August 28, 2007

Who ARE These People?

Who are these people who continue to believe that President Bush's Iraq policy is headed in the right direction? On television, their leaders are easily recognizable as shameless, bloodthirsty ideaologues (Bill Kristol), criminally negligent boobs (Donald Rumsfeld) or the merely stupid (Sean Hannity).

But who are the people who back them?

Berke Breathed thinks he knows, and shows us in a recent Opus...

[Click on the cartoon to go to the original, larger image, and click here to visit the Opus archive.]

August 25, 2007

The Unfathomable Incapacity to Learn from Folly

As I noted in Ignoring the News They Don't Like, the majority of media outlets have given little play to recent, informed editorial pieces on the state of the Iraq occupation and the value of VIP visits to that embattled nation in forming policy. Unfortunately, however, the failures of the media are not limited to sins of omission, and unthinkably, news outlets across the country appear to be engaging in the same uncritical stenography for the Bush administration that we last saw at its peak in the hysterical days between 9/11 and our incursion into a country that had neither attacked us nor presented a credible threat of doing so.

There is significant evidence that the White House is positioning itself politically to justify armed action against Iran, including an effort to officially name the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organization." Supporters of the administration are advocating - absent any realistic military capability from a close-to-breaking U.S. military - some type of "get-tough" policy with Tehran. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol seems to believe that it's too soon to give up the notion that the United States will be greeted as liberators by somebody in the Persian Gulf; Senator Joseph Lieberman has stated plainly that he believes we must be prepared to strike out against Iran; and Senator John McCain even went so far as to sing his support for raining death and destruction from the sky.

All of this is alarming in the extreme - even as it is unfathomable that our leaders and their boosters have learned nothing from the folly they have pursued in Iraq - and it is neither a passing problem or something that is fading away. Lately, as Robert Greenwald documents in the video below, Fox News has been ramping up the rhetoric for direct confrontation with Iran, and doing so in what can only be considered the "tried and true" methodology they used to help stampede the United States into a disasterous war of choice in 2002 and early 2003.

For some perspective on what the consequences of such an action might be, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart gives us a brief history lesson on American interventionism in the Middle East, its inherent short-sightedness, and the level of success it has enjoyed. (Video courtesy of Crooks and Liars.)

The hysteria is mounting, the propaganda is flowing, and there are still some very dangerous and foolish men and women in positions of both power and influence. We must not be stampeded into conflict with Iran; it would mean untold disaster for the United States today, and for years to come.

August 21, 2007

Ignoring the News They Don't Like

Over the weekend, two of the best editorial pieces written to date about the U.S. occupation of Iraq appeared within a day of one another. Unlike the optimistic messages from John McCain's trip to Baghdad, the sunny outlook sprouting from Joe Lieberman's similar junkets, or the forecast for improvement from false war sceptics Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack in their recent editorial, these articles have, unfortunately, been almost universally ignored in the media.

The first piece, entitled "Green Zone Blinders," was by Jonathan Finer, a Washington Post reporter in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, and appeared Saturday in the Post. In it, he puts the burgeoning number of visits to Iraq by dignitaries and guests of the military in proper perspective and assigns them their true value, which is, in all likelihood, minimal. Likewise, "The War As We Saw It" was published in Sunday's New York Times, and is the firsthand account of the frustration experienced by seven enlisted men with the polticized and American-centric evaluation of "progress" in Iraq, as described from both Washington and inside the Green Zone. Excerpts from the two op-eds are below, but they are both brief and well worth reading in their entirety. (Article titles are links that will take you to the full text.)

Green Zone Blinders
A dizzying number of dignitaries have passed through
Baghdad for high-level briefings. The Hill newspaper reported this month that 76 U.S. senators have traveled to Iraq during the war, 38 in the past 12 months. Most never left the Green Zone or other well-protected enclaves. Few, if any, changed the views they held before arriving.
This practice ought to have been (finally) discredited by Senator John McCain's trip to Baghdad in the spring, after which he all but declared that Freedom had marched alongside him as he strolled through a marketplace, chatting with shopkeepers. That McCain had been trailed by an armada of armored vehicles and Black Hawk helicopters was only later reported by "
60 Minutes."
Last month on "
Meet the Press," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a supporter of the war, chided his Democratic colleague James Webb. "Have you been to Iraq?" asked Graham, who has visited seven times.

"I've been a member of the military when the senators come in," replied Webb, who has not visited Iraq but fought in Vietnam during a long military career. "You know, you go see the dog-and-pony shows."
It goes without saying that everyone can, and in this country should, have an opinion about the war, no matter how much time the person has spent in Iraq, if any. But having left a year ago, I've stopped pretending to those who ask that I have a keen sense of what it's like on the ground today. Similarly, those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits.

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win ofver a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere... This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support.

... while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support... The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful...

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

August 18, 2007

The Dick Cheney of 1994: A Man You Could Trust

Well, maybe not trust, per se, but at least someone who - if the first clip below is any indication - was at least honest in his 1994 assessment of what the aftermath of a proposed U.S. invasion of Iraq would bring.

Be warned: As the number of American dead has passed the 3,700 mark (and more than 340 Iraqis were killed in a single attack earlier this week), the accuracy with which the Mr. Cheney predicts the consequences of invading Iraq may well make your blood boil. And it clearly makes The Daily Show's Jon Stewart angry, as he loses a degree of his usual cool in an interview (second clip below) with Cheney hagiographer Stephen F. Hayes on the subjects of honesty, leadership and the impugning of war opponents' patriotism, including his own.

Unquestionably, the risks associated with overthrowing Saddam Hussein were known; they were simply ignored. The bloodshed that has resulted in Iraq is not the result of ignorance or incompetence as various apologists for this fiasco have claimed; instead, it is without a doubt the product of negligence that can only be termed criminal.

(Both videos courtesy of Crooks and Liars.)

August 15, 2007

Thanking Turd Blossom?

[Click on the cartoon to go to visit the Bizarro homepage.]

Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff and senior adviser on political affairs - by some reckonings the third most powerful person in the administration - resigned on Monday, effective at the end of August.

Mr. Rove devised and implemented the political strategy for the Bush White House, and he is roundly acknowledged to have elevated the role of politics in the decision- and policy-making processes to unprecedented levels. Yet, even with the clouds of scandal still roiling over what strongly appears to be determined efforts to politicize the Department of Justice, Karl Rove should be remembered for something else: the manner in which he used his vaunted, anything-goes tactics to shape President Bush's response in the wake of 9/11, and the tragic consequence of that response that is the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.

For while the cadre of neoconservatives who cooked up the hare-brained scheme to invade Iraq in the baseless hope of spreading democracy in the Middle East are now justly reviled, it must be remembered that they could never have done it without the political plotting and message discipline that were Mr. Rove's forte. Without the man President Bush christened "Turd Blossom," the case that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) were a direct threat to the United States might never have been made. Without Karl Rove, the case for invasion might well have had to rest on its true justifications: unsound armchair quarterbacking from a collection of wishful thinkers with delusions of grandeur.

Although there have always been issues that divide the electorate, as well as politicians adept at exploiting those divisions, Karl Rove's focus on splitting the country to keep his boss and the GOP in power elevated (if that's the right word) the use of so-called "wedge issues" to a tightly-controlled science. He was dilligent in his polling, precise in the crafting of messages, and both enthusiastic and ruthless in driving them home through coordinated communication. But as StratFor (subscription required) notes:

... As we have argued many times, for good or bad, there were many reasons for the United States to decide to invade Iraq, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was not one of them. The use of this as the justification was a classic Rove move. The real reasons could have been extremely complex and subtle, but Rove's political strategy was to not allow complexity to get in the way of building a majority coalition. WMD was a great wedge issue. No reasonable person wanted Saddam Hussein to have WMD, and therefore, opposing the war - defined as about WMD in Hussein's hands - was painted in the worst light possible.
Despite an execrable record that includes a vicious smear campaign againt John McCain during the 2000 presidential primaries - as well as "colorful" stories like Ron Suskind's recollection of Rove's declaration about an unnamed political operative that "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!" - this is what we should remember about the White House Deputy Chief of Staff: his crucial role in the greatest foreign policy disaster in this country's history.

Where Mr. Rove's techniques were successful in electoral politics, however, clearly, both their form and substance have proven to have no place in either foreign policy or daily governance. The more the Bush Administration relied on the Rove formula of over-simplification and electoral division, the more support for the Iraq War eroded and White House credibility - and popularity - deteriorated.

Karl Rove may have helped a barely marginal candidate to two presidential terms by a pair of whisker-thin margins, but it is a measure of Mr. Bush's inability to adapt to changing realities - as well as his penchant for misplaced loyalty and cronyism - that the administration believed demonizing half the country for opposing the president would succeed in the long term. While Karl Rove was instrumental in installing a man in the White House who is likely to be recalled as the worst president in U.S. history, ultimately, his methods fully exposed the policies of George W. Bush for the divisive, simple-minded failures that they are. In the end, it may be that the nation owes Karl Rove a debt of gratitude - through no deliberate effort of his own - for being the resolutely irredeemable political hatchet man that he is.

(But, I'll understand if you don't want to shake his hand.) *

* Doubly so if you are in the military, have family members who are, or are of Iraqi extraction.

August 10, 2007

Worse Than Merely Tacky

Last week, USA Today reported that the deadline to purchase special, limited edition Global War on Terror license plates in Oklahoma had been extended, apparently because not enough of them have been ordered. According to an Oklahoma House of Representatives press release, the plates cost $37 each, of which $20 goes to the 45th Infantry Division Museum. (Not the actual Division, but the museum about the Division. A portion of the proceeds from the Patriot plate, by contrast, go to purchase body armor for troops from the Sooner State.)

Since only 100 orders are needed to maintain the plate's availability, I think it's fair to say that State Representative Rex Duncan, father of the GWOT license plate brainchild and the legislation creating it, has failed to successfully brand the fear-mongering and macho posturing that has been do endemic in this country since 9/11. It is heartening to see that, even in this bluest of states, the number of people interested in such an emblem of base whoredom has yet to crack triple digits. For while at first blush the GWOT plate might seem merely tacky, further consideration reveals that it is, in fact, a nasty stain on the landscape.

The Global War on Terror tag prominently features an image of the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City, which, along with the Pentagon in Arlington, VA were the sites of three of the four worst acts of terrorism on American soil. (The Trade Center was attacked in both 2001 and 1993.) No mention or representation of the fourth attack is made, and this is important because that attack took place in - you guessed it - Oklahoma City, where more than 160 people lost their lives when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

Why isn't that home-grown tragedy featured, or at least sharing space with the towers? Why is Oklahoma, which has been home to human catastrophe of its own, instead pimping another state's anguish?

One can only conclude that Rep. Duncan and the other jingoistic, publicity-seeking fools behind this gross indignity didn't think an act of mass murder perpetrated by a white, English-speaking Christian had as much "pop" as one performed by a group of Arab Muslim fanatics in a city with greater curb appeal. At the root, the GWOT tag is one state papering over the shattered lives of its own citizens in order to bask in the halo of grief from another's calamity because it is better marketing for their political party's cause célèbre.

The Global War On Terror plate is far worse than merely tacky; it is crass, ugly and bigoted. Judging by the lack of orders for this travesty, happily, the people of Oklahoma appear to agree.

August 8, 2007

Soldiers or Criminals?

General Wesley Clark and UCLA law professor Kal Raustiala have an excellent op-ed piece in today's New York Times entitled "Why Terrorists Aren't Soldiers". In it, they clearly lay out the reasons why describing members of al-Qaeda and other militant, non-state actors as "enemy combatants" is the wrong way to go. Below are some key excerpts, but the entire piece is well worth reading.

Treating terrorists as combatants is a mistake for two reasons. First, it dignifies criminality by according terrorist killers the status of soldiers...
Labeling terrorists as combatants also leads to this paradox: while the deliberate killing of civilians is never permitted in war, it is legal to target a military installation or asset. Thus the attack by al-Qaeda on the destroyer
Cole in Yemen in 2000 would be allowed, as well as attacks on command and control centers like the Pentagon. For all these reasons, the more appropriate designation for terrorists is not “unlawful combatant” but the one long used by the United States: criminal.
The second major problem with the approach of the Bush administration is that it endangers our political traditions and our commitment to liberty, and further damages America’s legitimacy in the eyes of others. Almost 50 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the “deeply rooted and ancient opposition in this country to the extension of military control over civilians.”

A great danger in treating operatives for al-Qaeda as combatants is precisely that its members are not easily distinguished from the population at large. The government wields frightening power when it can designate who is, and who is not, subject to indefinite military detention. The Marri case turned on this issue. Mr. Marri is a legal resident of the United States and a citizen of Qatar; the government contends that he is a sleeper agent of al-Qaeda. For the last four years he has been held as an enemy combatant at the Navy brig in Charleston, SC.
We train our soldiers to respect the line between combatant and civilian. Our political leaders must also respect this distinction, lest we unwittingly endanger the values for which we are fighting, and further compromise our efforts to strengthen our security.

I couldn't agree more.

August 4, 2007

Still Catching Up

Apologies for the lack of a new post - I'm still trying to catch up on everything after having been away for a week! Normal posting will resume in the next couple of days...