Friday, June 30, 2006

The Demise of the Republican Party

Senators like Orrin Hatch are very good at grandstanding for their conservative base. His bid to amend the Constitution was nothing more than a flag waving stunt designed to obscure the many problems Republicans are neglecting these days. But fewer and fewer people are impressed by such grandstanding; here's an editorial from the Orlando Sentinel, just one of many editorials that can be found around the country from the past few days:
Another close election year and another senseless debate over an amendment to the Constitution to ban the burning of the American flag. It's a relief that this blatantly political attack on the Bill of Rights failed to win enough votes in the U.S. Senate -- barely.

This year's attempt to throw some red, white and blue meat to voters was engineered by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

No one ought to mistake their true motivation for bringing the measure to a vote just one week before Independence Day. It was not a chance for lawmakers to salute veterans. They can do that in parades back home.

The goal was to win votes in the midterm elections later this year by appealing to voters on an emotional level. It plays on the heartfelt feelings Americans have for the flag, a symbol of freedom. But one of the freedoms it symbolizes is free speech, and offensive speech such as flag burning needs to be protected most. It's what makes this country free.

Playing politics with the Constitution is, sadly, what we've come to expect from a transparently political Mr. Frist. But before we tag him as a lone opportunist, let's remember that Mr. Hatch's amendment fell just one vote short of passing the Senate. Florida's Mel Martinez supported it, as did Bill Nelson, a Democrat facing re-election.

What has Senator Hatch done for America lately? Has he ordered investigations of the fraud and waste in the Iraq reconstruction debacle? Has he asked Bush to investigate? Isn't Senator Hatch the least bit curious where billions of dollars disappeared to? Isn't he concerned about the corruption of American officials and contractors?

Like many Republicans, Orrin Hatch insists on keeping his head in the sand. We have a president who isn't particularly honest and who has become increasingly difficult to trust. Bush has admitted to breaking the law. It begs the question about how many other laws the most secretive administration in our history has broken. Is Senator Hatch afraid to stand up to the president? Is he even bothering to urge Bush to obey the law? How can Senator Hatch believe Bush when Bush has lied to Congress on several occassions? No, Hatch just looks for something to distract Americans from the nonsense at the core of Washington politics these days. I have no doubt Bush appreciates the favor.

Think of Republicans like Orrin Hatch. There was such an outcry over the handling of Hurricane Katrina that this should have been a surefire winner for an honest politician. Has Orrin Hatch and his Republican friends ordered real investigations of why the handling of Hurricane Katrina was so botched by federal officials, including our president? Does Hatch believe that there was no corruption involved in the money spent after Katrina? Isn't Hatch mystified why so much money went to people with close ties to the Republican party? Does Orrin Hatch still believe in the law? How many Republicans in Congress still believe in the law? Orrin Hatch came to Washington at a time when Congressional Republicans had a reasonable reputation for integrity; shouldn't Hatch be concerned about the growing corruption of his party? Too many Republicans like Orrin Hatch have lost their way in the last five years.

By putting their party ahead of the country, by creating such a corrupt system, by lying to the American people, today's powerful fat cat Republicans look more like what we fought against in 1776, not what we fought for. This Tuesday, on July Fourth, I'm going to enjoy the fireworks and think of a country with a proud history and a simple idea: no man and certainly no head of state is above the law and while right wing Republicans may have forgotten why there are checks and balances, tens of millions of American voters have not forgotten.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Supreme Court Says Bush Overstepping His Powers

We know Bush isn't a serious man. He says a lot of things about democracy, humility and freedom and then does the opposite. The conservative US Supreme Court is now restricting some of Bush's self-appointed war powers such as his complete legal authority at Guantanamo Bay. Lesley Clark of the McClatchy Washington Bureau (formerly the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau) has the story on the Supreme Court ruling:
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court this morning found President Bush exceeded his powers by creating military tribunals for prisoners at the much-maligned Guantánamo Bay detention center, reining in a portion of the administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism.

The 5-3 ruling, a setback for the administration's aggressive anti-terrorism stance, was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who said the proposed trials violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions, signed by the United States in the aftermath of World War II.

''Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order,'' Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion. The decision does not address whether the controversial camps should be closed, dealing only with whether the administration can pursue plans to try the detainees under the type of military trials not seen since World War II.

President Bush said he will work with Congress to find a way to try the detainees before military tribunals -- and two leading Republicans suggested they're ready to help.

''To the extent that there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so,'' Bush said at a press availability with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. ``The American people need to know that the ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street.''

The last sentence shows Bush in full campaign mode. It's insulting to America and insulting to our history. Terrorism is a serious issue and should be dealt with seriously in such a way that it doesn't damage our reputation in the world and foster sympathy for those who are against the United States. We need fewer enemies, not more. If Bush has a case against a prisoner, he needs to make it. If he doesn't have a case, then, when the time comes, he needs to send the prisoners of war back to where they came from. Already, a number of detainees have been released because they should never have been sent to Guantanamo Bay in the first place.

It's a good day for the law of the land: Scalia and Thomas are as foolish as ever but the majority of the Supreme Court has ruled that Americans don't do kangaroo courts.

Alan Wolfe: Why Conservatives Can't Govern

Alan Wolfe has an essay in The Washinton Monthly about the failure of modern right wing conservativism; here's some excerpts:
...This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four. Even those who appeal to history's ultimate judgment halfheartedly acknowledge as much. One seeks tomorrow's vindication only in the context of today's dismal performance.

About the only failure more pronounced than the president's has been the graft-filled plunder of GOP lawmakers--at least according to opinion polls, which in May gave the GOP-controlled Congress favorability ratings in the low 20s, about 10 points lower than the president's. This does not necessarily translate into electoral Armageddon; redistricting and other incumbency-protection devices help protect against that. But even if many commentators think that Republicans may retain control over Congress, very few think they should.

Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as conservatives prescribe, but has grown. Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have become--well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq. Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation....


The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
In Kevin Drum's Political Animal blog (that's part of The Washington Monthly), Alan Wolf has some more points to add to his essay:
...When Dick Cheney fought like the dickens to prevent anyone from knowing anything about his 2001 energy task force, you might have thought – I sure did – that he wanted to keep secret the names of the high rollers he invited. Maybe, though, he had another motive: given how bad conservatives have proven to be at governance, keeping their incompetence as secret as possible makes perfect sense.

Conservatives fail because those who hate government cannot run it very well – the theme of my recent article in the July/August issue of The Washington Monthly. But then there is also what can be called conservative management theory. Conservatives have strong ideas about how organizations ought to be run – and those ideas invariably make them run badly.

One such idea is that no information hostile to those in charge should ever leak out. The result, however, is that no good information ever leaks in. The smaller the number of decision-makers, the less the knowledge on which decisions are based. It is not good to keep a tight ship if the ship always sinks.

Wolfe makes a number of good points but we're still learning why Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have repeatedly failed the overwhelming majority of Americans when it comes to almost all of the responsibilities associated with their offices. I've been trying to understand the radical conservative movement but somehow, words like corruption, cronyism, incompetence and ideology still doesn't quite cover it. There's also a rage behind all this stuff that I truly don't understand. I've known good honest rational conservatives all my life and I'm bewildered by what has happened to our country. How did the lunatic fringe take over the Republican Party? And why did so many conventional Republicans, who ought to know better, sit and watch?

It would be a mistake for liberals and Democrats to think they're immune to whatever this political disease is that is destroying the Republican Party. I'm a liberal but maybe I'm becoming old-fashioned: I still believe in ideas like tolerance and the common good, and I believe it's important to understand history so we don't repeat it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Some Tentatively Good News on Ethanol

I've expressed some skepticism on ethanol made from corn largely because of the low energy return on energy invested (EROEI). Some of my skepticism has to do with my memories of the 1970s when numerous promises and claims were made about alternative energy and not all that much was delivered. In the 1980s, the money for research in alternative energy was cut as the price of oil dropped. My concern is that alternative energy needs a major national research and development commitment and if we start believing hype about things like ethanol from corn we could find ourselves once again missing the opportunity to take control of our future.

When 60 Minutes over-hyped ethanol and made some poor comparisons with Brazil's reasonably successful ethanol program, I wrote a post criticizing the hype and linked to an article by Robert Rapier that was critical of ethanol. Here's another article by Rapier in The Oil Drum; he suggests that in some cases ethanol may in fact be workable:
I hope it is clear that my opposition to ethanol has nothing to do with the fuel itself. If we could make sufficient ethanol with little or no fossil fuel inputs, ethanol could be a very important piece of a post-petroleum future. If ethanol could be produced with an EROEI of 3 or 4, as opposed to the current 1-1.3 or so, then ethanol begins to look attractive from a sustainability standpoint.

My opposition to ethanol is due to the way we typically make it in the U.S., and is specifically focused on grain ethanol. We take fossil fuels and basically recycle them into ethanol in a very inefficient manner....


...a couple of months ago a poster referred me to a company that is attempting to produce ethanol in a more sustainable manner. The company is E3 Biofuels. Their concept is this: Grow corn, produce ethanol, feed the byproducts to cattle, harvest the manure, produce methane from the manure in a biodigester, use the methane to fuel the boilers, and use the remaining solids to fertilize the soil. This is ethanol production in more of a Brazilian mold (i.e., byproducts are used to fuel the process).
The E3 method still needs to be proven in the real world but Rapier believes the concept is sound. He points out, however, that the newer methods of ethanol conversion are still unlikely to solve our energy problems but they could at least make a dent in our fossil fuel usage and put us on the beginning of a sustainability path. But there's no pie in the sky here. I admit as I read these articles I start thinking that if they put a windmill on those two acres with poor soil, solar panels on top of the production facility, etc., we might develop a system of local answers to local energy problems. There are places in the country, for example, that have small developable pockets of natural gas that are too small to make a profit because they require pipelines and infrastructure to get the gas to a market; but what if ethanol processing plants are built within a short distance of such developed pockets?

In the end, we need multiple experimental approaches to energy. That's going to take some investment from the government. But we're also going to need some honest assessments of all these methods. Various sources of energy, including the oil business, are already getting all kinds of government subsidies. There are cases of some energy companies getting subsidies on projects that require more energy invested in the project than there is energy coming back but they make a profit because of the subsidies. So, beyond projects that are clearly experiments, it doesn't make sense to subsidize anyone on a large scale who spends more energy than they get back from their production. Now we could trust the oil companies to monitor themselves (okay, stop laughing). Or we could have a small agency whose job it is to measure and make certain large scale projects are producing net energy.

One last note. If we are to take global warming seriously as an issue, we need to remember that ethanol also puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In fact, since some ethanol production methods have an EROEI of 1.0 to 1.3, that pretty much means that carbon producing fuel is being burned twice: once to make ethanol (using natural gas) and once again to fuel a car. Even if the US can get its ethanol production methods up to an EROEI of 3 to 4, we still need to think much harder about the longterm solutions.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Trillion Dollar War

It's not easy to get an honest answer from the Bush Administration, particularly if the answer has to come directly from the White House. But we do know that the original estimate of the war in Iraq is off by hundreds of billions of dollars. Karl Rove says oops, and Bush's corporate friends say thank you very much. And Americans are left wondering what the war was really all about and, by the way, where exactly is the money going again?

Matthew Yglesias has an article in American Prospect (it comes here via Truthout):
...When White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey stumbled off message in September 2002 with his prediction that war could cost $100 billion to $200 billion, the administration flew into crisis mode. Budget Director Mitch Daniels was trotted out to label the estimate "very, very high." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz opined - in testimony to Congress, no less - that reconstruction would cost virtually nothing in light of Iraq's promising oil revenues. Daniels proffered an estimate in the $50 billion to $60 billion range, substantially less than the $80 billion inflation-adjusted cost of the Persian Gulf War. Lindsey, famously, was soon after fired - for his troublesome cost estimates and, reportedly, the President's annoyance at his poor personal fitness habits.

By April 2006, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) inquiry concluded that Lindsey's estimate was, indeed, way off - but in the other direction. Around $261 billion had already been spent. Given the human stakes, it may seem crass to worry overly much about the dollar cost of a military conflict. But the fact that a CRS report is needed at all, as opposed to the straightforward accounting that either the White House or the Pentagon could surely provide were they so inclined, points to the basic reality that the war's proponents are continuing the prewar pattern of covering up the costs. And with good reason: They're enormous. Scandalously enormous.


Wartime appropriations do not, for example, include the cost of disability payments to veterans wounded in the war, payments that will continue throughout their life spans. Nor do they cover the costs of medical treatment for those seriously injured in the war, or even such basic war-related costs as the replacement of equipment and munitions expended in the conflict or the need to transport soldiers back to their home bases when they rotate out of country. The war has also substantially increased the military's overall recruiting costs, reflected in bigger bonuses and additional recruiters. What's more, by combining the war with aggressive tax cutting, the administration has ensured that the operation is paid for entirely by borrowing money on which interest will need to be paid. The shocking truth, according to Bilmes and Stiglitz, is that if one applies the Congressional Budget Office's basic assumptions about the duration of the conflict ("a small but continuous presence"), it will cost nearly a staggering $1.27 trillion dollars before all is said and done.


For $1.27 trillion, we have our hands full in a quagmire; the world hating us; worldwide acts of terrorism on the sharp rise; and much more. We could have done better. Much better. You might even say a trillion times better. Economists use the term "opportunity cost" to refer to the cost of an endeavor in terms of the opportunities that endeavor foreclosed. Iraq foreclosed advancing important humanitarian goals, killing and capturing terrorists more effectively, eliminating nuclear threats, and securing the homeland among other goals. Here are 11 ways it could have been different - and still could be, come January 20, 2009.

$1.27 trillion?! And for what?

The rest of the article is worth reading. While people like Matthew Yglesias are thinking about where we go from here, Bush and Congressional Republicans are doing their best to avoid explaining to Americans where all that money is going and why an optional war is costing so much. The smell of Republican cronyism and corruption is in the air.

Arms Expert Says Bush, Not Experts Got It Wrong

The Democrats are holding hearings on why the case for war in Iraq went so wrong. The Republicans, of course, refuse to investigate. Joseph Cirincione is the Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. He's a well-known arms expert who has written several books on the subject. He has a guest post on Think Progress; here's an excerpt (the original post has several useful links):
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing yesterday was the first time a congressional committee held a public hearing on the pre-Iraq War intelligence failure, and the first time any testimony had been taken on postwar intelligence failings. We still do not know for certain why officials were wrong in every one of their claims that Iraq posed such an immediate threat. But the available evidence strongly points towards a systematic campaign by senior officials to manipulate the intelligence....


Here are three ways that administration officials systematically misled the American people about the nature of the Iraqi threat:
1. Administration officials repeatedly suggested that Hussein would transfer WMD to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. There were no intelligence findings to support this claim.

2. Administration officials routinely dropped caveats and uncertainty present in intelligence assessments. E.g. Cheney said he knew with “absolute certainty” Iraq was developing its nuclear program. Powell said there was “no doubt” that Iraq had biological weapons.

3. Administration officials misrepresented the findings made by UN inspectors. Bush said prior to the war that U.N. inspectors concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times anthrax that had been found, but inspectors never said they actually had produced such materials.
The only quibble I have is that Cirincione ends the article talking about the intelligence 'failure' but of course as he says in his article we're talking about politicians manipulating the intelligence. I also have used the word 'failure' when talking about intelligence (and the Bush presidency in general) but we know by now that there was a considerable amount of outright fraud in the case for war. Since the decision for war in Iraq was made back in the spring of 2002 (or perhaps earlier), everything else the Bush Administration said in relation to Iraq was mostly window dressing; how much we still don't know because we still don't know why the Bush inner circle wanted war (recently, some have suggested multiple conflicting reasons and that seems consistent with the horrendous incompetence we've seen in the actual execution of the war; however, though our reconstruction efforts in Iraq appear to have been grossly incompetent, it is appears more and more that the real issue may be the huge amount of fraud and corruption involved in the awarding of contracts to administration cronies and friends).

I confess an itch in wanting to understand the Bush meltdown. I've never seen anything like it and I hope our country never sees anything like it again. In the meantime, Bush has more than two years left and the number of Americans who trust him is shrinking every day.

Americans Know the Truth: Bush Is a Failure

Does it matter if we figure out if Bush is incompetent or corrupt or a poor judge of advisers or just clings to ideological assumptions that are flawed? I don't know if anybody knows what Bush's problem is. But it has been difficult for a long time now to trust him. What we do know is that Bush is the most failed president in anyone's memory and everybody knows it. Even a growing number of Republicans. We are told that thanks to his recent public relations stunts his approval numbers lately have bounced up a small fraction but he's still in the 30s. If Americans are honest with themselves, they know the photo ops and the games aren't going to turn this presidency around or help the nation deal with its problems or win a war that no longer makes any sense.

Here's an article from three months ago that I missed. The writer, Carla Marinucci, of the San Francisco Chronicle happened to be visiting an area of southern California that I know well; she met a number of Republicans and they had this to say back in March:
But these days, Dalbey, a Republican and a self-described conservative who voted for President Bush, is not nearly as supportive of the commander in chief.

"Enough is enough,'' he said of the war while showing Lance Cpl. Aaron Kernell, 19, from Tennessee, to a red Naugahyde chair for a cut. "If they haven't got this thing settled by year's end, it's time to bring the boys home.''

As the nation marks the third anniversary of the country's entry into the Iraq war, Dalbey's deeply felt pessimism echoes through a region that remains California's most loyal Republican stronghold. The feelings, from California voters who have backed Bush, underscore the depth of political troubles for the president and his party in a year of midterm congressional elections.


While many conservative voters who spoke with The Chronicle remain supportive of America's military men and women, an increasing number are disillusioned with the nation's leader. And from the VFW halls to the local cafes, an increasing number in the region are expressing a profound concern about the human and financial costs of the continued Iraq conflict.

Oceanside's homes and businesses support the 60,000 military personnel and civilians who work at Camp Pendleton, home to the I Marine Expeditionary Force and the 1st Marine Division. At GI Joe's Military Surplus, just up the street from Dalbey's barbershop, owner Robert Anderson shares the pessimistic sentiments about the war. Another self-described conservative Republican who voted for Bush twice, Anderson is a military booster who sells "camo" pants and offers uniform dry cleaning for his Marine clientele. He shakes his head when asked about Iraq.

"We've done what we needed to do,'' he said. "We could spend 10 years there and get the same thing. ... It doesn't matter, it won't change. These guys have been fighting each other for generations, and they're going to hate us no matter what.''

In nearby San Marcos, Herb Ranquist, 77, a retired Navy veteran perched on a stool in the local VFW hall, is equally perturbed, saying, "If we're going to war, we ought to do it right. If we let the generals and admirals do the job, we'd do OK.

"I voted for him two times, and I wish I hadn't,'' Ranquist said of the president. "It was probably one of the worst mistakes I ever made.''


The Iraq war "did not protect us after 9/11. (Bush) was supposed to get bin Laden,'' said Marilyn Joy Shephard, 62, of Escondido, who has been a registered Republican since the Reagan era.

"But he wanted to go into Iraq, and I don't know why," she said. "I absolutely don't feel safer."

Shephard, a former high school teacher and financial adviser, survived the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center from the 66th floor of the second tower to be struck by a jetliner. Shephard said she ran down 66 floors and rushed outside -- only to see a young woman who had jumped from the skyscraper land on the ground nearby. She recalls in painful detail the sights, sounds and smells of that attack, adding, "I even still have the 9/11 cough.''

Shephard is bitter that the president "squandered his political capital'' on a conflict that has tallied 2,300 American deaths, thousands wounded and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

"It has been a wanton squandering, a waste of humanity,'' Shephard said. "It's a national disgrace.''

Tellingly, Shephard was one of a handful of Republicans in Escondido attending a house party for a Democrat, Francine Busby, a school board member from Cardiff-by-the-Sea who hopes to win the solidly Republican 50th congressional district seat vacated by GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham after his conviction on corruption charges. A special election is scheduled for April 11.

This country has had a good look at how a radical right wing president operates and the more it learns, the less it likes what it sees. There are still people who listen to the Bush/Cheney Republican noise machine and there are still occasional wavering skeptics who wander back to Bush, but the Bush presidency, short of Bush getting rid of Cheney and Rumsfeld and miraculously changing his ways, is effectively over.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Genius of America

One of the things that bothers me about the current era is that there is a tendency to forget the enormous talent that still exists in our country. And also why that talent exists. Now I'm a liberal Democrat but I have caught liberal friends saying something like, "You have to understand so-and-so's limitations; you expect too much." Of course, I have also caught right wing conservatives saying in effect, "So-and-so simply isn't capable of doing what you say; why bother with that person?" Now I'm generalizing to make a point and I don't want to elaborate beyond that except to say that of late there has been too much pessimism about what Americans can or cannot do if given the chance.

I've been reading, The Glorious Cause, by Robert Middlekauff (2005 edition) and found a story I've read before about Baron von Steuben who was made an inspector general at Valley Forge. The story may be more mythology than fact for all I know but good mythology always has some truth to it. Here's an excerpt from the book (pg. 424-425):
Washington liked what he saw in Steuben, and when Steuben mentioned a desire to help train the ragged troops Washington gave him his head. Steuben would for the time being serve as acting inspector general charged with the task of teaching the soldiers how to march in formations and how to handle their weapons. Despite the fact that Steuben knew what he was about, he faced a tremendous difficulty for he knew no English....


Washington then gave Steuben one hundred men who were to serve as a model company. Steuben himself took on the task of teaching this unit close-order drill. In doing so, he cast aside the usual practice in the British and American armies of having all instruction given by noncommissioned officers. The Baron began by calling a sqaud from the company which he marched back and forth as the company and large numbers of others looked on. He ran into trouble almost immediately. He had memorized the English and gave his commands in the language, but an imperfect memory and a heavy accent combined with a short temper led to some confusion in the ranks. Close-order drill like many simple exercises has its own strange complexities. While he sputtered curses in French and German..., Captain Benjamin Walker stepped forward and, speaking in French, offered to translate the Baron's commands into English. Steuben accepted with gratitude. From that moment on, the drill proceeded with some smoothness, although the delivery of the commands twice, first in French and then in English, was awkward.

Those officers and men who marched, and those who observed, learned. Imitation may or may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is an effective way of learning how to march and how to handle a musket.... By late March, all of the regiments of the army were practicing the Baron's drill.

The accounts that have survived these days indicate that this training took hold in part because the men enjoyed it and enjoyed watching Baron von Steuben. They also evidently admired him and were amused by him, especially when he indulged his temper. Soldiers of all natonalities usually have a special fondness for profanity, and many have a special proficiency in its use. Steuben was one, but even though he exploded and cursed he soon understood that an attempt to induce respect and fear in these troops would not take him very far. Republicans in arms had a special character, as he wrote an old European comrade: "In the first place, the genius of this nation is not in the least to be compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians or French. You say to your soldier, 'Do this,' and he doeth it, but I am obliged to say, 'This is the reason why you ought to do that,' and he does it."

The corollary to this is that the American soldiers knew what they were fighting for.

I can be as cynical about things as the next person, but I've learned that if Americans are given the chance, if they are told what the facts are and not just given spin, they can do amazing things, they can get things done, and not just for a buck. We need to get back to that framework. We have a good constitution and we have good people running for office in the next two election cycles but it's going to take time to turn things around.

Iraq: Connecting the Dots

Rumsfeld himself worried almost three years ago that Americans were creating more insurgents, terrorists, dead-enders, etc. than they were killing (to date, how many different terms have the Pentagon and White House used?). I noticed an article earlier this week by Nancy A. Youssef at the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau:
The death of civilians at the hands of U.S. troops has fueled the insurgency in Iraq, according to a top-level U.S. military commander, who said U.S. officials began keeping records of these deaths last summer.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who as head of the Multinational Corps Iraq is the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said the number of civilian dead and wounded is an important measurement of how effectively U.S. forces are interacting with the Iraqi people.

"We have people who were on the fence or supported us who in the last two years or three years have in fact decided to strike out against us. And you have to ask: Why is that? And I would argue in many instances we are our own worst enemy," Chiarelli told Knight Ridder.

Chiarelli said he reviews the figures daily. If fewer civilians are killed, "I think that will make our soldiers safer," Chiarelli said.

U.S. officials previously have said they don't keep track of civilian causalities, and Iraqi officials stopped releasing numbers of U.S.-caused casualties after Knight Ridder reported in September 2004 that the Iraqi Ministry of Health had attributed more than twice as many civilian deaths to the actions of U.S. forces than to "terrorist" attacks during the period from June 2004 to September 2004.


...the intentional targeting of Iraqis by U.S. troops is only one aspect of the controversy surrounding civilian casualties. Iraqis have been far more vocal about deaths at poorly marked checkpoints or because Iraqi civilians don't understand the military's rules of engagement.

Incidents like the one alleged at Haditha have been rare compared to the fundamental tragedy in Iraq that so many civilian deaths have been the result of frequently changing rules at checkpoints and also vague and changing rules when civilians come within sudden sight of a convoy. Of course there have been many other accidental deaths that are the result of our enormous firepower.

Now we need to connect the above story to the other story on civilian deaths in Iraq. Here's the story from the Los Angeles Times by Louise Roug and Doug Smith:
At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies — a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since.

The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years.

In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

Americans are not popular in Iraq. That has been true for some time now. At this point, assuming we can talk intelligently about intentions beyond those of the Bush inner circle, it doesn't matter how good our intentions are or not. The more civilian deaths there are as a result of American military action, the more Iraqis from all parts of the country will be calling for us to leave. That includes the majority Shiites who are increasingly improving their position in their part of the country and gaining more control of the government after their election win some months back.

When the Shiites have a confident level of control, the calls for Americans to leave may reach a critical level. That time is likely to come sooner than later; it might only be months. At some point, I suspect the Ayatollah al Sistani will make a public but polite request if withdrawal of American troops has not already begun; until he speaks, the current Iraqi government may have no choice but to accept a continuing level of interference in their affairs from Americans but that too will lead to growing irritations (and possibly more tragedy).

If Sistani speaks out or events begin to accelerate, the better part of valor for Bush will be to declare 'victory' of sorts and then begin a careful withdrawal over a year or so, depending on events. However, the sooner Bush declares our intention to withdraw (instead of playing politics with the midterm elections), the better for everyone. Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. It will be up to the Iraqis themselves then to mend their country the best they can with American troops nearby in case they're needed. In the meantime, Bush needs to send American envoys to sit down and talk with every one of Iraq's neighbors to guarantee a peaceful transition. That requires Bush to set aside his ideological nonsense to allow tough but realistic negotiations with nations like Syria and Iran.

Will Bush set aside photo ops and politics to pursue a rational policy in Iraq? I doubt it but we will see. I personally expect the destruction of American's foreign policy to continue while so many problems remain unaddressed. I fully expect some ridiculous mid-summer or October surprise of some sort. Bush will ask Americans to trust him once again with only a few weeks to test that trust. Against the failures of the last five years, that's not much of a bargain.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Miami al Qaida Wannabes

The FBI did its job and that's fine. I'm not sure the public relations angle from the Bush Administration is any more honest than usual, though. I have to admit American mythology does bring to mind that it might have been better to send men with butterfly nets to capture this particular group of 'terrorists.'

Tony Karon of Time magazine has the story on the Seas of David cult:
Was this an al-Qaeda-linked plot, or were these men simply wannabes?

From initial reports and the contents of the indictment, the latter seems most likely. The arrested men appear to be part of a cult organization proclaiming itself to be Muslim — although a member of the same religious group says it is, in fact, based on a homebrew of Islam and Christianity, and calls itself "Seas of David." Its members, mainly Americans and Haitan immigrants, clearly have an enthusiasm for emulating and following al-Qaeda. But their only "connection" with al-Qaeda appears to have been the fact that a government informant who had infiltrated their ranks had apparently convinced the alleged conspirators that he was, in fact, a Qaeda operative. The oaths of allegiance to the organization alleged by the indictment to have been taken by the accused were administered not by any representative of the organization, but to a U.S. government agent posing as a Qaeda operative.


Fevered minds can be very dangerous, of course. But the threat they present is quite different from that of transnational terror groups. After all, the government appears to have had no problem infiltrating and exposing this group, which was hardly making itself inconspicuous or impregnable — unlike the New York subway plot reported in TIME this week, whose perpetrators slipped into the U.S., conducted their surveillance, prepared the operational details of poison gas attacks, then aborted them on instructions from al-Qaeda leaders and departed America, all with U.S. security none the wiser.

As long as it isn't politically motivated, I don't mind the FBI getting headlines and credit for rounding up people if they're making real threats against the US, but we would all be better off if the FBI did a better job of concentrating on the professionals rather than the amateurs. In retrospect, it's too bad a Christian preacher or Muslim cleric didn't reach out to these impressionable individuals and advocate peace and nonviolence. Cynics on both the right and left should remember that it's been known to work sometimes in the last thousand years or so.


shipyard.... by photographer, Bob Tyson
(click photo to enlarge)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Mobile Bioweapons Lab and Other White House Fabrications

When I first started hearing the details of the mobile bioweapons labs that Iraq was supposed to have, I immediately thought of one of those bad science fiction movies from the 1950s that are too implausible to take seriously. It was hard for me not to be skeptical; move a trailer or mobile home a few times and they're not going to be airtight; go around a curve too fast during one of Iraq's wind storms, and you lose a village, a town or a city (NASA is the expert on airtight vehicles and they still include repair kits on space missions).

In retrospect, I suspect the case for war in the late summer of 2002 was basically a bad bluff; Bush used the bluff to get a UN resolution that demanded Iraq let the UN inspectors return. It was expected that when Saddam Hussein said no to the inspections, the war would then have its justification. But the administration apparently did not expect Saddam Hussein to say yes to the inspections. This is the point where a legitimate foreign policy would have required a president to reassess the assumptions and evidence for war. As far as we know, no such reassessment ever took place. For whatever reason, the decision for war had been made months earlier but the administration in early 2003 was still faced with the task of justifying the war to the American public and to potential allies. Of course, we now know that evidence for such a war did not exist. In fact, the phony evidence that had already been trotted out by the administration was in danger of falling apart; the aluminum tubes story, for example, was being challenged. More evidence was needed, real or not.

Although it was known that the mobile bioweapons labs story was a fiction, it had the advantage of helping to explain why the UN was not finding any conventional bioweapons labs after they were allowed to return to Iraq. Actually, the case for war by the time Colin Powell presented it at the UN in February of 2003 was thin, so thin that Colin Powell said at the time not to expect much.

The sad truth is that the more we learn, the more Colin Powell needs to explain, despite his regrets about his UN presentation. No one in the administration at the time had more credibility than Colin Powell. He owes the American people a lengthy explanation; the oath he has taken a number of times requires it.

Joby Warrick of The Washington Post has the latest on the Iraqi defector Curveball and the fictional bioweapons labs:
In late January 2003, as Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to argue the Bush administration's case against Iraq at the United Nations, veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller sat down with a classified draft of Powell's speech to look for errors. He found a whopper: a claim about mobile biological labs built by Iraq for germ warfare.

Drumheller instantly recognized the source, an Iraqi defector suspected of being mentally unstable and a liar. The CIA officer took his pen, he recounted in an interview, and crossed out the whole paragraph.

A few days later, the lines were back in the speech. Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 and said: "We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."

The sentence took Drumheller completely by surprise.

"We thought we had taken care of the problem," said the man who was the CIA's European operations chief before retiring last year, "but I turn on the television and there it was, again."

While the administration has repeatedly acknowledged intelligence failures over Iraqi weapons claims that led to war, new accounts by former insiders such as Drumheller shed light on one of the most spectacular failures of all: How U.S. intelligence agencies were eagerly drawn in by reports about a troubled defector's claims of secret germ factories in the Iraqi desert. The mobile labs were never found.

Of course, these weren't intelligence failures. These were cherry-picked intelligence items that had already been dismissed and then resurrected by those in the administration determined on war. For the most part, the CIA did its job. And that was the very thing the White House did not want.

John Bolton Attacks UN (again)

Our UN ambassador, John Bolton, who has no diplomatic successes that can be traced to him, is again bad-mouthing the UN. Having failed to pass muster in the Senate, Bolton is a recess appointment by President Bush and is a reflection of the Bush Administration's reluctance to engage in real diplomacy around the world. Think Progress has the story:
Yesterday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour sharply criticized some of the tactics being employed in the war on terror, reminding all nations — including the United States — that they are constrained by an “absolute ban on torture and the right to a fair trial.” She added, “It is vital that at all times Governments anchor in law their response to terrorism.”

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton immediately slammed Arbour’s “misplaced priorities“:
For all the human rights problems in the world in places like North Korea and Iran and so on, to go after the United States and Israel — it is business as usual from the U.N. human rights machinery.
But just a month earlier, Bolton’s own deputy stated that the “U.N. human rights machinery” exists to inform all member states — including the U.S. — of their international duties and obligations....

It's important to remember that the midterm elections are upon us and there will be no traditional waiting this year until after Labor Day. The midterm elections began the day that Bush made his photo op trip to Iraq and it's been nonstop since.

Sometimes it's not clear what John Bolton's assignment is. It's not even entirely clear who he works for. Nominally, Bolton works for Condi Rice but he frequently works at cross-purposes. So that begs the question: is Bolton working for Cheney? And who exactly is in charge of the Bush Administration these days?

However, one thing is clear: it is part of John Bolton's job to satisfy Bush's right wing base by occassionally bashing the UN.

The UN is not without real problems but it's doubtful these days that Bush has any real solutions or commitment to bring to the table. And of course the priority is misplaced. Some problems at the UN need to be fixed. But the higher priority is fixing the broken and dysfunctional foreign policy of the Bush Administration.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bush Administration 'Creates' Reality: Iraqis Call It a Nightmare

I have no idea why we're in Iraq. None of the rationales proposed by Bush or any of his surrogates have ever made sense when tested against what is actually happening on the ground. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was only a worthwhile goal if something better replaced him without draining the US treasury at the same time.

Bush keeps pushing the public relations side of the war and maybe that points to the only thing that explains why we went to war: the war in Iraq managed to win Bush and his Republican friends two elections, the 2002 midterm election and the 2004 election. Iraq might win him a third election if he can just put the right spin on it before November.

No doubt the recent spin by Republicans that Iraq is safer than some US cities is part of the spin. Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times offers a portrait of a small part of Baghdad that suggests the more upscale part of Baghdad that Republican tourists might have visited once upon a time is not entirely open for business (hat tip to Swopa of Needlenose):
...Mansour, a religiously mixed area just three miles from the fortified Green Zone, feels more like wartime Beirut than Park Avenue, and its affluent residents worry that the wave of violence that has devoured large swaths of Baghdad has begun encroaching on them.

"It's falling to the terrorists," said Hasaneen F. Mualla, director of the Hunting Club, Mansour's social center. "They are coming nearer to us now. No one is stopping them."


The paralysis that shut down life in western Baghdad is creeping ever closer to the heart of the city, and Iraqis in still-livable areas are frantic for the government to halt its advance, something the new leadership pledged to do when it started its new security plan for Baghdad last week.

"It's like a cancer, spreading from area to area," said a guard at Delta Communications, a Mansour cellphone shop that has been shuttered since a bomb blast in front of it last month.

Mansour is an area of stately homes, elaborately trimmed hedges and people who can afford guards. In recent weeks, that has not seemed to matter. Homemade bombs have struck two sport utility vehicles belonging to the former Iraqi exile leader, Ahmad Chalabi, a Mansour resident, twice in the past month. Gangs have kidnapped the United Arab Emirates ambassador and the Russian Embassy workers, whom Al Qaeda claimed to have killed this week. The Hunting Club now tells wedding parties to bring guards.

"These middle- and upper-class families, these guys are not willing to fight," one resident said. "It's like cutting into butter."


The owner, who refused to give his name, blamed the Americans for the security troubles, an opinion expressed by many in Mansour — Shiite and Sunni alike.

"If the Americans want to destroy Iraq, they are on the right path," said the owner, a Shiite, who stood scowling behind a candy counter. He displayed a pistol jammed in his waistband. "If they can't improve things, they should just leave us alone."

Mansour is still considered one of the safer areas of Baghdad.

Iran and Statements by General Casey

From day one, the insurgents among the Sunni, who had no interest in giving up their power, had arms caches all over Iraq that they began to recover after the initial American invasion. It is not surprising that the Shiite majority, growing restless with the inability of the United States to quell the insurgency, would look for sources of weapons to protect themselves. The arming of average Iraqis is, after all, one of the consequences of a poorly planned war. It is likely that one of the sources of arms for Shiites has been Iran.

Our top commander in Iraq has now put Iran back in the news. Either the Bush Administration is sending a message or the chance of war with Iran just went up a notch or two. Laura Rozen of War and Piece points to a story in The Washington Post:
...the criticism of Tehran by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was the most direct and explicit so far. Speaking at a Pentagon news conference before an array of reporters and television cameras, the general listed Iranian influence as one of the four major problems he faces in Iraq.

"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates," Casey said, using the military abbreviation for "improvised explosive devices," or roadside bombs. The Iranians are "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people."

Immediately, I have questions about Casey's statements. First, assuming the US and its coalition partners still have some legitimacy for their presence in Iraq (such as cleaning up Bush's mess), is Iran the only country that has people who do not belong there? Second, what percentage of Shiites are defined as 'extremist'? Third, what percentage of Shiites are not protected by militias? Fourth, the Iraqi constitution defines something close to an Islamic republic; is the Iraqi government extremist? Fifth, who are these surrogates that Gen. Casey speaks of? And finally, is Bush looking for an excuse to undermine the Shiite majority and therefore the Iraqi government? I don't know the answers but for four years, it's been difficult to get a straight answer out of the Bush Administration.

Laura Rozen has her own comments on Gen. Casey's statements:
Beyond the substance of the claims, what do you think is the rationale for making this statement now? As opposed to two months ago, or six months ago? It's the top news on the BBC. And if it's own sort of diplomatic message, what does it mean that it was delivered by Casey, the top US military commander in Iraq?

Update: Why now? A colleague and friend writes, "... I can think of only a couple of explanations for the timing, both related. The first is that Casey is coming under pressure from the WH to help prepare the propaganda battlefield for an air attack against Iran. The second is that the Iranians have ordered the militias under their influence in Iraq to start engaging the US as a warning of what will come if we do bomb Iran."

A third possibility is simply a warning to Iran not to take advantage while the US pushes for negotiations. But a fourth possibility is more worrisome: the message by Gen. Casey may not be from the White House but from the Pentagon, and the office of the vice president. It's possible this is the beginning of the pushback by Cheney and Rumsfeld against Condi Rice's diplomatic efforts with Iran.

Congress Out to Create More Paris Hiltons

The current do-nothing Congress is about to enshrine do-nothingness. We have two wars that aren't being funded, so the House wants to kill the estate tax driving us deeper into debt. Brilliant. At the same time, we have a number of problems that should have been addressed months if not years ago but instead Congress sees fit to create more Paris Hiltons to demonstrate, I suppose, the uselessness of wealthy heirs.

If eviscerating the estate tax isn't enough, the House is giving some 'limited' line items powers to the president. In the hands of Bush and Karl Rove, I suspect Republicans have created a hammer to keep Republicans in line and to weaken the powers of Congress even further. Here's the story from Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post:
The House yesterday approved a deep, permanent tax cut on large, inherited estates that would cost the Treasury hundreds of billions of dollars, then sought to burnish its reputation for fiscal discipline by granting the president power to rescind pet projects from spending legislation.

The twin actions, cutting taxes and approving a line-item veto, came as Congress struggles to contain stubborn budget deficits. The votes also came just days after Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tried and failed 31 times to strike pet projects worth more than $200 million from four spending bills that passed the House easily.


"You control the House. You control the Senate. You control the presidency, and you need help before you spend again?" asked Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). "What is this, Comedy Central?"

Did I mention that giving the line item to this particular president simply makes it easier for Bush to demand campaign contributions in exchange for leaving in pork? Maybe I'm naive but the last time I looked, trickle-down economics doesn't work; and trusting right wing Republicans just seems to make certain people very wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. I'm sure the Chinese are happy though; Republicans just handed another of chunk of America to them in order to pay for Bush's wars.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bush and Republicans Close Their Eyes Hoping Iraq Will Go Away

Bush is still trying to manipulate the media. It's about the only thing he knows how to do and unfortunately there are still plenty of media types willing to parrot his messsage despite the obvious failures of the president's policies.

Staying the course is no longer an option an Iraq. The Bush option is to keep digging a hole when you can clearly see the walls beginning to crumble; those walls have been crumbling for some time. Worse, the nation and yes, even the Republicans, are no longer sure why Bush is digging the hole. But Bush says keep digging, and the Republicans close their eyes along with Bush and hope for the best. Meanwhile the world looks at us in utter astonishment. Where's our famous pragmatism? Where are the people who know what they're doing? Who are these people in power? And what is this obsession about public relations and talking points? Do talking points win war? Unfortunately, they sometimes can win elections.

Political consultant Paul Begala at the TPM Cafe has some thoughts on the midterm elections and Iraq:’s still a reality that Democrats like Russ Feingold and John Kerry support a date certain for America’s withdrawal from Iraq, while most of their Senate Democratic colleagues do not. So, rather than deny or ignore the disagreement, Democrats should highlight it, celebrate it, emphasize it.

The only place in the American government where there is an honest and spirited debate over Iraq is within the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are not on the same page – and that’s a good thing. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry disagree. Hooray for that.

If anyone tells you the solution to Iraq is easy or obvious, they’re a liar or a fool (a false choice in the case of our president). So why not feature the debate? At least someone is debating what to do.

One of the ways many media types are dishonest is simply ignoring the obvious agreement that Democrats do have: more of the same will not work, we need to reposition ourselves, we need to rebuild our credibility in the world because, as we disentangle ourselves from Iraq, we're going to need help, and to restore our credibility we can begin by firing officials like Rumsfeld who are part or the problem. After that, there's plenty of room for debate because there should be debate.

America in its best years did not follow a president blindly. Members of Congress debated. When things weren't going well, pressure began to be put on the president to make changes. It was the job of the president to listen to good advice, not to tell Congress that he knew what he was doing and to demand that our representatives follow him blindly. A good president always listened to good advice and then made whatever decision was necessary. But this president obviously doesn't know what he's doing. We see the evidence of Bush's incompetence day after day, month after month. Congressional Republicans used to think for themselves, and while they had different things to say, Republican leaders often gave good advice, but this Congress, dominated by right wing Republicans, just follows its marching order. So if Democrats have different ideas and can think for themselves like most Americans can think for themselves, the media is obviously missing the big picture: the president's policy of more of the same is a fiasco.

More on Frontline's Dark Side

I have been browsing the PBS/Frontline website and finding a great deal of material that supplements the show from Tuesday night. Here's the main Frontline page on The Dark Side. And here's a fascinating series of interviews of former people in the CIA with a focus on the infamous National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

Jeff Weintraub has this to say about "The Dark Side" at TPM Cafe:
The PBS FRONTLINE DOCUMENTARY "THE DARK SIDE," which aired last night, didn't contain a lot of previously unearthed information about Vice President Cheney's extraordinary influence on our post-9/11 "War On Terrorism" policy. But the preponderance of evidence the program collected and the thorough corroboration from former top military and national security officials who witnessed firsthand what Cheney and his surrogates did ought to end any argument about whether the Vice President bears significant responsibility for waging a disastrous war against Iraq based on weak and manipulated evidence. As former CIA Director George Tenet might say, this is a "slam dunk" case.

To me, the most important question this documentary raises by implication is, where was the President?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rep. John Murtha at The Huffington Post

Rep. John Murtha, who supported the war in the beginning but thinks it's time to draw down our troops has some thoughts on the situation in Iraq in his article at The Huffington Post:
I am appalled that while manning a traffic checkpoint near Baghdad, three of our valiant soldiers were ambushed, one killed on the spot and two kidnapped, tortured and brutally killed. It is essential that we find the circumstances of their deaths. Why were they in such an isolated situation without additional back-up and who is responsible for these heinous acts?

Despite our most strenuous security efforts in the Baghdad area over the past several days, this area continues to be rocked by violent attacks, kidnapping and murderous acts, frequently aimed at our troops.

I continue to be concerned with the fact that our military men and women fighting in Iraq often tell me that they do not know who the enemy is. They do not know who they can trust; they are concerned that their camps have been infiltrated by Iraqis who are plotting to kill them; one day the Iraqis are smiling and waving at them on the streets, the next day the same people are throwing grenades at them.

Jack Murtha is an ex-Marine the Republicans feel comfortable smearing with the tag: cut and run. This is said knowing full well that President Bush is essentially doing his best to cut and run in January 2009 so he can leave his mess for the next president to clean up. The Marines I know tend to be hard-nosed and can look facts straight in the eye better than most people. Senator Chuck Hagel is right: the time for slogans is over. Saddam Hussein is gone. We can no longer afford a war that has no clear policy and no clear mission and no particular benefit for the American people.

The Need for Serious Debate on Iraq

Congress fails in its duty when we do not probe, when we fail, we do not ask tough questions, and we fail when we do not debate the gate issues of our day. There is no issue more important than war. The war in Iraq is the defining issue on which this Congress and the administration will be judged. The American people want to see serious debate about serious issues from serious leaders. They deserve more than a political debate. This debate should transcend cynical attempts to turn public frustration with the war in Iraq into an electoral advantage. It should be taken more seriously than to simply retreat into focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like “cut and run,” catchy political slogans that debase the seriousness of war. War’s not a partisan issue, Mr. President. It should not be held hostage to political agendas.

The above words are those of Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who spoke on the floor of the Senate today (via Think Progress). The only thing I'll add is that our country needs more than a dozen Republicans in the House and a handful of Republicans in the Senate to speak out on the growing failures and paralysis of Bush's foreign policy.

Bush's Policies Hamper European Ties

Despite Rumsfeld's clumsy though politically motivated comments about 'old Europe' back in 2003, the US and Europe need each other. Europe needs America's leadership and economic clout. And America needs Europe's business, financial and diplomatic resources to get any number of things accomplished in other areas of the world. There's another issue of mutual cooperation that isn't discussed much these days but it's about to become more important than ever. The United States is the world's leader in technological innovation but a growing number of problems are probably going to require the additional help of the European nations and Japan and perhaps others. Michael Abramowitz of The Washington Post has a story on Bush's unpopularity in Europe:
President Bush arrived here Tuesday for his 15th visit to Europe since taking office, at a time when the populace remains generally wary of him despite concerted efforts by political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to patch up their differences.

In meetings here Wednesday, Bush and European Union officials are to confer on issues including trade, energy security and their mutual efforts to persuade Iran to halt activities that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.


But if relations at the political level have improved, public opinion has lagged far behind. Bush remains unpopular with the public in many European countries over the war in Iraq and alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other facilities, according to opinion polls and experts on transatlantic relations. A survey released last week by the Pew Research Center found that the United States' image has slipped over the past year in France, Germany and Spain and is down considerably since 2000.


"The scars of Iraq are still very real and run real deep," said Ronald D. Asmus, executive director of the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office. While political leaders may agree that success in Iraq is important, he said, the European public believes "that Americans screwed it up and need to clean up the mess."

It's correct to say that Bush is unpopular in Europe but the real issue is credibility. The Bush Administration has said far too many things that have turned out not to be so. Secrets have been revealed about administration behavior that do not reflect well on the US or on our history. And, instead of working to restore the credibility of the United States, Bush Administration officials are still more arrogant than they have any business being in the face of repeated blunders and failures.

Yes, relations are improving; Europeans recognize the necessity of dealing with a number of issues, including Iran. But there is still a problem of trust even for seasoned European leaders. There are any number of steps Bush could take that could restore credibility and Bush knows it. The question hangs over every diplomatic event that Bush will attend in Europe: why isn't the leader of the free world taking steps to restore the credibility of the United States? Restoring credibility would make it easier for the president to get some useful things done.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ron Suskind on Bush's Dysfunctional Presidency

Ron Suskind has written a book on the Bush Administration called, The One Per Cent Doctrine. I suppose if Suskind had been in a sarcastic mood, he might have named the book, The Managing of the Junior Bush and Cheney's Paranoia Unbound. Everything we've been hearing in the last few days simply fills in the details of what we already know of the Bush era. There have been reviews already of Suskind's book and there will be more. Here's some excerpts from Michiko Kakutani's review in The New York Times:
The book, which focuses on the 2001 to 2004 period, not only sheds new light on the Bush White House's strategic thinking and its doctrine of pre-emptive action, but also underscores the roles that personality and ideology played in shaping the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. It describes how poorly prepared homeland security was (and is) for another terrorist attack, and looks at a series of episodes in the war on terror that often found the "invisibles," who run intelligence and enforcement operations on the ground, at odds with the "notables," who head the government.

In fleshing out key relationships among administration members — most notably, between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush, Mr. Bush and Mr. Tenet, and Mr. Tenet and Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser — it adds some big, revealing chunks to the evolving jigsaw-puzzle portrait of this White House and its modus operandi, while also giving the reader some up close and personal looks at the government's day-to-day operations in the war on terror.


Just as disturbing as Al Qaeda's plans and capabilities are the descriptions of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war against Iraq. That war, according to the author's sources who attended National Security Council briefings in 2002, was primarily waged "to make an example" of Saddam Hussein, to "create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."


This book augments the portrait of Mr. Bush as an incurious and curiously uninformed executive that Mr. Suskind earlier set out in "The Price of Loyalty" and in a series of magazine articles on the president and key aides. In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a crucial situation.

We have a powerful official, Cheney, who knows how to push and pull the levers of power but who has an arrogant, paranoid and reckless judgment that would drive almost any country in the world into the ground (a large powerful country being about the only type of country that can absorb such damage); and we have his boss, George W. Bush, who is supposedly in charge, has the authority to check someone like Cheney, but who is too incurious and too focused on protecting his own image to notice his own failed presidency. It is good that the American people are catching on.

But Gloria Borger of US News wonders if the Republicans understand the enormity yet of the Bush meltdown:
Today's political realities are much more complex than any particular pandering. There's an unpopular president, plus an unpopular war (despite the good news that Abu Musab Zarqawi bought it last week), high gas prices, and low public confidence in the state of the nation. To think that a few days spent debating gay marriage will make anyone suddenly eager to vote is unrealistic, even silly. But it does underscore one reality: Republicans are at least starting to understand the gravity of their political predicament. "We're about five months behind schedule," says one top GOP strategist. "But at least we're starting to face up to what's ahead of us."

...So what's ahead for the rest of us? A midterm election, it seems, in which each party will operate in a parallel universe: That is, the Democrats will try to nationalize the election as a referendum on the president; the Republicans will instead try to localize each race. "If it's a referendum on the president, we lose," one top House Republican tells me. "We have to make sure we run good local races, and then we'll survive. Which is all we can ask for."

Republican politicians are worried about their survival? Is that the message Congressional Republicans want to send to our soldiers in Iraq? To the American people? Does the Republican leadership have any comprehension of their responsibilities yet? Such as, the need to fix a broken presidency? To fix a broken foreign policy? The list is getting long of the number of things Bush and Cheney have broken that need to be fixed.

I don't know what's going to happen this fall, but if the American people don't send people to Washington who will hold Bush accountable and start fixing things, we're in for two more years of national drift at a time when the rest of the world is taking advantage of the fact that we're tied down in Iraq; in case anyone hasn't noticed, we're living in a time of very rapid change.

Frontline: "The Dark Side"

If our democracy survives the dark years of Bush and Cheney, and I believe it will, Frontline's story on Cheney and the response to 9/11 will be one of the definitive accounts of what went so terribly wrong with the Bush presidency. Never has our nation seen such abuse of power or such incompetence in the hands of people who have such contempt for facts and the US Constitution.

The involvement of George Tenet and Colin Powell in the fiasco of the last five years is a reminder of how reasonably good men can be sucked into something so dysfunctional and, in the end, so damaging to their reputations. But I will say this in defense of Tenet and Powell: there's probably much about the dark side of the Bush presidency we would never have learned if it had not been for those two.

The only real problem about Frontline's story is that, with the exception of some material at the end of the program, nearly the entire story could have been told two and a half years ago.

One other note. A few months back, Rumsfeld tried to claim credit for the fall of the Taliban. I'm glad Frontline set the record straight and gave credit for the defeat to the CIA which already had a plan (though Frontline didn't mention it, I believe that plan was formed at the end of the Clinton Administration).

The Oil Crunch: A Case Study

Oil producers are continuing to have trouble meeting worldwide demand. No one is certain how long this will go on but almost no one is betting the oil crunch will end anytime soon. For one thing, India and China have a long way to go to be fully industrialized with all the implications that will mean for oil consumption. It's not even certain that India and China will reach full industrialization if new supplies of oil cannot be found quickly enough in the years ahead. Already some countries are learning to adapt to what is happening now. Stuart Staniford of The Oil Drum offers a case study on Thailand that's well worth reading. Here's a few excerpts:
There are remarkable similarities between the history of Thailand energy and that of the United States. We get a fine overview of the past and future of Thai energy policies from Thailand's developing gas and petrochemical industry by Khun Prasert Bunsumpun, the president of PTT Public Company Limited. First let's look at some basic facts about the present. Formed in 1978, PTT is the state-owned Petroleum Authority of Thailand. Bunsumpun tells us that 74% of Thailand's natural gas needs are supplied by indigeneous [controlled by Thailand] sources in the Gulf of Thailand. The rest is imported by pipeline from Myanmar [used to be Burma]. Just like the US, Thailand responded to the oil shocks of the 1970's and 1980's by restructuring their energy usage.


So, this restructuring led to the creation of Thailand's natural gas industry starting in the 1970's. The leading developer then as now is Unocal Thailand, a division of Unocal. It is hard to resist saying that you can bet the Thais were probably delighted that the Chinese takeover of Unocal failed.


However, disturbingly, Thailand is turning to another energy source, coal. This Gulf Times article Coal gets Asia boost as LNG proves risky reports that "`Everyone thought the future was gas but the price has not come down and the flexibility on supplies has not been there. Government policy is emphasising coal`, said Bishal Thapa of ICF Consulting in New Delhi. Other Asian countries such as Pakistan and Thailand, hurt by the high cost of oil imports, are set to boost coal for power this decade". Thus we find reports like Egat plans coal-fired power plant for 2010 [Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand]. Aside from their use of NGV's I find all of this quite similar to what is going on in the US and elsewhere.

On the bright side, Thailand is making considerable investments in cleaner alternative energy sources. As we find in Thailand to develop own palm oil industry, the future is biofuels. [Sorry, you'll have to register to see this article]. Thailand wants to expand its production of biofuels to augment the sugar-cane, molasses and cassava sources they already use.

First, two comments. I'm not sure that China was specifically interested in Unocal's Thailand operation, at least in the near term; even China has to pay attention to its foreign policy. The most worrisome point in the article, despite discussion of alternative energy, is the turn towards the growing use of coal which we will be seeing by many countries in the near future. It's shouldn't be forgotten that the world has largely been turning away from coal because of the heavy pollution associated with it, not to mention the more current issue of CO2 and global warming.

Countries around the world are going to be adapting in different ways to the oil crunch. It's going to be important to understand those adaptations and how they affect the world's economy which we're all now a part of; and it's going to be important to understand what is happening if various nations begin to feel they are being pushed out of the energy markets. It's also important to remember that the US is the most innovative nation in the world but we have in no way committed ourselves to dealing with the energy crunch as effectively as we should be doing. There is no energy Manhattan project. There is only lip service about alternative energy from the Bush Administration. And, well, the reader should have picture a by now of an incurious and unengaged president whose clumsy efforts to deal with terrorism and inability to disentangle the US from Iraq have left him unable to deal with a growing number of issues, including energy.

When an Irresistible Illusion Meets an Irresistible Reality, the Illusion Loses

When Bush Administration officials talk about 'creating reality,' all it means is that for a while they are capable of creating illusions that are taken seriously. And then, reality arrives and no illusion can save them. The best example of that was Hurricane Katrina. We discovered a president and an administration utterly incapable of dealing with reality. And we lost an American city.

A certain amount of photo ops, public relations and damage control has enabled Bush to get a small bump in the polls recently but his presidency is still an illusion wrapped in failure parading in a hall of mirrors.

Mary of The Left Coaster has more thoughts on the corrosive results of Bush's public relations presidency: here's some excerpts:
Yesterday I noted how the Bush administration has been doing a bang-up job in creating a government that was an enemy to the common good. Today, the topic is about one of their greatest failures: how they are failing even to achieve what they want with their extensive marketing campaigns. The Bush administration is a firm believer that they create their own reality by their acts and sheer audacity....

The problem is that the reality they continually tout has been awfully hard to perceive.... In fact, after years of engaging in a battle for the hearts and minds of the world using the full power of scientific marketing the administration has created a reality where the US image is perceived negatively by growing numbers of people throughout the world. Karen Hughes, whatever you are doing isn't working.


A significant problem with using disinformation to "create reality" is people need to have accurate and truthful information to make good decisions, but our sources of information are contaminated with suspect and dishonest stories.

We are becoming a country that cannot believe anything our government says to us because they have been so dishonest in so many ways for so long. On this front, Bush and his compatriots have surely lost their battle to create their reality.

It's one thing to tell tall tales to win elections. It's another thing when Bush Administration fabrications begin to damage our country.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Revisiting a Key to Bush's Failures

There are many reasons why the Bush presidency is failing. Dan Froomkin of The Washington Post reminds us in his blog of Ron Suskind's famous New York Times Magazine article on reality and the Bush Administration:
His October 2004 piece in the New York Times Magazine added the term "reality-based" to the political lexicon.

It described a meeting in 2002 with a "senior adviser" to Bush: "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.' "

We're an empire now.... When you hear words like that, you can only shake your head. With leaders like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, Bill Frist, Newt Gingrich and Richard Perle along with media supporters like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the radical conservative movement is dead. Who knows how much gas they have left in their tanks and how much further trouble they can cause 'creating other new realities,' but already they have damaged America. I'll have more on this later tonight.

The Cheney Echo Chamber

If the stock markets succumb to a long bear market, there's always somebody who will say the stock market will go up tomorrow. They'll say it day after day and sooner or later the day comes when they're right and there are fools who think such people are prophets. The book racks and tabloids are full of people who were right once.

So let's consider the echo coming out of Dick Cheney as reported in Bloomberg (hat tip to The Huffington Post):
Vice President Dick Cheney said that while the administration underestimated the strength of anti- American violence in Iraq, he still believes the insurgency is in its ``last throes,'' as he asserted last year.

``I don't think anybody anticipated the level of violence we encountered,'' Cheney said in a question-and-answer session following a speech today at the National Press Club in Washington.

Well, yes, there will come a day, maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe the year after, when Dick Cheney will be 'correct' and sure enough the insurgency will be in its 'last throes.' And no doubt, any number of right wingers will crow that he was right. It's an insane way to run a government and to discuss policy.

And then look at that phrase that Cheney used that has become a favorite of incompetent Bush Administration officials: "I don't think anybody anticipated ...." Actually, any number of experts anticipated the violence in Iraq and anticipated a number of other problems that Bush officials chose to ignore. We keep hearing other excuse-making phrases such as."Who could have known...." or "We never imagined...." or, to paraphrase, "If so, that was information lost in the bowels..." It goes on and on.

Cheney and Bush know their Iraq policy is a failure. They know there will be no new 'empire,' whatever that was about. They know ousting Saddam Hussein has led to a government not much different than an Islamic Republic which is not exactly what they were aiming for. They know that the war in Iraq is a half-assed way to fight terrorism, though they will do their best to use it as a talking point with the few Americans left who are still susceptible to the con. They know that the best they can hope for is cleaning up Bush's mess, though surely they will expend enormous time and resources to find some way to spin their failures.

What they will not admit is that the war in Iraq has cost the United States a great deal more than it will ever get out of it. They will not admit the Iraq war has damaged our credibility in the world or that it will take time to repair our military. They will not admit that events are beginning to move very rapidly in the world and, since we are tied down in Iraq, we are in no position to deal effectively with those events which include new alliances, a fading of democracy in key places in the world, a scrambling for new energy sources and a United States that increasingly is not taken seriously as leader of the free world. After all is said and done, even Nostradamus is more plausible these days than Dick Cheney.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Iraq: Republicans Offer More Photo-Ops

Photo-Ops and publicity stunts do not constitute a plan to win the war in Iraq and spread democracy throughout the Middle East. Actually, I'm not sure Bush knows what his goal is at this point except to repeat the usual slogans he has no ability to deliver on. I wish someone in the White House press corps would start asking the president what his plan is. As far I can tell, Bush's plan is simply to let the next guy clean up his mess. Americans need to start asking why we should remain in Iraq at full force for the next three years—what does that accomplish? Iraq is tying down our nation, our military and our economy while things are changing very rapidly in the world. We need to move on and reposition ourselves. And Bush needs to tell a half dozen of his most incompetent officials that they've done a heckuva job and then he needs to replace them with people who do know what they're doing.

And it would help if the media would notice that Democrats have a plan for Iraq and that the usual slogans out of the mouths of right wing Republicans do not describe the reality of Iraq or Democratic proposals.

S.W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion has some excellent things to say on the matter:
The much-repeated rap on Democrats is that all they can say about the Iraq war is what a mistake it was and what a mess it is — all criticism, no plan for going forward. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi made a strong floor speech during this week’s sham closed debate on the Republicans’ crepe-hanging resolution. Read ... what Pelosi had to say, then tell us whether she offered an alternative to President Bush and the Republicans’ “stay our failed course until hell freezes over” plan....

All I can say to the media is: stop repeating Republican talking points on Iraq and read what Pelosi said. It would be a useful exercise.

Afghanistan: The Unfinished War Continues

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they probably had no idea the war would go on for nine years and end in failure. Soon, our war in Afghanistan will have gone on for five years, though at a lower intensity than what occurred in the 80s and without the huge refugee problem.

Today, Afghanistan remains unfinished business. In 2002, Afghanistan was put on the back burner by the Bush Administration in order to go to war in Iraq. In the meantime, the usual problems that always trace themselves back to Rumsfeld's office, such as a lack of a plan, continue. Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post has an article on the frequently forgotten but continuing war (hat tip to Chris Floyd):

As fighting in Afghanistan has intensified over the past three months, the U.S. military has conducted 340 airstrikes there, more than twice the 160 carried out in the much higher-profile war in Iraq, according to data from the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East.

The airstrikes appear to have increased in recent days as the United States and its allies have launched counteroffensives against the Taliban in the south and southeast, strafing and bombing a stronghold in Uruzgan province and pounding an area near Khost with 500-pound bombs.

U.S. officials say the activity is a response to an increasingly aggressive Taliban, whose leaders realize that long-term trends are against them as the power of the Afghan central government grows.

"I think the Taliban realize they have a window to act," Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of the 22,000 U.S. troops in the country, said in a recent interview. "The enemy is working against a window that he knows is closing."

But some experts believe that the Taliban, the fundamentalist Muslim rulers ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001, have sensed an opening in the south as the central government in Kabul has failed to gain much influence there and as the United States prepares to transfer command to NATO.

It's disturbing to hear different military officers spend years telling us that the enemy is on its last legs, particularly when we know what kind of message machine that is being run out of the Pentagon and White House. Afghanistan can be stabilized—certainly our NATO allies think so—but it requires understanding the job and devoting some resources to it. It also means avoiding blunders that undermine our purpose in Afghanistan if indeed our purpose is to leave a stable government behind. The bombing of innocent civilians while pursuing fighters on the ground has never been proved by anyone to be an effective strategy; here's more from the same Washington Post article:

The enemy in Afghanistan is "adaptive" and "very smart," Freakley said. One tactic they have used lately to counter U.S. dominance in the air is to withdraw, when fighting, into compounds where civilians are located, which has resulted in civilian deaths in two sets of airstrikes near Kandahar.

The spate of recent civilian deaths caused by the bombing has hurt the U.S. image in Afghanistan.

In late May, the Taliban occupied a village 20 miles from Kandahar, prompting some of the U.S. airstrikes, including one that killed at least 15 civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an investigation of the incident and asked the top U.S. military commander in the country, Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, for an explanation.

Working Hard to Control the Message

I'm a believer that it's useful sometimes to state the obvious: for more than five years, the Bush presidency has largely been an exercise in damage control. Bush or one of his administration advisers manage to make a stupid or careless decision or commit a blunder in just a matter of hours or days, and the administration spends weeks, months, sometimes even years doing public relations damage control. In fact, the only thing the Bush Administration seems good at is public relations. What America is seeing is the first Potemkin Village presidency. The public relations machinery isn't just good, though, for covering up incompetence—it's also useful for covering up lies and dirty little secrets Bush doesn't want the American people to know about. It's no wonder that Karl Rove has been so busy in the last six years.

Now I tend to oppose some of the more colorful analogies that are used to explain Bush simply because some of the analogies have been counterproductive and simply push people away from the national discussion that needs to take place. But the Bush presidency is so unprecendented it's hard to find comparisons. And woe to the writer who, in an honest effort to make a point, a point that might wake people up to just how unprecedented Bush's presidency is, tries to illustrate the point from history. Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly has a short post on the problem, though he hints it's time for Americans to get real about a very strange and dangerous presidency.

The question unavoidably hangs in the air: how many more Bush Administration secrets are there that are comparable to scandals like NSA domestic spying, Abu Ghraib, the phony case for war and Guantanamo Bay?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

American Diner

on the road.... Photo by Bob Tyson

Bush, Iran and Zarqawi

One of the most dangerous developments of the last five years is the tendency of the Bush Administration to ignore analysis and expertise, particularly if it doesn't square with the preconceptions of the Bush inner circle. The other dangerous development is that nearly every story whether real or not is seen by the Bush Administration as a tool for political gain. I suspect Bush and his inner circle still cling to the belief that they can somehow create reality. The recent Bush photo ops in the Green Zone of Baghdad were an effort to create the illusion of success when in fact, despite the killing of Zarqawi, there is still little success to be seen.

There is talk that Zarqawi wanted a war between the US and Iran. Actually, given the leadership in Washington, more wars anywhere by the US would simply be fertile ground for more terrorist activity (and militias and warlords). Juan Cole of Informed Comment has a post on the Zarqawi/Iran angle:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was hoping to provoke a US-Iran war as a way of bogging the Americans down further and defeating them in Iraq.

Remember all those times Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld came out and said they suspected that Shiite Iran was somehow aiding the Sunni Arab insurgency? You remember how baffled I was at this bizarre allegation? You wonder whether they were being fed disinformation by a Zarqawi agent, and falling for it.

After they fell for the biggest whoppers of the 21st century, as retailed by Ahmad Chalabi, have Bush administration officials been gullibly swallowing an al-Qaeda black psy-ops operation intended to mire US troops in the Dasht-i Kavir? For people who think of themselves as tough as nails hardheaded realists, the Bushies seem awfully easy to fool.

American hawks tied to the Israeli Likud Party, such as Michael Ledeen and Michael Rubin, who are also trying to get up an American war on Iran, turn out to have the same goal as Zarqawi!

I'm not sure what to make of all this. The incompetence of the Bush Administration is clear for all to see, but administration incompetence may not account for all situations. Bush had three chances in 2002 to take out Zarqawi before the war was even started but Bush passed. The war in Iraq was never just about Iraq. Syria and Iran were always in the mix and Iran was mentioned in the 2002 State of the Union speech as a member of the axis of evil; this was when Zarqawi was a relatively dormant though dangerous terrorist holed up in his base in the mountains of northeastern Iraq and otherwise little heard from during the period. It's possible the administration in the last six to eight months was simply using Zarqawi and his propaganda to further justify a possible war with Iran. And now it may be using Zarqawi once again as the excuse to lower tensions with Iran, at least until after the midterm elections. The possibility of real negotiations with Iran is encouraging, but it would be a mistake to assume that military options are off the table.