Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans

This generation has yet another moment that will define us for as long as we walk this earth. Give to the American Red Cross, read the news, and say a prayer tonight. Say a prayer for all of us, as the economy copes with war, oil and hurricane concerns. And then there is this:

George W. Bush, Monday

At some point, we must ask ourselves not whether Bush is deceiving us, but rather is Bush deceived? Does he honestly believe that the war in Iraq even marginally approximates World War Two? Does he honestly believe that this photo was appropriate?

The Cunning Realist asks some of these questions, LINK. Excerpt:

...this is the latest chapter of strange behavior---bordering on the bizarre---when this president is under pressure (remember the antics during the first debate with Kerry, and the inexplicable silence for days after the tsunami in Asia?). One can't look at that photo and feel anything but deep concern that this is the man currently steering the ship during a war. It's extremely worrying, folks.

Fred Kaplan delves into the horrible historical allusions, Slate LINK. Iraq's constitutional process like ours? No. Iraq like Japan in World War Two? No.

At some point, if you believe the hype and rhetoric about you for a decade, if you had a silver spoon to boot, do you simply lose it?

Morning copy 8.31.2005

Substantial flooding and chaos in hurricane-ravaged area.

The Superdome will have to be evacuated within a matter of days, Washington Post LINK.

Navy ships are dispatched to the area, NY Times LINK.

Bush will cut his vacation short (two days out of the four weeks) and return to D.C., Washington Post LINK.

With oil rigs adrift and refineries shut down, a short run oil "crisis" looms, AP Story, USA Today LINK.

Atlanta Journal Constitution says that Atlanta area motorists could pay "considerably more" than $3.00 a gallon because of the regional impact of the storm, AJC LINK.

Kos has one of the most disturbing pictures from Tuesday.


More than 600 killed in a stampede in Iraq, perhaps provoked by someone claiming a suicide bomber was in the area, al Jazeera LINK. The stampede happened at Shiite Islam's 3rd holiest shrine.

George W. Bush is providing more history lessons, comparing the war in Iraq to WWII. LINK. Excerpt:

"Now, as then, they are trying to intimidate free people and break our will, and now, as then, they will fail," Bush said to applauding sailors in white uniforms and Marines in camouflage. "They will fail, because the terrorists of our century are making the same mistake that the followers of other totalitarian ideologies made in the last century. They believe that democracies are inherently weak and corrupt and can be brought to their knees." But, he added, "America will not run in defeat, and we will not forget our responsibilities."

Reaching back into history, Bush repeatedly cited Roosevelt's steadfastness as the model for today's conflict, comparing the Japanese sneak assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Much as Roosevelt fought pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism, Bush urged against a return to what he called the "pre-9/11 mindset of isolation and retreat."

"He knew that it was the lack of democracy in Japan that allowed an unelected group of militarists to take control of the state, threaten our neighbors, attack America and plunge an entire region into war," Bush said of Roosevelt. "And he knew that the best way to bring peace and stability to the region was by bringing freedom to Japan."

I guess fire bombing Tokyo was a step toward achieving freedom and not a brutal attack to destroy the will to fight in a militarized nation. What else can we expect from a president who compares Federalists and Antifederalists in the late 18th century to Iraq's myriad sectarian fissures?

And if the president doesn't understand the affairs in which he leads, how can we expect victory? Or is he just heaping rhetoric in an effort to deceive?

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq "hinted" that the Iraqi constitution is still in draft form, and may see revisions, AP story, USA Today LINK.

U.S. troops target "terrorist" locales in the Western part of Iraq, but locals say civilians were killed, LA Times LINK.

Los Angeles Times analysis of the (draft????) constitution says that perhaps 50 issues still need to be resolved by the next elected assembly, assuming the constitution is approved in the referendum, LINK. Excerpt:

"There's going to be a lot of wrangling," said Saadoun Zubaidi, a Sunni Arab negotiator who opposes the draft charter. "A lot of the paragraphs in the constitution are vague and bland. There's still a lot to be said."

Kurds wanted the constitution to include a formula for dividing oil profits, but Shiites insisted that the matter be settled by the assembly.

Women's rights leaders sought protections against religious courts in matters such as divorce, child custody and inheritance, but the current version promises only that the issue — like dozens of others — will be "organized by law."

Other issues left unresolved include the powers and formation of a second legislative body, known as the Council of Union; the wartime powers of the prime minister; the powers of Iraq's intelligence agencies; the right to protest and peacefully assemble; and the definition of hate groups.

The risks contestants will take for a chance at escaping Iraq -- on each episode of Iraq Star, LA Times LINK.

U.S. general says Iraqis will need long term air defense from American forces, NY Times LINK.

And those planes need pilots and crews. Those pilots and crews need cooks and commanders. Those cooks and commanders need troops to protect them. Those troops need more cooks and a few tanks.

More links

Bush's poll numbers erode slightly, Washington Post LINK.

Prominent security leaders, pro-Syrian also, arrested in Lebannon for the death of nationalist leader Rafiq Hariri, Washington Post LINK.

Rudolph Giuliani will decide on his potential candidacy for president in 2006, Washington Post LINK.

Women's rights groups, environmental groups and soon perhaps civil rights groups and others have joined an anti-Roberts alliance, Washington Post LINK.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that some questions about Roberts' views, including abortion questions, are permissible, USA Today LINK.

U.S. poverty rate increased for fourth straight year, NY Times LINK.

New Bush administration rules to permit more pollution from power plants, Washington Post LINK.

The Nationals will not necessarily open all their seasons at home, like teams in D.C.'s past, Washington Times.

"Alternative archeology" at :-/

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Conn. AG takes on hedge funds

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, ever professing to be leading the fight against the powers that be, today announced the formation of a "special task force" aimed at reforming the largely unregulated hedge fund industry, the national center of which is in Fairfield County, Conn.

According to analysts, the amount of money managed in hedge funds--described by the AP as "largely unregulated and secretive funds that cater to the wealthy and institutions"--passed the $1 trillion mark last year.

Almost 40 firms manage hedge funds, and the average amount of cash managed in hedge funds by these firms is $29 billion apiece. And we're just getting around not to regulating this industry, but merely asking the question of whether or not this industry should be regulated at all!

Morning copy 8.30.2005

Katrina's devastation is just beginning to come into focus, AP WaPo LINK.

The American Red Cross.

Storm damage to impact national oil supply, NY Times LINK.


Conflicting interests in the Iraq constitution are described in the Washington Times, LINK.

The highest ranking Sunni in the government says that the Sunni parts of the country will not reject the constitution, Washington Post LINK.

Los Angeles Times on the push toward the ballot box for pro- and anti-government groups, LINK.

It is a tall order to muster two-thirds in any election in any province, and some Sunnis admit their protests may not work, NY Times LINK. They also are going to focus on the December elections to gain more influence. Excerpt:

"There is too much tension, too much bitterness, especially among the Sunnis, and I think many people will push for a no vote" in the referendum, said Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, a vice president and a Sunni leader from Mosul, who spoke to reporters about the constitutional struggle for the first time in months.

But for all their anger, the Sunnis are less unified and organized than the Kurds and Shiites who approved the constitution, Sheik Yawar said, and are unlikely to defeat it. For the constitution to fail, two-thirds of the voters in at least three provinces must vote against it, but Sheik Yawar said he believed that Sunnis could muster a two-thirds vote only in Anbar, a volatile province west of Baghdad.

Heavy fighting today between pro- and anti-government tribes in Iraq, AP NY Times LINK.

One Iraqi unit sees substantial success in security operations in a Sunni region, Christian Science Monitor LINK.

The Los Angeles Times editorial calls for the modification of the constitution to keep the Sunnis involved in the political process, LINK.

The restoration of Sadr's movement in the Washington Post, LINK. Excerpt:

Long the bane of the U.S. project in Iraq, Sadr's movement returned to center stage last week, with what his aides describe as a new confidence following the release of Araji and other leaders, along with the experience of their sometimes quiet activism. In dramatic fashion over three days, the movement embodied virtually every aspect of power in today's Iraq: support in the street, an easily mobilized militia, and loyalists within the government that it often denounces.

More links

John Roberts urged legislation, while in the Reagan White House, against busing and quotas, Washington Post LINK.

The New York Times deatils Roberts' "homework", LINK. Excerpt:

Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he gave the nominee, Judge John G. Roberts Jr., a copy of the memorandum on Monday because he expected the judge to be asked about "what area, if any," a president can "be considered to be above the law."

The memorandum, which has been disavowed by the Bush administration, was written in 2002 by Jay S. Bybee, an official of the Justice Department who has since become a federal appeals court judge. Mr. Leahy said he did not want Judge Roberts to avoid questions about the document by saying he had not read it.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that the Senate's version of the Patriot Act will hamper the war on terror, Washington Post LINK.

Bush promises to secure the borders, Washington Post LINK.

"I haven't changed my mind since I came here to talk about Social Security," Mr. Bush said.

George Bush has crossed the Mendoza line, Slate LINK.

Rumsfeld says that military needs are superior to environmental ones, or environmental legislation, WaPo LINK.

Iran planning oil exchange to rival economic power of the United States, Christian Science Monitor.

A U.N. special envoy has accused the Bush administration of harming the fight against AIDs in Africa, Guardian LINK.

The sports age of the executive, Slate LINK.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Coup De Less-than-sign A HREF equal-sign

In case you haven't noticed, Rex Publius has seized a chunk of his own blogosphere of influence where they use curse words.

Why Kerry lost, the expurgated version

Church and State

Striking the right note on Iraq

It is clear that something very odd is happening in the brain of George W. Bush. A lot of ink has been spilled about that, and rightly so, but more ink needs to be pressed into duty to discuss how we can make the best out of a bad situation in Iraq.

General Wesley Clark and some of the best bloggers are working at that. The General has written an Op-Ed in the WaPo, had a guest spot on Meet the Press and now is the guest blogger of the week at Talking Point Memo, LINK.

In his post this morning, the General wrote of the need to develope and reveal a sustainable strategy for Iraq, LINK. He also complimented the blogosphere for acting as a vanguard in the policy debate.

The Cunning Realist brought the following to the blogo-table on Sunday, LINK.:
The goal for our military right now should be the four R's: rest, regroup, retool and recruit. For now, however, I agree with the Bush administration that a phased withdrawal should coincide with the training and readiness of Iraqi troops. That's precisely why there must be a measurable standard for this training, as well as public accountability for those responsible for overseeing it.

In Clark's words, in Hagel's words from last year (which I explored here) and in the words of TCR, we have the same criteria. Measurable goals, accountability and sustaining the fighting force. Sustaining that force requires a buy-in from both the military and the civilian sides. That buy-in will only come with direct, honest planning.

Sustaining a military force is nothing new. Theodore Roosevelt used a developing, modern navy to reinforce the Monroe Doctrine in 1902. Preservation is the key to martial conduct, both in wars and in diplomacy. Preserve your own army, Sun Tzu wrote, to sustain your martial potential.

In the newest edition of Foreign Affairs, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. articulates sustainable progress in Iraq. He stresses the need to promote security and reward peaceful regions. He also raises the question: will the administration level with the American people about the real impact and risks in this war, or will simplified mantras rule the debate to the peril of this great nation?

Krepinevich writes that the present strategy is one of slugging the insurgency with our superior military, but that the focus ought to be peace, prosperity and security. With secured regions and more Iraqi troops, he wrote, we can then expand the secure space on the map, depriving the insurgency of their support that is derived from intimidation and hopelessness.

At present, our sweeping operations with no lasting defense of restive cities result in "little or no enduring improvement in security once U.S. forces withdraw from the area," he wrote. (FA Sept/Oct 2005 p. 88)

For this reason, Krepinevich argues that the best course of action is to set smaller, realistic goals in order to set up and expand safe areas. Then, leave a footprint to develop the local infrastructure in those towns.

"Withought a clear strategy in Iraq, moreover, there is no good way to gauge progress," Krepinevich wrote. "Senior political and military leaders have thus repeatedly made overly optimistic or even contradictory declarations." (FA p. 87)

Honest discussions must begin now among the populus and lead by the elected or military leadership to decide if we are willing to wage this war in order to win it. Krepinevich wrote:

But it would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels then are engaged at present. If U.S. policy makers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly. (FA p. 89)

Only through reconstruction and security can the "hearts and minds" be won in this war. It seems Moqtada al Sadr realizes this, Telegraph/UK LINK.

Sadr is often pictured in posters and montages with Hizbollah leaders and in a tactic adopted by the Lebanese group in the 1980s he has also sought to boost his popularity by adopting a welfare scheme for the poor and building new schools.

Food and clothes were provided to Shia refugees who in recent weeks have fled to Najaf from Tal Afar, near Mosul, where Sunni insurgents have been forcing Shia families to leave at gunpoint.

It is a bid for ''hearts and minds'' that appears to be working.

"I was against him but have understood the fact that he is working for the sake of the people," said Abu Mohammad, 48, a shopkeeper in Kufah. "That is why everywhere Sadr gets stronger." In recent local elections in the city's Abasiya and Huriya districts, both of which had shown little enthusiasm for Sadr in the past, representatives promoting his policies won 60 per cent of the vote.

An effective "hearts and minds" campaign will provide substantial benefits for the United States. First, it can be expected to boost morale for both the citizenery and the soldiery in the States. Second, it will countervail successful work done by al Sadr, the Badr Brigade/SCIRI, and the Iranian government to rest influence from the central governing body. Best of all, it will actually improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis -- which is one of the myriad reasons we hear as a justification for this war.

This work can only be sustained with candor and vigor matching the importance of the job. In Krepinevich's conclusion, our country must choose between Even a strategy that "will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls..." or "creating an ally out of Iraq's next despot." (FA p. 104)

Morning copy 8.29.2005

A strong, dangerous hurricane makes landfall this morning along the Gulf Coast. I strongly suggest you gas up your car in the morning and fill the tank all the way. You may save a few dollars compared to what you can expect to pay tonight or tomorrow. If you can spare some money, the Red Cross is accepting donations.

The NY Times pre-storm story, a recap of what you no doubt saw on Sunday, LINK.

The AP story on the Superdome as Supershelter, LA Times LINK.

Iraq and the constitution

Scaled back expectations in Steven R. Weisman's news analysis, NY Times LINK. It is interesting that a tired State Department official has deemed the vestige of a political process in Iraq as the Iraqis' problem.

This is similar to American generals floating the theory that a draw-down is the way to get Iraqis to address the security problem. Both are the beginnings of an exit justification -- we brought them to the river, now let's see if they'll drink. Both completely ignore our moral culpability and risk ceding a portion of Iraq to Iran, or worse.

An excerpt from Weisman's analysis:

It was not long ago that the administration was loath to be seen as interfering in internal Iraqi politics. Yet only on Thursday, in a last-minute effort to bring about a compromise, Mr. Bush telephoned Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric and the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to press him to be more accommodating to Sunni interests. The effort failed.

President Bush slighted the dissenting opinions of the 15 Sunnis working on the constitution, Washington Post LINK.

As Professor Cole articulated yesterday, this latest Bush evaluation of the war effort is criminally stupid, Juan Cole LINK. Excerpt:

These "colleagues" are the Sunni Arabs who risked their lives to cooperate with the Americans and the new government by serving on the constitution drafting committee. ... They are a small minority of a small minority. Most Sunni Arabs support the guerrilla movement. A minority has doubts about it and is more neutral. Sunni Arabs who are actively involved in negotiating with the Shiite/Kurdish/American government can be counted on the fingers of two hands. And even they reject this constitution.

So I think Sunni opposition to the constitution may be considered more or less unanimous. The division is between those who want to fight it at the ballot box and those who want to fight it with bombs.

It isn't just "some Sunnis" who are opposed.

The clear consensus in the MSM today is that Iraq will face more violence and an uncertain referendum in October.

In an odd sense, the fact that the Sunnis can defeat this constitution in a political process may encourage them to do so and not to side with the insurgency -- for now. What will matter then, and what matters now, is security and economic opportunity. Quality of life.

The Washington Post's article with Sunnis vowing to defeat the document, LINK. Excerpt:

"It was a nice show for the president of the United States as he wakes up now, but for us it was very bad," said Mishan Jabouri, one of four Sunni Arab assembly members among the dozens of lawmakers at the event. None of the Sunnis expressed support for the constitution.

Sheik Abdul Nasser al-Janabi, one of those few Sunnis willing to work on a deal, has been catapaulted to the front of the debate, NY Times LINK. Excerpt:

"We started our work on the principle of consensus," Mr. Janabi said in ringing tones, "but we faced ideologies that aim to divide Iraq, waste its wealth and dismiss its Arabic and Islamic identity."

"We have objections that we cannot overlook," Mr. Janabi said. "So we declare our rejection of those points and of the draft, on which we did not reach consensus." Because he was speaking for all of the 15 Sunnis on the constitutional committee, Mr. Janabi asserted, his declaration "makes the draft illegal."

One other political leader against this document is Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, Christian Science Monitor LINK. Excerpt:

Together the groups might convince two-thirds of voters in three provinces to vote down the document, prompting new elections for a national assembly that will draft another charter. A new vote would give both parties a chance to regain influence they lost when they boycotted last January's elections, leaving former exiled Shiite political parties and Kurds with a stronger hand.

The constitution divides, but remains vague, Christian Science Monitor LINK.

The complete text of the Iraqi constitution, LINK.

Iraq and war news

More journalists killed in Iraq than in Vietnam, according to Reporters Without Borders, CNN LINK.

The Army official who criticized noncompetitive contracts given to Halliburton has been demoted. NY Times (LINK) Excerpt:

Ms. Greenhouse's lawyer, Michael Kohn, called the action an "obvious reprisal" for the strong objections she raised in 2003 to a series of corps decisions involving the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, which has garnered more than $10 billion for work in Iraq.

The WaPo's version of the same story, LINK. Excerpt:

The Army said last October that it would refer her complaints to the Defense Department's inspector general. The failure to abide by the agreement and the circumstances of the removal "are the hallmark of illegal retaliation," Kohn wrote to Rumsfeld. He said the review Strock cited to justify his action "was conducted by the very subjects" of Greenhouse's allegations, including the general.

And one question: Haliburton or Halliburton? Halliburton.

Republican John Warner says he will call Rumsfeld to testify on Iraq, NY Times LINK.

News analysis by Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post (LINK) on the limited degree of control a foreign occupier has. LINK. Excerpt:

But the actual implementation of Iraq's constitution and the viability of Gaza will now depend largely on forces beyond Washington's control -- and both face mounting challenges.

"The theme in this region is the reality of a foreign military power that comes in with great determination and overwhelming force, defeats people, subjugates a nation and then gets completely lost in the local maelstrom of interests and the irresistible force of indigenous identity -- religious, ethnic, sectarian, national. People act in a maniacal way when they assert these identities, which includes nurturing and protecting them," said Rami Khouri, a U.S.-educated Arab analyst and editor of Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.

"Every single foreign power that has been in this region since Alexander the Great -- through the Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, British, French and now Americans -- has learned the same lesson," Khouri said.

Frank Rich's lede from the Sunday New York Times, LINK, Excerpt:

ANOTHER week in Iraq, another light at the end of the tunnel. On Monday President Bush saluted the Iraqis for "completing work on a democratic constitution" even as the process was breaking down yet again. But was anyone even listening to his latest premature celebration?

Other news

Jesse Jackson says Hugo Chavez is no threat, LA Times LINK.

Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post (LINK) writes the following:

The Census Bureau tomorrow will release the latest statistics on poverty in the United States, the income level of an average household and the number of Americans still lacking health insurance.

Don't believe the numbers.

A growing chorus of experts and politicians is raising questions about the data that frame Americans' understanding of their nation's well-being.

Cyber cafe casualties in the Los Angeles Times.

Daniel Dennett of Tufts University in Sunday's Times Op-Ed, LINK, Excerpt:

All it takes is a rare accident that gives one lucky animal a mutation that improves its vision over that of its siblings; if this helps it have more offspring than its rivals, this gives evolution an opportunity to raise the bar and ratchet up the design of the eye by one mindless step. And since these lucky improvements accumulate - this was Darwin's insight - eyes can automatically get better and better and better, without any intelligent designer.

Brilliant as the design of the eye is, it betrays its origin with a tell-tale flaw: the retina is inside out. The nerve fibers that carry the signals from the eye's rods and cones (which sense light and color) lie on top of them, and have to plunge through a large hole in the retina to get to the brain, creating the blind spot. No intelligent designer would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.

So if you like intelligent design, then God is a screw-ball inventor.

Wait a minute. Weisman and Weisman?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Stewart vs. Hitchens

Surfing blogs today I came across innumerable references to a Hitchens appearance Thursday on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Realign this!, a blogpac compariot from Massachusetts, weighs in. LINK

Alex Whalen, the author of the above-linked post, rightly asks why a "the best debates about current events happen on a fake news show hosted by a comedian?" Perhaps he should ask Jon Stewart, who had Trent Lott on the show the night before and lobbed him softball questions about his new book. Stewart is great, don't get me wrong, but it'd be nice if he took someone who is actually in power to task, instead of reserving the fuller measure of his vitriol for people like Hitchens and Tucker Carlson.

And for all the bloggers who are rambling on as if Stewart laid Hitchens to waste, leaving him bloodied in the gutter, I guess we just saw a different interview. What I saw for nine minutes and ten seconds was a friendly back-and-forth between two people on different sides of a position, let's remind ourselves, on a comedy show.

Though Stewart's ending comments were an eloquent statement of his position, I was most enthralled by the first six or seven minutes of the segment, where Stewart, as he himself said, actually found his position was a lot more in common with Hitchens'.

At one point, for instance, Hitchens lost his point, and Stewart funnily said something like "You were just saying how the President is incompetent in going to war" or something like that, to which Hitchens replied he had just written an article for the Weekly Standard saying exactly that. LINK

There are a lot of great bits in the WS piece, and I'll try to quote sparingly. But among the best:
The balance sheet of the Iraq war, if it is to be seriously drawn up, must also involve a confrontation with at least this much of recent history. Was the Bush administration right to leave--actually to confirm--Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Was James Baker correct to say, in his delightfully folksy manner, that the United States did not "have a dog in the fight" that involved ethnic cleansing for the mad dream of a Greater Serbia? Was the Clinton administration prudent in its retreat from Somalia, or wise in its opposition to the U.N. resolution that called for a preemptive strengthening of the U.N. forces in Rwanda?

The only speech by any statesman that can bear reprinting from that low, dishonest decade came from Tony Blair when he spoke in Chicago in 1999. Welcoming the defeat and overthrow of Milosevic after the Kosovo intervention, he warned against any self-satisfaction and drew attention to an inescapable confrontation that was coming with Saddam Hussein. So far from being an American "poodle," as his taunting and ignorant foes like to sneer, Blair had in fact leaned on Clinton over Kosovo and was insisting on the importance of Iraq while George Bush was still an isolationist governor ofTexas.

And yes, Hitchens states in the article that he criticized the first Gulf War, and admits to being too gunshy then, but rightly mocks (see above) the U.S. for not staying in the fight when it could have been more decisively won. The piece's nut graf, if you will, poses this question:
One might have thought, therefore, that Bush and Blair's decision to put an end at last to this intolerable state of affairs would be hailed, not just as a belated vindication of long-ignored U.N. resolutions but as some corrective to the decade of shame and inaction that had just passed in Bosnia and Rwanda. But such is not the case. An apparent consensus exists, among millions of people in Europe and America, that the whole operation for the demilitarization of Iraq, and the salvage of its traumatized society, was at best a false pretense and at worst an unprovoked aggression. How can this possibly be?

Hitchens, to his credit, admits the Bush-Blair error in tactics:
Yes, it must be admitted that Bush and Blair made a hash of a good case, largely because they preferred to scare people rather than enlighten them or reason with them. Still, the only real strategy of deception has come from those who believe, or pretend, that Saddam Hussein was no problem.

He goes on, though, to make a point that I don't think is being raised enough in the Iraq debate:
So deep and bitter is the split within official Washington, most especially between the Defense Department and the CIA, that any claim made by the former has been undermined by leaks from the latter. (The latter being those who maintained, with a combination of dogmatism and cowardice not seen since Lincoln had to fire General McClellan, that Saddam Hussein was both a "secular" actor and--this is the really rich bit--a rational and calculating one.)

There's no cure for that illusion, but the resulting bureaucratic chaos and unease has cornered the president into his current fallback upon platitude and hollowness. It has also induced him to give hostages to fortune. The claim that if we fight fundamentalism "over there" we won't have to confront it "over here" is not just a standing invitation for disproof by the next suicide-maniac in London or Chicago, but a coded appeal to provincial and isolationist opinion in the United States. Surely the elementary lesson of the grim anniversary that will shortly be upon us is that American civilians are as near to the front line as American soldiers.

And if we had not gone to Iraq? Hitch's opinion:
At once, one sees that all the alternatives would have been infinitely worse, and would most likely have led to an implosion--as well as opportunistic invasions from Iran and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, on behalf of their respective interests or confessional clienteles. This would in turn have necessitated a more costly and bloody intervention by some kind of coalition, much too late and on even worse terms and conditions. This is the lesson of Bosnia and Rwanda yesterday, and of Darfur today. When I have made this point in public, I have never had anyone offer an answer to it. A broken Iraq was in our future no matter what, and was a responsibility (somewhat conditioned by our past blunders) that no decent person could shirk. The only unthinkable policy was one of abstention.

After saying that Bush should get the benefit of the doubt "only just, if at all" because of defeats of Baathism and Talibanism, the capitulation of Qaddafi in Libya, the reform undertaken within the U.N. after oil for food, etc., Hitch ends:
The great point about Blair's 1999 speech was that it asserted the obvious. Coexistence with aggressive regimes or expansionist, theocratic, and totalitarian ideologies is not in fact possible. One should welcome this conclusion for the additional reason that such coexistence is not desirable, either. If the great effort to remake Iraq as a demilitarized federal and secular democracy should fail or be defeated, I shall lose sleep for the rest of my life in reproaching myself for doing too little. But at least I shall have the comfort of not having offered, so far as I can recall, any word or deed that contributed to a defeat.

But he also damns the President for not being able to make the good case for the war, as it is so easy for Hitchens himself to do.

What is so hard for a lot of people, myself included, to do is to admit that Bush is right on principle, whether or not he's pursuing the war correctly, or dealing with dissent within the U.S. correctly. Critics can easily reduce the President to a boob, rube, or caricatured hayseed. But as Hitchens said to Stewart, paraphrasing Rumsfeld: "You go to war with the President you have." I'm probably not the only one who thinks the world would be a better place had Wesley Clark won the Democratic nomination in 2004.


I'm going to work on a larger entry, taking into account developments in Iraq and so on, but as of now my thoughts and prayers are with the Gulf Coasters who face a hurricane of potentially record breaking stength.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Katrina is a powerful and dangerous Gulf hurricane.

OK. Now for the real news.

100,000 Shiites protest federalism, in a massive show of political force by Cleric Moqtada al Sadr, Reuters LINK.

Sunnis on constitutional committee propose 15 resolutions, after already receiving the last, "best" offer from Shiite/Kurd powers-that-be, Washington Post LINK. Sunnis have "condemned" (NY Times lede) the charter as it stands, NY Times LINK.

Bush's radio address calls for patience, NY Times LINK. Excerpt:

"Iraqis are working together to build a free nation that contributes to peace and stability in the region, and we will help them succeed," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

He gave no sign of dismay at serious snags in Iraq's democratic process.


"Like our own nation's founders over two centuries ago, the Iraqis are grappling with difficult issues, such as the role of the federal government,'' he said. ''What is important is that Iraqis are now addressing these issues through debate and discussion -- not at the barrel of a gun."

Which of course is not true.

John Thune saves Ellsworth, NY Times LINK.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Morning copy 8.26.2005 (OMG A HURRICANE!!!!!1)

CNN's coverage of this 'Cane is innane. Iraq once again is under a meaningless deadline -- how much meaning can a deadline have if they are routinely extended? Which topic gets more a.m. coverage on CNN? 'Cane or Iraq?

Look at those feeder bands!!

Wesley Clark invokes "strategy" in his Washington Post Op-Ed piece today, and it takes him less than 70 words to do it. Excerpt:

Unfortunately, the administration didn't see the need for a diplomatic track, and its scattershot diplomacy in the region -- threats, grandiose pronouncements and truncated communications -- has been ill-advised and counterproductive. The U.S. diplomatic failure has magnified the difficulties facing the political and military elements of strategy by contributing to the increasing infiltration of jihadists and the surprising resiliency of the insurgency.

And conclusion (Vietnam):

The growing chorus of voices demanding a pullout should seriously alarm the Bush administration, because President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam: failing to craft a realistic and effective policy and instead simply demanding that the American people show resolve. Resolve isn't enough to mend a flawed approach -- or to save the lives of our troops. If the administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home.

A great deal of violence in Iraq, but the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade have calmed down, for now. WaPo News.

More on the clash between al Sadr's Mahdis and the Badrs of SCIRI thanks to the Christian Science Monitor. If there is one thing this battle shows and protests earlier in the week, is that Sadr is no puppet of Iran. CSM LINK.

Rallies planned for both sides in Crawford, Texas. WaPo.

The Charter and the Iraqi government, as an Iraqi government, nears a "breaking point". Bush intervened with a call to SCIRI leader al-Hakim, NY Times.

Professor Juan Cole's analysis (I was going to "pun" with "breakdown" instead of "analysis") of the constitutional process in Iraq, LINK.

The brief restoration and then the loss of Baghdad's literary cafes, LINK.

General John Vines says that future U.S. troop level is directly tied to the Sunni reaction to the charter, AFP LINK.

Paul Krugman's Richard III reference, LINK.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Warfare is the greatest affair of the state"

To Senator Chuck Hagel, the war on terror is both "a historic and existential challenge", at least that is what he wrote in the July/August edition of Foreign Affairs in 2004.

There is, however, no reason to think that the Senator has changed his mind. Hagel (pictured, left) has garnered attention as of late for comparing Iraq to Vietnam -- invoking this analogy only insofar as public opinion, though media outlets missed that caveat. The historic and existential quality to the conflict in Iraq seems undeniable.

The American military and government overthrew a dictator who had ruled a disparate population with conflicting goals and cultures. Elements of that dictatorial government, militias derived from those varied populations and foreign actors remain engaged in a multidimensional conflict.

Pavel Baev of the Center for the Study of Civil War at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway said this week, in The Christian Science Monitor: "What's happening in Iraq is a multidimensional conflict. There's international terrorism, banditry, the major foreign military presence. But the civil war is the central part of it - the violent contestation for power inside the country."

That point has greater import after a troubling week in Iraq. We have seen constitutional upheaval, an insurgent assault on Baghdad Wednesday and two days of conflict between rival Shiite groups. Further, The Guardian reported this week of an insurgent stronghold in Haditha. The prospect of a stable Iraq is by no means a certainty, and may not even be a likelihood.

Yet, a destable Iraq is a existential threat to the United States and our allies.

Iraq, in its worst potential future manifestation, could be three regions with quesitonable boundries. A primarily Shiite south, with oil resources, could become a protectorate of Iran. At the very least, that region and the SCIRI militia named the Badr Brigade, will have sympathies to the Shiite state on its border. In a worst-case scenario, that region may rely upon Iran for protection.

To the north, a Kurdish region is a likelihood, provoking tensions with both Iran and Turkey, who wish to keep their Kurdish populations under somewhat repressive nationalistic control. Conflict over oil-rich Kirkuk, with whatever Sunni political/military order(s) develops, is also possible. These potential Sunni groups may also engage the Shiite south.

The border areas, where the populations are more mixed, could be particularly dangerous for both Sunni and Shiite.

An impovershed, disenfranchised Arab-Sunni region in the west is of great concern to America and all the world. Such a region could become even more of a hotbed for al Qaeda and similar organizations. Moreover, that region is located close to key allies: The Saudis, and their oil, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

A stated objective of al Qaeda is the end of Saudi rule in the former Caliphate. They would have a launching pad into Arabia from al Anbar province.

"Warfare is the greatest affair of the state, the basis of life and death, the Way to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed ... seek out its true nature" wrote the great Sun Tzu, in Ralph D. Sawyer's translation. This dedication to the proper analysis of war, and therefore to proper planning, has been absent from the popular discussion.

Such discussion is especially crucial in a democracy, where the citizens form the soldiery and the government. Sustaining a successful campaign requires the involvement and understanding of the citizenry. There must be goals and there must be a clear understanding of the risks and potential harms. Bush's platitudes, and his administration's unbound optimism (an insurgency in its perpetual "last throes") do a great diservice to the war effort, as is evidenced in the sagging poll numbers.

Past leaders, the great leaders, have understood this. They have effectively cast the previous existential struggles in an understandable and convincing light. Bush has not. Iraq was to be a beacon of democracy, not an Iranian style regime. Now, that may not be the case. The war on terror was not something that could be won in a conventional military sense, but facing an angry populus, that rhetoric has been altered in its essence. We will win, Bush said yesterday.

The source for this diservice could be either deception or errant analysis, but both are equal perils in the conduct of any war.

I believe the actual strategy is for an American force of 100,000 to 125,000 to remain in the country for four or more years and pound the insurgencies while an Iraqi force is trained. That force will augment the offensive actions, to an extent, but the remaining force will be used to hold ground. In the future, this plan holds, the Hadithas and Fallujahs will be cleared and then troops, Iraqi troops, will hold the gains. As of now, this cannot be done.

However, if this is the plan than it must be explained to the nations involved -- both Iraq and the United States. Simple slogans such as "stay the course" or "get out now" are not sound foreign policy, nor will they sustain the American way of life. Both are a danger to our identity as a world leader and to the safety of our citizens. One grieving mother, whose Marine son was killed this month, said that we ought to "fight right, or get out."

Americans must realize that choice is the true nature of this crucial conflict. The matter is too important to leave to chance and optimism. The matter is too important, and our moral culpability too great, to cut and run without trying in our most sincere and dedicated -- most American -- way of pursuing our goals with unquenchable vigor.

With strong, honest leadership, we have a chance of attracting more allies and bearing less of the burden in what is ultimately the world's problem.

Last year, Senator Hagel also wrote that "... a successful foreign policy must be not only strong but sustainable." (Foreign Affairs 7/8 2004 p. 66) Sustaining that policy requires candor from the policy makers and generals. It requires economic and political effort to match the importance of the policy. What is more important than a just, stable Iraq that supports the rights of all minorities -- women, Kurds and Sunnis?

Near his conclusion in that essay last year, Hagel quoted Dwight D. Eisenhower, no stranger to existential conflicts. Ike said:

"Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad."

Morning copy 8.25.2005

Iraq: another day, another deadline

Or: another day, another insurgency.

As Shiite and Kurds push to get a deal with Sunnis, Shiite factions clash in the south of Iraq. Moqtada al Sadr's followers attempted to re-open offices in the holy city of Najaf and fought with SCIRI supporters, who likely did not want to lose their significant influence. WaPo LINK. For his part, Sadr has asked his followers to be peaceful, NY Times LINK. Shiite battles and an insurgent push into Baghdad leave constitutional process in doubt, al Jazeera LINK.

Nothing like a good battle between the Mahdi army and the Badr brigade.

The New York Times has an interesting article on the Sunni delegation to the constitutional convention, LINK.

President Bush continued campaigning to stay the course yesterday, WaPo LINK. An excerpt:

"An immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq, or the broader Middle East, as some have called for, would only embolden the terrorists and create a staging ground to launch more attacks against America and free nations," he said. "So long as I'm the president, we will stay, we will fight, and we will win the war on terror."


Asserting that "the stakes in Iraq could not be higher," Bush contended that the nation is "achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq." It is that last contention -- that the United States is moving purposely toward its goals and an accompanying exit from Iraq -- that has been subject to growing skepticism by Democrats.

The New York Times has a mouthful of a headline: "For 3rd Day in a Row, Bush Says Withdrawal Now From Iraq Would Embolden Terrorists". LINK.

David Brooks of the New York Times writes that America has accomplished an "organically Iraqi" constitution, LINK. His idea is that pro-Western Kurds get their autonomy and Shiite Iraqis get their little slice of Iran.

I'm not certain what to think of an organically Iraqi constitution, divisions and all, that will probably not pass the referendum in October and is also in violation of the interim consititution which proceeded it and limited the government that drafted this new document.

1500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne are heading to Iraq for referendum security duty, LA Times.

More links...

Softening stance to the "axis of evil", Christian Science Monitor.

Presdient's daily intel briefing will now include divergent sources from different agencies, USA Today LINK.

Sidney Blumenthal in STRAIGHT TO THE EXCERPT:


"I don't know yet. I haven't made up my mind yet. I'm kind of hanging loose, as they say." With that, the questions ended and the vacation continued.

While Bush has allowed only abbreviated and controlled access for the press, he has been coddled by the Republican Congress, despite the spike in public disapproval of his conduct of the Iraq war.

In February 1966, Sen. J. William Fulbright ... held the first hearings on the Vietnam War, which were televised nationally for six days. The public was riveted by the penetrating questioning of administration officials and the debates among the members of the committee. Fulbright had been a friend of President Lyndon Johnson for years. ... But the escalation of the war and the absence of a clear strategy of resolution prompted Fulbright to call the hearings. ... Fulbright believed that it was his constitutional duty to exercise oversight of the executive.

No similar Senate hearings on the origins, conduct and strategy of the Iraq war have been held. During the Johnson period, the Democrats controlled both chambers of the Congress. But Fulbright did not feel that partisan discipline under the whip of the White House was a higher principle than performing as a check and balance...

The United States has sent a U.N. reform meeting into a tailspin one month before it is set to begin, WaPo. Excerpt:

The United States has only recently introduced more than 750 amendments that would eliminate new pledges of foreign aid to impoverished nations, scrap provisions that call for action to halt climate change and urge nuclear powers to make greater progress in dismantling their nuclear arms. At the same time, the administration is urging members of the United Nations to strengthen language in the 29-page document that would underscore the importance of taking tougher action against terrorism, promoting human rights and democracy, and halting the spread of the world's deadliest weapons.

NCLB funding defended, LA Times.

Israel will seize Palestinian land in the West Bank to build a barrier, LA Times LINK.

Hugo Chavez has offered free "petrol" to the poor of America, Guardian LINK.

Sean Penn's journal from Iran, SF Gate LINK.

Chinese websites are used to hack into secure American systems, WaPo LINK.

Democrats want to see documents Roberts wrote about Iran Contra and other topics, WaPo.

This is a huge recap of the CIA Leak, and I haven't read it yet, LA Times LINK.

Senator John Thune is upset with the Pentagon, Rapid City Journal LINK. Excerpt:

Ellsworth's proposed closing has caused the most political consternation because Sen. John Thune, a freshman senator, had argued during the 2004 campaign that he _ rather his Democratic opponent, then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle _ would be in a better position to save the facility. Nonetheless, it showed up on the Pentagon's closure list.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Das boots

The Groton sub base was saved today by a 7-1 vote of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Stephen Singer, an AP writer based in Hartford, reports via WaPo LINK

Also saved, but not noticed as of yet by the Singer, was the political career of Rob Simmons, the Republican congressman whose repeated narrow victories in a left-leaning district have been attributed to his vows to save the base, long in the crosshairs of the Pentagon.

In the 2004 race, over 25,000 voters evidently decided Simmons, rather than Democratic candidate Jim Sullivan of Norwich, had the mettle to save the base, not least of all because of his pedigree as a member of key committees and the fact that he is a former CIA spook with lots of Pentagon friends.

Tom Breen, an intrepid reporter from the Journal Inquirer, an independently owned newspaper in Manchester, Conn., managed to get in touch with Simmons minutes after the BRAC vote. Simmons, naturally, was "ecstatic" about the decision, wrote Breen:

"I said I was either going to come home in my chariot or on my shield, and it looks like a chariot," Simmons said.

Which obviously begs the question of how much of a mega-fucking-photo-op it would be for Simmons to ride into Groton this week like dressed like a Centurion, but let's not get off topic.

The bounce for Simmons, reported Breen, was significant, according to Jeffrey Ladewig, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut:

"With the initial decision to close it, I thought his re-election chances were in danger," Ladewig said. "This is tremendous news for him, and, obviously, the state."

(I'd link to the Journal Inquirer's online version of the story, if they had one. But they don't.)

The New London Day's Ted Mann fleshes out Simmons' bounce even more. LINK I'd quote at length from it, but subscription is required for their Web version, and I don't want to get sued.

Suffice it to say, though, that there's a fact worth pointing out again, a fact that has been previously discussed on this site. Though the fight to save this sub base was billed as the ultimate act in bipartisanship by state politicians, one of the biggest ramifications of it being saved is the revival of the political career of a powerful congressman who had been put on the brink by Rumsfeld's recommendation.

But let us of course not forget that state pols should rightly be congratulated for coming together across party lines to work effectively with each other to save the base. But, of course, this fact begs yet another, far more important question: If they can come together across party lines for the sake of the welfare of the people of the state of Connecticut, what exactly are they doing with respect to every other issue besides the sub base closure, on which such broad consensus is never reached and bipartisan teamwork is an El Dorado-esque dream?

Would it be too cynical to say that pols from both parties are just using minute political differences to wedge the public into separate camps, and by doing so keeping themselves fat off taxpayer money? Well, reach that conclusion for yourself.

Google Talk folo

As long as it's still relatively fresh news, Google Talk has launched, LINK.

While VoIP and voice communication on instant messenger devices isn't anything new, certainly no other IM client has focused on it as much as Google Talk does. I mean, it's called Google Talk.

Will Google Talk actually get people to dust off their computer's microphones and actually plug them in? Google sure hopes so. While the fact that Google Talk isn't compatible with the more popular IM clients out there (AIM and MSN are the biggest) is disappointing, it does make things a little interesting. You can do the same things on Google Talk that you can on AIM, but it's far easier.

Are Verizon, Vonage and SBC all sweating it a little extra this morning?

Morning copy 8.24.2005

The Iraqi constitution

Fred Kaplan, in Slate, calls the constitution "vacuousness in its most basic proclamations" and says that "it's hard to see how Iraq's constitution could serve either as a document that unifies the new Iraqi nation or as a clear guide to governance." Other points raised by Kaplan include the ability to form a supra-region (read Kurds, Shiites) and that only "current" oil wells would be goverened by the central authority, whatever that is.

Both provisions would make the central government trend toward evaporation.

Kaplan also refers to Professor Juan Cole's analysis of the document. Professor Cole of the University of Michigan wrote Tuesday, LINK:

The new constitution, with blank passages, was presented to parliament just before midnight on August 22. But parliament did not vote on it, and a "three-day delay" was announced.


The rule of law is no longer operating in Iraq, and no pretence of constitutional procedure is being striven for. In essence, the prime minister and president have made a sort of coup, simply disregarding the interim constitution. Given the acquiescence of parliament and the absence of a supreme court (which should have been appointed by now but was not, also unconstitutionally), there is no check or balance that could question the writ of the executive.

The Los Angeles Times' editorial board writes today that "the results so far can only be worrisome for those who hoped the process would help consolidate a new democratic political order and alleviate the Sunni insurgency." LINK. Conclusion:

In short, what some Shiite and Kurd leaders are calling federalism looks dangerously like a recipe for partition or civil war. Perhaps the intractable insurgency has convinced these Iraqis that they must amputate and starve the Sunni heartland. Yet as American soldiers do most of the fighting against the Sunni insurgents, that solution would be disastrous for the U.S. mission and Western security more generally. Iraq's constitution must provide a way for the Sunni community to prosper in a federal democracy. And if at all possible, it must be adopted with Sunni support.

Roger Hardy of the BBC, referenced by Professor Cole, rattles off some substantial issues:

In many ways, Iraq is already dramatically different from the place it was just a few years ago.

Mixed marriages between Sunni and Shia, once taken for granted, are becoming problematic.

In many parts of the country, women dare not walk bare-headed in the street.

And reports from parts of the lawless north-west paint a grim picture of Taliban-style rule by radical Sunni militants.

Professor Cole pays particular attention to this excerpt:

There is no tradition in the Arab world of a successful decentralised state.

The fear is that a weak multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state will go the way of Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s - and descend into civil war.

Sunni rulers in Riyadh, Amman, Cairo and elsewhere believe the one country to benefit from the disintegration of Iraq is Shia Iran.

In conclusion, Hardy asks, what will a rush to exit the battle space -- to stop the American bleeding -- lead to?

News about the co s it ti n

Some secular Iraqis chafe under this new constitution, at least the parts that have been written, NY Times LINK.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia fears that the spilts shown in the constitutional process could lead to a vulnerable, broken nation, Arab News LINK. Excerpt:

He warned that sectarian stances “will not lead to anything but the partition of Iraq along sectarian lines.” He called on Iraqi leaders to “let national interests supercede sectarian interests.”

The Los Angeles Times casts the Iraqi constitution referendum as an election day showdown, LINK -- replete with facile 2000/2004 Red State - Blue State analogies!

The Washington Post, LINK, finds glee in the Shiite South, anger in the Sunni Triangle. Excerpt:

"I can say that Iraqis should have recited the prayer for the dead over the united Iraq this morning, after slaughtering it with this constitution," said Jassem Sarhan, a player on the Iraqi army's soccer team and a resident of Ramadi, in the area known as the Sunni Triangle.

North of the capital, in the heavily Sunni town of Dawr, roughly 1,000 demonstrators chanted for Hussein. "We refuse the term 'federalism,'" tribal leader Khairallah Khalaf Muhammed said. "We will fight federalism and whoever tries to force it."

This is a multi-dimensional conflict. With violence, black outs, instability, and now this "federalism", it would be wrong to think the specter of Saddam will not play into this with more alarming results.

Al Jazeera reports that the Sunnis did not have a chance to read the draft submitted Monday night, LINK. With most articles "agreed on" is this the list of carrots for the Sunnis to select:

Several issues remained unresolved, including the mechanism for implementing federalism, the treatment of former Saddam government officials, and how to divide authority among the presidency, parliament and government.

Negotiations will take place over the next three days especially with Sunnis to bridge remaining differences over the text, which must be approved in an October referendum.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari says 151 of the 153 articles have been agreed upon. Of course, Cole and others would point out that this means the draft was but a draft and this government is now un(-interim-)constitutional -- which it undeniably is.

President Bush's stance, AFP LINK, is:

US President George W. Bush urged the Sunnis to embrace the blueprint. "The Sunnis have got to make a choice. Do they want to live in a society that's free, or do they want to live in violence?" he said.

United Nations chief Kofi Annan also appealed Tuesday for "flexibility" among Iraq's rival communities.

The comparison is telling. Annan is asking for flexibility among all parties, whereas Bush suggests that the Sunnis decide between minority status and questionable political/economic power, a fait accompli, and violence.

More Iraq links

Bush's push to rally support for Iraq and staying the course, Christian Science Monitor LINK.

The Los Angeles Times, LINK, notes that Bush has taken a slightly stronger tone in the war of words against Cindy Sheehan.

The insurgents' persistency, even in jail, in the Washington Post.

Dana Milbank in the Washington Post notes the Bush media blitz on the war. Excerpt:

Under that dark cloud, the White House yesterday morning rushed to distribute umbrellas. Bartlett signed up for six morning television interviews, on the three networks and the three cable news channels. The White House announced that Bush, vacationing in Idaho, would come out to face the cameras. The Pentagon said Donald Rumsfeld would hold a news conference. The State Department scheduled an "open press" event for Condoleezza Rice but, perhaps sensing overkill, later said there would be "no Q&A."

There was no mistaking administration talking points. Bartlett said 11 times that the president and the nation appreciate the "sacrifice" of the troops in Iraq, while seven times he spoke of "progress" and the need to be "patient" and "prudent." Pulling out the troops, he said, "would be a disastrous mistake for national security here in America."

But Bartlett spent his tour of the airwaves almost entirely on the defensive.

Talking points to articulate, in a haze of spin, the administration's point of view. A media rush on the morning talk shows. This reminds me of the playbook when bad news would leak out about the early days of the war. Or, when the administration did not like a news report about aluminum tubes or some such thing. Fortunately, the MSM is a little more vigorous this time.

And lastly, a juxtaposition:

Families are (understandably) angry about their loved ones crosses in the anti-war camp lead by Cindy Sheehan, LA Times. The Pentagon has put the "slogan-like" operational nicknames on the gravestones of heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan, breaking with tradition, AP.

More links

A substantial number of ocean-borne species are disappearing, Washington Post.

Arlen Specter wants to question John Roberts on Federal power, NY Times. Specter wrote a four page letter to Roberts, remarking on the "judicial activism" and lack of respect for Congress he has observed in past Supreme Court decisions, Washington Post.

House sales slip in Boston, Condo sales skyrocket, Boston Globe.

Google's search Czar in Forbes, LINK.

Criticism mounts for No Child Left Behind and 40-percent George W. Bush, GWB's NCLB in CSM.

CSM again with the "wacky" side of John Roberts' memos. LINK. Excerpt:

Some were just plain wacky. For instance, In September 1984, a Los Angeles man wrote to complain that all property in the US had been placed in a secret trust. Roberts response was direct:

"Please be advised that all property in the United States has not, in fact, been placed into a trust," the letter says.

Non-profits as a front for big business for the Governator, LA Times. Excerpt (lede as well):

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is benefiting from millions of dollars raised by a network of tax-exempt groups without revealing that the money comes from major corporations with business before his office.

The groups are run by Schwarzenegger's closest political allies, who also represent some of California's biggest interest groups. Unlike the governor's many campaign funds, the nonprofits are not required to disclose their contributors and can accept unlimited amounts.

It is interesting that the press, at least CNN, seems to focus more on Hugo Chavez and Cindy Sheehan than on the Governator.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why Hitchens Matters

Christopher Hitchens, a contrarian for all seasons, has been the subject of what can only be characterized as an unrepentant smear campaign for being pro-war in Iraq.

What’s most amusing about it all is the fact that these smears take the shape of glib references to Hitchens’ reputed alcoholism, rather than his stance on the issues. Which leads one to the thought of—if rumors of his insatiable appetite for booze were true—how scary an opponent Hitchens could be, always three sheets to the wind and blubbering incoherently? Scary enough, evidently, that he has not yet been bested in any public debate on the questions at hand. Odd.

One of Hitchens’ most impressive books to date, “Why Orwell Matters,” published in 2002, is (probably not unintentionally) relevant to this discussion.

In it, he accurately portrays Orwell, a giant of twentieth century literature, as in several respects as a man on the outside looking in.

Orwell was among the only writers of the time, for instance, to instantly recognize the absurdity of the show trials of the Trotskyites in Moscow, and denounce them thusly, even as many of his respected contemporaries took them at face value.

When Orwell saw firsthand the Stalinist betrayals of the Spanish Civil War, which framed his superb memoir “Homage to Catalonia”, those betrayals left a decidedly bitter taste in Orwell’s mouth, not least of all because he almost died as a result of them, having been hunted as a “Trotskyite” during the Barcelona fighting of 1937 even as he had a fresh bullet wound through his throat to show the only thing he took up arms against on the Iberian peninsula was fascism.

As Hitchens points out, the “New Statesman” famously refused to publish Orwell’s dispatches from Spain on the grounds that they might let down the Republican side. Orwell fought on the side of the Republicans, but grew understandably disgusted when he saw the cause for which he took a bullet in the neck (and which also took the lives of so many of the men he befriended in Spain) let down by scaremongering ukases from Moscow. It took decades for Orwell’s Spanish writings to gain the respect they truly deserve, and “Homage” is to this day probably the greatest overall account of what actually happened at the time Orwell was in Spain.

Orwell dealt in absolutes, as we rightly remember from his two masterpieces. So does Hitchens. So when he sees power in the hands of the corrupt, be they the hands of Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, or Saddam Hussein, he’ll rightly point that corruption out, and actively support avenues of change.

Hitchens saw Kurdish friends of his unmercifully gassed at the hands of Saddam Hussein—Hitchens would point out that Saddam did not “gas his own people”, as is widely believed, because Saddam isn’t a Kurd—years before G.H.W. Bush drew a line in the sand, and campaigned against the terror of the Hussein regime long before Baghdad and Basra became household words in early 1991. Regardless, when Bush Sr. pressed a war against Iraq but pulled out of the country after reclaiming Kuwait, he left a nascent Iraqi insurrection to be brutally crushed, and left Hussein in Baghdad, still firmly ensconced in the folds of horrific totalitarianism.

So as Hussein lived blissfully as hundreds of thousands of “his” people died under U.N. sanctions, subjected dissidents to unthinkable cruelties at Abu Ghraib, and gave a safe haven to terrorists worldwide, Hitchens was there still, campaigning in favor of removing Saddam Hussein from power, as would any reasonable person.

Hitchens, through all this time, is one of the only public figures who has unequivocally and unapologetically been standing up for what’s right. And how much blame can be heaped on his shoulders for that? A whole hell of a lot of blame, if people like Terry McAuliffe and Al Franken are to be believed.

The fact that the Iraq issue has made odd bedfellows of Hitchens and say, the president, is more a testament to the impotence of the Left than anything sinister on Hitchens’ part. Hitchens has again and again written persuasively and powerfully against a number of things George W. Bush “stands” for (capital punishment, for example).

The fact that the Left’s standard-bearer in 2004 pinned his electoral hopes on a “wrong war at the wrong time” argument that was the centerpiece of one of the most disastrous campaigns in the history of democracy is not the fault of Christopher Hitchens. But that, evidently, is a fact that’s still just too hard to bear for the Terry McAuliffes and Al Frankens of the world.

Google IM? Lets get geeky, baby.

Rumors are swirling Silicon Valley (and Wall St.) that Google, the all-encompassing nice-guys-finish-first search engine company, is getting ready to launch an instant messaging service tomorrow. Los Angeles Times LINK.

Maybe its true, and maybe its not. Google plans to announce its big next move tomorrow. But regardless, the instant messaging rumors (and the announced $4 billion stock move) raise some questions.

An instant messaging service would be an interesting -- if not predictable -- move for Google at this point. Its three big competitors, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo!, all have IM services of their own. All three are free of charge, and all three do basically the same thing -- allow users to send and receive text or voice messages and pictures from anywhere in the world, as long as they are both subscribers to the service.

With three major IM services already out there, why would Google want to join the instant messaging arms race? Nobody has a good answer, at least not yet. One thing is for sure: If Google wants its GIM to get off the ground, it has to offer something new and interesting. It has to come up with something to differentiate itself from everyone else. Will they be able to do it? Time will tell.

There are only two major kinds of soda. How many major IM brands can exist?

But the deeper question is this: How long can Google keep its Midas touch? Up to this point, Google has been the company that everyone loves. Honestly, with shares hovering around $300 a share, there are two kinds of people in the world today -- people who own Google stock and people who wish they did. They're Microsoft without the guilt.

But recently, there have been cracks in Google's sparkling image. There have been a whole slew of privacy concerns, both legitimate and unfounded, raised about Google's we-must-know-everything information obsession. The more services that Google offers, and the more information Google begins to store about its users, the more people begin to worry. Google started with the world's best search engine, delivered with no fluff and text-only ads -- but some argue now that MSN's search has now eclipsed Google in terms of reliability and performance. It then expanded into the world of e-mail, unveiling a fast and easy to search webmail service with an then-unheard of amount of storage space (which, just over a year later, Google has more than doubled).

Lets face the facts: In the past year, Google has unloaded some real duds. First was their Web accelerator program that was an unmitigated disaster and posed gigantic privacy holes in web browsers everywhere. And its Google Desktop software's new version 2.0 has some head-scratching (if not downright useless) features.

Google is starting to figure out what Microsoft learned decades ago: the more you do, the harder it is to do it all well. The bigger Google gets, and the more it becomes just like Yahoo! and AOL, the quicker it begins to lose its initial charm.

Will Google's instant messaging service -- if it ever even comes to fruition -- reverse that trend, or will more cracks begin to appear in the Google dike?

A submitted draft of morning copy 8.23.2005

Pat Robertson

This is just crazy.

(CNN) -- Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson has called for the United States to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, calling him "a terrific danger" bent on exporting Communism and Islamic extremism across the Americas.


Analysis in the Washington Post: The Iraq constitution is on hold for three days, in an effort to build Sunni support for the decentralized governmental structure. Kurdish autonomy may upset the Turks, SCIRI (and Iran) could have strong influence in the south. And as for the oil:

Negotiators said Monday that the draft would put Iraq's existing oil production under control of the central government. But control of new oil production would go to the south and north, where the oil is produced, meaning revenue for the central government, and Sunnis, would likely ebb within a few years.

The non-Administration analysis does not appear until the second half of the story:

An American serving as adviser to the Kurds, Peter Galbraith, disagreed that the charter protected women's rights and condemned what he called the Bush administration's "hypocrisy" on that issue in the constitution.

The fact that the charter remains unfinished headlines the New York Times. Legerdemain:

In a legal sleight of hand, the Iraqis decided to give themselves three additional days to close the gaps, despite the requirement in the country's interim constitution that the document be completed by a deadline, which already had been extended a week.


But the Sunnis were not alone in their opposition; they were joined on some major issues by a group of secular Iraqis, led by Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister. Mr. Allawi's group is concerned about what its members describe as an Islamist-minded coalition of the majority Shiites that is pushing for a large autonomous region in the oil-rich south.

Would not Mr. Allawi's stance, and his past priority with the administration, serve to demonstrate Bush's rush to "get out of dodge" with something on parchment?

The vagaries of this document are detailed in the LA Times, LINK. Excerpt:

The text calls for such liberties as freedom of expression and the press. It gives Islam a role in national affairs, while offering Iraqis the option of following civil code in areas such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

But the drafting committee left it up to the transitional National Assembly to sort out issues including specifics on regional rights, the language of the preamble, the removal of Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party members from government, and the exact role of the presidency, officials said.

Also in the LA Times, by Ashraf Khalil (LINK), Excerpt:

Occasionally, a reporter would try to interview one of the parliament members. But there was a problem: Anyone who could talk was, by definition, out of the loop.

The Christian Science Monitor's account of the rush to get this document done, LINK, Excerpt:

Mr. Khalilzad has in many ways been at the center of Iraq's constitutional storm in recent weeks. He has had to balance the drive to push a draft through quickly - something the Bush administration wants - with the recognition that if a constitution is completed without buy-in from Iraq's Sunni Arabs it won't have a chance of fulfilling its primary goal: ending the war.

"If they make the deadline because the Shiites and Kurds essentially rammed a draft through over Sunni Arab objections, there will be hell to pay,'' Wayne White, who was the principal Iraq analyst for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research until his retirement earlier this year, warned shortly before the delay was announced.

The AP translation of the draft constitution, LINK.

The New York Times Op-Ed elucidates the inconsistencies between this draft versus the promises and justifications for the war, LINK. Excerpt:

Months ago, the United States was assuring skeptics that the secular Kurds would rein in the Shiite religious parties, while the majority Shiites would limit Kurdish separatism. But instead of being counterweights, these two groups seem mainly to have reinforced each other. Washington, desperate for any draft, encouraged their complicity.

Please explain to me how a fractious Iraq -- with Iranian influence in the Shiite south, Kurdish autonomy likely to trouble the Turks and Iranians, and rebellious Sunnis -- honors the sacrifices made by so many Americans, coalition members, and their families.

The War of Words is offering a free membership for American service members, LINK.

The LA Times says that there is a persistent disconnect from the presdient's words and the situation in Iraq, LINK. The conclusion:

But vague statements are not enough. As more Americans and Iraqis die, Washington and Baghdad need a plan to stem the chaos the U.S. unleashed with its invasion — a chaos that has given terrorists a new recruiting tool. Wishful thinking and stubborn optimism do not constitute a policy. The sooner realism prevails, complete with metrics for progress and consequences for those who fail to meet them, the better.

Washington Post's coverage of Bush's speech, LINK. on the War of Words, LINK. Excerpt:

Political observers say the gulf between the White House message and the reality on the ground in Iraq may be hurting the president, whose job approval ratings hover near record lows. "When he said that stuff a few years ago he was saying it at a time when most of the American people gave him the benefit of the doubt," said Ret. Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University. "Now he begins to sound stale. He begins to sound false."

Bush supporters and anti-war activists "clash". LINK.

More links

No proof found for an Iranian nuclear weapons program, Washington Post LINK.

Harvard's stem cell creation, from skin cells, may hinder debate over loosening restrictions imposed by Bush, Washington Post LINK.

Connecticut sues the United States over "No Child Left Behind", NY Times LINK.

At issue is the lack of flexibility, opines the Connecticut Post, LINK.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney backs Bush's stance on Iraq and the troops, Boston Globe LINK.

Houston Chronicle on the perplexing, vexing changes, region by region, on gas prices, LINK.

When you see a sentence like this: Arizona Gov. Ev Mecham was recalled, indicted, impeached and ridiculed as "an ethical pygmy." And his only crime was being a John Birch conservative Pontiac salesman with a Chia Pet toupee. You link to it in your blog.

U.S. pushes for Taiwan to bulk up on their defense, Washington Times LINK.


The Washington Post picks up on work done originally by the Pittsburgh Gazette. Post LINK. Gazette LINK.

The Gazette's lede and then some:

By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, 26, a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh, went to the home of a high school student who had expressed interest in joining the Marine Reserve to talk to his parents.

It was a large home in a well-to-do suburb north of the city. Two American flags adorned the yard. The prospect's mom greeted him wearing an American flag T-shirt.

"I want you to know we support you," she gushed.

Rivera soon reached the limits of her support.

"Military service isn't for our son. It isn't for our kind of people," she told him.

The Post advances this anecdote and the question of affluent representation in the military, excerpt:

Certainly, there are no absolutes here. Many of the wealthy are Democrats, some of whom support the war. Some of whom oppose it. Many of the poor and working class are Republicans, and support the GOP on Iraq.

By looking at long-term trends, it seems logical that some of those most likely to support Bush and his Iraq policy are also those least likely to encourage their children to go into the military at wartime. And it raises questions, such as, if you are among those most likely to support the war, shouldn't you be among those most likely to encourage your child to serve in the military? Shouldn't your socioeconomic group be the most receptive to the recruiters' call? And would there be a recruitment problem at all if the affluent put their money where their mouth is?