September 29, 2007

Laying the Foundation for a Coup D'Etat

Napolean - Coup d'Etat
Talk of war with Iran has increased since the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution expressing the "sense of the Senate" that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps - the largest branch of that country's military - is a terrorist organization. Fueled as this resolution appears to be by the type of innuendo and questionable intelligence that led the United States to invade Iraq, there is deep and justifiable concern that its passage may be seen by the Bush Administration as authorization to openly attack Iran.

With our armed forces bogged down in Iraq and slowly being destroyed by extended deployments, it may seem incredible, but reports from earlier this month indicate that the White House has indeed begun looking at plans for an attack on the Islamic Republic. Such plans would apparently encompass the intensive bombing of 1,200 sites over three days, with the intent of eliminating Iran's military in one fell swoop. The success of air power alone in producing victory has repeatedly proven tenuous at best, however, and it is doubtful that some role for ground troops in either "pacifying" or occupying Iran in the wake of such an aerial campaign could be completely bypassed.

Given the dismal planning and performance by Bush White House war architects for post-invasion Iraq, it is perhaps unsurprising that the question of "And then what?" doesn't appear to have been addressed. Leaving aside for the moment such reasonable inquiries, as "How will we deploy troops for mop-up?"; "From where will said troops be re-deployed?"; and "Aren't we leaving ourselves exposed to other threats already by tying up the bulk of our military in Iraq?", there are disturbing rumblings that indicate a potential threat to the fundamental relationship between American civilian leadership and military commanders that has made the dependably peaceful transfer of power possible throughout the history of the United States.

As I wrote in A Military Man Spells Out the Problem, General John Batiste resigned his commission to speak out against the ineptitude of the Rumsfeld Pentagon in prosecuting the occupation of Iraq. Since that time, more than 20 retired generals have broken with long-established tradition and spoken out against the policies of a sitting president under whom they served. The significance of such acts should not be underestimated - this simply does not occur on this scale in the United States - and there are increasing signs that the rift between policy makers and active duty military leaders are continuing to grow.

Despite General David Petraeus' willingness to play political messenger for President Bush - he disturbingly appeared on several talk shows prior to his report to Congress on the recent escalation of troops in Iraq - other interactions between the armed forces and executive branch have been increasingly intractable, if not bordering on the confrontational. Earlier this month, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey stated that "The tempo of our deployments are not sustainable, our equipment usage is five times the normal rate and [we are] continuously operating in harsh environments," clearly putting the White House on notice that things cannot continue as they have.

Meanwhile, back in May, it was reported that Admiral William Fallon privately vowed that an attack on Iran "will not happen on [his] watch" while blocking Vice President Cheney's efforts to deploy an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf for the purposes of pressuring Tehran. The admiral left little doubt about his feelings on the matter - or his willingness to lay his career on the line - by going on to say that "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box."

Unquestionably, there is a certain joy in seeing opposition to poor policy decisions from those who are asked to lay their lives on the line to pursue them, especially in the face of spineless congressional opposition. Any feelings of relief that the abjectly foolish efforts of the Bush Administration are being stymied by the military, however, must be heavily tempered by the knowledge that we are treading on dangerous ground when the armed forces becomes involved in politics.

One of the most important foundations of the United States is that, in order to protect the neutrality of the armed forces, service men and women swear an oath to defend the Constitution rather than personal allegiance to the president. In return, the military expects the nation's civilian leaders to act sensibly in the national interest, and to avoid sustained foolishness that wastes lives or forces the military to back one policy or leader over another. Throughout the life of this country, this system has worked well; the initiatives of the commander in chief have been broadly reasonable and largely respectful of the sacrifice inherent in the lives or service people, and soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have done as they were ordered.

Today, however, the serial abuse of the American armed forces perpetrated by the Bush Administration and a complicit Congress are clearly pushing military leaders into what they perceive as a choice between dutifully serving criminally negligent zealots, or shirking the oaths they have taken to preserve the Constitution. Stupidity and incompetence are not unconstitutional, after all, but judging by the unprecedented number of retired generals and admirals speaking out, it is clear that they have strong concern for the welfare of both the institutions in which they served and the men and women for whom they were directly responsible. While recent reports that military personnel are donating to Democratic candidates at levels previously unseen in the postwar era are encouraging, the desperation which is leading top commanders to resign or retire in order to become dissident voices against the Iraq War is deeply troubling.

Politicizing the military is anathema to successful democracy; one need look no further than Pakistan, Fiji or Thailand in recent years - or Turkey, historically - to see what happens when the armed forces act to counter civilian leadership in what they believe is self-preservation, the national interest, or both. Given the history and tradition of both this nation and its military, it is unlikely in the extreme that a coup d'etat would ever take place on American soil, but it should always be remembered that once it occurs, direct involvement of the armed forces in politics is almost impossible to reverse.

The plausibility of a coup may seem extremely low today, but only recently the thought of generals speaking out against the president and admirals thwarting deployments would have seemed nonsensical, and it would have been fair to say that the possibility was non-existent. Likewise, the ideas of institutionalized torture, secret American prisons and the elimination of habeas corpus would have been considered fanciful only a short time ago, and it is worth remembering that major crises are generally the product of smaller steps - of the combined weight of incremental failures - than of single catastrophic events. The increasing politicization of the military that we see today must be addressed.

For all President Bush's claims that he wants the "generals on the ground" to make the decisions that guide the mission in Iraq, it is clear to those commanders that they are only allowed to do so within the narrow constraints of White House policy, whatever the realities of Iraq. Something has to give, and it is in the best interest of the nation that it be current policy, for few things are more destructive to democracy than convincing generals and admirals - especially through civilian stupidity, arrogance, neglilgence or incompetence - that they can do a better job of guiding the nation than elected politicians. If we wait until the voices of dissent among active duty personnel become equal to those from retired ranks, it will be too late.

September 24, 2007

Serving One's Country From a Campaign Bus

Earlier this year, Mitt Romney was asked why, if the Iraq War is so important to the security of the nation, none of his five service-age sons had enlisted in spite of ongoing recruitment shortfalls. He replied that his lads - whose breathless blog Five Brothers is mercilessly lampooned with regularity by TBogg - are serving their country working to get him elected president.

After widespread public outrage in response to the foolishness arrogance inherent in that comment - foolish arrogance which was apparently obvious to everyone but Mr. Romney - the former Massachusetts governor didn't actually apologize, but claimed he "misspoke." Remaining unexplained, however, is the non-service of five able-bodied young go-getters who are ostensibly committed to the "war on terror" as envisioned by their father, but who spend their time on a luxury bus traveling the country stumping for dad.

Recently, the Romney campaign added a feature to their website allowing users to make their own commercial. Slate V did just that, juxtaposing "approved" elements with Mr. Romney's crass comparison of service in the armed forces and volunteer public relations work. Enjoy (after a short advertisement):

September 20, 2007

The Next Logical Step in White House Propaganda Strategy

[Click on the images above to see General Petraeus' original (left) and Cleek's brilliant take on it (right).]
The Onion takes what is, sadly, perhaps only a semi-fantastic look at what might be the next step in propaganda tactics for the Bush White House as it tries to put lipstick on the pig that is the Iraq War: the whole-cloth manufacture of a country that we have invaded and where everything is going - as entertainment personality Ann Coulter put it - "swimmingly." Really, with the pathetic dilution of benchmarks for progress, the questionable credibility of General David Petraeus' report on the effectiveness of troop escalations, and the starry-eyed bait and switch that is the plan for troop "reductions", it's probably just a matter of time.

September 17, 2007

More Soon

I have been traveling and without time to post. More soon!

September 9, 2007

Mitt Romney: Political Whore

Mitt Romney - Empty Suit
As the Boston Globe reported last week, the Massachusetts Democratic Party recently launched a website that provides an unprecedented level of insight into the political whoredom of Mitt Romney. While the 2004 presidential election brought such egregious smear sites as the one operated by the GOP front organization Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, the website from Bay State Democrats is a very different breed. Rather than relying on hearsay testimony, factually inaccurate statements and unsupported assertions, presents documented quotes and positions from the former Massachusetts governor, and compares them to statements he is currently making as a presidential candidate.

As I wrote in The Inexplicable Charisma of Fred Thompson, Mr. Romney has exhibited a capacity to double back on stated positions and "deeply held convictions" that would be fascinating to behold if it weren't so awful that he is actually a front runner for the Republican nomination. While it has been painful to watch John McCain sell his soul for a chance at the nod from the GOP base, the savior of the Salt Lake City Olympics is much more comfortable in his chosen approach:
Mitt Romney, however, seems to have no such compunctions, but even if he somehow manages to get past the theocratic elements of the GOP base that can't stomach his Mormonism, he remains a pandering, serial flip-flopper apparently willing to do or say just about anything to be president, and people can tell that about him. He is lucky not to have dislocated something during all of the gymnastically-challenging policy reversals that have been his hallmark in recent months, and frankly, his posturing is nothing short of embarrassing.
In case you think some of the language I have used here is hyperbolic, take a look at a couple of the comparative quotes available at
[Romney] endorsed embryonic stem cell research, saying the controversial science might one day help treat his wife's multiple sclerosis...."I am in favor of stem cell research. I will work and fight for stem cell research. I'd be happy to talk to [President Bush] about this, though I don't know if I could budge him an inch." (Boston Globe, June 14, 2002)
- versus -
"FACT: Governor Romney Opposes Using Taxpayer Money to Fund Embryo-Destructive Research." ( A Record of Protecting Life)
"I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam..." (Boston Herald, May 2, 1994)
- versus -
"I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam." (Boston Globe, June 24, 2007)
No one should fault individuals who change their positions or opinions based on new information or additional evidence. The breadth and extent to which Mitt Romney has endeavored to re-author himself in order to curry favor with the GOP base, however, is truly striking. Take a look at; there are many more flip-flops just like these on major issues and with regard to Mr. Romney's own biography. It's an eye-opening view into a hollow man who will say anything to please the people he needs to put him at the forefront of the Republican party.

September 4, 2007

Utter Scum

Robert Greenwald's Iraq for Sale was a first look at the war profiteering that has run rampant since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the utter scum who are building their fortunes on the blood of others. Now, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi has an article and a slideshow callled "The Great Iraq Swindle" that up the ante. In them, he details the blatant contempt for the American taxpayer that has been the hallmark of Bush Administration policy regarding reconstruction in Iraq, as well as the complete disregard for human life and duty to country that has been so emblematic of American private contractors working in that troubled nation. Some excerpts are below, as well as a slideshow narrated by Taibbi, but the entire piece is worth reading from start to finish.

The congressional testimony of Earnest O. Robbins, retired Air Force major general and current representative for Parsons Corporation, a company that spent $72 million to erect an unusable building intended to serve as a police training facility:
The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation. Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project . . . "

"No, sir, I will not," you snap.

". . . 'We will return the profits.' . . ."

"No, sir, I will not," you repeat.
On the nature of the pervasive privatization that is ongoing in the Iraq occupation:
Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.
On the cronyism that has ensured that the Iraq War has been an unprecedented opportunity for supporters of the Bush Administration to feed at the public trough:
But getting there wasn't easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O'Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O'Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron's moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget. James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was . . . an anti-smoking campaign.
On the $12 billion in cash that was flown into Iraq for use on the ground, but without any auditing procedures in place:
There isn't a brazen, two-bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn't happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings... When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn. Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash." ... In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find.
On the wastefulness of cost-plus contracts, which encouraged contractors to spend wastefully in order to make more money from their guaranteed percentage profit:
In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."
And there is lots more. Check out the slideshow below, and be sure to read the whole article when you get the chance.

September 1, 2007

An Interesting Week in Sexual Relations

This week has been an interesting one, in sexual relations. In Iowa, Judge Robert B. Hanson overturned the state's ban on same sex marriage on the grounds that it violated the constitutional principle of equal protection. After a mere four hours, an injunction preventing the licensing of homosexual unions was put in place while the state supreme court decided whether to consider an appeal, but it appears that the damn has cracked if not fully broken.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, socially conservative Republican Senator Larry Craig - a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and gay rights - resigned in the face of withering criticism after his arrest for soliciting a male undercover police officer in the Minneapolis airport. Interestingly, the GOP response to Mr. Craig's peccadillo was considerably greater and far less forgiving than that received by his colleague, David Vitter, who has admitted to patronizing female prostitutes.

All of this brings to mind the list below. It periodically surfaces in eMails and on various web pages, although its origin appears to be unknown. In any case, it is excellent in both its insight and concision, while putting the lie to the idea that same-sex marriage is somehow 'un-American." Enjoy:

Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Un-American
  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britney Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.