Monday, July 31, 2006

Neocons and the Enablers At It Again

I've always made a distinction between the Bush inner circle and the neocon intellectuals who have provided them with cover. Cheney and Rumsfeld are throwbacks to an earlier era that simply believed in empire and power. Bush goes along with Cheney and Rumsfeld when it's conventient, hides behind the neocons when he needs PR cover, and turns to Powell or Rice when he wants to project the image of diplomacy; it might almost look clever if it weren't for the complete castastrophe that his foreign policy represents. The real neocons are people like Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz; Richard Perle is a neocon too with his hands in other pies. Then there are wannabes like Newt Gingrich who would like nothing more than World War III. Is the best Republicans can offer America?

I worry sometimes that the media still doesn't get how dangerous these right wing Republicans are, whatever their motivations. But here's an excerpt from an article from Bonnie Erbe of U.S. News that suggests I may have to revise even further what is happening even in conservative magazines even if they're just providing other perspectives:
Just as America made an unforgivable mistake listening to the neocons' hawkish, bloodthirsty desire for war anywhere, at any time, and at any cost, we are making a mistake this time. We should not permit neocons' desire to give Israel free rein against Hezbollah to allow this conflict to turn into World War III. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice must change course and press for a cease-fire. Israel is no longer militarily capable of beating terrorism into submission. Islamic terrorists are too well-hidden, too well-financed, too well-populated, and too spread out. The same type of thinking that led us into Iraq is now leading us to let the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict mushroom into full-fledged war.

I have no use for terrorists and I have no use for people who wish to destroy Israel and I wish it were possible to bring stability to Iraq before we leave, but there are some things to keep in mind. Our nation was founded on an insurgency. The British had overwhelming military power but they kept making blunders over a period of years, largely because of their own arrogance and sense of superiority; the British made so many blunders they kept alienating loyalists and neutral Americans who didn't want to be in the fight. By the time the British left, they were loathed by an overwhelming number of Americans. And yet, the world went on; we traded with them and eventually became allies with them. Great powers are not immune from making mistakes but life goes on. This is a way of saying that I also have no use for right wingers who have crazy ideas about fighting to the death or whatever. It's past time for them to wake up from their fantasy world.

Over the last two hundred years, other countries have studied the tactics that our forefathers used. It's too bad the neocons never understood our first war. The attempt to restore empires and colonies is about the dumbest thing the American right has ever engaged in.

Israel, of course, has the right to exist, but their right wingers and our right wingers have no business dragging us into a much bigger war because.... Well, I wish someone would fill in the blank with something rational. I don't believe it's possible.

Republicans like the senior Bush, Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower believed in the powerful uses of diplomacy. It's a tragedy of historical proportions that Bush talks about diplomacy but has no talent or use for it. Bush and his advisers, however, have already shown a talent for miscalculation. Republicans in Congress might want to think about that.

American Casualties Up from Year Ago

A year ago last June, Dick Cheney had the arrogance to claim that the insurgents were "in their last throes." He repeated the claim again this year. However, in an eight-week period ending July 26 (last Wednesday), 903 Americans were wounded. Last year, in a similar eight-week period in June and July, 795 Americans were wounded. This year fatalities have dropped from 132 to 105 in the June/July periods.

What's startling about this year is that the number of seriously wounded Americans in Iraq (those who don't return to duty in three days or less) has more than doubled for the June/July period. In 2005, during the June/July period, 161 Americans were seriously wounded; in 2006, the number is 387 (source: icasualties). One can't infer too much from statistics but one thing is clear: Dick Cheney is wrong—again.

Let's hope the seriously wounded are getting all the medical attention they need.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Juan Cole Writes on Ayatollah al-Sistani

The Bush presidency is failing and I suspect Karl Rove is sticking his finger up in the air every few days to see if Americans favor a third war somewhere in the world, a war in other words that might salvage Bush's second term. Rove is about as cynical as they come. He and Bush would endanger the US for the sake of two more years of unfettered power and right wing fantasy.

There is growing impatience in other quarters that may throw a monkey wrench in any plans Bush may have. I have been wondering when we would hear from the Ayatollah al-Sistani, one of the strongest voices for democracy among Shiite clerics. Juan Cole of Informed Comment has the story:
The US punditocracy and ruling elite is fixated on Hizbullah as a "terrorist group" even though the organization hasn't engaged in international terror against American civilians in many years. What they forget about Hizbullah is that it is also a Shiite religious party, and that that is how it is perceived for the most part by Iraqi Shiites. Some 45 percent of Lebanese are probably Shiites.

The other thing to remember is that the United States is now a Shiite Power in part, insofar as it semi-rules a Shiite-majority country, Iraq.

The Associated Press is carrying the story that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has demanded an immediate ceasefire in Israel's war on Lebanon, in the wake of the Qana massacre:

' `Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''

Several questions arise: 1) Why is Sistani speaking like this? 2) What can he do about it all? and 3) What are the possible consequences if he turns anti-American in practice, not just in rhetoric, as in the past?

Be sure to read the rest. I could be misreading some of Juan Cole's earlier analysis of Sistani but I seem to recall that Sistani has been a voice of restraint at key times among the Shiites. He wants the Shiites to dominate Iraq (they are 60% of the population) but he does not want Iraq to be a copy of Iran nor is he in favor of violence. But he has his limits and he may be reaching them. In the end, Iraq belongs to the Iraqis and that is something we cannot ignore.

These are the things we have to watch for in the coming days and weeks. 1) Bush may deliberately drag us into a third war. 2) Bush may inadvertently stumble into a third war. 3) With or without Bush's permission, the Israeli right wing may drag us into a war. 4) Some other country may engage in profound stupidity and drag us all into war. 5) Bush may listen to right wing extremists and unleash an overwhelming military barrage in Iraq or elsewhere not seen since an earlier era. I hope none of these things happen.

If the wiser heads of Washington and other foreign capitals can prevail, the tensions in the broader Middle East can be eased but it will take work and the chances of war will begin to fade. There is, unfortunately, an eerie resemblance between what is going on now and the conditions that existed in the weeks before the beginning of World War I. There is much of the same stupidity in the air. And something of the same fantasies about the nature of war. Three months ago, Bush said he was turning towards diplomacy. It's time for him to stop talking about it and to do the work. Sending weapons to Israel and ignoring calls for a ceasefire do not fall in that category.

Thomas Friedman on Bush, Rice and Failure

Thomas Friedman seems to have come full circle from where he was four years ago. Here's what he had to say in his New York Times column on Friday:
Condoleezza Rice must have been severely jet-lagged when she said that what's going on in Lebanon and Iraq today were the "birth pangs of a new Middle East." Oh, I wish it were so. What we are actually seeing are the rebirth pangs of the old Middle East, only fueled now by oil and more destructive weaponry.


America should be galvanizing the forces of order—Europe, Russia, China and India—into a coalition against these trends. But we can't. Why? In part, it's because our president and secretary of sate, although they speak with great moral clarity, have no moral authority. That's been shattered by their performance in Iraq.

The world hates George Bush more than any U.S. president in my lifetime. He is radioactive—and so caught up in his own ideological bubble that he is incapable of imagining or forging alternative strategies.

In part, it is also because China, Europe and Russia have become freeloaders off U.S. power. They reap enormous profits from the post-cold-war order that America has shaped, but rather than become real stakeholders in that order, helping to draw and defend redlines, they duck, mumble, waffle or cut their own deals.

This does not bode well for global stability. A religious militia that calls itself "the party of God" takes over a state and drags it into war, using high-tech rocks—mullahs with drones—and the world is paralyzed. Those who ignore this madness will one day see it come to a theater near them. [Note: Yes, I caught the typo. Friedman wrote 'high-tech rockets' but my typo speaks volumes—Craig]

There's so much going on these days that Friedman can hardly cover it all in a short column but he covers a great deal. Yes, while we're tied down in Iraq, while Condi plays at diplomacy while playing the piano, while Bush flounders at the microphone, our foreign policy is twisting in the wind. But Friedman doesn't spare the larger Middle East:

In part, though, this madness is home-grown. I sat at a swank rooftop restaurant the other night with some young Syrian writers and listened to a discussion between a young woman dressed in trendy clothes, talking about how she would prefer to see Israel disappear, another writer who argued that Nasrallah was an Arab disaster, and an Arab journalist who described the "pride" and "dignity" every Arab felt at seeing Hezbollah fight Israel to a standstill.

When will the Arab-Muslim world stop getting its "pride" from fighting Israel and start getting it from constructing a society that others would envy, an economy others would respect, and inventions and medical breakthroughs from which others would benefit.

Reword that last paragraph so that it's about the Bush Administration or the radical right fighting terrorism or Islamofascists and it's unnervingly close to the current situation; its echos can be found in various parts of America (a few blocks from where I live is an outpost for the John Birch Society). The young woman hoping Israel would just disappear is no different than people on the far right who carry bumper stickers that say: "Visualize a world without liberals." Yes, the far right has been known to substitute other words besides 'liberals.' We need to get back to the world as it is, and even to what is possible, rather than fantasies that promise trails of blood that lead nowhere except to more destruction.

I don't welcome the news that Thomas Friedman brings because it's simply confirmation of painful news many of us have been recognizing for some time. But he has come a long ways from his support of the war and perhaps his considerable clarity of writing can help with the current situation in our country.

I can't speak for Thomas Friedman but here's how I see the situation: the Bush Administration and its neoconservatives allies have spent the last four years playing out a Cold War fantasy with nations who do not have nuclear weapons. We can be thankful they did not play out their fantasies with nations that do have nuclear weapons—at least to this point. The problems in the larger Middle East and elsewhere are quite real but they require more than the gut feelings of an incompetent president and a third-rate foreign policy team.

Let me change the pace for a moment. This is summer and people everywhere are going on vacation. It has been a tough twelve months in our country and a tougher twelve months in many places around the world. It is important for all of us to renew ourselves from time to time but it is also important to find again the courage and strength to deal with the crises that the American radical right has unleashed in the world. These things are not going away. There is work to be done.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

More Republicans Speak Out Against Corruption

Over the past three years or so, there has been a steady stream of Republicans speaking out either against Bush's war in Iraq or his fiscal policies. Here's another conservative Republican speaking out this time against the corruption in Congress; John Byrne of Raw Story has an interview:
He didn’t support invading Iraq. He says national security decisions are too often made for political gain. And he maintains that Tom DeLay used “legal plunder” for the “immoral purpose of holding onto power.”

A Democrat? No – His name is Richard Viguerie, a conservative icon and key architect of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory. Known to many as the godfather of direct-mail campaign fundraising, his four-decade career has succored scores of conservative candidates and grassroots causes.

A balding grandfather with a wry Texan’s smile, Viguerie is a seasoned conservative who confidently brushes aside accusations that his criticism of Republicans is intended for personal gain. On Monday, he sat down with RAW STORY to talk about his new book, Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.

Viguerie is clearly a conservative and since I'm a Democrat, there are any number of things he mentions in his interview that I would not agree with, but it is refreshing to hear him come out against Tom DeLay and the general corruption of the Republican leadership in Congress. Viguerie doesn't quite have the gumption to suggest that voters turn to the Democrats as a way of reforming the Republican Party (and otherwise he doesn't quite say how that reform would otherwise happen), but I appreciate that he took the trouble to express his dissatisfaction in a book. Let's hope more Republicans start seeing the problems of their party with clearer eyes.

Iraq Reconstruction and Creative Accounting

Congress and any number of Bush Administration agencies are far from investigating where all the money went in the infamous Iraq reconstruction projects (even the Halliburton contracts remain largely uninvestigated). Here's a story from The New York Times:
The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.

The agency hid construction overruns by listing them as overhead or administrative costs, according to the audit, written by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office that reports to Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.

Called the United States Agency for International Development, or A.I.D., the agency administers foreign aid projects around the world. It has been working in Iraq on reconstruction since shortly after the 2003 invasion.


The hospital’s construction budget was $50 million. By April of this year, Bechtel had told the aid agency that because of escalating costs for security and other problems, the project would actually cost $98 million to complete. But in an official report to Congress that month, the agency “was reporting the hospital project cost as $50 million,” the inspector general wrote in his report.

The rest was reclassified as overhead, or “indirect costs.” According to a contracting officer at the agency who was cited in the report, the agency “did not report these costs so it could stay within the $50 million authorization.”

“We find the entire agreement unclear,” the inspector general wrote of the U.S.A.I.D. request approved by the embassy. “The document states that hospital project cost increases would be offset by reducing contractor overhead allocated to the project, but project reports for the period show no effort to reduce overhead.”

I can't see the difference between the games being played on Iraq reconstruction projects and a Bush signing statement. The 'law' is whatever Bush or a Bush appointee says it is. I'm sure at any moment Bush will be recognizing 'signing statements' by any corporation that contributes sufficient funds to the Republican Party. No doubt the current problems with U.S.A.I.D. can be traced to the same kind of problems that FEMA has: Bush Administration cronyism.

Strained Relations Again Between Europe and US

In the last few months, if you believe the headlines, there has been an improvement in our relations with Europe so that for the first time in a while it's almost been three steps forward and only two steps back, with another half step back or two buried in the back pages. Still, this is an improvement over the last four years when our relations with Europe have felt like they've been going three steps back and again three steps back. This has all been very strange behavior on the part of the Bush Administration with nations that we have traditionally considered our allies.

Our relations with a number of other nations has been even worse at times but our situation isn't nearly as bad as it could be largely because we're a superpower and there's a long memory of a US that at times has been a reasonably effective world leader. Actually our leadership has been best when we behave like a leading partner; but in recent years there's been a lack of leadership elsewhere in the world and even a George W. Bush becomes a 'world leader' by default. But Bush's foreign policy blunders are rapidly creating a leadership vacuum.

Here's an informative article by Molly Moore of The Washington Post on MSNBC that's well worth reading but I want to focus on a problem in the first two paragraphs:
Just when President Bush was starting to mend the political rift between the United States and Europe, the latest Middle East conflict has reopened the transatlantic divide, on the streets and in government.

Across Europe, leaders and citizens are expressing growing alarm over Washington's refusal to rein in Israel's bombing of Lebanon and appear increasingly fearful of the pro-Hezbollah sentiment unleashed in the Middle East by the daily scenes of destruction and civilian deaths. Many officials said they worry about backlashes in their own restive Muslim and Arab communities.

The main source for the notion that Bush is mending fences with the Europeans is our attempt to negotiate with Iran. But the reality is that the kind of diplomacy Bush is engaging in seems more designed to stall for time than it is for any real engagement with Iran. I don't see any diplomatic heavy lifting being done by Bush, Rice or anyone else in the Bush Administration. The Europeans are doing their best to move things along as best they can but they have reasons not to mind negotiations being dragged out since that means no war with Iran which is probably where we were headed four months ago. To be blunt, Bush isn't mending fences so much as the Europeans are trying to accomodate Bush until some of the neoconservative war fever passes. The fighting in the Middle East isn't helping matters; it has brought out the usual flaws in Bush's foreign policy and the Europeans are once again unhappy.

Now here's a story from the BBC that suggests that on other fronts, there's still a ways to go to improve relations with the Europeans:
US trade representative Susan Schwab says America remains committed to finding a breakthrough in world trade talks despite their apparent collapse.

Her comments come after talks to secure a new global trade framework broke down in acrimony in Geneva on Monday.


Despite the US and the European Union blaming each other on Monday for the collapse of the talks, Ms Schwab said she would not add to the blame game.


After more than four years of talks, disagreement over agricultural subsidies and tariffs continue to be the main stumbling bock, with both the US and EU accusing the other of not making enough concessions.

I don't know much about these negotiations but I do know this. If agricultural subsidies and tariffs are the problem from the US side, it's about to become less relevant in the next few years as more and more corn in the United States goes into the production of ethanol (ethanol is unlikely to solve our energy problems alone but it will become a significant niche market). The price of corn is going to rise, and more and more agricultural land will be going into corn or whatever other agricultural product is better suited to making ethanol. American agriculture has a new market and that market is domestic. And it may be possible to subsidize ethanol without touching corn that is used for other things.

In any case, we again see a lack of imagination on the part of Bush and the result once again is more strained relations with Europeans. Strained relations or not, the Europeans have various reasons to continue to work with us; it would be yet another fiasco if we were to lose our natural allies through more of Bush's blunders. What we have learned in the last three years is that the US cannot go it alone in these times.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Older Generation of Republicans Speaking Out

Remember when Republican politicians had integrity? Pete McCloskey was always one of them. He's part of a growing chorus of Republicans calling for reform of the Republican Party. Several news outlets have picked up the story; here's an article from The Record, located in California's Central Valley:
It's official: Every candidate who ran in the spring primary race has now endorsed Democrat Jerry McNerney against seven-term incumbent Rep. Richard Pombo.

Right after the June 6 primary, the three Democratic candidates held a "unity breakfast." Then this week, word got out Republican Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, who took 32 percent of the GOP vote against Pombo, would endorse McNerney.

Here's an excerpt (via Echidne of the Snakes) from a letter by Pete McCloskey explaining why he is endorsing a Democrat:
I have found it difficult in the past several weeks to reach a conclusion as to what a citizen should do with respect to this fall's forthcoming congressional elections. I am a Republican, intend to remain a Republican, and am descended from three generations of California Republicans, active in Merced and San Bernardino Counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have just engaged in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the Republican Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary, obtaining just over 32% of the Republican vote against Pombo's 62%.

The observation of Mr. Pombo's political consultant, Wayne Johnson, that I have been mired in the obsolete values of the 1970s, honesty, good ethics and balanced budgets, all rejected by today's modern Republicans, is only too accurate.

It has been difficult, nevertheless, to conclude as I have, that the Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006. Let me try to explain why.

I have decided to endorse Jerry McNerney and every other honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.

Here's part of a joint letter that was sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert a year ago; Pete McCloskey was one of the signers:
Dear Speaker Hastert,

We write as former Members of Congress who served under impeccably honest leaders, Gerry Ford, Bob Michel and John Rhodes. We saw Republican Senators Margaret Chase Smith, Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole and many others bring integrity and class to the U.S. Senate.

We were proud of the ethics rules initiated when Republicans took control of the House in 1994 after a period of 42 years of Democratic domination which had been accompanied by ethics scandals from Adam Clayton Powell to Abscam to Speaker Jim Wright of Texas.

We felt grave concern when the Republican leadership changed the ethics rules several weeks ago to require a bipartisan majority vote to even investigate a charge of ethical misconduct. We saw it as an obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay who had been admonished three times by the Ethics Committee for well-publicized misuse of money and/or power.

We felt even greater concern when the leadership then fired Chairman Joel Hefley and two other members of the Committee, replacing them with Members who had either given to or received funds from Mr. DeLay.
The Republican Party badly needs reform. The corruption in Washington will continue if Republicans are not held accountable.

Iraq Becoming More Complicated

Time writer Tony Karon has a useful article on the way that Lebanon is making our policies in Iraq more complicated but here's two paragraphs that raise an issue:
...there's no question that the dominant element of the Iraqi government sees Iran as a close friend and ally, and they're not likely to turn against Tehran at the behest of Washington. In his speech to Congress, Maliki said many things that will have pleased the Administration about Iraq as a front in the war on terrorism. But he also mentioned the 1991 Shi'ite uprising that ended in a bloodbath at the hands of Saddam's troops: "In 1991, when Iraqis tried to capitalize on the regime's momentary weakness and rose up, we were alone again," Maliki said. "The people of Iraq will not forget your continued support as we establish a secure, liberal democracy. Let 1991 never be repeated, for history will be most unforgiving."

This was a coded message. The 1991 uprising had initially been encouraged by Washington as Saddam's troops fled Kuwait, but the U.S. — suddenly aware that Iran would be the biggest beneficiary from Saddam's ouster — then sat back and allowed the regime to massacre the Shi'ites. In Iraqi Shi'ite political folklore, 1991 is remembered as America's great betrayal. Nor have the Shi'ite parties forgotten that the only country that came to their aid was Iran. And Iraq's new government is not in any rush to fall into line with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who they see as having done nothing to help them against Saddam.

Political folklore? The senior President Bush asked the Kurds and Shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein. You don't ask people to rise up unless you're promising to help them. But we decided the war was over in a hundred hours and we allowed a provision to stand that Saddam Hussein could use his helicopters and then we stood by and watched. That left the Shiites at the mercy Saddam Hussein's troop, hence the massacres. That's not folklore, that's a reality. Asking the Kurds and Shiites to rise up was a poorly considered policy that cost the lives of thousands. I suspect Karon knows better but feels obliged to soften the language in the current political environment. Softening the language for the sensibilities of right wingers doesn't help a majority of Americans understand that presidents make huge blunders sometimes.

But Karon does a good job of pointing to two major problems: the more aggressively we behave towards Iran, the more intractable our problems will be in Iraq; also, in the current environment, the more we tilt back towards the Sunnis, the more the Shiites will feel that Americans are unreliable and that they are once again being 'betrayed.' Whether we like it or not, we need to start extricating ourselves from Iraq.

Our President Is in Denial

An invasion based on false assumptions and a prolonged war riddled with incompetent policies does not bring out the moderates, it brings out the extremists. Put innocent people in prison, bomb a city like Fallujah back into the stone age, allow an insurgency to gain ground because you're trying a new untested military doctrine, allow a civil war to fester and then break out, throw in scores of other blunders including outright mindless greed over Iraq privatization schemes and you're going to have trouble making even moderates believe you're in Iraq to bring democracy. And that says nothing about our policies in other areas of the Middle East.

TPMMuckraker has a post today on an answer that Bush gave to an honest question about the growing number of failures in Iraq and elsewhere; here's the first part of what Bush had to say (see the original question and full answer):
David, it's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, Let's hope everything is calm - kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

And so we have, we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

Our president and his advisers can't even properly identify the killers. In fact, putting innocent people in prison and killing thousands of innocent civilians is creating more killers. But our president and much of the media have difficulty even noticing the problem.
Bush slips in enough buzz words and PR nonsense that I suspect he doesn't even believe his own crap anymore (let me get back to that in a moment). The real problem is that there are still people who believe that Bush's incompetence and belligerence will somehow lead to democracy in Iraq (and if not, at least we've killed some 'bad people' as if we can ignore all the innocent blood on our hands). That scares me. Bush isn't implementing a foreign policy. He's implementing a fantasy.

Is Bush in such a bubble that he's in profound denial and still believes he's accomplishing something? Does he believe he's just on a run of very bad luck? Or is it beginning to dawn on him what a fiasco has emerged from his policies? I'll offer yet another theory: Bush is paralyzed by what is confronting him and his only goal is to get through the midterms so that he doesn't have to face accountability if the Democrats take control of a house.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Memories of War

I was seven the first time I saw a double-amputee. I already knew about the war, meaning World War Two, and had seen amputees before. But I was caught by surprise this time. It was summer and I was with my parents and brothers at a lake that had a sandy beach. My brothers were off somewhere and I was sent to get some ice cream at the concession stand and was waiting, the last in line, when I noticed a man behind me with two children smaller than myself. The man was walking on his knees and was only slightly taller than the children. And then I did a double take and realized he had no lower legs. My father later said he was a war veteran and I nodded. Like I said, I had seen other amputees. Every so often there are moments when war hits home.

John Baiata of NBC News has an article on that subject:
We'd gone to an early matinee, and emerged hungry for lunch. Making our way to a nearby shopping center, I noticed two Vietnam veterans outside, flanking either side of the entrance.


I fished a $5 bill from my pocket and handed it to Alexa as we approached, and told her to ask politely for a flag. "Any donation is appreciated," he said to me, and handed Alexa a flag. She promptly went into a ballerina-style spin, twirling the flag above her head. "I love to watch the children," he said softly, casting his knowing gaze on her.

Before she could prance away, I pulled her to my side, and knelt beside his wheelchair.

"Alexa, did you know that this man was a soldier? He went to a very dangerous place, so that our country could be safe." Her big, brown eyes turned deadly serious, and I felt a wave of emotion roll over me, my stomach doing flips.

I thought of all the bulletins that have crossed out of Afghanistan and Iraq: "Three U.S. soldiers killed by a roadside bomb," “Eleven dead in a chopper crash," and on and on — tallying what Lincoln famously described as "the terrible arithmetic" of war.

The whole piece is worth reading. What should we teach our children? What should we ask them to remember? How do we protect them? And how do we help them be wise when their time comes to make terrible decisions?

Here's another story, this one from Reuters:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday directed more than 2,500 U.S. troops who have spent the past year in Iraq to stay up to four months past their scheduled departure date, boosting the size of the U.S. force amid unrelenting violence in Baghdad, officials said.

My niece's boyfriend returned from Iraq some six months ago. I have no doubt he will be returning to Iraq soon. I have lost track of how old he is. Twenty-one? Maybe twenty-two. I will have to ask my brother.

Does Anyone Believe That Bush Is Just Unlucky?

There are conservatives who look at hard facts and make adjustments and there are conservatives who look at hard facts and make excuses. The latter group currently dominates Washington. Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing asked a curious question today:
As the Bush White House is jolted by one confounding overseas crisis after another, the obvious question emerges: Is it just a coincidence? Or is it a consequence of President Bush's foreign policy?

It's a startling question since the evidence is mounting that incompetence and ideological rigidity in the White House are the main culprit (the other culprit is a foreign policy so broken the world doesn't know what the rules are anymore). Fortunately, Mr. Froomkin goes on to quote some articles suggesting that yes, the Bush Administration is not exactly the A team.

As though to give proof of his inability to deal with the problems facing him, President Bush is off on another public relations tour. President Bush could improve his image enormously by firing Donald Rumsfeld and cutting Cheney down to size. Instead, he is pushing for John Bolton's confirmation as UN Ambassador. John Bolton, of course, is part of the Cheney/Rumsfeld orbit. And finding a Secretary of State who actually knows how to do diplomacy and is committed to the many hours and days need for such diplomacy (as opposed, let's say, to working on spin for talk shows, campaigning for the president, playing the piano or shopping for power clothes) would be an improvement along with drafting some prominent envoys to help with the enormous workload that has been piling on Bush's foreign policy desk for the past five years. And as for Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who comes across as a hapless clone of the senior Bush (note the same awkwardness and even some of the same awkward language) but with none of the ability to make things happen, is Hadley truly the best person Bush could find?

It's possible for a president to create his own luck but Bush appears to be creating the wrong kind.

John Bolton Hearings

Just in case he loses a majority in the Senate, Bush is rushing ahead with his second attempt at confirming UN Ambassador John Bolton. Steve Clemons, who has made himself something of an expert on Bolton, has a series today on the Senate hearings being held on Bolton's confirmation. Here's one involving Lincoln Chafee and another involving Richard Lugar. Clemons is surprised at how critical some of the Republicans are being but we've seen this before. Conservatives will come to their senses for a few days only to back off when they get pressure from the White House or other conservatives. Nevertheless, some interesting things are happening.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Brzezinski Weighs in on Middle East

It's been somewhat customary for several decades for foreign policy consultants to speak softly in public about current situations and to speak bluntly behind closed doors; this tactic is used to maintain access no matter which party is in power. It's a rule that's broken from time to time at selective moments to catch the attention of an administration digging a hole for itself. We have apparently gone beyond that point. Increasingly, Zbigniew Brzezinski is speaking bluntly as Bush's foreign policy falls apart. Steve Clemons of The Washington Note summarizes a recent talk where Brzezinski gave his views:
Some of the notable points made by Brzezinski were:
1. America's "policy in the Middle East is the basic test of America's capacity to exercise global leadership." This is similar to "what transpired during the Cold War when the ultimate test of America's capacity to act as a defender of the free world was its ability to conduct a meaningful policy in Europe."

If America does not do well in its Middle East challenge, the U.S. will lose its capacity to lead.

2. Neither the United States nor Israel "has the capacity to impose a unilateral solution" to Israel's problems in the Middle East. "There may be people who deceive themselves of that. We call them neo-cons in this country and there are other equivalents in Israel as well."

3. Israel and its neighbors alone "can never resolve their conflict peacefully, no matter how much they try, now matter how sincere they may be." When one party is sincere, the other's intentions are not synchronous.


6. It's becoming increasingly difficult to separate the Israeli-Palestinian, problem, the Iraq problem and Iran from each other.

7. "The Iraq problem, look what Prime Minister al-Maliki said today -- it's an indication of things to come. The notion that we're going to get a pliant, democratic, stable, pro-American, Israel-loving Iraq is a myth which is rapidly eroding and which is now being contradicted by political realities."

8. "And that leads me then to the proposition beforehand, namely that we have now, we're not only committed to what I said earlier, regarding the Israeli-Palestinian process, but more deliberately by terminating our involvement in Iraq. And I have put forth a four-point program which [I am sure] I have discussed in one of the rare occasions within the last year administration has talked to me, some top level people in the administration. They listened to this:

That we start talking to the Iraqis of the day of our disengagement., We say to them we want to set it jointly, but in the process, indicate to them that we will not leave precipitously. I asked Khalilzad what would be his definition of precipitous and he said four months and I said I agree. Are you saying to the Iraqis, we intend to disengage by some period? We need to."

More was said. One of the advantages of being outside of government is that it's possible to speak bluntly. Americans will not hear this kind of talk from any administration figure or any Republican member of Congress. Keep in mind that the most important point is the first. There's a question, given all the blunders of the Bush Administration, about whether the United States is still capable of leading in world affairs. There is also a risk that, willingly or not, Bush is being dragged along by events and that is not good for us nor for anyone else in the world.

The Public Relations President

Even when Bush is in his public relations mode, he isn't exactly at his best these days. Here's an excerpt from Dana Milbank of The Washington Post:
There was trouble from the first question at yesterday's news conference by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The AP's Tom Raum had just asked a question about the violence in Iraq, and Bush looked down to gather his thoughts before turning to Maliki. "I'll start," the president said.

"Na'am," said Maliki, using the Arabic word for "yes."

"Okay, you start," Bush offered, evidently thinking Maliki had said "no."

"Na'am," Maliki said again.

"You want to start? Go ahead," the perplexed president pressed. Bush had by now put the interpretation device in his ear, an end to the who-goes-first game.

"Na'am," Maliki repeated. "Na'am."

I suspect Bush misses Condi Rice; she wasn't there with hand signals and grimaces to guide the president. One assumes Stephen Hadley or someone else would have stepped in beforehand to brief the president. Perhaps the Decider-in-Chief once again didn't bother to pay close attention.

Here's more from Milbank's column:
"Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and, therefore, there needs to be more troops," allowed the usually upbeat Bush.

Three years and six months too late, the president quietly slips in the obvious. We're long past the point where Bush's observation is relevant. But Milbank is not done:
The two men were more in accord on the Iraq violence. They both believe that problems there should be called "challenges."

"The prime minister understands he's got challenges," Bush said. He also acknowledged that "we still face challenges in Baghdad."

Ah, at last we see Bush's accomplishment of the day. Problems have been turned into 'challenges.' The public relations president is clearly making his mark.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some Thoughts on Joe Lieberman

I haven't said much on Joe Lieberman. The Iraq fiasco and the utter breakdown of our foreign policy is the biggest crisis of our time and I've been puzzled by Lieberman's strange position. At the same time, I haven't felt comfortable about some of the shrillness that has been directed at him. I'm not going to defend Lieberman since his behavior continues to be puzzling.

The reality is that there are good people who sometimes stay in politics too long and start losing their way. But what is going on in Washington is far larger than anything liberals or even Democrats can handle on their own. We need allies and nearly every week those allies are crossing the lines. Let's just leave that thought there.

Here's a post by Benjamin Dueholm of The Private Intellectual; I don't know much about him but I read him now and then, maybe once or twice a month. He's thoughtful; I wish he were a little better proofreader but he clearly has useful things to say:
At times I've gotten swept up in the left blogosphere's whirlwind of hostile towards Joe Lieberman. I certainly hope he loses the August 8 primary to Ned Lamont, and in fact I hope he loses by a large enough margin that he (or at least his institutional backers) abandons his promised independent bid in the general election. But as I've read some of the Connecticut press's articles on the race lately, I've seen that this is something I should feel more sorrow than anger about.

I say this not in the spirit of preposterous schoolmarmism that infects much of the Beltway punditry on this issue, from Kondracke to Brooks and so forth. It's not a matter of Joe being the last decent man, the moderate voice, the lamb led to the partisan slaughter. The kindest word for that line is that it's bullshit. No one ever said such things when Arlen Specter was under attack two years ago from his right and no one says it today of Lincoln Chafee, similarly besieged. Bipartisanship and moderation are virtues expected only of Democrats, for reasons I do not pretend to understand. Rather, the problem is that Joe Lieberman actually has a rather distinguished career as a liberal. He entered political life as a civil rights activist at a time when his Republican colleagues were either too apathetic (George Bush) or too cowardly (most of the rest) to have the right opinion on that absolutely critical question.


...these sins would probably have passed were it not for the war in Iraq. The major media voices decry Ned Lamont's candidacy as "single-issue" and the liberal netroots deny the label, but Iraq is what it's all about. Lieberman's other shortcomings are only aggravating factors in an already decisive indictment for his failure to show leadership on the great issue of our day and, worse, to spend more time attacking his own side of the aisle for opposing that war than attacking the president for committing such a colossal blunder.

There are surely circumstances in which it is courageous (another virtue mindlessly ascribed to Lieberman by his admirers) to criticize one's own party. That time is not, however, when one's party is out of power in all three branches of the federal government and the administration, aided and abetted by a quiescent Congress, is perpetrating the greatest foreign policy disaster in decades. In fact, I don't understand why a "single issue" candidacy is such a bad thing when that single issue happens to be a war that is redefining America's role in the world, and the American executive's power domestically, in ways that are far-reaching, extreme, and uniformly terrible. In world historical terms, Iraq, and what it stands for, is the defining issue of our day.

Be sure to read the entire post and consider reading his two previous posts which give a sense of who he is.

Republican Cronyism Continues

Corruption and cronyism are nothing new but there was a time when it seemed both Democrats and Republicans went to Washington to deal with the problems of the day. I can remember Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance promising at one point to give up politics as soon as he got a water bill done. Stewart was a lifelong Republican. Today, more and more politicians, mostly Republicans, think of Washington as a personal gravy train for themselves and their friends and relatives. Ken Silverstein of Harper's has the story:
As I have previously noted here, being a friend or relative of Congressman Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican, appears to be a surer path to gainful employment than a Harvard MBA. To review: one of the congressman's daughters got a job with an Italian arms maker with close ties to her daddy; another daughter started a lucrative lobbying career, exclusively representing clients who had been helped out by Weldon; and Cecelia Grimes, a real estate agent and long-time friend who lives in his district, is now making good money as a (Weldon-connected) defense lobbyist.

Weldon is a powerhouse on the House Armed Services Committee, and defense contractors have traditionally been his biggest campaign donors—so it isn't surprising to learn that his political sponsors are looking out for one of the congressman's sons. The Delco Times, a newspaper in Weldon's district, recently ran a story on Andrew Weldon's exciting career as a racecar driver. Unless you manage to break into the NASCAR circuit, racing cars is a tough way to make a living. But Andrew at least found a sponsor this year—a firm called Schaffer Motorsports.

Schaffer Motorsports, I learned, is owned by Tom Schaffer, a senior employee at Boeing; One of the sponsors of Schaffer Motorsports is Boeing Helicopters Credit Union, whose logo appears on the racecar Andrew Weldon drives. Boeing, in turn, is Weldon's top career patron, to the tune of $62,050 in donations.

It gets cozy, doesn't it?

Some Questions for President Bush

The spin by the right is reaching an amazing level of denial. Think Progress has a post on political consultant Dick Morris who thinks the civil war in Iraq might be a good thing:
On March 16, conservative pundit Dick Morris told Sean Hannity things were going better than people thought in Iraq, arguing “what is going on is not a civil war.”

Now, Morris believes that there is civil war in Iraq but argues that it’s a good thing. Appearing on the O’Reilly Factor last night, Morris said “a civil war is progress, because it means it’s no longer a war against us.”

This kind of lame analysis seems to be the best Bush defenders can manage these days. Did Bill Clinton really use this guy?

Here's another story from David Gregory of NBC on the MSNBC website:
Just back from the White House press conference with Nouri Al-Malaki and I'm struck by a couple of things: It was the Iraqi prime minister's first ever visit to the White House and yet the White House allowed just two questions from the American and Iraqi press. So many issues remained unaddressed. It would seem to me that the president would want a fuller airing of his views on a subject severely undermining his political status at home and U.S. policy abroad.

Here's what I would have asked: "Mr. President, you argued before the war that invading Iraq would bring stability to a vital region of the world and would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. Yet today, sectarian violence in Iraq is killing 100 civilians a day in Baghdad; Democratic reform has produced Hamas and Hezbollah; U.S. policy has also created a defiant, resurgent Iran. Do you acknowledge fundamental misjudgments about the war and what do you do about them now?"

Everyone in America wants to know what's going on in Iraq and the press is restricted to two questions? David Gregory's question would have been a good one if he had been allowed to ask it but I wish somebody had been able to ask Bush or al-Maliki if they agreed with Dick Morris and thought the civil war somehow represents 'progress'? It's long past time for the president to be honest with the American people and to answer their questions.

Israel Using Plans Developed Year Ago

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about the plans the Israelis have been using in the current 'war' or military response (hat tip to Steve Clemons of The Washington Note; bold emphasis mine):
Israel's military response by air, land and sea to what it considered a provocation last week by Hezbollah militants is unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago.


More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail. Under the ground rules of the briefings, the officer could not be identified.

In his talks, the officer described a three-week campaign....


The advance scenario is now in its second week, and its success or failure is still unfolding. Whether Israel's aerial strikes will be enough to achieve the threefold aim of the campaign -- to remove the Hezbollah military threat; to evict Hezbollah from the border area, allowing the deployment of Lebanese government troops; and to ensure the safe return of the two Israeli soldiers abducted last week -- remains an open question. Israelis are opposed to the thought of reoccupying Lebanon.


Thursday's clashes in southern Lebanon occurred near an outpost abandoned more than six years ago by the retreating Israeli army. The place was identified using satellite photographs of a Hezbollah bunker, but only from the ground was Israel able to discover that it served as the entrance to a previously unknown underground network of caves and bunkers stuffed with missiles aimed at northern Israel, said Israeli army spokesman Miri Regev.

It's an informative article but I have a question about the above paragraph. How does one fire missiles already aimed at northern Israel if they're in an underground network of caves and bunkers? The missiles involved are small and short range; still, many years ago, I saw firsthand ICBM missile silos with their retractable covers but the paragraph above doesn't mention a system like that. No doubt Israelis have their own version of spin.

If the plans were developed a year ago, they were developed during Ariel Sharon's administration. That raises a number of questions though the article mentions that Israel has been thinking about the plans since 2000 when they left Lebanon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Republican Conservatives in a War of Words

I hate to belabor Bush's failed presidency and failed foreign policy, but there's a growing danger of a self-inflicted crisis almost on the order of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962; that crisis is not the Middle East, not Iran, not Iraq, not North Korea, though every one of them involve serious problems that have to be dealt with; the crisis is the dysfunctional presidency of George W. Bush and the possibility that we may slip into a third war whether President Bush wishes it or not. Almost nothing can be dealt with effectively until the United States has a rational and functional foreign policy again.

The pessimist at The Left Coaster has a long post that repeats one article I've linked to but that otherwise elaborates further on the war of words breaking out on the Republican right (the post is sometimes sarcastic but stick with it; it's important).

One last point. There may be a ceasefire in the Middle East before the miderm elections or there may not. A ceasefire would be very welcome but the fundamental problems in Washington will remain while major problems are still being poorly handled or just outright ignored. Diplomacy requires work, not just a handful of phone calls or one or two shuttle flights; the administration is not minding the store.

John Bolton Failing as UN Ambassador

For the last two months, there have been discussions in the media that Bush is moving towards diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. Unfortunately, Bush hasn't gotten around to telling our UN Ambassador John Bolton who specializes in right wing arrogance. Think Progress has the story from five other UN ambassodors and one ex-UN official:
Last year, Sen. George Voinovich eloquently made the case against the nomination of John Bolton, stating, “I’m afraid that his confirmation will tell the world that we’re not dedicated to repairing our relationship or working as a team.” Voinovich now intends to support Bolton, but his original concerns turned out to be well-founded.

In just over a year at the U.N., Bolton has managed to offend many U.S. friends and allies, demonstrating that he’s an ineffective diplomat:


An ambassador with close ties to the Bush administration: “My initial feeling was, let’s see if we can work with him, and I have done some things to push for consensus on issues that were not easy for my country. … But all he gives us in return is, ‘It doesn’t matter, whatever you do is insufficient.’ … He’s lost me as an ally now, and that’s what many other ambassadors who consider themselves friends of the U.S. are saying.”

Instead of helping other Republicans to circle the wagons around a failing president, Voinovich ought to reconsider. Otherwise, he and other Republicans might as well start calling for a military draft because that's where Bush is taking us. There, I said it. We all knew that word would find its way back.

Bush Insists His Campaign Contributors Are Honest Boy Scouts

It appears that if Bush can't pass a repeal of the estate tax, he'll just cut back on enforcing the law (thereby breaking it himself); Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly has the latest on Bush's one set of rules for his friends and that other set of rules for the rest of us:
See, back when Clinton was president rich people cheated on their taxes a lot. It was all part of the decline in honor and dignity that the Clinton White House presided over, and that's why he was forced to hire more estate tax lawyers during the 90s.

But that all changed when George Bush was elected, and now rich people feel downright embarrassed about using sophisticated estate planning services and dodgy asset valuation schemes to reduce their estate tax liability. This newfound respect for the law means that we just don't need all those lawyers anymore. The super-rich can be trusted to do the right thing all on their own.

Perhaps Bush and his right wing friends carry a moral compass in their pockets that has dollar signs in all directions—they can never go wrong.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thomas E. Ricks on the Failures in Iraq

Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post has written a book called, FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. I heard him on Meet the Press and I was struck by one comment he made about Rumsfeld, that our secretary of defense was paralyzed for two months after the fall of Baghdad and the looting; Rumsfeld essentially refused to believe we had a problem and therefore did nothing. We may revise the history of our war in Iraq in time but ideological rigidity and therefore blindness and incompetence seem to fit much of what we now know.

There is no question the Bush Administration deliberately plays all kinds of games, particularly around public relations, politics and campaigning, and that it does some of this well. But that is separate from the issue of incompetence, recklessness and ideology when it comes to something critical such as diplomacy or war. For the last sixty-five years, Democrats have had their A team when it comes to foreign policy and the Republicans have had their A team when it comes to foreign policy. Every administration has had its weak links but most of the time there were capable people who more than made up for poor judgment.

But things have changed and we now have the most conservative government since the 1920s. And the competence is unquestionbly gone. Bush, including himself and Cheney, has more weak links than he has people with the kind of judgment needed these days. In the Bush Administration, loyalty, arrogance and ideology became substitutes for the competence we've taken for granted for so long. A flawed ideology now dominates our government and errors in judgment are only slowly being recognized by members of the administration.

The Washinton Post has excerpts from the book by Thomas E. Ricks:
...there is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.

On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation agency, had issued his first order, "De-Baathification of Iraq Society." The CIA station chief in Baghdad had argued vehemently against the radical move, contending: "By nightfall, you'll have driven 30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground. And in six months, you'll really regret this."

He was proved correct, as Bremer's order, along with a second that dissolved the Iraqi military and national police, created a new class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders.

Ricks gives a number of examples of both civilian and military mistakes. But the biggest errors can be traced to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. That will be the verdict of history. Curiously, many of those errors can be traced to a rigid ideology and that ideology can be traced to fifty years of self-reinforcing propaganda. That is an irony that at this point doesn't help us much. But it is a lesson to be remembered.

Fake Diplomacy by Bush Administration or Just More Incompetence?

President Bush may play the clown at places like the G8 summit but Condi Rice is supposedly the one who has a serious handle on foreign policy. Here's the story from Reuters:

Speaking to reporters on Sunday as she flew to the region, Rice said her focus would also be to ease the humanitarian crisis after nearly two weeks of fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Israeli forces.

"It is very important to establish conditions under which a ceasefire can take place. We believe that a ceasefire is urgent. It is important to have conditions that will make it also sustainable," said Rice before a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland.

If a ceasefire is urgent, then why has Condi Rice been looking the other way for the last week? Is this serious diplomacy or just a new brand of Bush Administration posturing? One thing Rice's actions have not been is urgent.

And if a ceasefire is urgent, then what exactly is meant by conditions for that ceasefire? This is not the first time Condi Rice has spoken out of both sides of her mouth in the last five years. It is not an auspicious beginning to an important diplomatic mission whose first goal must be to keep events from spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, it is not certain what the goal is of the Bush Administration. Let's review. Bush is doing nothing to restore his credibility. Condi Rice is not bringing in the diplomatic reserves when it's clear she has a lot on her plate and needs help. The Republicans in Congress continue to sit on their hands. And nobody knows what Dick Cheney is doing.

The Astonishing Mr. Bush and His 'Why Not?' Presidency

The greatest secret of the Bush presidency is that George W. Bush is a self-made idiot. I mean that. He's had the best education, he comes from a wealthy family, he's said to be reasonably intelligent, he's had numerous opportunities thrown at him all his life and he was raised in the United States at a time of enormous scientific and intellectual progress. It takes effort to live in an alternate universe.

I don't remember when it was, maybe 2002 or 2003, but there was a news report by a British reporter who covered a trip that Bush took to the U.K. and the reporter could hear Condi Rice and President Bush snipe at each other as they were making their way to a meeting. Condi Rice was the National Security Adviser then and she was discussing an earlier meeting. She was telling George that he couldn't say what he was saying and he was sniping back, why not? After five and a half years of a 'why not?' foreign policy, our standing in the world is diminished, our options limited and we have to be concerned about a self-made idiot dragging us into a third war as if the chaos in Iraq and the long unfinished war in Afghanistan are of no concern. And much of the media, particularly on the right, continues to give the man a free pass. In any other era, Congress would have impeached this self-made idiot by now.

If my rhetoric seems over-stretched today, blame it on the weather, political or otherwise. But I'm not the only one bewildered by the continued escapades of the astonishing Mr. Bush and and a diminishing American right that still glories in the man's self-made idiocy. Here's some thoughts by William Rivers Pitt of Truthout about the disastrous G8 summit:
...No trade deal got done. The whole thing was a humiliating waste of time, captured best by all the photos of Bush and Putin together. In each and every one of them, Putin is looking at George with an expression that somehow conveyed disgust, disdain and awe simultaneously.

Putin's disgust and disdain are easily understood - the poor guy was trapped in a room with our knucklehead president for hours, after all - but the awe requires notice. What, Putin must have thought, is this fool doing running a country?

After that came the much-noted open-mike gaffe, during which George dropped an s-bomb while discussing the Middle East crisis with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The cussing doesn't trouble me - those who know say that John F. Kennedy swore like a sailor whenever he talked shop - but the rest of the scene was like something out of a high school cafeteria. Bush sat there, talking with what looked like seventeen doughnuts stuffed into his gob, while poor Tony tried to discuss matters of life and death.

You have to listen to the audio to get a full grasp of what transpired. It wasn't just the dialogue. It was the tone in Blair's voice. He sounded for all the world like a teacher attempting to explain something to an exceptionally dull student. His tone suggested infinite patience and a touch of true sadness, as if he could not quite believe he was speaking this way to an American president.

I'm no fan of Putin but we need presidents who have the ability of people like Putin or at least the willingness to listen to a staff that can bring that president up to speed; unfortunately, we're stuck with a frequently incurious president who's part-cheerleader and part-hustler and a blundering vice president who's too quick on the trigger and who has, unfortunately, a firmer grasp of how to push and pull the levers of power. Presidents (and vice presidents) can be brought to heel. It happened to Nixon and, although it isn't often mentioned, it also happened to Reagan. It needs to happen again.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pew Survey on Global Warming

I live in northern California twenty miles from the coast. It was 108 degrees today. I can't remember the last time it got that hot.

We had a record hurricane season last year that a number of scientists believe was caused by global warming. This year, we're setting records and the first six months was the hottest in the history of the United States. Is global warming real yet?

Here's some interesting numbers on those who believe in global warming and those who don't from The Pew Research Center (hat tip to The Oil Drum):
Americans generally agree that the earth is getting warmer, but there is less consensus about the cause of global warming or what should be done about it. Roughly four-in-ten (41%) believe human activity such as burning fossil fuels is causing global warming, but just as many say either that warming has been caused by natural patterns in the earth's environment (21%), or that there is no solid evidence of global warming (20%).

The public also is divided over the gravity of the problem. While 41% say global warming is a very serious problem, 33% see it as somewhat serious and roughly a quarter (24%) think it is either not too serious or not a problem at all. Consequently, the issue ranks as a relatively low public priority, well behind education, the economy, and the war in Iraq.

In reading the survey, I kept finding that odd and very stubborn 19-28% that seems to form the base for the Republican party.

Bush Claims Foreign Policy Successes

Think Progress has two posts demonstrating the strange universe of George W. Bush. Here's the first:
This morning on the Today Show, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow argued that “nobody has been more diplomatically active than we have” in the Middle East, citing all the phone calls White House officials have made in recent days....

As Amanda of Think Progress points out, real diplomacy requires more than a few superficial phone calls. The current White House pales in comparison to administrations of the last 35 years who have paid far more attention to diplomacy in the Middle East.

Here's the other post from Think Progress:
The White House released a fact sheet yesterday entitled, “Setting the Record Straight: President Bush’s Foreign Policy Is Succeeding.” The sheet declares not once but four times that the administration “is rallying the world behind its policy,” and claims that “a consensus is building behind the President’s foreign policy approach.”

A lot of this of course is not even spin by the White House but simply stubborn propaganda that flies in the face of reality three and a half months before midterm elections. The Bush bubble, however, is alive and well as Ken Silverstein of Harper's reports (hat tip to Laura Rozen of War & Piece who's blog has been a terrific source of information during the latest crisis in the Middle East):
I reported in May that despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq, no National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been produced on that country since the summer of 2004. The last NIE, a classified document that the CIA describes as “the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue,” was rejected by the Bush Administration (after being leaked to the New York Times) as being too negative, though its grim assessment subsequently proved to be highly accurate.

Regular readers can pass on this, but here's a thought or two for new readers. It's bad enough that there's a potential Bush's incompetence and recklessness could drag us into a third war, possibly with Iran. There's also a potential Bush could drag us into a far larger and more deadly multinational war with no plan or rationale to justify it. This is a good time to remind everyone that the economic and military power of the United States is not unlimited. There's no doubt we can knock countries like Iran and Syria back into the stone age, but further war on a massive scale could easily do enormous damage to our own economy and future.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Israel and Hizbullah Miscalculate

Sometimes I think there's something in the world's water supply that making everybody a little crazy these days. On the other hand, recent events are probably nothing more than the consequences of five and a half years of Bush Administration anti-diplomacy. Remember the theory awhile back that Bush junior was trying to do the opposite of whatever his father did? Bush senior took diplomacy seriously. Bush junior therefore is the anti-diplomat and so instead of some degree of dialogue in the Middle East Bush spends fives years largely ignoring the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Besides, George W. Bush never had the attention span to devote to such a thankless job and in any case he needs his daily dose of self congratulation. We're seeing the consequences.

So far, it's looks like Israel and Hizbullah are making a number of their own miscalculations. Christopher Dickey of Newsweek discusses some of the issues:
So the ground war is beginning in earnest. Israeli troops began pushing into southern Lebanon yesterday, driving to create a “buffer zone,” they said, to protect their northern cities from rocket attacks. As they ordered the local people out of their homes onto horribly dangerous roads, the Israelis risked beginning, again, the long and painful occupation of South Lebanon that lasted from 1982 to 2000.

Hizbullah said it wanted just this kind of fight. Yes, it could lob missiles into Israel, but it couldn’t wage the kind of “heroic” battles its would-be martyrs crave if Israel responded only with “bombs from remote areas in the sky,” Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah complained last Sunday, so “any land advancement will be good news for the resistance.”

In fact, the original strategies of both sides have failed. And while there may be many more “surprises,” as Nasrallah likes to keep saying, Israel and Hizbullah are falling back into old, familiar, deadly and destructive patterns with no clear end in sight.

At one point in his article, Dickey goes on to mention the analogy apparently being put forward by the Israelis that bombing Beirut is equivalent to NATO bombing Belgrade during the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That's a hard analogy to buy since Hizbullah is not in charge of Lebanon; and yet I can't help wondering if the new Israeli government pulled something off the shelf that was designed to be implemented in case Hizbullah somehow took over the Lebanese government or, more likely, Syria returned to Lebanon.

It used to be that wars took time to get going. In fact, there was time for real diplomacy rather than the public relations stunts we've been seeing lately whether those stunts come from Bush, North Korea or elsewhere. During the Renaissance, the Italians had a system of negotiation so well perfected that peace treaties were sometimes completed before the fighting actually got underway. We're in an era where the killing can accelerate very rapidly even without nuclear weapons if cooler heads cannot prevail. In the 1980s, the war between Iraq and Iran provided a painful example.

It's true that sometimes deaths can be kept low through calibrated warfare but calibration is currently a concept that I suspect is in danger of breaking down; calibration only works if everybody plays their part and knows what the rules are; since Bush took office, the rules have clearly been breaking down with nothing effective to replace them. There are still neocons floating around who insist that just the right amount of force, not too little, not too much, can win the day. But the Goldilocks doctrine has us bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq. And a calibrated bombing campaign in Iran will do much the same. The 21st century is still young. Even without war, there are a number of problems that may make the 21st century difficult unless we begin to address them. If it is to be a century of relative peace and reasonable prosperity, it's time for everyone to turn away from fantasies and begin talking. And listening.

Our Very Secret Office of the Vice President

It's bad enough that the Bush Administration is incompetent and reckless (that includes the V.P.). They want to do everything they can to hide their incompetence and recklessness. Tom Englehardt of TomDispatch has a post on how difficult it is to find out what our Vice President is doing these days and what kind of programs he seems to have going on:
Imagine a government in which the names of those who worked as key aides in the office of the second (if not, arguably, the first) most important official in the country were not available. Oh gosh, there is such a government -- and it's ours....

Go read. Maybe it's Bush's job to act as the class clown while Cheney stays out of sight. Republicans in Congress, as usual, are totally incurious.

Stem Cell Research and the Bush Presidency

One could argue that George W. Bush is a fighter and has some excellent public relations skills. Would he have ever become president if he had not been the son of a president? Probably not. But luck and some modest skills put him in an extraordinary position to do some useful things. Too bad he never found anything reasonably realistic that was worth fighting for.

Calvin Coolidge, the last president to treat his office as something of a fluke, was famous for doing nothing and it can be argued that he set the stage for the Great Depression much more so than Herbert Hoover. What is it that Bush is setting the stage for with his politics, his wheeling and dealing and his blind devotion to the 'base'?

According to Republicans, of course, depressions just happen. During the looting after the fall of Baghdad, Donald Rumsfeld borrowed that old way of thinking to say: stuff happens. One is almost inclined to believe that the first and last man to accept responsibility in the Republican party was Abraham Lincoln.

Bush hasn't accepted responsibility for his foreign policy fiascos or his failures along the gulf coast, but he still has opportunities over the next two years to make himself useful. Signing the stem cell research bill would have been one of those opportunities. John W. Mashek of US News have some thoughts on Bush's veto:
President Bush's veto of the stem cell research bill is more than a political loss for Republicans. It was a move of ignorance, selecting darkness over light and squashing the dreams of those with debilitating illnesses and their loved ones.

After threatening many times to veto legislation over the past five years plus, Bush selected this issue for his first veto. What a shame. A strong majority of the American people is in favor, and even some conservative Republicans, including Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist, backed the measure. No matter to the president.

The administration backs the troubled space program with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. The rewards from space exploration are fairly limited now, but there's no hesitation to move forward.

However, Bush turns his back on those seeking medical breakthroughs with embryos that are to be destroyed. The opponents call it murder, but it is nothing of the sort....

Bush's strange anti-science presidency continues. If America is to keep its technological edge, we need to invest in new ideas, science and technology. What has Bush invested in other than chaos? Clinton invested in the internet, Reagan in computer chip innovation, Kennedy and Johnson in the great innovations of the early space program, Eisenhower in highways, and so on it goes. In the 19th century, government at the federal and local level and business invested in railroads and canals. There was a time when working for the common good was not such a strange idea.

America has become so successful that we now need new kinds of innovations, innovations that clean up some of our errors, and innovations that guarantee a reasonably decent future. Bush largely denies the reality of pollution and global warming (or at least the need to do something) and barely gives lip service to developing alternative energy or dealing with our energy future. We're not the only country in the world that is innovative but we are the best at it (and therefore the world's best hope) and Bush chooses to turn a blind eye to where our country needs to go. A nation that turns its back on its own best qualities probably doesn't have much of a future. But there is a growing restlessness in the country and there is still time to back away from the abyss and to turn things around, starting this November or two years from now or four years....

I'm a cautious optimist but time is becoming a factor.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Spin and The Dumbing Down of the Presidency

It's beginning to dawn on a growing number of Republicans that there aren't a whole lot of good stories to tell about Iraq despite the spin from the White House and its allies. I sometimes go a week or two without checking Today in Iraq but a casual look at it today punctured the myth that Baghdad is the only trouble spot. Well, we've known that for a while.

While reading Today in Iraq, I noticed the following story by Cenk Uygur over at The Huffington Post:
As you read this transcript, remember that this is not a small child talking, but the President of the United States of America:
The camera is focused elsewhere and it is not clear whom Bush is talking to, but possibly Chinese President Hu Jintao, a guest at the summit.

Bush: "Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. Go to the airport, get on the airplane and go home. How about you? Where are you going? Home?

Bush: "This is your neighborhood. It doesn't take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home?"

Reply is inaudible.

Bush: "Eight hours? Me too. Russia's a big country and you're a big country."

At this point, the president seems to bring someone else into the conversation.

Bush: "It takes him eight hours to fly home."

He turns his attention to a server.

Bush: "No, Diet Coke, Diet Coke."

He turns back to whomever he was talking with.

Bush: "It takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia's big and so is China."

Russia's big and so is China??????? This guys sounds like a third grader. Do you know anyone who would have a conversation like this with their neighbor, let alone a business associate, let alone a world leader? Who's proud to know that Russia is big and so is China?


Unfortunately, right now we are in the position of being pitied by the rest of the world. We have third grader for a President. And worse yet, the Vice President has him convinced he is the second coming of Winston Churchill. Scared yet?

It strikes me that Bush sounds exactly like Karen Hughes when she's been on tour doing whatever she does when she's talking to people in Muslim countries. Her listeners have complained that she talks in a simple-minded way as if she talking down to children.

This is a very strange administration. Apparently what is important is not diplomacy but the fact that Bush and Hughes take these trips. The actual work of diplomacy and the building of relationships are left to.....who? Even Colin Powell was not capable of doing it all alone. And we have instead Condi Rice who acts more like a spinmeister than a foreign policy expert.

Scared yet? I forget which Apollo astronaut it was but one of them said about the Apollo trips that if you weren't scared, you didn't understand what was happening. I was scared four years ago when Bush first started talking about his bizarre policy of unilateralism and his preemptive strike principle. But my fear has turned to disgust, concern, being informed and action. But, believe me, I understand the feelings of those who are still catching on.

The Awkwardness of George W. Bush

Awkwardness in politicians is usually a liability but sometimes it can be an odd sort of asset. The awkwardness of former Senator Bob Dole (when he wasn't flaming his opponent or pushing for bad legislation) made him seem more human. Early in his career, Richard Nixon parleyed his awkwardness into national votes. But Nixon's awkwardness increasingly became a burden over time. It became apparent that his awkwardness was part of his flawed makeup and a sad inability to understand or connect to millions of Americans.

The G8 conference was a spectacular example of Bush's awkwardness among his international peers but enough has been said on that. Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing has a post on Bush's speech at the NAACP convention; it makes for painful reading:
One of Bush's many attempts at humor that fell flat may have cut too close to the truth: "I'm an admirer of Bruce Gordon, and we've got a good working relationship," he said. Then he said, laughing: "I don't know if that helps you or hurts you."

Clearly aware of the lackluster response to the stock phrases that typically get rousing applause from friendly audiences, Bush pointed out that he had asked NAACP chairman Julian Bond, a fiery and profoundly anti-Bush orator, for "a few pointers on how to give a speech." But, Bush acknowledged, "It doesn't look like they're taking."

One of Bush's biggest applause lines, this one unintentional, came when he said: "I understand that many African Americans distrust my political party."

Bush's growing examples of awkwardness remind us that our nation is adrift and will remain adrift until Bush is held accountable and forced to make policy and staff changes or until he leaves office. Two more years of a do-nothing president and do-nothing Republican Congress that refuses to light a fire under Bush is a high price to pay if voters don't go to the polls this November.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Republicans in Disarray on Bush's Foreign Policy

Neoconservative Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard is presumed to know a thing or two about foreign policy but he doesn't sound any more informed than our president. Think Progress has the latest on the 'Kristol Ball':
This morning on Fox, Bill Kristol continued to escalate his calls for war against Iran, stating, “We can try diplomacy. I’m not very hopeful about that. We have to be ready to use force.” Kristol claimed the people of Iran would embrace “the right use of targeted military force.” He added that military force could “trigger changes in Iran,” causing them to embrace regime change.

Many neoconservatives claimed that the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms and flowers, etc., etc. Perhaps the optimistic Kristol thinks Bush's third war will do the trick.

But doesn't the media have an obligation to find Republicans who know what they're talking about? I don't understand why Republicans like Bill Kristol continue to be taken seriously. A majority of Americans now recognize that the rationale for war in Iraq doesn't make a bit of sense. We're in cleanup mode, nothing more. And we're expected to take the same rationale seriously with Iran? Unbelievable.

Though the reasons vary, Bill Kristol seems to belong to that growing chorus of Republicans who are dissatisfied with Bush's foreign policy. There are roughly three camps: a) those like Kristol and Gingrich who think Bush needs to be more aggressive; that now is not the time to back off, b) those who think Bush has blundered badly and think he has no choice but to turn to another direction, preferably towards more diplomacy and c) those who believe our foreign policy team is broken and that we need to bring in high-powered reserves. Michael Abramowitz of The Washington Post writes on the growing discord from the right:
At a moment when his conservative coalition is already under strain over domestic policy, President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs.


"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Neoconservatives like Danielle Pletka who are outside the government rarely acknowledge their contributions to the current fiasco. Neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith who were inside the government are long gone and curiously never heard from again. Let's continue with Abramowitz's article:
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement.

It's stunning. When Republicans like Gingrich see their own policies blow up in their face and then sees a sudden change in direction by an administration that has dug itself an enormous hole, the best word our former House Speaker can offer is 'appeasement'? This is Gingrich's idea of a rational assessment? What we are seeing is not 'appeasement' but a complete foreign policy breakdown after five years of incompetence, recklessness, overreach and a variation on Gingrich's own neocon wannabe ideology. Onward:
Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official who is close to Vice President Cheney, said he believes foreign policy innovation for White House ended with Bush's second inaugural address, a call to spread democracy throughout the world.

"What they are doing on North Korea or Iran is what [Sen. John F.] Kerry would do, what a normal middle-of-the-road president would do," he said. "This administration prided itself on molding history, not just reacting to events. Its a normal foreign policy right now. It's the triumph of Kerryism."

Being close to Cheney is not a reassuring item on a resume these days. What's disgusting about Adelman's assessment (spin) is the failure to know what a real 'middle-of-the road president would do'; instead, we're offered up some right-wing straw man thrown up for a false analogy. It was so-called 'middle-of-the-road' presidents who largely kept the peace during fifty years of the Cold War (yes, Republicans and Democrats blundered at times but our foreign policy remained reasonably intact while the Soviet Union became history; World War III did not come (despite right-wing revisionist efforts to declare the Cold War itself that war)). Reading "...prided itself on molding history..." reminds me of an adolescent. Do Republicans really talk like that? And what history did the Bush Administration mold? "It's a normal foreign policy..." It is? Adelman's failure to recognize a broken foreign policy far from anything we've seen since the 1920s is stunning (though a more honest Republican would have made the comparison, perhaps, to Carter who had more successes in a single term than Bush at this point).

Talk of Republican realism or Republican idealism in terms of foreign policy is meaningless at this point. Curiously, the few Republicans around who have a clear view of things stay strangely quiet or deep in the background out of a sense of misplaced loyalty. It's interesting to hear classical conservatives like William F. Buckley and George Will criticize Bush's policies but it's some of the former Republican heavyweights in the foreign policy field that need to acknowledge the disaster that Bush's foreign policy has become. Until the disaster is acknowledged, Republicans appear content to avoid the task of rebuilding our nation's foreign policy and leaving it to drift in the political winds.

Bush Blocked Justice Dept. Probe of NSA Spying

I'm not crazy about special prosecutors but when a president blocks an investigation of his administration's activities, we have a problem. We may need to find another Fitzgerald.

Let's begin with Think Progress:
Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is charged with investigating attorney misconduct, announced that it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it was denied security clearance.

Previously, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not explain why the security clearances had been denied, saying he did not want to “get into internal discussions.” But in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Gonzales said President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless eavesdropping program.
George W. Bush is not an easy man to trust. Millions of Americans would feel a great deal better if they knew honest people were out there making sure things are being done the way they're supposed to be done; none of us like corruption, lies, law-breaking or threats to our democracy by politicians who need a little intoxication under the influence of power now and then. The failure to clear things with FISA courts and the failures to let investigators do their jobs and the love that Bush has for secrecy do not put many of us at ease.

Let's look at another story, this one from Justin Rood of TPMMuckraker, on the blocking of the investigation by Bush:
The news today that President Bush acted to block an internal Justice Department probe relating to the NSA's domestic spying operations is both a bigger and more complicated a story than one would think, given the space it will probably be given in tomorrow's papers. In sum, it's an example of how even arcane tools of oversight can be subverted by the Executive Office of the President.

As we know, for at least three years, the NSA's domestic spying efforts have evaded scrutiny by Congress, the secret FISA review process, and the judicial branch.


So the investigators -- whose colleagues and predecessors have reviewed classified material before in the course of their work -- were told they could not receive clearance high enough to allow them to review the documents.

It was a bogus dodge, folks grumbled, and probably came directly from the Attorney General's office -- after all, the files they needed included some of his own.

Which explains why the news today that Bush himself had ordered the review blocked was shocking -- not only to everyday Americans, but to Justice Department officials themselves.

I'm not sure how much cover Bush can continue to expect from his fellow Republicans but clearly a number of Republicans in Congress have their own need for cover from Bush as the Cunningham, Abramoff and other investigations continue. In any case, here's more from Richard B. Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times:
President Bush personally sidetracked an internal Justice Department probe into the warrantless domestic surveillance program earlier this year, even as other Justice officials were assigned to defend the program in court and investigate who may have leaked information about it to the news media, according to administration officials and documents released Tuesday.


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) suggested at the hearing Tuesday that the administration was employing a double standard. Other Justice Department lawyers were given security clearances to defend the NSA program against legal challenges and to pursue government officials suspected of leaking details of the program to the New York Times, which broke the story in December, Specter said.

"With so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice being granted clearance, it raises the obvious question of whether there was some interest on the part of the administration in not having that opinion given," Specter said.

DOJ lawyers who helped create the NSA domestic spying program had the necessary clearances. DOJ lawyers who were asked by Congress to make sure the program was legal were not given the necessary clearances. Cute. And about as ethically wrong as one can get.