistent pressure from the Clinton administration he felt compelled to enter into U.S.-led negotiations with the Palestinians. In the 1998 Wye River accords, concluded through the personal involvement of President Clinton and a dying King Hussein, the Palestinians agreed to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel and Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from a portion of the occupied West Bank. Further negotiations, conducted by his successor Ehud Barak, that nearly settled the conflict ended in dramatic failure, but potentially set the stage for new ones.
At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that "the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians," Bush snapped, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things."
Hussein, unfortunately, died in 1999, before he could be crowned King of Iraq. Which brings me to my second question: What's going on with the other crucial half of Hezbollah's supply line? Thousands of Katyushas have been crossing Iraq: why haven't our friends there--or our troops--intercepted them? It's not as though Iraq doesn't "know what it has to do."
As the rest of the world anguishes, certain highly placed figures in the Bush regime exult in the miseries in the Middle East, as Dan Froomkin reports in the "What's the Motivation?" (Washington Post, Aug. 4). Essential reading but not for the faint of heart. Perhaps most chilling is this, from Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, excerpted from a Los Angeles Times op-ed:
Although the media have reported that no contacts have been made between the two countries over the last three weeks, administration officials have sent vague signals that this might be happening through back channels.
But no communication whatsoever has taken place. U.S. policy remains to ignore the Syrian government. And it remains fundamentally wrong. . . .
Currently, the White House doesn't talk to the democratically elected government of Palestine. It does not talk to Hezbollah, which has democratically elected members in the Lebanese parliament and is a member of the Lebanese coalition government. It does not talk to Iran, and it certainly does not talk to Syria.
Gone are the days when U.S. special envoys to the Middle East would spend hours, if not days, with Syrian officials brainstorming, discussing, negotiating and looking for creative solutions leading to a compromise or settlement. Instead, this administration follows the Bolton Doctrine: There is no need to talk to Syria, because Syria knows what it needs to do. End of the matter.
This is the Syrian Ambassador to the United States, pleading to be allowed a role in halting the present madness. Moral? "It's not always your enemies who get you into the sh*t, and not always your friends who get you out."
"The Rumble in the Jungle" is what the media called the Ali-Foreman World Heavyweight Champtionship Fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974. Foreman was the 7-1 or 8-1 favorite, having demolished Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, each of whom had beaten Ali after Ali's return to the ring following his three year suspension for refusing induction into the US Army. Norman Mailer's The Fight (1975) memorably documented what happened: Ali's refusal to shake hands at the weigh-in, Ali's impertinent right-hand leads in the first round, Ali's "rope-a-dope" tactic that first infuriated Foreman, then suckered him into spending himself pummelling Ali against slackened ropes. Foreman wearily marshaled his might for a coup-de-grace, even as Ali counterattacked.
Then a big projectile exactly the size of a fist in a glove drove into the middle of Foreman's mind, the best of the startled night, the blow Ali saved for a career. Foreman's arms flew out to the side like a man with a parachute jumping out of plane, and in this doubled-over position he tried to wander out to the centre of the ring. All the while his eyes were on Ali and he looked up with no anger as if Ali, indeed, was the man he knew best in the world and would see him on his dying day. Vertigo took George Foreman and revolved him. Still bowing from the waist in this uncomprehending position, eyes on Muhammad Ali all the way, he started to tumble and topple and fall even as he did not wish to go down. His mind was held with magnets high as his championship and his body were seeking the ground.
Can the attitude Mailer saw in Foreman in those spiralling last moments -- "uncomprehending ... mind held with magnets high" -- be seen in other titans of Foreman-like prowess, as their empires too settle earthward?
One of the enduring mysteries of the Iraq debacle is why the US did not plant evidence of WMDs in Iraq after the invasion. The concept of the "throw-down" is so well established in the thinking of criminal defense attorneys in the US that one can only puzzle: "Why no throw-down, especially since the Bush people knew full well that they had no good evidence of WMDs?" A throw-down is defined as follows, in The Double-Tongued Dictionary:
throw down n. evidence, especially a weapon, planted by police on a suspect or at a crime scene.
At some point, the utter absence of WMD evidence is bound to surface in arguments for the bona fides of the Bush-Blair axis of evildoerbusters. Something like this:
P1. If Bush doubted there was good evidence of WMDs in Iraq, he would have planted a throw-down.
P2. There was no evidence of WMDs found in Iraq, not even a throw-down, despite every opportunity (even now!) to throw evidence down.
C. Bush did not doubt that there was good evidence of WMDs in Iraq.
The soft spot is P1. My thought is that P1 is false. Every bit of the pre-war hokum had been exposed (the aluminum tubes, the mobile chemical weapons labs etc.--Powell's whole UN "dog and pony" show). Bush's imagination was lively enough (e.g., paint "UN" over "USAF" on warplanes), but cooler heads (Rove's and Cheney's) realized that another exposure would be disastrous. Moreover, I suspect that Cheney and Rumsfeld and their spear-carriers believed that a throw-down would be unnecessary--not because there would be WMDs, but because it wouldn't matter in the end what Sadaam had. "Remember the Maine," and all that. And maybe, in a way, they were right--we shall see. "Let history judge."
In the midst of the 1988 presidential campaign, Michael Dukakis made himself look ridiculous by poking his head out of a tank, wearing a tank-commander's helmet. He was summarily hooted out of the race. George W. Bush was more gently handled in 2003, when he made the rest of us look ridiculous by his popping out of a jet fighter, wearing a flight suit, and capering under a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished," in the midst of a war he had started. As the heat gradually rose, however, the Bush Team took to denying that Bush had anything to do with the banner and that only the banner--and never Bush--had said "mission accomplished." The truth made these rhetorical redoubts untenable. But, we now learn, the mission was accomplished, as First Lady Laura Bush patiently explained to CNN's John King (May 3):
The fact is, when the president stood on the Abraham Lincoln, that Abraham Lincoln's mission was accomplished. They were coming into San Diego with all of their troops on board and that was the end of their term there in Iraq and in the bay.
Ah. If Gricean conversational maxims are going out the porthole anyway, why not simply claim that he meant that the banner's mission had been accomplished? After all, it had done all it was asked to do: hang there. J.R. Hand, for the Daily Kos, revisits Pres. Bush's speech on the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln.
Dan Froomkin, in "Summer Grilling Season?" (washingtonpost.com, May 3), draws attention to a story, "Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws" in the Boston Globe (Apr. 30), and the curiosity of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about what the Decider thinks it's up to the Decider to Decide. (Specter himself, as Froomkin notes, has been less than decisive in following through with similar recent inquiries.)
Every time I reach the point of announcing a personal blogging hiatus, I run across another bloggable. This time it's the "Webby Awards," much of which is admittedly trivial (I don't see this Blog nominated for anything, for example); but, not all. Those who have graphics-capable machines might check these out. And, anyway, applause is appeciated by any and all who fritter away their time providing an alternative to the media who bring us and support the status quo. You be the decider, for a change.
There is a review by Raymond Tallis (Gerontology, Manchester) of Mary Midgley's autobiography, The Owl of Minerva (Routledge 2006) in the current (Apr.26) Times Literary Supplement. The review offers an interesting perspective upon the the era we might call Wittgenaustinian England:
There is a striking story from her time at Oxford, where she was an undergraduate between 1938 and 1942, and [for a time] after the war. She was part of an extraordinarily talented cohort of students that included Mary Warnock, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot and Elizabeth Anscombe, all of whom remained lifelong friends. Midgley recounts a discussion in Lyon’s Café between herself, Murdoch and Anscombe, about “rudeness”.
Notions such as rudeness are powerful reminders that description and evaluation, facts and values, are not separable and independent – an important point in a world dominated by philosophers who regarded moral judgements as lacking in empirical content and hence as meaningless or having “only emotive” meaning. Murdoch mentioned, by way of preliminary, that some people might describe Anscombe (who was famously brutal in social intercourse) as sometimes being rude. Anscombe froze, was silent, withdrew herself “to an arctic distance” and then, after a short speech, walked out in dignified silence.
Midgley reflects: “People who go about treading on other people’s toes are peculiarly unaware of what it is like to be trodden on, so that they are naturally much surprised when it happens to themselves”. Then, characteristically, she adds: “But of course what one got from Elizabeth was something unique and hugely worthwhile”. She also blamed the influence of Wittgenstein: “Tolerance was not in his repertoire and he liked to remove it from other people’s”.
It is tempting to speculate how much of the horror that analytic philosophy tends to inspire stems from the waves of rudeness that certain influential philosophers set in motion decades ago. Those waves are no longer evident in England, I am pleased to report. I can't help wondering, though: Did Midgley mean to tread on Anscombe's toes?
Deep ecology meets unflinching consequentialism in the thinking of Pentti Linkola, the Finnish fisherman/philosopher. Linkola has been little noticed in North America, despite a provocative front-page 1994 profile in the Wall Street Journal. Gradually, his writings are appearing on the web in English translation. Maybe Linkola's "lifeboat" example is the trolley of tomorrow. Let's hope--but not assume--that there's still time not to be cruel.
To rebut charges that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has tried to micromanage the Iraq campaign, the Pentagon has issued a memorandum stating that the Secretary regularly meets four times a week with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Five retired generals have called for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as Secretary of Defense. It is interesting to compare their criticisms with remarks George W. Bush made in a February 2004 interview on MSNBC. Asked about Vietnam, Bush opined:
The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons [sic] that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.
Compare that to this, in the New York Times (Apr. 13; registration required):
A common thread in [the generals'] complaints has been an assertion that Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides too often inserted themselves unnecessarily into military decisionmaking, often disregarding advice from military commanders.
Rumsfeld isn't a politician--but then neither was Robert McNamara.
According to Norman Malcolm's memoir,
Wittgenstein once said that a serious and philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious).
Ray Monk wants to know if Wittgenstein ever wrote this down himself; and Tim Madigan, in Philosophy Now, wonders what he meant by it. I'm curious whether anyone has ever tried such a thing--I mean the "of jokes" part, not the "without being facetious."
Hugh Mellor (Philosophy, Cambridge) has been compiling a list of deceased philosophers and their causes of death. He invites contributions.
The British press (The Times, The Telegraph, Apr. 9) is reporting that the Bush Administration has already decided to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before it relinquishes power in 2008. The attack may be delayed until 2007, when "Big Blu," a 15 ton conventional "bunker buster" bomb, is ready. A nuclear strike is also in contemplation. The idea is to present the nation and world with a fait accompli rather than to attempt to secure UN approval or to wrangle together another "coalition of the willing." British cooperation is essential, however, for the strike would have to be staged using the British base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. This is in some doubt now, given Tony Blair's tenuous position; but post facto support on the US home front is assumed, despite the Iraq debacle. Quoting defence analyst John Pike, of globalsecurity.org, Sarah Baxter writes for The Times:
If [Bush and Cheney's] approval ratings remain in the doldrums, there may be an upside to a strike on Iran. “Regardless of how bad Bush’s poll numbers are, Americans love a display of firepower.”
(Shocking...but awesome!) There are however no plans to take on Pakistan, presently the sole Islamic nuclear military power and host to Osama bin Laden. The lesson will not likely be lost.
The latest trend in advertising is to activate us normally passive consumers in new, fun, creative ways! Check out the on-line contest at chevyapprentice.com that GM is running to find out who can put together the "best" video spot for its hulking Tahoe SUV. (PS: I got fired.)
Five years of Republican rule in the U.S. have meant the waste of all kinds of capital--financial, diplomatic, social, moral. As to the last, a new report from Amnesty International exposes the lengths to which the Bush Administration has been going to "render" detainees to governments willing to use persuasive techniques that we just won't. Hey, no blood (here), no foul.
After eleven terms in the House of Representatives, Tom (a/k/a "The Hammer") DeLay has decided to hang up his spurs. The Accidental Blogger is open for comments on what this portends.
Remember those sinister aluminum tubes that were a key part of the case that Sadaam had a nuclear arms program? Of course, in the War against Evil--whether godless or differently godded-- not even a shovel or a beer bottle can be presumed innocent (as Oppenheimer learned to his dismay.) But sometimes a tube is just a tube. How can we tell, and who can be trusted to tell us? On washingtonpost.com (March 31, Dan Froomkin writes that "A Compelling Story" has been assembled by Murray Waas, for the National Journal (March 31). Waas is an investigative reporter who has been sorting out the deceptions the Bush White House used to whip up war frenzy. Maintaining deniability was a part of the fraudulent White House case for war: "We relied on the best intelligence." The cover-up may have worked with respect to that phony Nigerian uranium procurement, but according to Waas it has come unravelled in another place. White House documents show that Bush and top associates knew--in advance--that there was no reliable evidence that the aluminum tubes Sadaam wanted would be suitable for uranium enrichment: Bush was advised in a one-page October 2002 memorandum that there was no agreement within the intelligence community about the capabilities of the tubes. Nonetheless, the President and his administration repeatedly claimed there was reliable evidence--and then claimed that they at least had good reason to rely on intelligence saying there was reliable evidence--and then that they were, at worst, careless in ignoring evidence to the contrary. Incredible, as Waas painstakingly demonstrates.
Did British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's explanation of the Beatles' "four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire," inspire Condolezza Rice's concession that there have been "a thousand tactical errors" in Iraq? Potholes are made to be patched, and they are mere nuisances along what is after all the right way to go! Straw and Rice have now popped up in Baghdad, where they are desperately trying to cajole the nation formerly known as Iraq into forming a "unity" government--and this time they really mean it. Meanwhile, outside the Green Zone, the civil war intensifies--and back in London the British Home Office is preparing to release a report on the July 2005 London bombings that took 52 innocent lives. According to The Observer (April 2):
Despite attempts by Downing Street to play down suggestions that the conflict has made Britain a target for terrorists, the Home Office inquiry into the deadliest terror attack on British soil has conceded that the bombers were inspired by UK foreign policy, principally the decision to invade Iraq.
The narrative will be published in the next few weeks....Initial drafts of the government's account into the bombings, which have been revealed to The Observer, state that Iraq was a key 'contributory factor'. The references to Britain's involvement in Iraq are contained in a section examining what inspired the 'radicalisation' of the four British suicide bombers, Sidique Khan, Hasib Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer and Germaine Lindsay.
The findings will prove highly embarrassing to Tony Blair, who has maintained that the decision to go to war against Iraq would make Britain safer. On the third anniversary of the conflict last month, the Prime Minister defended Britain's involvement in Iraq, arguing that only an interventionist stance could confront terrorism.
So much for the "at least we're safer" apology for the Iraqi adventure.
Surely to the chagrin of his soulmate in the White House, Tony Blair, of Downing Street memo fame, has gotten himself caught in a scandal that would make Jack Abramoff blush and "Duke" Cunningham envious. It seems that Blair, personally, has been running an off-books loans-for-peerages scheme out of Number 10, for years. Scotland Yard is on the case, even if the opposition is ducking for cover. Sordid details in The Spectator (registration required).
In seclusion earlier this month, Pres. Bush executed yet another extralegal, unconstitutional "signing statement," immediately following his public, ceremonial, fake signing of Congress's renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. The statement disapproved the Act as Congress passed it, but the President did not return the legislation to Congress, as required by Article I of the Constitution. Article I, section 7, provides:
If [the President] approve [a bill] he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall ... proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, standing almost alone among a Congress of jellyfish, issued a statement denouncing the latest usurpation. Leahy comments on the irony that Bush has not exercised his constitutional veto in five years of rule. But why should the President bother to veto, if the law is whatever pleases him? And how can the People override the President, if he will not return legislation with his objections, as required by Article I, section 7? The answer to the latter question is found in Article II, section 4: "Impeachment"
[Update: The Boston Globe (which alone of the major papers seems to be interested) reports today (March 28) that Reps. Harman and Conyers have joined Sen. Leahy is calling upon the President to obey the law. A spokesman for Attorney General Gonzales replies--falsely--that such "signing vetos" are commonplace.]
[Update: Walter Dellinger (Law, Duke) wrote a memorandum for Pres. Clinton that is pertinent here, and in many ways supportive of the general propriety of Pres. Bush's practice. What was unusual then has, however, become the usual. Moreover, the provisions of the USA Patriot Act that the President intends to ignore are ones that enable Congress to oversee that Act's execution: it is not easy to understand how Congressional oversight encroaches upon the Chief Executive's proper powers.]
Pres. Bush's PR blitz to shore up support for the occupation of Iraq has drawn ever greater attention to the question, How long is the US staying?--especially with total-cost estimates running into the trillions [Update, March 30: On the high side? Who can say?]. The scripted answer, until "Victory," simply evades the question. Victory can only mean the achievement of some end. What end? The erstwhile "clear mission"--disarming Sadaam--was indeed "accomplished" at least three (if not 15) years ago. Vengeance for 9/11 was misdirected and, in any case, has surely been exacted many times over. If the aim is planting the seed of democracy in the Islamic heartlands, the purple fingers prove we've done that (even if that exercise was less an election than an "ethnic census"). To tend the growth of democracy from that seed? Spurious growths thrive in democratic ground. The crucial distinction between populism and democracy is easily lost in translation--as evidenced by the recent appeal by Afghan leaders to democracy, to justify executing a Muslim convert to Christianity. Must we stay till the spurious growth is pruned back for once and all? That's contrary to the idea of planting a local democracy. So, if our aim is "victory," what is that, and how might we tell that it's been achieved? Noam Chomsky, taking questions at washingtonpost.com this afternoon (March 24), was asked:
Question: Why do you think the US went to war against Iraq?
Noam Chomsky: Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, it is right in the midst of the major energy reserves in the world. Its been a primary goal of US policy since World War II (like Britain before it) to control what the State Department called "a stupendous source of strategic power" and one of the greatest material prizes in history. Establishing a client state in Iraq would significantly enhance that strategic power, a matter of great significance for the future. As Zbigniew Brzezinski observed, it would provide the US with "critical leverage" of its European and Asian rivals...
Makes sense, doesn't it? The only sane aim was to establish a dependable client state--or a military enclave--on top of all that lovely oil. Ted Koppel, in the New York Times (Feb. 24: registration required), remarked upon
the Bush administration's touchiness about charges that we acted -- and are still acting -- in Iraq ''because of oil''... Now that's curious. Keeping oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz has been bedrock American foreign policy for more than a half-century....[T]he construction of American military bases inside Iraq, bases that can be maintained long after the bulk of our military forces are ultimately withdrawn, will serve to replace the bases that the United States has lost in Saudi Arabia.
But the fractious Iraqis--forming as portmanteau a category as "the Yugoslavians"--won't cooperate in forming a client goverment unless it suits their several, incompatible, bitterly sectarian aims. Oil production was supposed to pay for rebuilding Iraq, but in fact it has yet to return to pre-invasion levels, is now only a third of what the US was counting on, and has been in steady decline. Because no stable client state is in the offing, permanent bases--enclaves--have to be a prime US objective, even if the Iraqi people oppose them. According to Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times (Feb. 14; registration required):
Here's the single most depressing tidbit I've seen from Iraq lately: a new poll has found that among Sunni Arab Iraqis, 88 percent support violent attacks on U.S. troops. So at least in the Sunni Triangle, the biggest problem isn't Syria or terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but ordinary Sunnis who want to see our soldiers blown up. So how should we handle this?
First, we should announce unequivocally that we will not keep American military bases in Iraqi territory....But 80 percent of Iraqis said the U.S. sought permanent military bases in Iraq (frankly, they're right), while 70 percent called for a full U.S. withdrawal within two years.
[Of all the mistakes made the] craziest of all is our refusal to renounce long-term bases in Iraq. Keeping alive the bases option increases the antagonism toward us, adds to the risk that Iraq will completely fall apart and leads to more maimed Americans. It's not worth it....
As Gen. George Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, told Congress in the fall, the U.S. presence ''feeds the notion of occupation,'' while reducing the troop presence would begin ''taking away an element that fuels the insurgency.'' And Gen. John Abizaid, who speaks Arabic and has extensive Middle Eastern experience, added, ''We must make clear to the people of the region that we have no designs on their territories or resources.''
General Abizaid is right, so it's time to renounce publicly the pipe dream about bases. There's a parallel with Saudi Arabia, where we clung to U.S. bases because we thought they gave us a strategic advantage and flexibility. But those bases outraged Saudi nationalists and gave fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden a cause that rallied supporters. Instead of an advantage, we gained an albatross -- and now we're doing the same in Iraq.
Kristof's conclusion is that our strategic goal--a stable oil supply--is not achievable by establishing permanent bases. ("Permanent" in this context means: for as long as we have that oil monkey on our backs.) And suddenly the Republican Congress has begun to scrutinize the White House budget request for more base-building in Iraq, as reported in today's Los Angeles Times (March 24):
The bulk of the Pentagon's emergency spending for military construction over the last three years in Iraq has focused on three or four large-scale air and logistics bases that dot the center of the country. The administration is seeking $348 million for base construction as part of its 2006 emergency war funding bill. The Senate has not yet acted on the request.
By far the most funding has gone to a mammoth facility north of Baghdad in Balad, which includes an air base and a logistics center. The U.S. Central Command said it intended to use the base as the military's primary hub in the region as it gradually hands off Baghdad airport to civilian authorities....
Even as military planners look to withdraw significant numbers of American troops from Iraq in the coming year, the Bush administration continues to request hundreds of millions of dollars for large bases there, raising concerns over whether they are intended as permanent sites for U.S. forces.
Questions on Capitol Hill about the future of the bases have been prompted by the new emergency spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives last week with $67.6 billion in funding for the war effort, including the base money.
Although the House approved the measure, lawmakers are demanding that the Pentagon explain its plans for the bases, and they unanimously passed a provision blocking the use of funds for base agreements with the Iraqi government.
"It's the kind of thing that incites terrorism," Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said of long-term or permanent U.S. bases in countries such as Iraq.
Paul, a critic of the war, is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would make it official policy not to maintain such bases in Iraq. He noted that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden cited U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia as grounds for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Gosh, it's as though Congressional Republicans are listening to Nicholas Kristof instead of Dick Cheney (or has he moved on from base-building in Iraq to reactor-building in India?) The story continues:
The debate in Congress comes as concerns grow over how long the U.S. intends to keep forces in Iraq, a worry amplified when President Bush earlier this week said that a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq would not occur during his term....
State Department and Pentagon officials have insisted that the bases being constructed in Iraq will eventually be handed over to the Iraqi government.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Baghdad, said on Iraqi television last week that the U.S. had "no goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq."
And Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable said, "We're building permanent bases in Iraq for Iraqis."
For the Iraqis! And just what they'll need once the power comes back on. The story continues:
But the seemingly definitive administration statements mask a semantic distinction: Although officials say they are not building permanent U.S. bases, they decline to say whether they will seek a deal with the new Iraqi government to allow long-term troop deployments.
Asked at a congressional hearing last week whether he could "make an unequivocal commitment" that the U.S. officials would not seek to establish permanent bases in Iraq, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander in charge of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, replied, "The policy on long-term presence in Iraq hasn't been formulated." Venable, the Pentagon spokesman, said it was "premature and speculative" to discuss long-term base agreements before the permanent Iraqi government had been put in place.
Hmm. We're building permanent bases as gifts to be leased back to us, on a long-term basis, from a permanent Iraqi government, if there ever is one. But our policy on a long-term military presence in Iraq hasn't been formulated. Donald Rumsfeld was quoted three years ago, in the New York Times, (April 19, 2003), as saying, "The subject of a footprint for the United States post-Iraq is something that we're discussing and considering. But that will take some time to sort through." Some time, indeed. But he'd better hurry: it's not easy to obtain an objective until you have one.
If the Iraqis can't use them, and won't lease them back to us, and Congress won't pay to finish them or to lease them or to run them, and they would only be an albatross around our necks if we did lease them, then...as the Iraqis step up the bases will just have to "stand down," out where the lone and level sands stretch far away.
But if the US cannot attain its only sane objective in going to war, what could possibly count as victory?
Explaining that we've won is going to be one heckuva job.
[Update, April 2: The AP asks "Will US Airpower Remain in Iraq?" The situation is compicated by the fact that Iraqi troops haven't been trained to call in air support, and can't be trusted to anyway. On the bright side:
The U.S. command in Baghdad says it expects Iraqi security forces to control 75 percent of this country's territory by the end of summer, as U.S. units increasingly withdraw from the action and into large bases - and some possibly from Iraq completely.
It should be noted that most of Iraq's population occupies less than a quarter of its territory.]
The White House spins Iraq as if to pern in a gyre, but the utter devastation of that country is impossible to disguise. According to Zaid Salah, writing for Open Democracy, Iraq's oil industry is crumbling, unemployment approaches 50%, electrical power is available only intermittently (3-5 hours a day, average, in Baghdad), queuing for gasoline means waiting for days, energy has to be imported from Iran, US aid is drying up fast, and the budget for the Ministry of Justice has been cut by two thirds. The budget for importing food is $1 billion short, and fuel prices, under IMF rules, are about to increase 1000%. Why no protests, despite the fact that there were public protests of such conditions even under Sadaam? Answer: the security situation is so bad that no one dare. All the optimism in the world won't get a great big smiley face to stick on that.
[Update, March 24: To the same effect is Anthony H. Cordesman, interviewed in the New York Times by Bernard Gwertzman, "Iraq: After Three Years of War, Results Are Disastrous."
Barbara Bush drew criticism for her condescending hospitality to Hurricane Katrina refugees, with whom she deigned to mix at Houston's Astrodome. The Accidental Blogger continues the story:
Perhaps to make amends for the embarrassing gaffe, Barbara Bush recently donated a sum of money (the amount is undisclosed) to Houston area schools which have taken in substantial number of children from New Orleans displaced by Katrina. Except .... there is catch to this gift giving. The Houston Chronicle reports that the money was donated with specific instructions that it can only be spent for buying educational software from Ignite Learning - a company owned by her son, Neil Bush. Why am I not surprised?
Look a gift horse in the mouth? Hey, them's west Texas manners!
Etymology buffs, Cameron Crazies, and the just-plain-bored might enjoy "Why Is It Called 'March Madness'?" over at Slate (March 18).
Wittgenstein wondered what would be left over if my arm's going up were subtracted from my raising it (PI ¶621). Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute and Berlin Humboldt University have demonstrated a "Mental Typewriter," which enables people to type just by thinking about typing. Is this what's left over if moving my arm is subtracted from using it to type with?
This is an update to my earlier post, "Preemption Doctrine Adds Nuclear Option." The respected White House correspondent, Helen Thomas, turned up the heat under Presidential Spokesman Scott McClellan on the general issue of preemptive war:
Q Does the President know that he's in violation of international law when he advocates preemptive war? The U.N. Charter, Geneva, Nuremberg. We violate international law when we advocate attacking a country that did not attack us.
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I would just disagree with your assessment. First of all, preemption is a longstanding principle of American foreign --
Q It's not a long-standing principle with us. It's your principle.
MR. McCLELLAN: Have you asked your question?
Q It's a violation of international law.
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, let me back up, preemption is a longstanding principle of American foreign policy. It is also part --
Q It's never been.
MR. McCLELLAN: It is also part of an inherent right to self-defense. But what we seek to do is to address issues diplomatically by working with our friends and allies, and working with regional partners....And it's important what September 11th taught us --
Q The heavy emphasis of your paper today is war and preemptive war.
MR. McCLELLAN: Can I finish responding to your question, because I think it's important to answer your question. It's a good question and it's a fair question. But first of all, are we supposed to wait until a threat fully materializes and then respond? September 11th --
Q Under international law you have to be attacked first.
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, you're not letting me respond to your question. You have the opportunity to ask your question, and I would like to be able to provide a response so that the American people can hear what our view is. This is not new in terms of our foreign policy. This has been a longstanding principle, the question that you bring up. But again, I'll put the question back to you. Are we supposed to wait until a threat fully materializes before we respond --
Q You had no threat from Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: September 11th taught us --
Q That was not a threat from Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- some important lessons. One important lesson it taught us was that we must confront threats before they fully materialize. That's why we are working to address the threats when it comes to nuclear issues involving Iran and North Korea. That's why we're pursuing diplomatic solutions to those efforts, by working with our friends and allies, by working with regional partners who understand the stakes involved and understand the consequences of failing to confront those threats early, before it's too late.
Q What are the consequences?
MR. McCLELLAN: The consequences of a nuclear armed Iran, they are very serious in terms of stability --
Q Are you warning Iran that it has consequences as you did Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what has happened with Iran right now is that the matter has been reported to the United Nations Security Council because the regime in Iran has failed to come into compliance with its safeguard obligations, and they continue to engage in enrichment related activity. And we have supported the efforts of the Europeans to resolve this matter diplomatically, but the regime in Iran continues to pursue the wrong course.
They need to change their behavior. They continue to defy the international community. That's why the matter has been reported to the Security Council. We have now entered a new phase of diplomacy. And there are a lot of discussions going on about how to prevent the regime from developing a nuclear weapon capability, or developing nuclear weapons. And that's why those discussions are ongoing.
This is an important issue. It outlines in our national security strategy that this is one of the most serious challenges that we face.
Q Are we threatening Iran with preemptive war?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're trying to resolve this in a diplomatic manner by working with our friends and allies.
Was Helen Thomas's hair on fire, so to speak? Wasn't she simply in error in stating that preemption has never before been part of U.S. strategic policy? Discussing the 2006 WSS, Stephen D. Welsh, of the Center for Defense Initiatives' International Security Law Project, cites Thomas's line of questioning as evidencing "skittishness." Welsh had written, giving the backround for the 2002 WSS, that
The most widely accepted modern standard for anticipatory self-defense was articulated by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster in diplomatic correspondence with his British counterpart over the Caroline incident ... and consisted of two prongs. One was that the need to use force in anticipatory self-defense must first rise to the level of being a necessity, and one that is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation. The other requirement was that the action taken must be proportionate to the threat and not be excessive.
So, pace Thomas, preemption has long been an accepted part of just war doctrine. But Welsh's commentary on the 2006 WSS notes that
The NSS embraces a concept of preemption that incorporates a broader calculus more reminiscent of civilian tort law and tactical military planning, including the scope of harm resulting from a worst-case scenario and an analysis of risk and generalized threat as a broader concept, as opposed to a specific decision by a potential adversary to launch an imminent attack.
In the context of preemptive war, it is possible the NSS may be seeking not simply to push boundaries, but to reinterpret the original standard in the context of current developments and advances in technology. Analogous to an activist judge [sic] pushing a “living Constitution” that seeks to stretch 200-year-old standards to cover modern activities without the benefit of constitutional amendments, the NSS doctrine may seek to rewrite the old anticipatory self-defense standard in the following manner.
The traditional rule, it might be arguing, was not just that one could call a first-strike an act of self-defense if an enemy was itself poised to attack, but really meant that one could call a first-strike an act of self-defense if a potential adversary posed a cognizable threat, and the first-strike was made at a point in time after which the results of an enemy attack would be devastating against civilians. Such a standard, applied in the Cold War, however, could have produced dangerous results.
Welsh (a master of understatement) nowhere explicitly acknowledges that the 2006 NSS includes nuclear weaponry--apparently for the first time--among the not-to-be-ruled-out means available under the Bush Administation's already dangerously expansive preemption doctrine. (The way things are tending, everyone's hair may catch on fire.)
[Correction: Helen Thomas is affiliated with Hearst, not AP, as earlier posted--thanks to Minh Nguyen for setting me straight.]
The Bush Adminstration's recently released "National Security Strategy" is not merely recycled material, as the media has taken it to be. Dismaying as its obliviousness to experience is, what is even more so is the new bombshell it contains: the threat of preemptive nuclear strikes against possible attackers. According to Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS):
"The National Security Strategy was the Bush administration's last opportunity to demonstrate that it has reduced the role of nuclear weapons after the Cold War.... Instead it has chosen to reaffirm their importance and in the most troubling way possible: preemption."
Under the headline "The Need for Action," the new National Security Strategy says:
"Safe, credible, and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a critical role. We are strengthening deterrence by developing a New Triad composed of offensive strike systems (both nuclear and improved conventional capabilities)... These capabilities will better deter some of the new threats we face, while also bolstering our security commitments to allies....If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idle by as grave dangers materialize. This is the principle and logic of preemption."
Another "regime change" for the worse, for all of of us.
Cryptography buffs and Turing fans might be interested in building a working replica of the Enigma machine. Soldering required.
Google has mapped Mars, making it possible to soar above the Valles Marineris and swoop around Olympus Mons with the ease that users of Google Maps (of Earth) have grown accustomed to. As if that weren't cool enough, NASA and Arizona State U. have collaborated on a video simulation of a flight through the Valles Marineris (the deepest, longest canyons in the Solar System).
Of recently retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Accidental Blogger observes:
[She] may in hindsight, regret the tarnished role of the Supreme Court in perpetuating the injustices of the 2000 presidential election which strengthened the hands of the extremists in the GOP. She sees the country on a slippery slope to dictatorship.
A slippery slope to dictatorship? So the former Justice opined in an impassioned address at Georgetown U., March 10, as recounted by Nina Totenberg, here, courtesy The Raw Story:
[S]he took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ onetime only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O’Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Connor, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.
It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas senator John Cornyn who made that statement, after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home. O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.
I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
The beginnings, in this case, were in 2000, with her unprincipled swing vote in the unprincipled decision in Bush v. Gore.
Claude A. Allen, rising Republican star and, until his resignation last month, the White House's top domestic policy advisor, has been arrested on theft charges, as reported in the New York Times (Mar. 11; registration required):
The [Montgomery County, Maryland] Police Department said that as a result of an investigation ... it found that Mr. Allen had received refunds of more than $5,000 last year at stores like Target and Hecht's. Mr. Allen was arrested on Thursday and charged in connection with a series of allegedly fraudulent returns. The police said he was charged with a theft scheme over $500 and theft over $500.
"He would buy items, take them out to his car and return to the store with the receipt," the police said in the statement. "He would select the same items he had just purchased and then return them for a refund."
Mr. Allen was released on his own recognizance, the police said.
Ingenious scheme! Who is Claude Allen (and had he never heard of inventory control)?
Mr. Allen was the secretary of health and human resources for the State of Virginia when he was chosen by Mr. Bush in 2001 for the No. 2 job at the federal Health and Human Services Department. Last year, he was named as top domestic policy adviser in the White House.
Mr. Allen went to the White House after his nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stalled in the Senate. The nomination never came to a vote, in part because some Democrats raised questions about comments he had made in 1984, while working for Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina. He had been quoted as saying that Mr. Helms's opponent that year was vulnerable because his campaign could be "linked with the queers." He later apologized and said he had not intended his words to be a slur against gay men and lesbians.
Asked about the charge against Mr. Allen, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said, "If it is true, no one would be more shocked and more outraged than the president."
Mr. McClellan said Mr. Allen reported the initial incident [a misdemeanor citation for theft] to Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, on Jan. 2, the day it occurred. But, he said, Mr. Card did not inform the president until early February because Mr. Allen had said the incident resulted from a misunderstanding.
Mr. McClellan gave this chronology: On Jan. 3, Mr. Allen discussed the incident with Harriet E. Miers, the White House counsel, and told her that he had been returning merchandise and there was confusion with his credit cards because he had moved many times. He assured Ms. Miers that the matter would be cleared up.
Mr. McClellan said the White House gave Mr. Allen "the benefit of the doubt" because he had gone through extensive background checks before his judicial nomination.
Within a few days of the incident, Mr. McClellan said, Mr. Allen told Mr. Card and Ms. Miers that he was thinking of leaving the White House to spend time with his family. But Mr. Allen decided to stay for a while because he was working on domestic initiatives for the State of the Union address, which Mr. Bush delivered on Jan. 31.
The last hurrah for a gay-bashing petty thief: to declare the Union's domestic policy. How eloquent.
The scatter of electrical lighting has all but obliterated the starry skies that we gaze into with the same wonder as that in which philosophy begins. There is an organized resistance movement that merits everyone's support. But another front in this long war has opened with the the arrival of technological means to project three dimensional images into the atmosphere, as reported in The New Scientist (Feb. 27), "3D Plasma Shapes Created in Thin Air." A few years ago, there was a scheme to project advertising logos onto the moon. It fell apart (or did it?) and maybe this one will as well. For now, anyway, the eye can find Sirius by tracking left from Orion's belt, without having to cut through Coca-Cola. (And, hey, we can always wonder at the moral law within us!)
When faith-based policy bumps up against reality--as it has in Iraq--where does it turn? To reality-based policy? Or, desperately, to an analogy-based policy that tries to cram reality into the terms of a superficially similar historical precedent--even if it is a precedent of failure? In the case of Iraq evidently the latter, argues Stephen Biddle, in "Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon," Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006).
[I]f the debate in Washington is Vietnam redux, the war in Iraq is not. The current struggle is not a Maoist "people's war" of national liberation; it is a communal civil war with very different dynamics. Although it is being fought at low intensity [sic] for now, it could easily escalate if Americans and Iraqis make the wrong choices.
Unfortunately, many of the policies dominating the debate are ill adapted to the war being fought. Turning over the responsibility for fighting the insurgents to local forces, in particular, is likely to make matters worse. Such a policy might have made sense in Vietnam, but in Iraq it threatens to exacerbate the communal tensions that underlie the conflict and undermine the power-sharing negotiations needed to end it. Washington must stop shifting the responsibility for the country's security to others and instead threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in order to force them to come to a durable compromise. Only once an agreement is reached should Washington consider devolving significant military power and authority to local forces.
Biddle thinks the present strategy--"as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"--is a ticket to disaster. Unfortunately, Biddle's suggestion that US troops maintain martial law until such time as "an agreement is reached" between Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish factions seems no more promising. But first, more of Biddle's analysis:
Communal civil wars, in contrast [to Maoist people's wars], feature opposing subnational groups divided along ethnic or sectarian lines; they are not about universal class interests or nationalist passions. In such situations, even the government is typically an instrument of one communal group, and its opponents champion the rights of their subgroup over those of others. These conflicts do not revolve around ideas, because no pool of uncommitted citizens is waiting to be swayed by ideology. (Albanian Kosovars, Bosnian Muslims, and Rwandan Tutsis knew whose side they were on.) The fight is about group survival, not about the superiority of one party's ideology or one side's ability to deliver better governance.
The underlying dynamic of many communal wars is a security problem driven by mutual fear. Especially in states lacking strong central governments, communal groups worry that other groups with historical grievances will try to settle scores. The stakes can be existential, and genocide is a real possibility. Ideologues or nationalists can also be brutal toward their enemies -- Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge come to mind -- but in communal conflicts the risk of mass slaughter is especially high.
Whereas the Vietnam War was a Maoist people's war, Iraq is a communal civil war. This can be seen in the pattern of violence in Iraq, which is strongly correlated with communal affiliation. The four provinces that make up the country's Sunni heartland account for fully 85 percent of all insurgent attacks; Iraq's other 14 provinces, where almost 60 percent of the Iraqi population lives, account for only 15 percent of the violence. The overwhelming majority of the insurgents in Iraq are indigenous Sunnis, and the small minority who are non-Iraqi members of al Qaeda or its affiliates are able to operate only because Iraqi Sunnis provide them with safe houses, intelligence, and supplies. Much of the violence is aimed at the Iraqi police and military, which recruit disproportionately from among Shiites and Kurds. And most suicide car bombings are directed at Shiite neighborhoods, especially in ethnically mixed areas such as Baghdad, Diyala, or northern Babil, where Sunni bombers have relatively easy access to non-Sunni targets.
The biggest problem with treating Iraq like Vietnam is Iraqization -- the main component of the current U.S. military strategy. In a people's war, handing the fighting off to local forces makes sense because it undermines the nationalist component of insurgent resistance, improves the quality of local intelligence, and boosts troop strength. But in a communal civil war, it throws gasoline on the fire. Iraq's Sunnis perceive the "national" army and police force as a Shiite-Kurdish militia on steroids. And they have a point: in a communal conflict, the only effective units are the ones that do not intermingle communal enemies....
The solution? Biddle writes:
the United States must bring more pressure to bear on the parties in the constitutional negotiations. And the strongest pressure available is military: the United States must threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate. Washington should use the prospect of a U.S.-trained and U.S.-supported Shiite-Kurdish force to compel the Sunnis to come to the negotiating table. At the same time, in order to get the Shiites and the Kurds to negotiate too, it should threaten either to withdraw prematurely, a move that would throw the country into disarray, or to back the Sunnis.
Hmm. Threaten the Shi'tes and Kurds with "premature" withdrawal (three years into this)? Haven't the Shi'ites got friends to the north, in Iran? --but Biddle never mentions Iran, nor for that matter any of the other powers in the region. That's why Biddle proposes an alternative threat to the Shi'ites: play ball or we'll back the Sunnis. How's that?
Washington should consider trying to accelerate the emergence of a credible Sunni leadership by endorsing a wider amnesty for former Baathists and insurgents and learning to tolerate nepotistic tribal leaders. Washington should also avoid setting any more arbitrary deadlines for democratization...
Wider amnesty for former Ba'athists...forget democracy for now...and what of Sadaam and his henchmen? ("...or else we'll restore Sadaam?") Well, as Biddle confesses:
Putting such a program in place would not be easy. It would deny President Bush the chance to offer restless Americans an early troop withdrawal, replace a Manichaean narrative featuring evil insurgents and a noble government with a complicated story of multiparty interethnic intrigue, and require that Washington be willing to shift its loyalties in the conflict according to the parties' readiness to negotiate. Explaining these changes to U.S. voters would be a challenge. Washington would have to recalibrate its dealings with Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds with great precision, making sure to neither unduly frighten nor unduly reassure any of the groups. Even the most adroit diplomacy could fail if the Iraqis do not grasp the strategic logic of their situation or if a strong and sensible Sunni political leadership does not emerge. And the failure to reach a stable ethnic compromise soon could strain the U.S. military beyond its breaking point.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons to think such a plan could work. Most important, the underlying interests of all local parties would be far better served by a constitutional compromise than by an all-out war.
Biddle's solution, a "constitutional compromise" with "ironclad power-sharing arrangements protecting all parties," would surely be preferrable to all-out war. But so would a forcable partition of Iraq, or the installation of a (relatively benign) dictatorship, or any number of other, less tidy solutions. The list of communal civil wars that have been choked off by "ironclad power-sharing" deals is not a lengthy one. More typically, one side prevails and imposes its will on the losers, and any ensuing "constitutional compromise" is the victor's to design. It seems that faith-based foreign policy leads to messes that reality-based policy is powerless to fix.
[Update: The occupying US command is reportedly trying to purge the Iraqi police of Shi'ite militants while at the same time delivering an infusion of Sunni trainees. Biddle's observation:
[T]he harder the United States works to integrate Sunnis into the security forces, the less effective those forces are likely to become. The inclusion of Sunnis will inevitably entail penetration by insurgents, and it will be difficult to establish trust between members of mixed units whose respective ethnic groups are at one another's throats. Segregating Sunnis in their own battalions is no solution either. Doing so would merely strengthen all sides simultaneously by providing each with direct U.S. assistance and could trigger an unstable, unofficial partition of the country into separate Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish enclaves, each defended by its own military force.
No wonder that even the Panglossian Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, was ready to confess on Meet the Press (Mar. 5) that "anything can happen," and that--although things are "going well" rather than badly--he "wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it."]
[Further update: In the LA Times (Mar. 7), the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, states bluntly: ""We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" (A great big smiley face for Pandora's box, anyone?)]
The Washington Post (Mar. 5) reports, in "White House Trains Efforts on Media Leaks," that the Bush administration is gearing up to crack down hard on those who would treacherously inform the People of what their government gets up to. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the messengers," wasn't it? (Unless they're authorized by the VP, of course.)